How I Would Have Written ‘Captain Marvel’

So, if you read my Marvel recap, you remember that I had certain issues with ‘Captain Marvel‘. Said issues largely amount to ‘It’s an incredibly stupid film with a hateful protagonist’.

Naturally, as with Black Panther, I thought about how I might have tackled the character, and the results are presented below (fair warning, this one’s a lot more lore-heavy than my BP take, so if you’re not familiar with the Marvel universe – cinematic or otherwise – you might get a little lost).

Summary:
Carol Danvers is a newly-formed captain the US Air Force joining her first active-duty squadron at a Florida base. She’s always dreamt of flying in the Air Force, following the military footsteps of her father and brothers and following a life-long love of aviation.

The squad, however, is cold to her, especially after a preliminary exercise where she makes a crucial mistake and nearly causes a crash. However, her wingman gets blamed for it instead of her.

At a bar that night, the rest of the squad keeps their distance from her, and when she tries to get friendly with the only other female pilot – Monica Rambeau – the woman lays it out for her. Carol had been used in a lot of promotional material during training, and they’ve all heard rumors that she was given special treatment and lowered standards to make her look good for the papers. Basically, as far as they’re concerned she’s a publicity stunt designed to get girls interested in the military, not a real pilot.

Stung by this, Carol reviews her training records and realizes that she ought to have failed at several points, or at least received far greater pushback than she received. She goes to the base commander to request to be returned to training, and he responds by publicly rebuking the team for failing to ‘make her feel welcome.’ Monica fesses up and takes the heat to spare the rest of the squad from being punished, and Carol becomes even less popular as a result.

Taking out her frustrations by swimming laps (wearing a black bathing suit very like her classic costume), she meets Phil Lawson, a scientific liaison attached to the base. He has a gallant, old-world charm and they strike up a friendship, helped by the fact that he’s the only one who isn’t either hostile or patronizing toward her. He advises her that, if she wasn’t given the right preparation then, she’ll just have to make up for it now and try twice as hard. “That’s the way of the warrior.”

Not long after, the squad is assigned to a training exercise with an experimental jet that Lawson developed. Carol is assigned to pilot the jet, against her protests that any one of the others would be better qualified.

They fly out over the Bermuda Triangle, with Lawson riding in the cockpit behind Carol to study the plane’s performance. Suddenly, they lose contact with the base and a UFO appears. Lawson gasps in surprise on seeing it – “No…not here…” – and the UFO shoots down the squad commander. It then targets the others in the squad, specifically Monica, but Carol fires on it, then drives the jet across its path to draws its attention (“Let’s hope this damn thing is as good as you say it is”). She tells the others to retreat while she tries to lead the UFO off. It pursues her, but instead of shooting them down it catches the plane in a tractor beam, drawing them inside itself before departing for space.

The blue-skinned aliens – the Kree – capture Carol and Lawson and put them through a very painful scanning process. Carol is put in first, over Lawson’s protest that it might kill her. It causes intense pain, and she’s unable to stand at the end of it. Then when Lawson goes through, it strips him of his human disguise and reveals the blue skin beneath. Carol lasts just long enough to see this before passing out.

She wakes up in a cell, with Lawson waiting outside of it. He expresses relief that she’s alive, she, however, doesn’t trust him anymore, accusing him of setting the whole thing up. He assures her that he had nothing to do with it, but says the truth is a long story, and he doesn’t have time. But he is going to try to get her released.

Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Yon-Rogg, the ship’s commander. He says that he’s given Lawson – or Mar-Vel as he calls him – enough time to worry over his “pet” and now they need to talk. Also on board is Quin-Ra, a servant of Mar-Vel’s family.

Yon-Rogg takes Mar-Vel to his chambers, where they share drinks. Y comments that he was difficult to find: the Nova Corps couldn’t say where he’d gone. Mar-Vel mutters something evasive about continuing his research. Yon-Rogg then drops the information that Mar-Vel’s father and his entire family is dead, which is why he was sent to find him, since he is now the sole remaining member of that line.

Shocked and pained, Mar-Vel asks who killed his family, and Yon-Rogg is oddly evasive. M suggests Thanos, but Y scornfully comments that, thanks to the Nova Corps, the Kree are already ‘balanced’ enough for the Mad Titan’s tastes (this prompts an angry retort from M about “forgetting politics for once”). He then asks Mar-Vel why he supposes he put them through the scan when they were brought on board.

Putting the pieces together, Mar-Vel nearly drops his glass. He protests in horror that “they’re extinct.” Yon-Rogg shakes his head. Mar-Vel asks how ‘they’ could be so strong, since surely people would know if there were many of them. To which Yon-Rogg answers “Would they?”

Mar-Vel asks what the other major powers in the galaxy – the Nova Corps, Asgard – are doing about it. Yon-Rogg answers that, as far as the Kree are aware, the other civilizations don’t know about it yet. The Kree are content to let ‘them’ weaken the others if possible while they take steps to protect their own Empire.

Realizing the danger, Mar-Vel understands that he has to come back to Hala to help protect his people. But he insists on letting Carol go first. Yon-Rogg refuses, revealing that he means to take her back as a scientific specimen, since they’ve had so little opportunity to study Terran physiognomy.

Following this conversation, Mar-Vel manages to trick the guards and get Carol out of her cell, and the two make their way to an escape pod. During the escape, some guards fire at Carol, but Mar-Vel places himself between them and her, taking the shots and then returning them from his hand, revealing his power to absorb and re-direct energy. He sends a message to Yon-Rogg as they fly away, telling him to inform the Supreme Intelligence that he’ll return as soon as he can.

The damaged pod crashes back on Earth and Carol emerges mortally wounded. With no other choice, Mar-Vel gives her a blood transfusion. She then directs him to her father’s house before collapsing. When she wakes up, she finds he’s been anxiously watching over her. After expressing relief at her recovery, he begs her to explain to her father that he hadn’t abducted her.

M: “He keeps threatening to shoot me and sell my body to the tabloids.”
C: “Cut it out, Dad! At least tell him it’ll be the National Geographic!”

Upon rising, she discovers that the blood transfusion has given her similar powers to his, only more volatile.

They recuperate with her father, and Mar-Vel explains his history. He is the son of a noble Kree family, but preferred scholarship to warfare, marking him out as an anomaly among his people. Following Ronan’s attack, he was sent as an ambassador to Xandar to try to repair relations (and, he suspects, because he was something of an embarrassment at home). There he gained enough respect from Nova Prime that he was permitted to study the Power Stone.

In his studies, he realized that it was the core of an ancient Kree artifact that their first Emperor used to unite Hala, back when their civilization was more peaceful and cultured and less pre-occupied with war. It was said that the first Emperor had god-like powers. Unable to resist, he made an attempt to replicate it with the stone and found himself able to absorb and generate energy.

Realizing that if it were discovered what he’d done than the Kree would never rest until they could exploit it, he decided to leave Xandar and hide out on Earth while he studied his new abilities. Now Carol has the same powers he does. Feeling responsible, he says he can’t leave until he teaches her to safely control them.

C: “Wait. Does that mean I can fly?”
M: “Ah…it might. Eventually. It took me a while to learn, but…”
C: “But I can fly? Really fly?”
M: “Yes.”
C: “Then what are we waiting for?”

At the same time, the squad have returned to the base and been debriefed. This incident is being put down as a training accident, since, as the commander explains, after so many recent disasters the government doesn’t want to worry people unnecessarily. Monica, who feels guilty about how she treated Carol, requests to be the one to take the news to her family, noting that Carol saved her life.

She goes to Col. Danvers’s house to inform him of his daughter’s ‘death’. She admits that they weren’t very close, and confesses that she had underestimated her. While she’s speaking, Carol comes in behind her.

R: “She was…more than any of us expected.”
C: “Would you say she was a real pilot?”

Monica is stunned that she’s alive, and Carol says that it’s a ‘long story’ and indicates Mar-Vel, fully revealed in his blue-skinned form.

M: “Captain Rambeau. You’re looking well.”

Carol explains what happened and why she needs to stay ‘dead’, at least for the time being. Now that she has powers, she’d be subject to the Sokovia Accords and considering how volatile her abilities currently are, it would be dangerous for Secretary Ross to know about her.

Monica apologizes for what she said in the bar, but Carol says that it was only too true and not to worry about it.

Mar-Vel then gives her her first lesson and Monica watches.

M: “Thanks to the Power Stone, you body now generates enough energy to power New York City. It absorbs impacts, reinforces your muscles, and speeds up your perception. Effectively, you’re stronger, faster, and more durable than just about anyone on your planet or mine.”
C: “Even the Hulk?”
M: “Eh, let’s make an exception for the Avengers for now. You can push your body to generate more energy and you can absorb it from your environment. The sun, cosmic rays in space, plasma fire, kinetic energy, and so on. But it’s not unlimited. Try to absorb too much, you’ll risk overloading.”
C: “What happens then?”
M: “I’ve never tried it, and I wouldn’t recommend doing so. Also, remember it takes time for your body to generate energy. It’s not an infinite supply. If you try to channel too much, you could deplete yourself, and then you’ll be just an ordinary human…Kree…beautiful woman.”

Carol gives him a bemused look at the description.

C: “We wouldn’t want that, would we?”

The lesson does not go well. Carol has a very hard time controlling her powers, uses too much at once, and generally struggles to keep it under control. But though frustrated, she keeps working hard. When Mar-Vel tries to sugar-coat how badly she did, she angrily insist that he not coddle her, but give it to her straight.

This leads into a montage of her training and slowly mastering her abilities. All the while she’s borne up by the idea that, if she learns to control it, she’ll be able to fly.

During this time, they begin to fall deeply in love, though Mar-Vel knows that he’ll soon have to leave. At one point there is a discussion about the human practice of taking your husband’s name.

Carol: “It’s an old-fashioned custom.”
Mar-Vel: “Sometimes the old ways are best. Would that we Kree had continued our traditions instead of hungering for more and more power.”

(They also comment on how ‘Marvel’ in English means ‘great wonder’).

She asks why he has to go back, and he says that his people need him. They are facing a deadly enemy and he must do what he can to stop them. She asks who the enemy is.

Mar-Vel: “They are called the Skrulls.”

He explains that the Skrulls can change their appearance and even their DNA structure to imitate anyone. They’ve developed techniques for stealing memories. They are like a virus: when they target a planet, the quietly copy and replace its most important people and their families, or else integrate themselves among the population and seek out key positions of power. They then use a combination of chemicals and mass hypnosis to discourage breeding and slowly phase the original population out while they themselves continue to reproduce until they are the majority of the population. The are cunning and deadly patient. Only when they are exposed do they break out their weaponry, which is at least on a par with that of the Kree. Now it seems that, from being thought extinct, they’ve been quietly building an empire for over a thousand years and are at last ready to begin declaring themselves openly.

Meanwhile, back on the ship, Yon-Rogg has seen Mar-Vel’s power and realizes what it means. He’s determined to take it for himself, and so sends a message to the Supreme Intelligence saying that they’ve discovered that Mar-Vel was killed by the Earth natives. He then seeks permission to seize the planet as a strategic point. The Supreme Intelligence takes time to consider his arguments, then gives permission. Quin-Ra observes all this and, the first chance he gets, slips away in a smaller ship.

Carol final masters her powers enough to fly. Mar-Vel teaches her by carrying her into the sky and ‘casting her off’. He’s done this several times in the montage and had to catch her each time. But this time she really “let’s herself go” and flies for real. It’s a joyous, almost dream-like sequence as she zooms through the air, testing her abilities, reveling the sheer ecstasy of flight. Mar-Vel flies alongside her, and the scene soon turns romantic, ending in a mid-air kiss in front of the moon.

When they land, however, Mar-Vel tells her that, now she’s learned to control her powers, he has to go. He promises to return some day if he can.

As he is about to leave, however, Quin-Ra flies down in his ship, having finally tracked them down. Mar-Vel says that he’s ready to return, but Quin-Ra reveals that Yon-Rogg has already reported his death and intends to steal his powers, and that he has received permission to seize the Earth.

Yon-Rogg arrives shortly after and Mar-Vel confronts him.

M: “Traitor!”
Y: “That’s rich, coming from you!”

Yon-Rogg says that the power of the Kree hero does not belong in one who would betray the Empire.

Y also makes a crack about “studying the local wildlife.”

Mar-Vel counters that Y is involving the Empire in a disastrous course, saying that attacking Earth will mean war with Asgard just when they’re also fighting the Skrulls. Yon-Rogg counters that Asgard will not intervene. The Dark Elves’ attack showed that they had become weak, and now Odin is dying and his sons bicker over the throne. They will not have the capacity or attention to interfere. He also cites Ronan’s attack on Xandar as showing what the Kree can still accomplish if someone is only wiling to act.

Carol sneers that the Chitauri already tried to take the Earth, but the Avengers stopped them.

C: “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

Yon-Rogg answers that he knows all about the Avengers, which is why he doesn’t intend to invade the Earth. He’s going to bombard the planet from orbit until nothing survives.

Y: “We only want it as a strategic outpost. If, in the future, we decide to set up a permanent settlement here, we can always re-terraform it.”

Mar-Vel declares that he will not allow Yon-Rogg to stain their people with more innocent blood, and a battle breaks out, first on the ground (Carol’s Dad joins in with a rifle) then in the skies as Yon-Rogg scrambles his fighters to try to capture Mar-Vel. Carol and Mar-Vel fight back, and soon the rest of her squad join in, having been scrambled in response to reports of explosions. During this, Carol ends up flying alongside Monica’s jet and snaps a salute at her.

Monica: (whistling) “Well, shazam!”

Yon-Rogg finally orders a retreat and, abandoning the idea of taking Mar-Vel’s body, resolves to start the bombardment right away. He charges up a massive beam, and Mar-Vel, over Carol’s pleas, flies up to block it. He succeeds, but the effort overloads his body. There’s a massive explosion that damages the ship and he falls back to earth.

Carol catches his body as it falls and lands in the field where they practiced. He says good-bye, then calls Quin-Ra to witness that she is now the heir to his family line and Qui-Ra’s rightful mistress, effectively claiming her as his wife.

M: “The Vel blood flows in her veins.”

He begs her to help save the Kree, both from the Skrulls and from themselves. She says she’ll do her best, and he dies in her arms.

Meanwhile, Yon-Rogg starts to prepare another shot, the explosion having damaged his ship, but not disabled it. Carol flies up to space to continue the fight, but her blasts can’t penetrate the shields of the huge capital ship. In a final gambit, she summons all her stored energy and unleashes it in a single powerful beam that overwhelms the shields and blasts right through the middle of the ship. On the bridge, Yon-Rogg can only futilely deny that this is happening before he’s consumed in the explosion.

Completely spent, Carol falls back to Earth and passes out on the way down.

She wakes up at home, learning that Quin-Ra caught her with his ship’s tractor beam. We also learn that Monica Rambeau and her squadron are getting most of the credit, and Carol’s existence remains a secret for now, though the government will soon be looking for her.

They bury Mar-Vel in the field, not wanting his body to fall into the hands of the government. Carol then says that she has to go soon to try to carry on his work. She means to go to Xandar first to warn them of the Skrull threat.

Carol’s preparing to leave when her father says she has another visitor. Natasha Romanov walks in.

Carol is amazed to see the Black Widow in her house.

C: “I thought you were on the run.”
N: “I am. This is me running, so I’ll get to the point. We know what you did and what you can do. Since most people can’t tell you this, let me say that we’re grateful. And frankly, we could use someone like you on the team.”
C: “You…you want me to be an Avenger?”
N: “I’ll be honest, it would mean going on the run, but since you’re already dead that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you. And you could do some real good.”

Carol considers it, but then shakes her head.

C: “I’m sorry. I appreciate the offer, I really do. Serving under Captain America, that…that’d be another dream come true! But I’ve got a promise to keep.”

Natasha nods.

N: “I’ll level with you, we think that something big is coming. Something that might take everything we’ve got and more. So, I hope you hurry back.”

Carol thinks a moment, then takes a communication device from the table.

C: “Here. I’m told this works even across interstellar distances. Something about wormholes, my new butler isn’t really sure, but supposedly it works. If you really need me, give me a call and I’ll be here as soon as I can.”
N: “Thanks. Good luck, Captain Danvers.”
C: “Actually, it’s not Danvers anymore. I’m a bit old fashioned that way. It’s Captain Marvel.”

Mid-Credits Scene:
We see pieces of the destroyed Kree ships being loaded up into a warehouse somewhere not far from the Air Force Base. The base commander is overseeing it.

Then Secretary Ross walks in. He says something about how this is a potential gold mine of information, with the chance to ‘give then an edge’.

The commander asks if he’s going to bring Stark in on it.

Ross: “Stark? Stark’s old news. I’ve got someone better. Someone more reliable.”

He indicates a thirty-something year old man who hasn’t been paying the slightest attention to them, instead studying the machinery with avidity, exclaiming over its composition.

Ross: “Doctor?”

The man comes out of his reverie and greets the commander. Ross: “Meet the future, commander.”

Man: “Sorry to be rude. Ah, it’s all rather exciting. Do you realize that the circuitry in these crafts already confirms the theory of…Oh, sorry, there I go again. How do you do? My name is Reed Richards.”

End Credits Scene:
We see a man in a darkened room talking into a small communication device. A shadowy figure is visible on the other end.

“War is coming and much is changing. We must study these developments and see how to turn them to our advantage. In the meantime, you will hold your positions and take no further actions for the time being.”

Man: “Understood. Long live the Skrull Empire!”

He ends the communication. A moment later, there is a knock at the door.

“Sir? They’re ready for you.”

The Skrull gets up and leaves the room. In the Oval Office, Monica Rambeau is waiting to be decorated. The Skrull is the President of the United States.

President: “Captain Rambeau. Our people owe you a great debt.”

Kaiju Appreciations: Iris (Updated)

My latest appreciation video is now up. This one’s a remake of the very first one, a tribute to Gamera’s most vile and sinister opponent, Iris.

Iris is a very interesting figure among the kaiju. He’s pretty clearly based on Viras from the Showa Gamera films – an alien squid monster – but they took him in such a different direction that he became a distinct character in his own right (the same thing happened with Legion in the previous film, who was based on Zigra). The story of Gamera III centers on Ayana, a teenage girl whose parents were killed during the climax of the first of the trilogy, partly, if I remember correctly, because a medical condition that she had prevented them from evacuating sooner. Ayana blames Gamera for their deaths, and when she discovers a cute, squid-like creature in an ancient cave, she decides that it will be able to enact revenge for her.

Except that the creature, which she names Iris after her dead family cat (symbolically incorporating it into the family she lost), has its own agenda; to use the psychic link it forms with the girl to become ever more powerful, and eventually consume her entirely.

(At times there’s almost a twisted sexual undertone to their relationship, especially in the scene in the woods. Yikes).

So, yeah, this is a really good movie (the whole Gamera trilogy is great: a shining example of making the most of unpromising material), and Iris is probably one of the best and certainly most vile kaiju villains out there. Remember what I was saying about how Lovecraftian influence is everywhere? Iris is a textbook example (no, not just because he has tentacles, but because he’s an ancient, eldritch being of uncertain origins and purposes brought into the present to corrupt and destroy the very mind and soul of the people he encounters).

He also shows off the then-increasing use of CGI to supplement the suitimation, and it holds up surprisingly well, largely due to the fantastic art direction on his design.

I made the original video over a decade ago (which is depressing to think about), and then I could only record with demo software, so the quality is awful and there’s a distracting ‘Unregistered Hypercam 2’ notice in the top left corner. I always meant to go back and re-do it in better quality (literally said I would in the introduction). Looking back, the editing choices are kind of odd and out-of-step with the rest of the series, focusing as much on Ayana as on Iris himself. She of course needs to be present in the video, but looking at the old one it feels like half the video is about her. So for the new one I used more footage of Iris wherever possible, in the process finding a lot of really impressive shots that I somehow missed the first time (or didn’t think I could use with the rotten film quality).

Original

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” as rendered by the Jonas Brothers is a lighter and, well, cheesier fare that I would have liked, but at the end of the day I decided that I didn’t want to open up the rabbit hole of swapping out songs on these ‘remakes’, as that would kind of mean they were simply completely different videos, whereas I think of them as just updates or remasterings (there may be one exception down the line, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it).

(Also, I had to try to recreate the title animation by hand, since that particular ‘style’ doesn’t exist on Final Cut).

Friday Flotsam: Thoughts on ‘No Way Home’

1. It being New Year’s Eve, I suppose standard practice would be to give some kind of a retrospective of the year gone by or speculations of the one to come. But we have more important things to talk about today; namely Spider-Man!

I’d thought I was done with the MCU, but the word-of-mouth on No Way Home was so good that I couldn’t resist checking it out. And, well, add my mouth to the word, because yeah, it is really good. I think, on reflection, that I’d still rank Spider-Man 2 above it as the best live-action Spidey flick, but this is a pretty clear second-placer (though, full disclosure, I haven’t seen Far From Home or the two Amazing Spider-Man films…which kind of renders the above meaningless, as that’s nearly half the candidates right there. All I’ll say is that I haven’t seen anyone saying anything that would challenge it).

So, there will be some spoilers, but not really anything you didn’t see in the trailers.

2. I don’t want to go into the plot too much; the short version here is that a plot device courtesy of Dr. Strange brings several classic Spider-Man villains into the MCU from other universes, not to mention two alternate versions of Peter Parker: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Meaning that we have all three live-action Spider-Mans working together against five classic bad guys.

But the thing that makes the film work is the fact that they don’t just trot these characters out for cheap nostalgia. The writers clearly took the time to sit down and consider where each character is in his respective journey, what he wants, and why he is the way he is. The result is that they actually manage to build on the returning characters, bringing out new dimensions and reaching new conclusions. To put it another way, these aren’t just fan-baiting props trotted out to make the audience squeal (e.g. most of the stuff in the Star Wars sequels), the writers treat them as actual characters with arcs and motivations.

3. The one exception is, unfortunately, my personal favorite Spidey rogue, Sandman. He has some good moments, but his motivations and actions really don’t make sense by the end of the film: he has no reason whatever to side with the villains given his history and motives (which the film alludes to). Of course, if Sandman were on the heroes’s side, the baddies wouldn’t stand a chance, but it’s still something the writers are clearly hoping you’ll just go with.

4. On the other hand, Willem Dafoe knocks it out of the park as the Green Goblin, reminding us that, no it’s not just nostalgia talking: he really was and is that good in the role. If anything, he’s even more vile, dangerous, and downright frightening than he was before, and he recaptures the creepy ambiguity of the split personality as if he’d played the role yesterday. Plus he features in some of the most restrained, yet brutal fights in the MCU between him and Peter (apparently still doing many of his own stunts).

Alfred Molina likewise is just as good as ever as Doctor Octopus, every bit as commanding, arrogant, and yet tragic as he was before (there’s a downright beautiful moment between him and Tobey Maguire near the end). Again, like Dafoe it really feels as though he stepped straight from the earlier film into this one.

Props also to Jamie Foxx as Electro. I remember when I found out he was cast in the role way back when I was interested; he’s a very good actor and I thought he’d be a great fit (an instance of race swapping where it doesn’t really matter). But from all I can tell, he unfortunately wasn’t given much to work with. Here, though, he really goes to town in the role: power hungry and with a definitely dangerous edge even when he seems to be calm and helpful. And, of course, I’m delighted they worked in the character’s trademark ‘star-shaped head of electricity’ image.

5. But good as it is to see the baddies again, the real story is the three Peters. Tobey Maguire is, of course, the oldest and in many ways the most important of the three, and he comes across as definitely a more mature, wiser Peter than when we saw him last. Andrew Garfield, meanwhile, almost steals the whole show as a Peter still haunted by his failure to save Gwen Stacey, but also the one who seems most excited to be meeting the others (“I always wanted brothers,” he says at one point, which is kind of perfect). Though he also has his share of fun moments, like when he reluctantly proves his identity upon first joining the cast.

(Garfield is so good, in fact, that he does the impossible: he makes me want to see the Amazing Spider-Man films)

These three actors have spectacular chemistry, and their interactions all feel pitch-perfect as they support one another, compare notes, share hard-earned wisdom, and so on. Each one of them contributes something, some unique experience or perspective. And again, the story actually develops on builds on their characters from the previous films, especially Garfield, who gets a wonderful redemptive moment in the final act, bringing some closure to his character. Though, fittingly, the biggest moment of ‘what it means to be Spider-Man’ goes to Tobey Maguire.

That’s another thing, I love how positive the film is regarding its cast. There’s no effort to tear down one or another of the three Peters or to take pot-shots at earlier versions of the story. The three men get along well, like each other, and appreciate each other. Even a brief, reactionary fight between Maguire and Garfield when they first meet is both very quick and ends with mutual respect and admiration rather than insults. It all feels, well, very nice.

(Oh, and I very much appreciated it that, though Kirsten Dunst doesn’t appear, Maguire’s Peter confirms that yes, they got their happy ever after and made it work. See, that’s what we want when a hero returns to the screen after a long absence: to know that all his struggles and adventures were not in vain after all).

In a word, the returning cast are treated as people, real characters with motivations and histories, not just walk-on fan-bait.

6. Besides all that, it’s just a really good Spider-Man story; one that really gets the core of the character as a normal man trying to balance his great power and responsibility, who is a hero because it’s the right thing to do and who doesn’t receive any reward for it. Tom Holland, I feel, really grows into the role here, being forced to make real sacrifices and come to terms with real consequences as he struggles to do the right thing.

It also gracefully corrects course on some of the baggage of the previous films (well, Homecoming at least: again, haven’t see the other one). As in, MJ and Ned actually act like human beings and are legitimately likable this time around! Both the romance and the three-way friendship actually worked and I found myself genuinely invested in them! I still don’t like the race and name swapping on Mary Jane at all, but they work with what they have and they made the lemonade!

7. There are some other problems with regards to how the whole multiverse concept works and the rules of who goes through and why, not to mention some, ah, timing issues regarding the villains (can’t say more without spoilers). Oh, and I thought the after credits scenes were a missed opportunity (though the first one is admittedly funny).

But my biggest concern is just that this is going to be the next gimmick; pulling older, beloved versions of franchises into new ones in order to shore up viewership. It’s well done here, but I’d hate to see it become a standardized gimmick the way the MCU crossover cameos did. Expanding the crossover and nostalgia train ever further outwards until everything interacts with everything else.

There is also something I felt just seeing the trailers: that sense of admitted defeat. As if the current overseers of the franchise were throwing up their hands and saying ‘yeah, we can’t do it. We can’t make characters the way that Sam Raimi or even Marc Webb did. We just need to use what was built before in order to make our version work.’ Like the natives in ‘King Kong’, dependent on the wall that they could never have built themselves, but can only maintain.

8. Well, that’s a topic for another day. For now, I’m going to focus on the positive: I actually went to the theater to see a new movie and enjoyed myself again. It really did feel like, for those two and a half hours (which went by remarkably fast, by the way), I was back in the days of Sam Raimi, or even the early days of the MCU; just happy to be entertained by the creativity, hard work, and good will before me on the screen. Contrary to the title, it felt a little like coming home again.

It felt good.

You know, I’m not so sure that this wasn’t a suitable piece for New Years. It makes me think that at least some of what’s ahead might actually be as good as what has been.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday Flotsam: In the News, Invisible Man, and Folk Song

1. I have barely looked at the news in weeks and have frankly been much happier for it. After all, I have no power to affect anything that is in the news, and it’s going to affect me I’ll find out about it sooner or later. Not to mention that most of it is either outright lies or distortions of one sort of another. So, really, I don’t see much point in keeping up with it.

2. That said, I’ve heard that there was an election in Old Virginia, and that the (comparative) good guys seem to have won big. Good news of any kind is welcome, so hooray for that.

3. Being a Monarchist in a liberal republic is like:

4. You know, I like to call myself a Monarchist, but that’s a bit of an oversimplification. I’m not against Republics, provided they’re set up with some degree of sense (e.g. non-democratic. Actually, the original design for the US was, unsurprisingly, considerably better considered than the current system, but that’s another story). I think ‘Integralist’ is probably the closest active term I’ve found: the idea that, since you have to structure society around some philosophy or another, it may as well be a true one.

Thing is that the quality of a given system of government is largely a question of the quality of the people who operate it. A Monarchy operated by liberals is no better than a republic, and worse than a republic run by Christians (as the Vatican offers daily proof). The problem, as always, is one of conversion.

5. I’d forgotten how good a movie the original Invisible Man with Claude Rains and directed by James “Frankenstein” Whale really is. I got to see it on the big screen in a double-feature with The Wolf-Man (also features Claude Rains, though in a very different role) and I was continually impressed by the writing: how logically everything progresses and how reasonably everyone reacts, except for the people who are supposed to be acting irrationally. The only major gaps I noticed were an unconvincing hand-wave of why they can’t use dogs to catch him (“they’ve lost the scent”) and the fact that no one seems willing to take advantage of the times when he’s actually grabbing someone to catch him by touch, which was a continual problem for the character in the book and even led to his final defeat. But the whole sequence of the story, the reactions of the police and the populace, and the progression of the Invisible Man himself follow a clear and well-considered progression all the way to the conclusion.

There’s also the still-impressive special effects, which are deployed with a surprising prodigality. For instance, there’s a bit where the Invisible Man goes skipping down the road in a pair of stolen trousers singing ‘Nuts in May’. It adds nothing to the plot, it’s just a joke (and a sign of his continually-deteriorating sanity), but they took the time and money to make it happen in 1932. And whether through lighting or effects, they even took care that Rains’s eyes aren’t visible even on careful examination during close-ups of him in his bandaged-up disguise.

6. By the way, this is a surprisingly brutal film: the Invisible Man has easily the highest on-screen body count of any of the classic Universal Monsters, coming in at over a hundred confirmed kills (he wrecks a train at one point just because he can). Yet even so, and despite only killing one or two people, the character in the book is far more vile than his film counterpart.

7. And let’s end with a Cossack folk song (think I might have posted this video before, but it’s worth revisiting):

Flotsam: Self-Examination, Plot Holes, Halloween-ness, and a Joke

1. I notice that I have a bad habit (and perhaps you do as well) that when I start to pray and try to meditate upon God that I tend to fall into criticism of modernity: thinking of how far the contemporary world is from the majesty of the Divine plan and how many ways we depart from this holy road.

Of course, what I should be thinking about is how far I am from all that. If we’re to do comparisons under such a circumstance, it ought to be regarding the one thing we can actually control and bring a little close to the standard in question. Endlessly thinking about how horrible other people are – however true that may be – is spiritual junk food; it’s momentarily satisfying, but empty at best, harmful at worst. At the end of the day, it’s only ourselves and our own that we’ll be held finally responsible for.

2. Re-reading The Lord of the Rings. Something that occurred to me this go-round is that Peter Jackson introduced a significant plot hole in Fellowship. Namely, that there’s now no reason for Gandalf not to accompany Frodo from the Shire to Rivendell.

In the book, the plan is for Frodo to slip quietly out of the Shire after settling his affairs so as not to attract notice, and Gandalf fully means to accompany him for safety. About midsummer, though, Gandalf is away in Bree when he meets Radagast, who warns him that the Nine are abroad and that Saruman has something he urgently needs to speak to him about. Since he knows it will take the Nazgul many weeks to reach the Shire, Gandalf considers running back to the Shire to warn Frodo to change his plans and leave sooner, but decides he doesn’t have the time since Radagast was already late in finding him, so he tries to send a letter instead. Saruman reveals his true colors (so to speak) and imprisons Gandalf, ad the innkeeper forgets the letter, and the result is that Frodo leaves the Shire much too late, with no help from Gandalf, and with the Nazgul are almost literally at his doorstep.

In the film, Gandalf has Frodo leave almost the moment he confirms what the Ring is, saying that he’ll run off to Isengard to consult with Saruman and then meet him at the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Now, first off this is an example of Jackson’s rather absurd telescoping of Middle Earth, which is severely shrunken from its book form (if you look at a map, Isengard is several hundred miles from the Shire, away at the bottom of the Misty Mountains: that would be like telling someone in Ann Arbor to make for Detroit and that you’ll be waiting for them there after you run to Nashville and back).

Not to mention that Rivendell, obviously the safest place for many miles, is on the way to Isengard. Given how important the matter is, and how much he cares about Frodo, there’s no adequate reason for Gandalf not to first accompany him to safety and then go see Saruman.

3. None of this is to say that the film is bad, of course (though honestly the compression of Middle Earth – and consequently of the timeline – is one of my biggest criticisms, even though I understand why they did it). Just something I thought was interesting to note.

4. Alas, it is again Halloween and I’ve not had the time or attention to sample any good horror films or get into the spirit of the season. I do like Halloween, but it’s a holiday that really takes time and attention to properly soak in: the atmosphere of autumn leaves rustling in a chill wind, cloud-wrapped moons, graveyards, and creaky old houses where, if anything walks there, it walks alone. It’s hard to really feel ‘Halloweeny’ in a populated suburb. You need a small, semi-rural town with woods about it and at least a few hundred years of history to do it properly. Or at least be somewhere you can forget about modern cars and strip malls and the like.

5. Though you could conceivably make a good strip-mall-based horror film out of ‘Five Nights at Freddy’s’, assuming you find a way to correct the plot hole of “why would anyone go back for another shift once they realize what the score is?” I don’t think they will, but it could be done (me, I would have it be that the guard realizes something bad happened / is going to happen and is trying to solve the mystery before he gets his head bitten off by the jump-scares. Simple and obvious, so they probably won’t do it).

6. And to finish off, I heard a version of this story many, many years ago and it stuck in my mind, though most of the details are long lost so I had to fill them in myself.

There was a married couple who planned to vacation in Florida one summer. Then, at the last minute, the husband found he had some work to take care of and had to miss the trip. But he insisted that she should go on anyway, since they’d already bought the tickets and she’d been really looking forward to it.

So, she went on the trip. But her flight had hardly left when the husband learned that the work wasn’t going to be nearly as bad as he thought and he decided to text her that he’d be able to follow her almost immediately. Only, he then remember that she’d just gotten a new phone and he couldn’t remember the number. But they had some friends living down there, who were to meet his wife and take her to the hotel, so he called them and asked them to let her know that he’d be coming soon.

The woman landed and was met by the friends, who told her the good news. She was, of course, delighted and as soon as she got to the hotel she went and texted her husband on her new phone.

Trouble was, she couldn’t quite remember his number either, since she’d just been using the stored contact all this time. But she was a hopeful kind of woman and, after thinking about it a bit decided she could remember it after all and confidently sent her text.

Unfortunately, it was the wrong number. Even more unfortunately, it was actually the number of a preacher whose wife had just passed away. They were holding the wake at his house, and everyone was being very decorous and sad, when suddenly he looked at his phone and screamed.

This is what he read:

“Beloved,

Just arrived. Delighted to hear you’ll be joining me soon.”

Then, just as the assembled guests were wondering what to make of this message from the other world and whether they dared respond, her next text came in.

“It sure is hot down here.”

Flotsam: Various and Sundry Life Things and the Mario Movie

1. I’m beginning to settle in at last as the final few necessary tasks and purchases are being wrapped up. Having a new apartment is like having a giant toy; there are all sorts of things you can do with it and you can’t wait to get the chance to play with it.

2. Internet is up at last, though I have it on a kill switch (via the simple expedient of plugging the router into a power strip) so I can turn it off it becomes too much of a distraction.

On that note, I’m working out a schedule for myself to hopefully improve my (frankly appallingly slow) output. So far setting up has kept on interrupting, but even so I’ve found an uptick in production. Amazing what sitting down and just doing the damn work can accomplish.

3. Part of my schedule is anticipated to include Saturday movie nights (don’t like watching movies during the week, since they eat up so much time), and last night it was Megamind. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but that’s another film I’ve been meaning to do an essay on, since it ranks high on my list of underappreciated gems. It’s an example of the best kind of satire: the kind that provides the genuine thrills and particular joys of the genre it’s spoofing, even as it uses the material for comedy (The Princess Bride and Galaxy Quest are other examples of this sort of thing). In this case it pokes fun at comic book superhero tropes while also providing some excellent comic-book-style action / adventure heroics.

It’s also almost infinitely quotable: “Warming up? The Sun is ‘warming up‘?!”

4. The voice cast was announced for the upcoming ‘Super Mario Brothers’ animated movie (entrusted to Blue Sky of all people), and no one seems particularly happy about it. I like Chris Pratt, but him as Mario? I don’t know about that. And last time I checked, Charles Martinet was alive and well. Granted you might not want the high-pitched Mario voice for a whole film, but I happen to know that Mr. Martinet can do many voices (e.g. he was one of the dragons in Skyrim): all he has to do is tone it down a bit.

I really don’t understand why studios do this (it also bugged me when Roger Craig Smith was replaced by Ben Schwartz for Sonic. Schwartz was fine in the role, but it’s annoying nonetheless). Or rather, I understand, but it makes no sense from a fans’ perspective. Studios figure that mainstream audiences will want to see familiar names in the credits, not the relatively obscure voice actors of the games. Filmmakers, and especially studio people, are notoriously out of touch and so don’t realize that the days of star-driven films are largely in the past. No one is going to go see Super Mario Brothers to hear Chris Pratt and Jack Black: they’re going to go see it to see the Mario Brothers (assuming it looks tolerable from the trailers). Keeping Charles Martinet in the title roles would have been a surefire way to garner immediate fan support, which I think is frankly a lot more valuable these days than star power, especially for an animated film.

I still hope the film is good, and I’m not judging it yet, but this isn’t a good sign. Please, please at least be better than the live action film. That should not be a challenge.

(Though for my part, all will be forgiven if they give John Leguizamo and Samantha Mathis cameos. Or if they bring Lance Hendrikson back as the king / chancellor of the Mushroom Kingdom. Come on, people: he never turns down a paycheck!).

5. By the way, I suspect the above is the reason why My Little Pony: The Movie jettisoned most of that show’s fantastic supporting cast in favor of a bunch of new characters with celebrity voice actors. They probably would have re-cast the Mane Six if they thought they could get away with it (“Starring Scarlett Johanson as Twilight Sparkle”).

6. Also, regarding the Mario movie: Dwayne Johnson should have been Donkey Kong. How does one fail to see that?

Just Because It’s Cool: Donnie Yen vs. Mike Tyson

I found this clip of a fight scene in Yip Man 3 pitting Donnie Yen as the titular (historical) Wing Chun grandmaster Yip Man against Mike Tyson as…well, basically just Mike Tyson. There’s some kind of plot going on (I haven’t seen the film), but the important thing is that we get to see two legit martial artists going at it.

It’s a little cartoony, of course. In my experience, huge megaton punches like that don’t send you flying around the room, they just sort of make you die. But it’s cool and a relatively rare instance of pitting eastern martial arts against western boxing in a way that gives the latter its due as legitimate fighting style.

Bruce Lee, if I’m not mistaken, said that one year of boxing left one about equivalent to someone with ten years of kung fu, or something of the kind. This actually seems to be a bit of a pattern: western martial arts tend to be a lot simpler and more straightforward and thus easier to learn, though no less effective, than their eastern counterparts (personally, I’m a black belt but I tend to resort to more or less boxing most of the time in sparring just because it’s simpler and easier to use in the heat of the moment). Which is why eastern martial arts tend to get played up so much in media: they look cooler, or at least can be more easily made to look cooler. But again, both are as effective as the practitioner makes them, and anything that lets you walk away after a fight as opposed to being carried is a good system.

Though this fight also illustrates one of the key weaknesses of boxing: it has little in the way of defense or offense regarding the lower body.

Anyway, enjoy.

Update: Note the bit where Yen uses his elbows to damage Tyson’s fists. That’s one of the key ways to deal with a bigger, stronger opponent: attacking his weapons.

Flotsam: ‘Coco’ and Such

1. I missed seeing Coco when it came out in theaters, since I was by the disillusioned by Pixar’s deteriorating quality. Last week, upon seeing it recommended, I pulled it up and gave it a watch.

My goodness, that is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Certainly one of the best recent films. Not to mention one of the most Traditionalist / Reactionary films of recent years, being all about family tradition, family piety, recovering lost heritage, subordinating personal desires to obligations, and so on.

It’s also the first movie in a long time to legitimately make me cry. Not just tear up, but full on weeping.

I’m going to hold off on doing a full essay for the time being, because I want to see it again first, but I heartily recommend it.

2. Most of the related thoughts springing from the film and other things that have been on my mind lately are frankly too big to get into in a Flotsam. I want to organize them better and work them out first.

3. One thing that occurred to me while watching, however, was this. Everyone seems to love the Day of the Dead: it’s become the Mardi Gras of Mexico (e.g. the event that people think of when they think of the place and that always seems to brought up). Nothing wrong with this, except that I notice there’s always a particular emphasis on the pagan elements of the holiday, to the exclusion of the Christian ones.

This is what I call the ‘isn’t it interesting?’ approach: “Oh, the Mexicans have a tradition of such and such, and the Japanese say this, and the Irish have a story that yada yada, and isn’t that interesting?”

But there is one culture and one tradition that is never given this treatment, that always, without fail, is regarded as illegitimate, imposed, and generally not worth bothering about (even when it’s an integral part of a culture, it tends to be ignored in favor of folklore and pagan stories). Of course, it’s Christianity and the Church. Funny that, isn’t it?

4. This isn’t a criticism of Coco itself, or of Grim Fandango or any of the other works that have used the folklore around the Day of the Dead to good effect (Fandango, I would argue, is probably the closest to a Christian view of things of the one’s I’ve seen, since there the world of the dead is explicitly a transitory state that the good get to cross through almost instantly and the bad have to work and earn their way across, thus being more explicitly akin to Purgatory). It’s a criticism of the cultural attitudes that relegate the Faith to the sidelines and gleefully tries to sever us from our heritage, then regards us as defective when we try to preserve it.

5. One thing I am trying to develop (it’ll help when I get my own place, I’m hoping) is what I call the ‘shopkeeper mentality’. Again, Coco reminded me of this and helped it click in my mind: the mentality of “we have a family enterprise that is keeping us fed and gives us a place in the community. You’re part of this family, so you are going to help in it. Get up, do your chores, say your prayers, help in the shop, don’t complain if you don’t want the slipper.”

Thomas Sowell touched on this as well, describing how successful ethnic groups – e.g. Jews, East Asians, etc. – would practice this sort of behavior: start a commercial enterprise that the family would run, everyone pitch in and work their fingers to the bone to make it a success. Kids do their chores in the morning, then go to school (and they’d better get good grades), then come home and help with the shop.

That’s the kind of attitude I want to have: that this is a trade that gives me and my family a place in the community and supports us, and so it’s expected that we work at it like our lives depend upon it, because they do.

Basically, I don’t want to be a starving artist sacrificing all to his muse, I want to be a shoe shop that happens to make books.

Mauler vs. Black Widow

A melancholy step: I was really hoping this movie wouldn’t be horrible. And I would say that it was still possible Mauler’s being too harsh on it, except…the prison break scene. How the heck did that make it through production without anyone saying “wait, our heroine just condemned hundreds of people to horrible deaths…”? And what does that say about the writers, director, etc. of this movie?

(Also Taskmaster being a girl is stupid, and him being the willowy Olga Kurylenko is stupider: like having Jason Voorhees take off his mask to reveal *gasp* it was Amy Steel the whole time!).

But for a comparative rush job, Mauler’s in good form, emphasizing just how badly the film assassinates and undermines its protagonist (and it takes four hours to dissect this one: twice as long as Captain Marvel. Yikes).

Money line: “Why the **** does Daffy Duck have a better grasp on espionage than Black ****ing Widow?”