Smile Fun With Captain Marvel

After writing my Captain Marvel trailer rundown I listened to some more commentary on the whole ridiculous ‘don’t tell women to smile’ thing. Among other things, apparently star Brie Larson personally responded to the ‘smiling Captain Marvel’ memes by going after the fans for being ‘sexist.’

If they’re not careful, “No Smiling” will be the film’s unofficial tagline.

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A lot of a film’s success is the attitude of the people involved, and if the lead actress feels the need to get angry at fans for poking fun at the trailer, then that’s really not a good sign. She could have played along, posted smiling pictures or herself, or said something like “man, they left out all the happy bits!” That would have caused the whole thing to be a net gain for the film and probably gotten a lot people who weren’t impressed by the trailer onboard. I’m sure someone like Dwayne Johnson or the ever graceful Gal Gadot would have done that, or at the very least have shrugged the whole thing off and gotten back to promoting their film.

In any case, I couldn’t resist having just a little more fun with the topic:

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(And for the record, my money is on the pony)

Thoughts on the Captain Marvel Trailer

Last week the trailer for Captain Marvel, the next entry in the venerable Marvel Cinematic Universe, arrived. For those who don’t know, Captain Marvel is a female superhero with tremendous energy manipulation powers, whose presence was teased in the last scene of Avengers: Infinity War (I will refrain from discussing any details for those who have managed to avoid spoilers thus far). She is being touted as the headliner for the next ‘phase’ of the MCU.

So far, reactions to the trailer have been…rather mixed. My own reaction is that, much as I love the MCU, I’m not getting a good vibe off of this.

In the first place, I really don’t get much of a sense of excitement from this trailer: there are only a handful of very brief scenes actually showing the heroine in action, none of which were especially impressive. Most of the trailer just showed footage of Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel’s real name)’s life; things like her as a girl falling over blended with her falling as an adult, or her in training in the military, or her just wandering about with a glazed expression.

On that subject, a lot of criticism has been leveled at Brie Larson’s performance as seen in this trailer and…yeah, I can’t say it isn’t warranted. She spends just about the whole thing with the most bored, disinterested expression on her face. I think they were trying to make her look serious and competent, but from what we’ve seen, she just looks half asleep most of the time.

Contrast Miss Larson’s expression with Miss Johanson’s in the trailer for The Avengers back in 2012:

 

 

See, Black Widow looks tough, determined, and ready for battle; her eyes are focused, but fully open, her brow is lowered, her jaw clenched. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel just looks vague: her eyes are unfocused, the eyelids appear to be drooping, and her brow and jawlines appear to be relaxed. She looks like she just got out of bed and hasn’t had her morning cup of Joe.

Dishearteningly, this even extends to her Entertainment Weekly cover, which you’d think would try to present the best possible face on the upcoming film.

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Just to drive the point home, some fans subsequently photoshopped still images from the trailer and promotional materials to give her a smile. It’s kind of startling the difference it makes: she immediately appears so much more likable and, well, human. She suddenly has a real sense of personality. For my part, I at once found myself thinking, “yeah, I’d like to go on an adventure with this character.”

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Predictably, certain corners of the internet labeled this ‘sexist’, since apparently asking a woman to smile is sexist and demeaning. This neatly sidesteps the fact that the issue is less that she doesn’t smile than that she doesn’t emote. Also that no one felt the need to give similar treatment to, say, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman or Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp. Or that fans have made similar complaints about male characters ranging from Superman to Freddy Krueger. Also, they apparently haven’t learned from Lucasfilm that insulting your audience for criticizing your product is not a good idea.

Perhaps this is all misleading, and her actual performance will be better. I hope it is, since I don’t like disliking Marvel films (well, Black Panther is kinda fun to take apart, but I’d much rather it had been a good movie), especially one that is, apparently, so vital to the conclusion of Infinity War.

There is also the rather cringe inducing tagline, “Discover what makes a hero,” with a very deliberate emphasis on the ‘her’ part. I don’t know if that was meant to be “what makes her a hero” or “what makes a her-o,” but it’s ill-judged either way. For one thing, could that tagline be any more generic? And for another, emphasizing the femaleness of your heroine is not going to work as a selling point: there is nothing novel about a female-led action movie, and normal audience members don’t care either way. All they want is a good story with likable characters; that’s why Wonder Woman was a smash hit and the Ghostbusters remake wasn’t.

That’s right, I said there was nothing novel about a female-led action film. Salt, Lucy, Ghost in the Shell, The Hunger Games films, Wonder Woman, Colombiana, the Tomb Raider films, the new Star Wars films, the Ghostbusters remake, and on and on, not to mention superhero films Elektra and Catwoman. You might be saying “But most of those films bombed and/or were really, really terrible!” Yes, but we’re not talking about quality, only novelty, and my claim is that there is no novelty in a female-led action film. For goodness sakes, Aliens was headed by Sigourney Weaver and that’s one of the most popular and influential sci-fi action films ever made.

The point is that you cannot use a female superhero as a selling point; it’s been done, and thanks to Wonder Woman it’s even been done very well. You need to give us something more, and thus far I’m not really seeing anything. Heck, I thought the Aquaman trailer had more of fun and novelty in it than this; it looks stupid as hell, but at least it was energetic and showed off major points of interest, like sea monsters, submarines being lifted out of the water, and so on. What we see here is all either extremely generic (firing lasers from her fists: haven’t seen that before) or just ordinary. The trailer doesn’t even establish the Skrulls, the shape-shifting aliens who serve as the film’s antagonists (meaning audience members who don’t know about the plot from other sources will simply have a shot of the supposed heroine punching an old woman with no context. There’s a selling point: wooden-faced heroine beats up old people).

Now, if I were doing this film, I’d make it an action-packed, high-concept space adventure; something akin to Aliens with a super powered Ripley. Maybe they’re doing that, but I just don’t get a sense of it from the trailer, or really of any kind of fun adventure. That would be the way to sell this film; courageous and good-looking astronaut girl fights evil alien monsters with her cosmic superpowers. Lots of people would be happy to pay to see that. Very few people are going to want to see a film marketed as, “It’s a Marvel film, but this time with a female lead! No, it’s not that character you all like. Or that one. Not that one either.”

But even apart from the shortcomings of the trailer itself, there’s another problem lurking in background; it’s the aforementioned fact that Marvel is already saying that Captain Marvel is going to replace Iron Man and Captain America as the new ‘face’ of the MCU. This is a big mistake.

You see, the Marvel films are by now a venerable, established series, headlined by characters who have become fixtures of the popular imagination. Millions of people have accompanied Iron Man and Cap through a decade’s worth of adventures, experiencing their hardships, struggles, joys, and triumphs. So, telling that audience that these characters are now going to be replaced or are going to take a back seat to this other character whom they haven’t had any kind of experience with yet (and, to be frank, one whom most in the audience haven’t even heard of) is not going to inspire much good will. If you told your son that you were going to take away his favorite toy and replace it with another toy, his reaction wouldn’t be excitement; it would be at best deep skepticism and a predisposition to hate the new toy. Not to mention that it sets the bar incredibly high for this new film: it not only has to be good, it has to be on par with the original Iron Man and Captain Marvel has to be as vivid and inspiring a character as Captain America. To put it bluntly, this is not going to happen. The film may be good, and we hope it is, but you are not going to make audiences care about Captain Marvel the same way they care about Captain frickin’ America. So please do not set that as the goal you are trying to achieve; you will only hurt you own film.

I’m fine with replacing the old characters (provided they’re given a respectful and fitting send off), but you need to do that organically; you can’t just present the audience with a completely new character and tell them that they are going to admire and be inspired by her now before the film is even released. That needs to happen organically, by building the new character into the universe and most of all by making her engaging and likable.

All things considered, so far this is the first MCU film that I’m looking forward to with more trepidation than excitement (I wasn’t super excited for Black Panther, but I was looking forward to it). But then again, I wasn’t looking forward to Wonder Woman either and they blew that one out of the water.

On the other hand, the DCEU was already a slow-motion disaster when Wonder Woman came along. There was nothing at stake if that movie had failed because it would only have been another entry in a series of missteps.

The MCU, however, has been a towering success and is coming off of its crowning achievement in Infinity War. Now they have essentially gambled the future of the series on this one film: a film that honestly does not look very promising at this point.

That’s why I’m uneasy about this movie; not just that I fear it will be bad in itself, but that I’m worried it will irretrievably break one of the few healthy film franchises we have left. Time alone will tell, but I’m not optimistic.

 

Infinity War at the Federalist

A new Federalist article is up, this one based off of Avengers Infinity War and talking about some of the same things I’ve been writing about recently.

Sample:

In other words, Thanos is a classic student of Thomas Malthus: a believer in the threat of overpopulation, only on a universal scale and with a blend of Marxist utopianism. He points to poverty, hunger, and environmental devastation as proof of his theory and boasts that in worlds he has “balanced” (by conquering and massacring half the population) no one goes hungry. He believes that his efforts are necessary to create the best life possible for the most people, and he believes it so strongly that he is willing to do quite literally anything to achieve it.

Yet, though he is a monster, Thanos is also, for lack of a better word, a very human character. He does terrible things, but we see he feels the horror of them, and he carries himself at all times like a man bearing a tremendous burden. When the other characters reject his arguments, he doesn’t fly into a rage, but only shakes his head in sad frustration that he can’t make them understand. Again, he genuinely believes in what he is doing and thinks that he is the only one with the knowledge and will to do what has to be done. He feels he has been given a tremendous responsibility and must do whatever it takes to carry it out.

 

Thus, Thanos has a similar mindset to the Marxists and other leftists of the past century or so: he has a clear idea of the state of affairs that he is aiming to achieve, which he believes will eliminate the suffering he sees around him under the current system and save the world from a greater disaster down the road. Most importantly, he believes that anything and everything can be justified if it forwards this goal. The “agenda,” the final utopian state to be achieved, is more important than anything happening now, just as Marxists believed that “truth” and “justice” meant anything that forwarded the revolution.

Read the rest here

How I Would have Written ‘Black Panther’

As I’ve said before, the more I think about Black Panther the worse the writing in the film gets. As a side effect, I found myself thinking about how I might have done it instead, had I been in charge of writing it. The result was the following rough outline, which I now present to you (by the way, I don’t know how much this fits with the ‘Black Panther’ comics, but from what I’ve seen of the comics, I don’t particularly care).

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We open on darkness, a child’s voice says “Papa, tell me a story.”

The voice of T’Chaka then begins narrating in a kindly, fatherly manner:

“Many, many years ago, a mountain fell from the sky in a blaze of fire. Its arrival was so terrible that for many years no one dared approach it. But in its fall, ten pieces of it were thrown off and scattered among the tribes. And wherever they landed, they brought strife and violence, for they were worth more than all the gold and gems in the world. Warriors fought one another like beasts for them, and all the land was in woe.

Then, one day, a great warrior, seeing the chaos, said to himself ‘I shall take these fragments back to the fallen mountain, so they may trouble us no more.’ For years he travelled the length and breadth of the land, winning each piece by defeating the ten greatest warriors in the world.

At the end of that time, he had all ten pieces and was the richest man there ever was. He could have used them to rule a mighty empire. But he kept to his vow and, taking the precious fragments, climbed to the summit of the fallen mountain.

Upon the summit, he met Basth, the Panther Goddess. She was so struck by his courage and his honesty that she said to him: “Of all the men on the earth, you are the first who has touched my heart. Therefore I shall marry you, and give you all this mountain for my dowry.”

The warrior and the goddess were wed, and founded their city about the slopes of the Fallen Mountain. The goddess taught him how to use the mountain’s bones to make tools and weapons, and by her craft she wove it into a suit of armor modeled after her beloved panther, and the ten fragments became its claws.

Thus they brought order and peace between the five tribes, and Wakanda was born.

For many, many years, the warrior and the goddess ruled over the five tribes in peace and justice. But the warrior was mortal, and so grew old and, in time, died. Basth was inconsolable with grief, and returned to the sky to mourn her lost love. But before she went she took her son and the leaders of the five tribes to the top of the mountain to give her final command.

“All this land, from the river to the white peaks, is Wakanda,” she said. “It is your forever, my children, and none shall take it from you. But I warn you: never, never seek to expand its borders beyond these limits. For your own land is enough for you, and your own treasure enough to guard. If ever you attempt to become a cruel empire and rule over your kin, this mountain, and all its treasure, will be taken back to the sky.”

Then the goddess departed, and ever since then, her descendants have ruled Wakanda and guarded its treasures, and shall do so until the sun falls.”

We now see the jungle at night. A cloaked platform is hidden among the trees, from which M’Baku, a skilled warrior and a giant gorilla of a man, is peering along what looks to be a blowpipe at a line of vehicles wending its way through the forest.

“I make five,” he says.

“Six,” comes the answer. We pan up to see the outline of the Black Panther crouched on a tree branch, watching the convoy.

Another figure in a horned mask, wearing scale armor, sits in the tree beside M’Baku. This is Eklabu. He orders M’Baku to take out the lead vehicle, but Black Panther orders them to wait until the convoy crosses the border into Wakanda.

We see from the vehicle point of view as they cross a rickety bridge over a raging river into Wakandan territory, rolling over the border gate and ignoring the signs forbidding entrance. They draw further into Wakandan territory before Black Panther orders M’Baku to take out the lead vehicle.

M’Baku affixes a small cylinder to the end of his pipe, takes aim, and blows. We then see that the ‘blow gun’ is actually a rail-gun. As soon as he puts the little stone suspended in the cylinder into motion by blowing it, it is swiftly accelerated to just below the speed of light. It hits the lead vehicle with the force of a bomb.

The convoy stops in a panic and the mercenaries get out, armed to the teeth. Then Black Panther swoops in and begins expertly disabling them. He doesn’t kill them, only rips their weapons apart and knocks them out. Eklabu appears as well, attacking from the rear. He savagely tears into the men, brutally massacring them by stabbing and slicing with his spear or simply beating them senseless with his super-human strength and agility. One of the mercenaries throws down his gun and tries to surrender. Eklabu picks him up and bashes his brains out against the side of the truck so hard that he dents the fender (we only see the resulting blood-stained impression).

Black Panther furiously orders him to stand down as Okoye, his Amazonian bodyguard and her troops appear from the bushes. Black Panther checks on the human cargo, tells them they are now safe, and orders Okoye to take them back to their homes before leaving with Eklabu.

Back in the forward base hidden among the trees, T’Challa and Eklabu both take off their helmets. T’Challa angrily rebukes him for his savagery, while Eklabu answers that the men were scum who deserved to die.

T’Challa: “Not when they are trying to surrender!”

Eklabu then angrily points to the suffering going on all around them while they sit in their borders and do nothing.

Eklabu: “Right across that river people are being slaughtered and enslaved, and we do nothing. Then they travel two miles out of their way, suddenly it matters to us.”

T’Challa says their duty is to protect Wakanda; that is the purpose of the royal family. Furthermore, once they start trying to fix other people’s problems, it will never end, and they are liable to only make things worse. We learn here that they are cousins, and that Eklabu’s father was killed during a mission that went bad during a war in the Congo.

The argument escalates, and finally Eklabu snaps “you are not king yet.”

They return to the capital, where we meet T’Challa’s mother and sister. His sister, Shuri, is a tall, extremely dignified young woman; every inch the daughter of a king. She, we learn, rules Wakanda in her brother’s absence.

Everyone treats T’Challa with immense respect bordering on fear. He carries himself as a king at every moment and his people bow reverently whenever they see him.

T’Challa next visits the armory, where he meets Zurai, their lead scientist. He is a venerable, gray haired man in charge of a scientific team. He is also grooming his rebellious daughter, Nakia, to one day take on the mantle. Nakia is a cute, sunny young woman with a great love for western culture. She also is the only one who can tease the king and get away with it, which she proceeds to do by pestering him about whether he got Iron Man or Captain America’s autograph. T’Challa takes it in stride, smiling benignly on her and humoring her. During this time, Zurai describes the Wakandan power grid, which is formed by the resonance of all the vibranium throughout the country, creating an infinite supply of energy.

As T’Challa leaves, we see Nakia gazing longingly after him, only for her father to smack her upside the head and remind her that the king will not give a thought to the likes of her. She answers “doesn’t mean I can’t give a thought to him.”

We next get another scene of T’Challa and Eklabu, in the latter’s chamber where they seem to reconcile. T’Challa tells him that he needs his support, as guarding the borders will be Eklabu’s duty, and that he is open to the possibility of taking a more active role in the world, especially after what he saw with the Avengers, but only if they can find a way that will not jeopardize Wakanda. The cousins then share a moment of levity.

The next day is the coronation, wherein T’Challa assumes the throne. This takes place at the summit of the Fallen Mountain (not in some stupid waterfall arena), where legend has it the warrior first met and wed Basth. The five tribes and the Royal family, together with certain dignitaries (including Zurai and his daughter) are assembled, and the high priest reads out King T’Chaka’s achievements before offering T’Challa the throne. He then asks whether any one wishes to dispute T’Challa’s right to be king.

To everyone’s shock, Eklabu does so. He announces that T’Chaka murdered his father, that he saw it happen as a boy, and that “twenty years with a murderer on the throne is long enough.” During his description, we see a flashback to him as a boy hiding behind a corner while T’Chaka and his father argue. Suddenly there is a gunshot, and when Eklabu emerged he found his father dead.

T’Challa is enraged and the ceremonial combat begins. The two savagely beat on each other using their superhuman speed and power, with Eklabu pouring out all the anger he’s kept bottled up for two decades against T’Challa and his father. It finally ends with T’Challa being thrown off the cliff, presumably to his death. Eklabu then assumes the throne, promising to restore the dignity of the throne.

Late that night, the distraught Nakia sneaks out of the city to try to find T’Challa’s body. She is caught by M’Baku, who turns out to have the same object. They search, but find nothing. Then, all of a sudden, T’Challa himself comes crawling out of the forest, incapacitated by a spinal injury, but alive. He wants to challenge Eklabu at once, but the others remind him that, one, the ceremony is over and he has no right to do so, and two, he is no state to try even if he could.

T’Challa thus decides to leave Wakanda to heal and plan his campaign. Nakia insists on going with him, as does M’Baku.

We cut to the palace where Eklabu finds Shuri standing by a window. He walks up to her and expresses his surprise that she remains. She comments that her place is beside the throne. When Elabu asks whether it isn’t a risk for her to remain within his reach, given his hatred of her father and brother, she answers “to be killed by you would put me in better company than to rule with you.”

His claws (he’s wearing the Black Panther suit) start to come out at that, but she then adds that he would not dare lay a hand on her. He’s surprised, then laughs that he is the king and can do what he likes.

Shuri: “And I am a princess. Do you think the people of Wakanda would stand it if you raised a hand against a member of the royal family?”

He grins. “I am the Black Panther. What could they do?”

Shuri smiles and begins describing the composition of the wall he is standing behind, before concluding “Do you know how much resistance that would provide to a rail gun aimed at your unprotected head? None at all.”

This disturbs him visibly, and she adds “A king only rules as long as his people will allow him to. Perhaps you should have thought of that before you killed my brother.”

Eklabu retreats to his chambers, where he prays and has a vision of his father. He discusses the future, and his father agrees that Wakanda will not be easily swayed to break its long isolation. Eklabu says he will give them no choice, and declares that he’ll take all of Africa before he’s done.

T’Challa, Nakia, and M’Baku flee Wakanda and end up in a neighboring nation call Buandi, where they find a ‘doctors without borders’ station to have T’Challa’s spine looked at. The doctor is amazed that he is still alive and able to move with his injury. He is reluctant to operate, and M’Baku angrily orders him to obey. The doctor protests that he might kill him, and M’Baku says that if T’Challa dies, he dies.

Doctor: “Well now I’m definitely not gonna try!”

T’Challa intervenes and assures the doctor that he will be him no grudge if anything goes wrong, ordering M’Baku to stand down.

The argument attracts the attention of Everett Ross, the CIA operative, who walks into the tent and whistles in recognition of T’Challa.

Ross: “Your highness. I’m sure there’s a reason the King of Wakanda is in an aid tent, but you don’t look in the mood to tell me.”

The doctor says he wants him to perform a spinal surgery, Ross advises him to try as “He’s pretty good at surviving.”

The doctor operates, resetting T’Challa’s spine while the king refuses morphine and grits his teeth. Nakia impulsively tries to hold his hand, but he doesn’t take hers.

The surgery completed, he lies there while his superhuman cells heal his injury, and Nakia and M’Baku tell Ross about Eklabu’s coup.

Ross: “Where I come from we have elections. They’re nowhere near as civil, but people generally walk away with intact spines.”

T’Challa asks what Ross is doing there, and Ross says that he’s interviewing survivors of the latest massacre. When the Wakandans express confusion, Ross explains that Buandi is in civil war and has been for years; the rebels prey on poor farming villages and travellers, while the government forces focus on protecting such business interests as the country has and avoid engaging with the militants if possible. This, he says, is because the rebels are armed with hi-tech weaponry.

Hearing this, T’Challa sits up, wincing, but looking fierce.

T’Challa: “What kind of weaponry?”

Ross: “Funny you should ask. You, see I’m here looking for their supplier, and I have an idea you’ve met.”

Cut to an old ivory station in the jungle. Here Ulysses Klaue has his base of operations. We see him interrogating one of his workers and accusing the man of dealing under the table. His right arm a mechanical nightmare that lives up to his name.

Klaue tells the man that, in his organization, “you’re only allowed to cheat when I say so.” The man pleads, obviously terrified of Klaue, that he’s innocent. Klaue acts surprised at hearing that.

Klaue: “Oh, innocent? Well, that changes everything. I’m sorry; I had no idea.”

He turns away, feigning distress, then suddenly whips around and fires a blue laser from his mechanical palm, blasting the man to ash.

Klaue: “I’ve got no use for innocent people in my organization.”

Klaue then goes into his chambers to look over some new weaponry. Suddenly the Black Panther drops from the ceiling. Klaue, apparently unconcerned, gives a mock bow.

Klaue: “Your royal highness. This is an honor, and so soon after your coronation too! Allow me, as one who so admires the throne of Wakanda, to express my congratulations.”

Eklabu removes his helmet and asks how he knows so much. Klaue answers that even in Wakanda there are people on the bottom of the ladder who are willing to sell what they know. Eklabu smilingly asks whether he’d be willing to give the names of these people, Klaue answers that it depends on what he’ll bid for them. Eklabu asks whether he thinks he’s there to bargain, Klaue replies that, if he weren’t, they wouldn’t be speaking.

Eklabu tells Klaue that he wants the Buandi war to spill over in to Wakanda. He wants Wakandan blood spilled on Wakandan soil. Klaue laughs that he’s buying the deaths of his own people.

Klaue: “You’re a trader in death. A killmonger.”

Eklabu answers that a little blood is necessary to wake his people out of their stupor. He tells Klaue to name his price…and to throw in the names of informants as well, as “A king needs his spies.”

Klaue laughs and pours them both a drink.

Klaue: “Is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship?”

Eklabu: “I wouldn’t count on it.”

Klaue (toasts): “Good answer.”

We cut back to T’Challa, who is talking with Ross. Ross suggests that, if T’Challa intends to retake the throne, he might consider cutting a trade deal with the US in exchange for aid. T’Challa feigns ignorance; what does he think Wakanda has to offer? Ross says he has an idea:

Ross: “I see the king of a third world country running around in the most advanced body armor I’ve ever seen, then I think about how you’re also the only place that produces the most valuable medal in the world, and suddenly I start to wonder whether Wakanda is quite so poor as it makes out.”

T’Challa: “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Ross: (Smiles) “Alright. But if you change your mind, remember the US is pretty good at changing governments.”

M’Baku: “Pretty good at taking over governments, you mean!”

Ross: “That too.”

T’Challa says that he will not sell the honor of Wakanda for his throne.

He leaves Ross and walks into the jungle, where, out of sight of everyone, he punches a tree so hard he shatters the trunk.

Nakia: “Careful! I think that one’s endangered! Can’t start our lives in the outside world by offending the environmentalists: according to the internet they basically run the place.”

T’Challa: “Do not follow me.”

Nakia: “I am sorry. I only thought…you might not want to be alone.

T’Challa: “That is exactly what I do want. I need to think…to plan how I am going to regain my throne.”

Nakia looks troubled, then begs permission to speak.

T’Challa: “I am not king, Nakia; you do not have to beg permission.”

Nakia: “But I think I should, because you are not going to like what I have to say.”

She suggests that trying to retake the throne might make things worse: like it or not, he lost the fight and so has no real claim to it anymore. As long as Eklabu keeps the support of the tribes, T’Challa would only, at best, bring civil war to Wakanda. At worst he’d get himself killed.

She shrinks back in alarm when glares at her, but then he slumps to the ground and says that perhaps he doesn’t deserve to king anyway. If what Eklabu said was true…Nakia says it wasn’t. It couldn’t be.

T’Challa: “I’ve seen, and felt, hatred like that before. It does not come from nothing.”

He asks her to leave him, and he begins to engage in fervent prayer, communing with the spirit of his father, who appears to him in a vision. T’Challa confesses how much he misses him, and that he feels he has failed.

T’Chaka answers that he is the one who failed. T’Challa asks whether it is true he killed his own brother, and T’Chaka hesitates, which to T’Challa’s mind confirms it. The vision ends with him roaring his agony to the sky.

Suddenly, he hears gunfire coming from what Ross says is the direction of a nearby village. T’Challa draws a deep breath, pushes his own suffering down, and begins running through the forest.

Meanwhile Ross is on the phone trying to get UN troops to come and help. When he fails to get through he grabs a rifle and asks M’Baku if he’s any good in a fight. M’Baku laughs and shoulders his rail gun.

We cut to the village, where women and children are being herded to one corner while the men futilely try to fight. The militants all have vibranium armor and carry powerful energy weapons. One man is seen defending his wife and children with a farm tool, which shatters against the militant’s armor. The bad guy laughs at the blow, beats the man to the ground, and prepares to decapitate him.

T’Challa (wearing a black mask over his face), comes flying in from the trees with a noise like a panther roar, dispatches the militant with a few quick blows and relieves him of his blade and knife. The other militants turn on him, and with his new weapons he begins utterly decimating them with his speed, agility, and raw power, slashing at them like a cat with his blades.

A jeep armed with a machine gun rolls up and opens fire on T’Challa, who dodges and ducks, but can’t get close enough to attack…then it blows up with a single shot from M’Baku’s rail-gun.

Ross: “…Can I borrow that sometime?”

M’Baku: (threatening growl)

T’Challa finishes up by beating up the militant leader, but refrains from killing him.

Back in Wakanda, Eklabu, together with the leaders of the five tribes, Shuri, and the queen mother are participating in a ritual honoring Basth. Suddenly, it is interrupted when a missile lands in the midst of the circle, killing the five leaders and the queen, though Eklabu saves Shuri, who escapes injured.

As the dust settles, one of the guards says that the weapon came from outside the borders, but was of Wakandan make. Eklabu says that this proves that someone has been stealing Wakandan technology, and that their borders are no longer enough to keep them safe. One of his cronies then comes forward saying that they have intelligence that T’Challa is alive and has been seen conferring with foreigners, together with Zurai’s daughter, who knows the secrets of Wakandan tech. Zurai is furious at the accusation, but Eklabu asks if he has a better explanation for what happens. With the support of the people, he assumes full control and tells them to prepare for war to avenge this atrocity and secure Wakanda against foreign treachery.

Back at the village, T’Challa, Nakia, and M’Baku help the villagers while Ross interrogates the militants. Nakia has a moment where she tenderly cares for a little girl who has been injured in the fight, cheering her up with a folk song. T’Challa watches with admiration.

Ross appears with the news that they now have Klaue’s base, but that it’s deep in the rebel-controlled zone where the military won’t go. He suggests that the three of them might be able to mount an attack. Nakia insists on coming as well, noting that they might need her to get around Klaue’s tech. She also repairs some of the weapons recovered from the militants.

M’Baku tries to prevent Ross from taking one, noting that only Wakandans are permitted to use them.

Ross: “Well, you know us white people: not big on respecting local customs.” (picks up the weapon).

M’Baku gets angry, but T’Challa stops him, noting that they’ll need Ross’s help.

That night, we have a tense scene of the four of them infiltrating Klaue’s camp. As they approach, they realize Klaue is about to make another shipment of weapons, these worse than before: long-range emplaced rail-guns that could be mounted on vehicles or behind fortifications. These could destroy any vehicle currently in use.

T’Challa takes out his guards one-by-one with stealth, then Nakia slips in to take down his alarm system and stop the shipment, which is being delivered by drone as added security. Klaue, meanwhile, senses something wrong and starts moving toward her position. T’Challa gives the signal and M’Baku and Ross open fire, distracting him and focusing his attention on them. Nakia succeeds, then T’Challa attacks, taking out Klaue’s guards before going one-on-one with him.

Klaue is extremely dangerous with his mechanical hand, as well as suit of vibranium armor similar to what Eklabu wore in the opening. Ross and M’Baku join in, then Nakia, who distracts him long enough for T’Challa to catch him off guard and tear his mechanical arm off.

Klaue, however, seems unconcerned, cracking jokes at T’Challa’s expense for losing his throne. He also reveals Eklabu’s falseflag attack, and that he killed T’Challa’s mother as well as the five tribal leaders, and that “Killmonger” means to conquer Africa and maybe the world. He also reveals that Eklabu has blamed T’Challa for the attack and for selling Wakandan technology to the outside world, meaning he’ll be arrested and executed if he tries to return.

T’Challa is furious and ready to kill Klaue, but he then plays his final hand: he’ll give T’Challa a recording of his meeting with Killmonger in exchange for one hour’s head start. And, he says, considering Killmonger will start his war in the morning, they don’t really have time to search for it…or to go after him.

M’Baku asks what’s to prevent them from taking the deal and killing him anyway.

Klaue: “Oh, I have much too much respect for the throne of Wakanda to think you’d do that. A king would never go back on his word, would he?”

Furious, T’Challa accedes to Klaue’s deal. Klaue gives him the recording and then disappears.

They then have to decide what to do about it: T’Challa must challenge Eklabu for the throne, but he fears whether he is truly worthy of it, given the history of his family. Moreover, Nakia points out that, with the five chiefs dead, Eklabu basically runs the government alone, and that they may have a fight to even get to position where they can use the recording against him. Ross offers the support of the CIA in exchange for vibranium, but T’Challa refuses.

Ross: “Well, not to play the white savior, but Eklabu has an army. An army that you claim is the most advanced in the world, while you have yourself, a girl, and a great ape.” (M’Baku glares at him) “I mean that in the best possible way. Let us help you!”

T’Challa refuses, saying he cannot bargain for his throne with foreigners, growing angry.

T’Challa: “You don’t care about Wakanda. You are just like all the rest of your people: only after what you can get.”

Ross: “I don’t care about who sits on a chair in the most isolated country on Earth? You’re right; I don’t. Why should I? What have you people ever done that I should care? At the moment, what I’m after is some way to convince my government that stopping this war, which is claiming the lives of thousands of innocent people, is in our best interests, and if we had an ally in the region, an ally who supplies extremely valuable technology and resources, that might be a reason. But I don’t suppose that matters to you.”

T’Challa lunges at him in anger, but Nakia stops him. He then demands to be left alone.

As the others leave, Nakia becomes upset and confesses to M’Baku that she’s afraid no matter what happens: if T’Challa fails, he’ll die. If he succeeds…she doesn’t finish, but he understands and gives him a comforting bear hug.

Meanwhile T’Challa prays once more, communing with his ancestors for guidance. He has a vision in which he sees, not his father, but an upright, elderly woman (in an ideal world she’d be played by Eartha Kitt). This, it turns out, is Basth herself. T’Challa admits to her that he is uncertain what to do and whether he is even worthy to be king.

Basth: “It is not the armor that makes you the Black Panther: it is what is beneath the armor. In here.” (she places her hand over his heart) “If anyone can stop you from being a king by taking your throne or your crown or your armor, then you never were one to begin with. But I don’t believe that for a moment.”

He returns to the present and declares that, by the next sunset, he will be on the throne or in the ground of Wakanda. Nakia and M’Baku volunteer to go with them, as does Ross.

T’Challa: “I told you I don’t want help from the CIA.”

Ross: “You’re not getting it. You’re getting help from a friend.”

Back in Wakanda, Eklabu gives a speech to his army as they prepare to conquer Buandi and the neighboring regions, declaring that T’Chaka was a murderer and T’Challa is a traitor, and that because of them Wakanda has no choice but to abandon its traditions and expand to remain safe.

Afterward, Shuri catches him and tells him he is a liar; that her brother would never betray Wakanda. Eklabu asks whether you can truly know anyone, and she answers “people like you cannot.” Eklabu responds that no one will question the king who rescued their beloved princess from her traitorous brother.

Meanwhile, T’Challa and his friends are preparing to cross into Wakanda. The plan is that Nakia, together with T’Challa, will slip into the palace to broadcast Klaue’s recording, while Ross and M’Baku keep the army from leaving Wakandan territory.

Ross: “Two of us against the most advanced army in the world?”

M’Baku: “Those are the odds I’ve always dreamt of!”

T’Challa and Nakia slip quietly into the city. As they infiltrate the palace, with her hacking the security panels and him subduing guards, she asks what will happen if the army leaves Wakanda. T’Challa says that, according to the legend, Fallen Mountain will be taken back to the sky. She asks if he believes that, he says “I would rather not risk it.”

The Wakandan army begins advancing to the borders, with numerous ships, vehicles, and hundreds of soldiers. M’Baku hands Ross the rail gun to cover him while he goes and plants mines to slow them down.

M’Baku: (handing him the gun) “Twist, aim, and blow. Can you do that?”

Ross: “I think my primitive savage brain can just handle it.”

M’Baku: “You certainly have wind to spare.”

T’Challa and Nakia slip into Fallen Mountain as a back route to the palace. As they do, Nakia notices something strange about the vibranium. They pause for her to examine it, and she realizes that it’s growing unstable:

Nakia: “Large amounts of vibranium form an energy resonant network; a natural power grid.”

T’Challa: “Right, I know that.”

Nakia: “Well, as long as the vast majority remains in one place, the grid is stable, but if too much moves too far at once, it…it’ll overload.”

T’Challa: “Overload? What do you mean? How bad?”

Nakia: “Give me a second…” (she does some quick calculations, then looks up in shock) “If the army goes a mile past the river, the crater will reach the Indian Ocean.”

T’Challa (stunned) “Why haven’t we known this before?”

Nakia: “No one’s ever tried moving this much vibranium away from the mountain at once! It’s only been bits and pieces. But this…”

They look at each other, then T’Challa gets on his communicator and tells Ross and M’Baku to stop the army at all costs.

Ross: “You said to try to avoid killing anyone…”

T’Challa: “Doesn’t matter now. If they cross the border, the mountain will explode.”

Ross: “Are we talking firecracker, nuke…”

Nakia: “It’ll blow Africa in half!”

(Beat)

Ross: “Okay then,” (aims the rail gun) “No more playing nice.”

T’Challa and Nakia reach the main communication chamber, but there they are caught by Okoye and her guards. T’Challa tells her that Eklabu has betrayed them, and that he has proof. She hesitates, unsure whom to believe the Eklabu himself appears in his Black Panther garb.

Eklabu says he expected as much from T’Challa, though he didn’t expect him to try to fight the whole of Wakanda with only four people. Shuri then suddenly shows up and hits Okoye with a tazer, correcting him that it’s five.

This sparks a fight, with Shuri, with a little help from Nakia, taking on the guards with her own physical powers (as she too is a descendent of Basth) while T’Challa clashes with Eklabu. Their fight spills into the throne room, where T’Challa grabs a spear from a rack. T’Challa tries to warn Eklabu that his plan will destroy Wakanda, but Eklabu will not listen, accusing him of merely wishing to steal his glory.

T’Challa: (contemptuous) “You sit on that throne, you put on that armor, and you think that makes you a king?”

Meanwhile, M’Baku and Ross struggle to survive and keep the army too busy to move. They are pinned down and seem about to die. They clasp hands and declare it has been an honor.

Eklabu, with the Black Panther suit, has a crucial advantage and gets T’Challa on the ropes.

Eklabu: “What a pathetic king you are.”

T’Challa: “But I am a king.”

With Shuri holding off the guards, Nakia puts in the data disk and projects it onto the shield surrounding Wakanda, so that the entire population sees it. The army pauses its assault to watch. The broadcast distracts Eklabu, allowing T’Challa to get the drop on him and tear the helmet off. The fight resumes, with Eklabu enraged by the sudden overthrow of his plans. He pins T’Challa against the throne and tries to tear his throat out with his claws, which T’Challa barely holds off.

Eklabu: “If nothing else, I will kill you and your bitch sister!”

T’Challa, in a sudden burst of rage, reverses the attack, grabs Eklabu’s head, and slams it into the throne, knocking him out. He then picks up the spear and prepares to kill him, when Shuri and Nakia come in. He sees their faces, then looks at the throne, which was cracked by the impact, and throws the spear away. Okoye and her guards come in, see the scene, and bow, beseeching forgiveness. T’Challa orders them to take Eklabu into prison and remove his armor.

The next scene is T’Challa, once again wearing the Black Panther armor, standing on his balcony overlooking his people. He announces that he has returned to claim the throne and asks if any disputes his right to rule. The answer is a cheer.

T’Challa greets M’Baku and Ross, who are bruised and bloodied, but alive. Ross says he hopes Wakanda and the United States will enjoy good relations in the future. T’Challa agrees, then comments that perhaps it is time their isolation comes to an end; if they cannot expand their own borders, they can at least share their bounty. He tells M’Baku that one of the tribes (from which he hails) appears in need of a leader, and he needs a general. M’Baku grins in appreciation and bows.

T’Challa adds to Shuri that, once they have settled things here, he may be away more often than not, as there is much to be done in the surrounding countries.

T’Challa: “Perhaps it is time the Black Panther becomes a sign of hope for more than just Wakanda.”

There is then a scene of T’Challa visiting Eklabu in the dungeon. He tells Eklabu that he now knows what happened: T’Chaka didn’t kill Eklabu’s father. He caught him selling Wakandan weapons to rebels the Congo, hoping to make a better life for the people there. But when T’Chaka revealed that those same weapons were being used to commit atrocities, Eklabu’s father killed himself out of shame before his brother could stop him.

Eklabu: “He may not have pulled the trigger, but he drove him to his death.”

T’Challa: “Your father chose his own path, as have you. I hope, in time, you will think better of it.”

He leaves him and goes to watch the sunset from the top of Fallen Mountain. Nakia joins him, complaining that she’d been waiting for hours and it’s cold up there. He asks why she thought he’d come, she says because she knows how he likes to brood, and that there’s no better spot in Wakanda for it.

Nakia: “I brood up here myself sometimes. Or listen to my ipod. Actually, mostly that, but some brooding.”

There is a pause. She comments that he’s king now. He agrees.

Nakia: “It’s funny; when you were deposed, all I wanted was to help you take back the throne. Now, I almost wish you hadn’t.”

T’Challa: “Oh? Why not?”

Nakia: “Well, a king wouldn’t even look at someone like me.”

T’Challa: (surprised) “You don’t know many kings, do you?”

Nakia: “Only one. That’s more than enough for me.”

T’Challa: “The way I see it, a king can look at whoever he wants.”

He pulls her close and they kiss in front of the Wakandan sunset.

 

Thoughts on Black Panther

Finally got out to see Black Panther while it was still in theaters. My reaction is definitely ‘good not great.’ It was…fine. There was a lot to like about it, though on the whole it wasn’t really that impressive to me as a film, or even compared to the rest of the Marvel universe.

First the good things; visually it’s great. After the oddly dull Ready Player One, this is more like it. The colors, the costumes, the sets, it’s all fantastic to look at. The CGI gets a little lame at times, but mostly it looks fabulous.

Character-wise, the villains are exceptional. Andy Serkis kind of steals the show at Ulysses Klaue, the eccentrically-evil arms dealer. I really wish he’d had a bigger role, though to be fair Michael B. Jordan as ‘Killmonger’ is amazing. I don’t think I’ve actually seen him before (haven’t seen Creed), though from what I had seen of clips and word of mouth I knew he’s an excellent actor, and yeah, he is riveting in this role as a guy so full of rage – and understandable rage – that it’s made him a monster. He doesn’t scream or rant, and is actually kind of understated, but you feel his all-consuming anger every frame he’s on screen.

I also really liked Martin Freeman as Everett Ross, a CIA operative introduced in Civil War (kind of odd in a film called Black Panther that the two white characters ended up among the most memorable). It’s kind of unusual to see him playing a badass, though he does get plenty of out-of-his-depth moments. I liked the sister character: she was cute and had personality, though…well, we’ll get to that in a bit.

As for our hero, honestly, I didn’t find him as interesting in his own film as he was in Civil War. In that film, he was every inch a king; an intensely dignified, dead-serious character who knew exactly what he was after and what he was due, but who nevertheless was moved by the spectacle before him to choose justice over revenge. Here…he’s kind of just the soulful protagonist. He wants to do the right thing, and sets about trying to figure out what that is. He still had formidable dignity and he was by no means a bad character, but I wasn’t impressed by him the way I was in the previous film.

I will say, though, that I really liked a scene where he has a vision of his father, which seems to be going for the tired ‘I’m not ready to be king’ route, but turns into something more personal and more interesting instead.

As for the plot, again, it wasn’t all that interesting, partly because it seemed to kind of veer about some: first it’s him claiming the throne, then him going after Klaue, then him fighting Killmonger. These things ultimately tie together, but it could have used a lot of streamlining to feel less choppy.

Speaking of streamlining, we have a few too many characters, especially since the majority are pretty dull. For instance, we have T’Challa’s sister, girlfriend, and his female general (sidekick? Bodyguard?). That is at least one too many badass female warriors (more on that subject later): for instance, why were the girlfriend and the general necessary to the film? Neither has a very distinct personality or role to play in the story: could they not have been combined? Or if that’s not possible, then could the sister have been made into the girlfriend instead (that would have given the latter a personality)? You see my point: we have several characters who kind of blend together and clutter up the story. Merging one or two together would have made for stronger characters and a more efficient film.

And there are some plot holes, including a major one involving the villain’s backstory. There’s also a bit at the end that is really stupid. Granted, it’s in the service of a nice moment, but if you want that moment then stage the final battle differently, because as is it’s ridiculous.

By the way, granting that Wakanda has spies all over the world, why is one of the most important agents running low-level crimes in the LA slums? How does that benefit them? Why would he even be in that environment? Wouldn’t he be stationed in the government, or in business, or somewhere that might be remotely relevant to Wakandan interests?

I could talk about the politics involved, but I don’t think it really matters that much; the film is obviously pandering to a certain audience, but it wasn’t too bad, and, really, I wasn’t invested enough for it to make much of an impact.

One thing I will say, and this goes back to the point about the characters, is this: Wakanda looks great, but it never felt quite convincing to me. The idea seems to be an extremely traditional society, with a hereditary monarch, trial by combat, ancestor worship and so on blended with sci-fi technology. That’s a cool idea, but it doesn’t really work out that way. Apart from their form of government, the characters basically act like modern Westerners. That kind of makes sense for the sister, because she’s established as being rebellious and we can buy that she’s imitating western culture, but what about all the rest? Part of the problem is they’re so bland, but they just talk and act like any other Marvel film characters.

In particular, the fact that all the women in this society are warriors and scientists feels false to me. Wouldn’t a society like this, with royalty and nobility and all the rest have firm gender roles? And, more to the point, wouldn’t that be more interesting than what we got? To have strong, marked female characters in a notably different cultural milieu? It’s not even that I think it’s a bad choice: it’s just boring (I really wish Hollywood would realize that we’ve long since reached the point where it’s less imaginative to have an action girl than would be not to). We have seen badass female warriors and scientists before, they don’t do anything fresh with the idea, and it feels out of place with the world they are presenting.

I thought the first Thor movie did this sort of thing a lot better. Granted, Asgard had amazon warriors too (or at least one), but the important point is that Asgardians, as a rule, acted like people from a different culture, while the Wakandans by and large don’t, except in very specific ways. Consider the famous scene where Thor smashes the coffee cup, then politely acquiesces when told that’s not how we do things around here. That, to me, feels like how that kind of character would act. Then here we have a scene where the king of Wakanda and his girlfriend just walk about in the marketplace and nobody seems to care. Also, the back-and-forth about who would be king worked better in that film because Loki was directly involved from the beginning and we could see how he was manipulating things to his advantage. In this one…well, when you think about it, Killmonger could have enacted his plan at basically any time, which begs the question of why much of the first half of the film was even necessary.

It’s even worse because there’s an opening scene with T’Challa’s father that does capture a starkly different cultural feel, where he meets one of his agents and the man immediately kneels and snaps at his friend to do the same before begging permission to allow the friend to stay in the room. That was a really good scene, and set a tone for how different this culture is that is kind of forgotten for most of the rest of the film, with only sporadic exceptions.

Speaking of the beginning, the opening exposition giving the origin of Wakanda and the Black Panther is one the worst I’ve seen, at least for this kind of movie. It’s framed as young T’Challa asking his father to tell him a story, but there is not the slightest effort to write in a way suitable for the device. It sounds like he’s just reading off of the Wikipedia page. Visually it’s great, but from a writing perspective it’s terrible.

That’s kind of the film as a whole to an extent: it looks fantastic, but apart from the visuals it lacks imagination. It’s not a bad film by any means, and the good elements are really good (again, Michael B. Jordan is a fantastic actor and makes for a great villain), but as a whole, it’s just kind of serviceable.

 

Mission Marvel and Legit Heroes

On the subject of genuine heroics, allow me to present Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel, a crossover special where the Phineas and Ferb cast meet a bunch of Marvel characters.

Now, this sounds like it wouldn’t work; goofy surreal kid’s show meets semi-serious comic book heroes. And it’s not perfect, or even one of the better PnF specials (which frankly says more about just how good the others are than about this one), but there are some key elements that it does really well.

First of all, the difference in tone is actually the main point of the special, with the PnF characters being a little disturbed by confronting a situation much more serious than they’re accustomed to, while the Marvel characters are confused by the more absurdist tone of Phineas and Ferb (it’s actually similar to Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein now that I think about it).

By the way, this blending of tones is something a lot of crossovers miss: that it’s not enough to put two different groups of characters together, you have to make it feel like a meeting of two distinct stories with their own special themes and emotional tones (Oddly enough, the best example of this I’ve seen yet is Freddy vs. Jason).

Another thing the special does really well is that it doesn’t just feel like a meeting of worlds, it feels like this is what a kid would hope meeting his heroes would be like. Phineas and Ferb is, in large part about childish imagination brought to life: kids who get to really do what other kids pretend to do. In this case, they get to hang out with some of their favorite heroes and even help them save the day.

But that’s that point: the heroes are still the dominant figures, with Phineas, Ferb, and the rest in support roles, because that’s exactly what a real kid would want. Kids don’t want to show up their heroes, but only to be able to feel worthy of them. The scenario here is perfectly suited to that, with the heroes temporarily deprived of their powers, requiring Phineas and Ferb’s help to get them back while trying to thwart a group of supervillains at the same time. So, the kids can legitimately contribute without diminishing either the heroes or the villains, and the situation is desperate enough that it’s acceptable for the heroes to bring the kids into battle (once the heroes get their powers back, the kids stay out of the fight).

Which brings me to another point: the heroes are genuinely heroic. Remember what I said about legit heroes? The superheroes here count (actually, from what I can tell, the heroes are more heroic here than in the actual comics at the moment).

The heroes here are constantly behind it: either lacking powers or having the wrong powers. Yet again and again, they still step up to the plate and go into battle. Even when they clearly have no chance of winning, they still saddle up to do whatever they can because, as they explain, that’s what they do. Their powers aren’t what makes them heroes, their willingness to do the right thing whatever the cost is.

This also inspires the kids, who join them in battle despite being obviously outclassed. Phineas and Ferb discover early on that their tech is woefully inadequate to fighting real supervillains, but in the final battle they put on their damaged Beak suit and go in anyway. Like any good adventure story, the heroes are constantly being dumped on in one way or another, all the way up until the end, where the heroes and the kids they inspired engage in a mad dog-pile scramble just trying anything and everything they can think of to keep the villains from winning for as long as possible (the action sequences are fantastic, by the way, with really fast, highly detailed animation that encourages multiple viewings to catch everything going on).

So, Phineas and Ferb absolutely nailed what people love about comic book heroes, just another example of how deceptively excellent that show is.

Doctor Who and Swiping Male Characters

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You know, I’m not really a big ‘Doctor Who’ fan. I’ve watched several episodes from both the classic and the modern series (Tom Baker’s my favorite), and enjoyed them, but I just haven’t really gotten into it.

That said, I do have an opinion of this ‘making the Doctor a woman’ gimmick. And make no mistake, that’s what it is: a gimmick. It’s not a groundbreaking development, nor a brilliant twist of storytelling, and certainly not an kind of (ugh) great step forward. It’s a gimmick, pure and simple; a way to grab attention, and try to shore up their feminist credentials so that the right kind of people won’t turn on them.

I will say, in their defense, that given the nature of the Doctor, this one makes a little more sense than, say, making Thor a woman (not making that up, by the way; they actually did it) or, God forbid, making James Bond a woman (more on that below). The Doctor of course periodically regenerates into a new body and personality, so you could argue this works given the rules of the story. But…no. Even with a character like the Doctor you need some continuity of personality, so suddenly switching him to being a woman just doesn’t work. You can’t fundamentally alter a character in that way, even one like the Doctor and expect people to be happy about it, especially when it’s accompanied by insulting accusations of misogyny (because the only way the Left knows how to argue is ad hominem).

It’s a similar problem to Ghostbusters: on paper, a new all-female team of Ghostbusters actually isn’t a bad idea. But one, it was so obvious they were doing it as a ‘statement’ rather than because they actually cared about the characters, and two, the execution was horrible beyond belief.

The real problem with this practice of switching a character’s sex in an attempt to be ‘relevant’ or whatever the current term is, is that it’s basically the equivalent of swiping one kid’s toy because another kid is crying that she wants more, when the obvious thing to do would be to just buy her some toys of her own rather than stealing someone else’s. To the fans of the Doctor who have stuck by him all these long years, having him drastically altered in this way to appease non-fans must seem like a complete slap in the face. Now, if they came up with a really cool female Time Lord and gave her a spin-off show, and did it well (that’s really the key to any story: doing it well), the fans would eat it up. It has nothing to do with misogyny: it has everything to do with seeing a beloved character twisted to score political points.

It’s even more galling when you consider that the other kid has lots of toys of her own, but keeps menacing her brother’s.

The days (assuming such days existed: this topic invites selective blindness like few others) of a lack of female heroes is long over. Women headline about half the shows on TV. Wonder Woman just came out and was fantastic. Marvel fans have been clamoring for a Black Widow movie for years. The last two Star Wars films were headed by women. There’s obviously a huge market for well-done female leads, so there’s absolutely no need to co-opt existing male characters.

The only reason, as far as I can see, for trying to swipe male characters and turn them female is because they generally have better name recognition. So, certain people think “everyone knows who James Bond is, so if we turned him into a woman (Jean Bond?) we’d have a ready-made super-popular female icon!”

Except it doesn’t work that way, since male and female characters are typically written and characterized very differently. One of the reason Wonder Woman was such a good film is that she was written as a very feminine character. Yes, she could throw tanks around and engage a dozen men at once, but she was also warm-hearted, kind, and nurturing. Black Widow is an engaging character because she’s not just a deadly spy, but she’s also the nurturing heart of the team; the one who gives them pep talks and warm hugs when they’re feeling down. The contrast between her cold-hearted behavior on the battlefield and her warm-hearted behavior off it is what makes her so much fun to watch.

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Well, that and the…obvious reasons.

If you tried to write James Bond as a woman, it would be grotesque. No one except an obsessive feminist would want to see a woman act the way Bond acts. He’s fundamentally a male fantasy figure: the cool man of action who sleeps with every beautiful woman he meets, kills bad guys left and right, and defends king and country with his wits and sheer badassery. He works because he speaks to the male psyche. Make him a woman doing more or less the exact same thing, and it would be unbearable. Most women don’t fantasize about acting that way, and most men don’t like seeing women act like that.

Now, if they wanted to make a female equivalent of Bond: a super-competent and alluring female spy who defends queen and country with wit and moxie, and (once again) if they did a good job of it, that would be great. Female spies can be a lot of fun: just think of Honey West, Emma Peel, or, again, Black Widow to name a few. But there’s no need to coopt male characters out of a misguided feminist urge. There are already lots of good female protagonists running around, and nothing at all preventing anyone from making more. But leave established and beloved male characters alone if you don’t mind.