So, ‘Star Trek: Beyond’, the film that was almost suffocated at birth by the Jovian-magnitude mediocrity of its own marketing campaign, which consisted of a trailer that was more damaging to public mental health than an outbreak of airborne CJD, followed by a cringe-worthy apology by Simon Pegg that made you just want to wrap him up in a duvet and give him hot food and clean clothes.
First of all: forget about the motorbike. It’s not that big a part of the film, and it’s used in a relatively sensible, creative and, dare I say it, “Star Trekky” fashion. It doesn’t just make vroom-vroom and shoot the pew-pews and it’s far less offensive than, for instance, the “Argo” of ‘Nemesis’ fame.
Speaking of “Star Trekkiness”, ‘Beyond’ is the “Star Trekkiest” Star Trek film since ‘Insurrection’. Sadly, ‘Insurrection’ was also a big smelly puddle of wankscrement, so I’ll go as far as to say that ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ is the Star Trekkiest Non-Wank Star Trek Film since ‘Undiscovered Country’ or ‘First Contact’ – take your pick based on preference. I know ‘Generations’ was pretty Star Trekky, but it was Star Trekky in a bad way, a kind of non-sciencey stupid-space-magic Doctor-Who kind of a way, so I prefer to just ignore it.
‘Beyond’ manages to present a vision of the future that’s actually optimistic, with advanced technology and peaceful coexistence and openly gay people, rather than the vision of the future from ‘Into Darkness’ which was actually just a vision of 1950’s America but somehow with more hatred of women. ‘Beyond’ features female admirals, female character development and even women wearing clothes and not removing them – it’s as though the future will actually be egalitarian, rather than a crypto-fascist state run by middle-aged white men who pat themselves on the back for being “enlightened”.
Speaking of ‘Into Darkness’ and how much it ruins everything, ‘Beyond’ now fully enshrines the proud tradition of enabling fans to simply ignore the shittiest parts of the Star Trek franchise. Just as ‘The Final Frontier’ can be completely omitted when watching the original films in order, so too can ‘Into Darkness’, because nothing that happens in it is referenced or even relevant to the events of ‘Beyond’. No discussion of Kirk’s functional immortality, Carole “Attractive-And-Screams-A-Lot” Marcus, or the fact that Starfleet is made up entirely of munitions-grade arseholes. The only thing you now need to watch from ‘Into Darkness’ is the first ten minutes and twelve seconds, which should cover the excellent opening scene right up to the point that the “Star Trek” title appears, and right before the stupid “Into Darkness” subtitle fades in stupidly below it. Ten minutes, twelve seconds – I timed it.
Indeed, ‘Beyond’ feels very much like an apology to the fans for the capital crimes that ‘Into Darkness’ committed against the franchise. Hell, ‘Beyond’ actually styles itself as the spiritual successor to ‘Wrath of Khan’, the very same film that ‘Into Darkness’ tried and epically, fucking catastrophically failed to emulate.
All of the characters are back doing what they should be. Kirk now feels like a capable leader rather than a dribbling idiot. Spock is back to being a resolute source of rationality, rather than an unstable sociopath with a history of violence. Scotty is more than just comic relief, Chekov is a valuable all-rounder, McCoy acts as a capable Second Officer and shows off his medical capabilities without resorting to dangerous, non-consensual and completely sporadic experimentation on living subjects. Hell, Sulu is the actual fucking pilot this time, rather than a cardboard cut-out that Kirk places in the captain’s chair whenever he needs a cigarette break. And they even gave Uhura stuff to do that wasn’t completely stupid and pointless.
To go further, I’m going to have to get specific, and specific about spoilers. If you want to avoid the spoilers, come back here after you’ve seen the film…
Is It Actually Any Good?
The first thing that stands out in ‘Beyond’ is Simon Pegg’s influence. The script is filled with self-awareness, geeky references to the franchise and enjoyable dialogue. It’s refreshing and is pretty much exactly what was needed to cleanse the palette of the knuckle-dragging blockheadedness of the previous installment.
The second thing that stands out is that ‘Beyond’ is very much a sequel to the 2009 reboot film. As mentioned earlier, there is absolutely no fucking reason to even consider ‘Into Darkness’ a Trek film anymore. The themes of ‘Beyond’ tie in directly to the themes established in 2009 – specifically, Kirk’s absent father and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld.
‘Beyond’ parallels elements of ‘Wrath of Khan’ pretty wonderfully, setting up Kirk’s journey during a quiet birthday celebration with McCoy. Kirk starts this film lost, almost depressed, unsure of his purpose, living in the shadow of his dead father – where in WoK the older Kirk was living in the shadow of his own reputation and old age. The set-up mirrors the classic film in exactly the right way, toasting “perfect eyesight and good hair” – a Simon-Peggian nod to the same scene in Khan, where McCoy gifts a pair of spectacles to a hairpieced Shatner.
This little scene exemplifies the real strength of ‘Beyond’, which is the characters. Throughout the film, we see the cast being proactive, tenacious, solving their problems with ingenuity and co-operation, and they all feel like an actual team working together. When the crew was faced with catastrophe in ‘Into Darkness’, they waddled around the sets flailing their arms like Kermit the Frog before solving their issues with punching, explosions and violence. ‘Beyond’ still has plenty of action but it’s always framed around a desire to save others from danger and prevent disaster, rather than brutally murdering the latest bad guy of the week. Gone are scenes such as Spock hitting someone with a rusty piece of metal like a drunk football hooligan on fucking mephedrone, or Uhura manically ranting about her relationship issues during a firefight like the worst Hollywood female stereotypes.
On the subject of relationships, this film manages to get them right by not really showing any. Uhura and Spock continue their troubled relationship predominantly off-screen and in a mostly sensible fashion that actually makes them both seem fairly normal, and there’s no other silliness to do with romance throughout. I was worried that the ‘Jaylah’ character would end up being a standard love interest for Kirk, but they avoid that misstep successfully throughout.
And on the subject of missteps, you’ve always got to be careful when it comes to blowing up the Enterprise, but ‘Beyond’ arguably has the best Enterprise-demolition scene of the franchise. Compared to ‘Search for Spock’, in which the ship goes down mostly as an afterthought, and ‘Generations’, where she mostly gets done in by idiocy and a pair of cartoon villains, the demise of the flagship in ‘Beyond’ manages to be painful, almost wrenching, as she is slowly torn apart by a vicious swarm of enemy vessels. It’s an emotionally significant sequence for both the characters and the audience, and it’s really a shame that it was revealed in the trailers, as I feel it would’ve had even more impact on me if I hadn’t known it was coming.
The film is filled with traditional Trek solutions to problems – even, yes, the bit where the Beastie Boys save the day. The crew pulling technobabble out of their arses to beat an otherwise-unbeatable villain is precisely the most Star Trek thing you can put in a film besides rubber ears and nacelles. Of course, in the older series they’d have used bloody Bizet or Da Ponte or some other pretentious fucking sequence of vowels instead of a New York hardcore punk band, but ‘Sabotage’ actually works well in the sequence, especially for a younger audience.
Indeed, when bullshit technobabble is employed throughout the film, it always results in at least some exciting visuals, and that was not always the case in other Star Trek productions, where a made-up problem would be solved with some made-up “science” resulting in some dweeb in pyjamas tapping a few glowy buttons and then suddenly the peril is gone. Looking at you, ‘Voyager’, you sloppy monument to mediocrity.
The final element that I really liked in ‘Beyond’ is Spock’s storyline. Reflecting Kirk’s lack of direction, Spock faces a choice between two destinies, incompatible with one another. It’s mostly a side-plot, but it acts as a very touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy, and uses the presence of the old Spock from the previous timeline exactly the way it should – to inform the character of the new Spock, and frame his development and his arc.
The most positive thing I can say about the film is that it was enjoyable. It wasn’t offensive, I don’t feel, to existing fans, and it was generally lively and exciting enough to simply be good fun. Of course, the same could be said of ‘Into Darkness’, that suppurating open wound on the franchise, but ‘Into Darkness’ mixed its stupid storylines with a hubristic attempt to invoke ‘Wrath of Khan’ and a toxic obnoxiousness that left a bad taste in the throat. But ‘Beyond’ seems genuinely to be a good film, and certainly the best of the ‘Reboot’ timeline films so far.
Nah, But Seriously, It Was Crap, Wasn’t It?
Well, no, not really. I mean, okay, there are some crap bits, it’s a Star Trek film, that’s congenital, like my obesity. But there’s no major fuck-ups that I picked up on.
But let’s get picky, eh?
First off, the special effects are pretty much spectacular, except for the odd moment where they suddenly look shit. Almost like they ran out of time and money, so contracted specific shots out to a cadre of six-year-olds equipped with Microsoft Paint. And I hate to call a Star Trek production out on its visuals, I really do, but ‘First Contact’ got it pretty much bang-spot-on twenty years ago, and it’s only ‘Insurrection’ that has dropped the ball since then.
Secondly, whilst I must laud the inclusion of women in this film, Uhura basically gets the sexy lampshade treatment. She’s fairly pro-active, but in a very inconsequential way, and primarily serves as an exposition device. I feel for the writers on this one, because they gave Uhura three qualities in the first film: Being Attractive, Being A Language Nerd, and Being Spock’s Girlfriend. The first one is always active, like my liver, but the second one only has so many applications. As communications officer, even the original Uhura was a relatively minor part of things, because… I mean, she only pipes up when they’re being hailed and then returns to her slumber. And as for being Spock’s girlfriend, well, that’s pretty much the definition of a “shitty female role”, especially when the filmmakers intentionally dodge the draft on romantic subplots.
The weakest part of the film as a whole, for me, was the villain. He was suitably threatening, but he is essentially a ‘Nero-clone’ – an angry villain intent on destruction, but with minimal motivation at first, elevated to “tenuous” motivation following some forced exposition. Idris Elba does a fantastic job, obviously, and the character manages to mirror Kirk’s arc throughout the film, adequately crystallising his personal dilemma. But Captain Skull or whatever the fuck he calls himself is no fucking Khan. He’s no fucking V’Ger probe.
And, actually, that’s kind of fine. Weak villains are almost a staple of the series, and the focus is and always should be on the obstacles they present to the crew. This is best exemplified by ‘The Voyage Home’, where there isn’t even a sentient villain, or by ‘Darmok’, where the villain is LANGUAGE ITSELF. These stories are about “people overcoming”, and ‘Beyond’ certainly captures the essence of that.
So, if you haven’t seen ‘Star Trek: Beyond’ yet, you really should. If nothing else, if this film does well they may end up making more like it, rather than spray-shitting a load of Star Trek references onto a rejected ‘Die Hard’ sequel script like they did with ‘Into Darkness’.
Just bear in mind that it’s extraodinarily silly. I mean, Star Trek has always been silly, but the special effects these days really amp up the silliness to the point that there’s no way of getting past it. I enjoy the ridiculousness of it all, though – it’s almost refreshing, in an era of cinema where Superman is a violent murderer and Robin Hood is a boring arsehole. Embrace the silly. Revel in it. Because the closest you’re going to a quality silly film will be the next surreal fantasy that Tim Burton cookie-cutters out of Depp and Bonham-Carter.
As a fan of mature, developed story lines with depth and characterisation, I am conflicted. You may have already read my thoughts on ‘Batman v Superman’ (and some more thoughts), but I’ve just seen ‘Iron Man’s Avengers 3: Captain America Also Features’ and I feel the way an atheist would presumably feel when witnessing an argument between Pope Francis and Richard Dawkins. On one side is someone who represents an antiquated institution which stands against many of my own beliefs but who is himself trying hard to do good things, and on the other is someone who nominally represents my own preferred view of the world, but who is sadly just stood in the middle of the room shouting bad things about Muslims and occasionally pausing to see who’s paying attention.
See, for all of its flaws, there were parts of ‘Brokeback v Studmagnet’ that were trying to be the superhero movie that I really want to see, such as Batman’s ruthlessly rational mistrust of Superman or the exploration of how the world might respond to the presence a being such as the Kryptonian wonder. But the whole film was so poorly executed that these brief flashes of interest were completely demolished by overly-extravagant special effects and a total lack of narrative focus.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s ‘Stark v Rogers: Dawn of Franchise Entrenchment’ fails to particularly explore any meaningful themes in a satisfactory way – and yet it is executed so competently that it outperforms the DC offering on every metric. Following the previous metaphor, ‘Ballsack v Slowhandjob’ is bitterly tweeting about how religion makes people bad and mean, whilst ‘Captain Bromance: Civil Union’ is out in the world telling its followers to be nicer to gay people and generally trying to make the world a more pleasant place.
‘Capital Punishment: Civil Rights’ (that one was rubbish, I know) is not a perfect film. In fact, it is deeply fucking flawed. The story hangs on Captain Rogers’ conviction that he should be completely beyond oversight on any matter, and it really all seems to come down to the fact that he’s American, and therefore reserves the right to violate international borders in order to get into firefights with other Americans. He also maintains that his friend, Bucky, should be beyond prosecution due to the fact he was brainwashed, a stance which makes less and less sense the more chest cavities Bucky collapses with a single robotic punch.
Oddly for a film titled ‘Captain America’, all of the character development is reserved for everyone who is not called fucking “Captain America”. Iron Man greedily hogs the bulk of it – apparently his own trilogy and a spotlight in both ‘Avengers’ films was not quite enough for Tony Stark, meaning he has now replaced Wolverine as the subject of the phrase “Oh, it’s about him again?” That being said, it’s probably fitting that it’s the capitalist whose earlier successes entitle him to greater rewards later on. Maybe they were expecting the screen time to “trickle down” to the other characters.
That being said, the other characters do all get a decent amount of development. Scarlet Wid… Witch gets plenty of trauma and self-reflection, Black Wit… Widow continues to defy Hollywood tropes by being a sexy female assassin who actually possesses a personality. Newcomer Black Panther gets a fair dose of motivation, Vision shows us some of his vulnerabilities and even Rhodey gets a personal story line – cementing this even more firmly as a re-labeled Iron Man romp.
Indeed, Captain America himself is arguably the weakest bloody part of the whole film. Where he was previously an optimistic if occasionally naive symbol of American independence, he now seems to have transitioned into a block-headed, obtuse and downright arrogant icon of American entitlement. Hell, if I wanted to be really controversial I’d make comparisons between Bucky and Israel, but I’ll leave that nasty little vipers’ nest alone for the time being.
The fact is that previous Captain America outings have come across as celebrations of American idealism, but ‘Civil War’ seems more like a damning criticism of American imperialism – or at least, it would, if it didn’t obliviously frame the title character as the hero of the whole piece. Hell, Tony Stark does a better job as the American paragon, the billionaire innovator who develops his morality and now uses his wealth and expertise to reach out and solve the world’s problems, working with worldwide organisations to put an end to the reckless old-fashioned interventionism embodied by Steve Rogers’ violent exploits. The central conflict of the film is even borne out of a destructive mission on foreign soil to prevent the use of a weapon of mass destruction. It’s difficult to acknowledge these real-world allegories without subsequently viewing Rogers in a somewhat negative light.
And for me, this is the chief failing of the film; the fact that my sympathy is one-sided. The conflict between the two superhero factions is based around a lop-sided difference of opinion, and an unfocused one at that. The main fight between them all, taking place in an airport in GERMANY, I believe (more on locations later) occurs as Iron Man and his team attempt to prevent Captain America and his team from helping Bucky to escape arrest… I think. But it may also have been about the fact that some of them didn’t want to be regulated by the United Nations. I’m not really sure, because the film seems to languidly shuffle from one moral disagreement to another without too much in the way of thought for a more solid narrative. At no particular point was I entirely convinced by the motivations of any one person.
By the end of the film, Iron Man’s motivations have shifted to personal vengeance, and this actually manages to be much more compelling, and serves to highlight the flaccidity of the earlier segments of the story. It is revealed that Bucky, as a brainwashed servant of Hyrda, assassinated Tony Stark’s parents, leading to a surprisingly restrained sequence in which Stark’s fury drives him to bloodily avenge his family. His cool determination makes him nigh-on unstoppable, and it is a sequence so loaded with emotional impact that it truly outclasses a man in a rubber mask screaming “Why did you say that?” whilst a bloke in a cape mumbles “Martha” over and over again.
If ‘Carotid Artery: Bleeding More’ had opened with this personal conflict, the story would have been much more emotionally engaging. By having the other heroes team up with Tony Stark because of their loyalty to him, or because they felt Bucky was a genuine threat that needed to be brought in, whilst the others sided with Steve Rogers because of the loyalty he inspired or because they felt Bucky was being unfairly vilified, then the whole fight would carry more weight, and sympathy could be built on both sides. An exploration could made into the nature of guilt and responsibility: how do you prosecute someone who murdered a person’s parents whilst brain-washed by a Nazi spin-off group? For someone as powerful as Iron Man, how do you reconcile the balance between justice and vengeance? How far can you follow him down the path of revenge?
Instead, we get a ropey and somewhat contrived disagreement over international regulation and oversight, which eventually turns into a more satisfying personal grudge in the final moments, and I’m somewhat disappointed that we didn’t get something more bloody and vicious for the full run of the movie.
With that being said, ‘Cardiac Arrest: Civil Disobedience’ is tremendous fun. I was surprised to learn that it is only five minutes shorter than ‘Baldspot v Screwtop’, and yet it packs in a wealth of more interesting characters, each with a great deal more development. It has great dialogue delivered by a fantastic cast, action scenes that are varied and entertaining and, beyond everything else, it manages to maintain a level of excitement that is simply absent from the DC alternative.
Although I have hammered the movie for its flaws, it triumphs in spite of them. I would not call this the best superhero movie ever; I’d barely call it the best superhero movie this year, but it succeeds precisely where it needs to: it is enjoyable. It doesn’t bore, it doesn’t inspire incredulity, it doesn’t provoke depressive episodes. It’s just a well-rounded cinematic experience, and it uses the charm and charisma of its characters to blind you to its flaws just as the most talented of sex workers use their wiles drive from your mind any concern for the cocktail of contagions that will be the source of future discomfort.
‘Certain Apathy: Terrific Bore’ (these ones are much more difficult) demonstrates quite ably that a film can still succeed as a source of entertainment even if it doesn’t succeed at being a coherent story. Other films aim higher and miss completely; this film sets its sights n the achievable and scores a bull’s eye.
Probably the biggest issue, more so than the story or Captain America’s characterisation, is the use of LOCATION TITLES obnoxiously imprinted across the entire fucking screen in BLOCK CAPITALS that cover MOST OF THE PICTURE. It is so bloody distracting and annoying that it genuinely affected my enjoyment of the film, and I hope whoever came up with the idea gets to spend their life locked in small concrete room as someone with a fucking megaphone screeches the names of RANDOM CITIES at them at full fucking volume.
I said I wouldn’t do this. I said it was pointless. It is pointless. But I’m doing it anyway.
You may have already seen my guide to coping with ‘Batman v Superman’, but I do feel a need to dig deeper. There have already been plenty of reviews doing the rounds, but I want to cover the specific failings of the film. I want to go through, in as much detail as I can manage, the individual components that set this movie apart as being of a lower quality than its peers – and I want to do it as objectively as possible.
1 – The Subjective Stuff
Ignoring my previous assertion, the first thing I want to get out of the way is the subjective, qualitative aspects of the film that led to my dissatisfaction with it. For one thing, it’s just boring. It goes on forever, it suffers from a worse case of “Ending Gore” than ‘Return of the King’, and the action sequences are so overblown and so saturated with special effects that at no point did they feel dramatic or tense.
I genuinely enjoyed Batman’s contributions during the first half, and would have enjoyed the post-apocalyptic dream sequence a lot more if it had been tied into the plot in any way. But I didn’t care for the pacing, which was all over the place, and Snyder has reached a new low in presentation – everything was so dark and moody that I found it to be a visually depressing experience.
The story itself was not particularly compelling, and there were no performances which were actually entertaining in a stand-out way. Jesse Eisenberg did his best but missed the mark drastically in terms of characterisation, and the rest of the cast were perfectly capable but not particularly engaging. It’s too easy to make comparisons between ‘Dawn of Justice’ and any of the Avengers series, but the fact is I genuinely enjoy the performances of Evans, Downey Jr. and Johanssen – they’re not necessarily better on a technical level than Affleck, Cavill or Adams, but they’re just a bit more fun.
Which leads me to my final gripe with ‘Badman v Supertwat’ – Zack Snyder can’t do comedy. Well, maybe he can, but he doesn’t even seem to try. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy defined the current trend of dark and edgy superhero movies, but Nolan was still able to inject little moments of levity and humour into proceedings. Snyder seems to believe that the cities of Metropolis and Gotham are populated exclusively by people who are genetically incapable of lightheartedness.
This is best exemplified by Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler-sidekick. When played by Michael Caine, Alfred was a sassy but sensitive character, capable of engaging with the heavy themes of the movies but still able to crack wise. There are some genuinely touching and funny moments between him and Christian Bale’s Caped Crusader. In ‘Batfleck v Henryman’, Alfred is reduced to a muttering old man who makes the occasional quip about Bruce’s lack of progeny. The humour, and consequently the warmth, is gone.
This is true in most of Snyder’s other films, too. Ironically it’s ‘Watchmen’ that has more funny moments, and also happens to be the darkest. Meanwhile the inane ‘Sucker Punch’, the depressing ‘Man of Steel’ and the fairly marvellous ‘300’ (if you’re into that sort of thing) are all played almost entirely straight – depressingly so. In fact, it was his directorial debut (and now that I’ve used that phrase, I think I’m qualified as being a “real critic”) ‘Dawn of the Dead’ that has remained the funniest film he’s done to date.
2 – The Whys and the Wherefores
Now let’s get onto the measurables.
There is exactly one character in this entire film whose motivations are laid bare – Batman. The film opens strongly, with Bruce Wayne witnessing the rampant destruction of Metropolis and the lives lost due to Superman’s callous disregard for collateral damage. Bruce’s fury with Superman’s actions are clear. How could a being of such power, and with a total lack of oversight, possibly claim to serve humanity whilst wreaking that level of catastrophe on a human city? And what happens if even more of them show up?
Every other character, however, fails to present a reason for any of the things they’re doing. Superman seems to float from scene to scene, essentially looking grumpy at every development and never particularly making a decision for himself. I have no idea of what he was trying to achieve throughout the film. There was no revealed villain at any point whose plans he was trying to thwart, I have no idea of whether or not he wanted to be accepted by humanity, or not – he just seemed to angst about it throughout, without ever reaching a conclusion.
Wonder Woman was Doing Things. I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what it is she wanted with the stolen data from Lex Luthor’s house, or indeed why she was even there – did she know Bruce Wayne would be turning up with a data hacker? Was she just waiting for him to attach it? What was she doing for the entire rest of the film? She grudgingly decides to participate in the fight against Doomsday, but why? Maybe it’s to protect the planet, but we don’t know enough about her to make that assumption.
The most egregious offender on the subject of Motivation. The entire point of including a villain in your story is to offer challenges, obstacles, resistance for your heroes to overcome. In that regard, the motivation of your villain can be as simple or complex as you like, as fantastical or mundane as is needed. This is played with beautifully by ‘Die Hard’s Hans Gruber – his objectives are at first mysterious, but are revealed to be really quite pedestrian – he’s a thief, he wants money, and his actions are in line with his goals. Hence, he is an effective antagonist.
Lex Luthor? Lex Luthor has no goals whatsoever, and certainly none that would be a result of his actions. At first, he seems to want to legalise the importation of the mysterious Kryptonite into the US, and so pressures legislators to do exactly that. Except that when they refuse, he simply smuggles it in anyway – something for which we find out he was preparing all along. It wouldn’t be so bad, except that his battle to legalise the import makes up the entirety of his scenes in the first half of the film.
Later, it turns out he wants the Kryptonite so that it can be stolen by Batman, weaponised, and used to kill Superman. So set is he on killing Superman that he then proceeds to mix his own genetic material with that from the corpse of General Zod to create an indestructible Kryptonian monster – a plan so zany, it might just work. And his intentions for killing Superman?
Well, there’s the rub. It doesn’t seem to be personal, beyond Lex’s declaration that he is an atheist following an abusive relationship with his father. It could be for money, if he wasn’t already so rich as to have apparently limitless resources. Maybe it’s for power – but it’s never explained how killing Superman will achieve that. So, why does Lex do any of the things he does?
The best answer I have is that he does them because they are villainous, and he is a villain. And we know he is a villain because he keeps doing villainous things.
3 – More Than A Sequence Of Plot Points
This one gets down to the very heart of storytelling, because ‘Shitbird v Turbodouche’ is sadly replete with plot points, played in a sequence, and drastically lacking in story.
The most offensive example is the “dream-sequence-within-a-dream-sequence” flash-to-the-future segment, in which we see a duster-wearing Batman gunning down soldiers bearing Superman’s symbol in a grimy dystopian future, before being captured by Superman himself. At first, it might seem like this is a reflection of Batman’s fear, his own vision of what the world will become if Superman isn’t stopped. Except that he snaps out of this dream-prophecy to find a mysterious cybernetic character reaching to him through some kind of time portal.
So, is this film introducing a time-travel plot? FUCK NO! Because Batman then awakes from THAT dream to find himself alone. So, did he dream up the specific characteristics of the mysterious cyborg that he’s never seen before? Did any of that actually happen? Does it have any bearing on the plot? And are these all rhetorical questions? In reverse order: Yes, No, Nobody Knows, Apparently So.
Undoubtedly this scene is a set-up for future films from the Justice League franchise, but it’s loaded with so many problems. For one thing, the whole segment is roughly ten minutes long – or at least feels like that. For another, it adds literally nothing to the film in which it appears – you could remove it entirely without any knock-on effects. Indeed, the movie would arguably be improved by its removal.
And I have to ask, is that what DC movies are all going to be? Just extended trailers for the next release? Naturally, Marvel pulls this off in a much better, if equally clunky fashion – the after-/during-credits sequences in most Marvel films are little more than advertisements for future installments, but it’s key that they A) are entertaining in their own right and B) sit outside of the main feature.
All a sequence such as this is really is an in-joke for audiences of films that have not yet been released, and like all in-jokes, they fall flat for everyone not in on the joke – unless they’re done well. If you want to see in-jokes masterfully implemented, you should go and watch ‘Arrested Development’ twice the whole way through – once in the correct order, once in reverse order. You’ll notice all sorts of little asides and references which are funny for established fans – but in no way affect the flow of an episode for a first-time viewer.
Or, watch ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. This has a great example of an in-universe in-joke, where Indy and Elsa see a depiction of The Lost Ark, the mcguffin from the first film. They have a brief exchange in which Indy casually identifies it with a simple little line. It’s a moment that’s quick, it adds to the movie for new audiences by further establishing Indy as an expert in his field, but for people familiar with the franchise it’s a great little touch that further adds to the celebratory tone of the trilogy’s final film.
An entire dream sequence that is visually and tonally distinct from the rest of the movie into which it is shoehorned purely as a set-up for films that are yet to even be written is such a poor treatment of this movie’s audience as to be insulting. Maybe in six films’ time we’ll look back and see how “it all came together”, but there isn’t even anything clever about this bit – there’s nothing to “pay off”.
The same goes for the ten-minute sequence in which Wonder Woman checks her email inbox and finds Batman’s note about the other METAHUMANS. We are treated to three cheesey vignettes of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg, each of sharply declining quality. The Flash’s sequence manages to actually mostly fit with the overall aesthetic of ‘Branston v Pickle’, but the Aquaman bit looks like it was lifted straight from ‘Smallville’, and the ‘Cyborg’ segment is so poorly done it would look more at home in an episode of ‘Lois and Clark’.
And regardless of the quality of these little insertions, once again they contribute NOTHING to the film into which they have been added. They would have made a great after-credits sequence, where Bruce shows Wonder Woman what he’s found, takes her through his plans to build a team, but instead we get this forced sequence where we witness the excitement of a woman in her pyjamas browsing fan-made Youtube videos of the three superheroes that were too boring to be included as a main part of the film. It’s holding the audience in contempt for the sake of advertising a product. I’d rather have seen a BMW badge on the Batmobile.
I’ve just written several hundred words about two sequences, so let’s have a look at some other plot points in this film that exist for no reason. I’ll even do them in list format, for the sake of brevity:
Superman is introduced rescuing Lois from a terrorist cell in which a CIA agent’s identity is revealed, landing her in jeopardy. Neither the terrorist cell nor the CIA feature ever again in the film, so why her capture had to be so convoluted is beyond me.
Batman is tracking down and interrogating and branding a band of people-smugglers in a one-man crusade against dickery. It turns out the people smugglers are working for Lex Luthor, but not as people smugglers, he’s just using their boat. The people-smuggling plot does not feature again.
Lex Luthor has been keeping tabs on METAHUMANS and has a collection of data files on them. Since none of them actually appear in the film, this proves irrelevant, as already discussed.
There is a series of scenes revolving around the need to legislate Superman and his abilities. The committee tasked with investigating the matter is blown up in the first half of the film – the matter is not subsequently revisited.
The committee’s destruction, and that of the US Capitol building, is the result of Lex Luthor’s manipulation of a man wounded in the climactic fight of the previous movie. Several scenes are dedicated to Luthor’s manipulation of this man, apparently to make the explosion look like the work of Superman; however, Superman is not subsequently blamed for the bombing, and this plot thread is never revisited. The actual reason for planting a bomb in the wounded man’s wheelchair is never given.
Clark Kent wants to write a story about Batman, but his editor shouts at him for not writing about a local sports game. This occurs over multiple scenes, with no pay-off.
As previously mentioned, there are multiple discussions in which Lex Luthor tries to convince legislators to allow him to import Kryptonite to the US for research. When they refuse, he smuggles the substance in, but according to information given by Batman earlier in the film, this had been his plan all along. The legal importation of Kryptonite is not relevant to any aspect of the story.
Over the course of three scenes, Lois Lane travels to Washington DC on a hunch to find the origin of a mysterious bullet fired when she was captured by the terrorists. The bullet is an advanced prototype produced by Lex Luthor’s company. His reasons for equipping mercenaries with a unique, special bullet are never revealed, and the information is never passed on by Lois to any other character in such a way that it affects any decisions that are made.
Wonder Woman steals Bruce Wayne’s data-hacking device, only to return it to him a few days later claiming she could not break decryption. Her purpose for stealing it is never explained, and the data device itself serves only to reveal the existence of other METAHUMANS – who do not feature in the film.
Again, I know it’s bad to make continuous comparisons to Marvel, but in ‘Avengers Assemble’ just about every scene follows on from previous scenes and advances the story. From Loki’s initial heist of personnel and materiel from the SHIELD research lab, through to the final battle scene, everything revolves around the main story, and leads to consequences further down the line. There are still missteps, don’t get me wrong, but in general the narrative is focused.
In contrast, ‘Blahblah v Oopsiedear’ features over a dozen distinct plot threads, none of which interact with one another. This makes it difficult to follow, forces its audience to sit through scenes which are ultimately redundant and which – crucially – just aren’t that entertaining. If a film is going to make its audience sit quietly for two-and-a-half hours of their time without any humour or real drama, it had better not be packed with filler.
4 – Self-Cannibalisation
You’re crafting a story. You spend a lot of time building up the main conflict in this story. You manage to create a compelling narrative for one of your lead characters, shape his motivation to something that the audience can understand, with which they can empathise. Despite all of the chaff you throw into the rest of the story, you manage to get your two leads together into a climactic conflict, leaving the audience to guess at how these two incredibly powerful beings will resolve their differences.
Then they become best friends because their mothers both had the same first name.
Look, let’s get one thing straight: if you’re going to tug on Batman’s heartstrings, if you’re going to tickle his empathy organ, you’re going to do it via parental trauma. That much is obvious. But here, in this film, Superman gasps his own mother’s name as Batman prepares to deliver the killing blow – he pants about saving “Martha” – which just happens to be the name of Batman’s mother, the late Mrs Wayne.
Okay, sure. This is set up previously in the film, so I won’t slap it with the old “Deus Ex Machina” badge of shame. But Batman suddenly relents in his hate- and anger-fueled quest of vengeance against Superman because their mothers share a name. You take the most compelling and relatable piece of characterisation in the film, and the ONLY comprehensible element of motivation, and dismiss it all with a simple coincidence.
I mentioned in my previous article my issues with Batman’s willingness to casually slaughter his enemies via grapple-hook-induced road traffic collisions, and the truth is that I am less annoyed that his “One Rule” has been ignored and more frustrated that it wasn’t used as a character point.
One of the things this film really gets right is its characterisation of Batman – of a grizzled, weary vigilante, consumed by his quest for “justice”. He’s cruder, more brutal, almost barbaric at times, and it’s fantastic. He’s been fighting evil for so long that he has become twisted. Hell, he comes across as someone who’s emotionally void, except for the smouldering core of anger that throbs in the dark cavity of his chest.
So, imagine this. Imagine if, as Batman renders Superman helpless, as he prepares to land the fatal strike to the heart, Superman simply tells him “I’m not afraid to die doing what I know to be right.” Or, maybe he says “If you kill me, you’re no better than the people you fight every day.” Or maybe even simply “I thought you were better than this.”
Or SOMETHING. I’m not a scriptwriter. Blow me. But have that challenge from Superman. Make it something inspiring, something defiant, hopeful. Something fitting the icon of inspiration that Superman is meant to be. Then have Batman actually realise what he’s done, what he has been doing, what he is about to do. Make Batman’s descent into darkness an actual plot point in the film, hell, make it THE plot point of the film. Everything’s set up for it to be that way.
Instead, they went with the cheap option. The easy option, the least satisfying. In the space of two minutes, Batman and Superman suddenly shift from being mortal adversaries to “friends”, fighting evil together like “bros”. All because their mothers have the same name. The fact is, nothing about Superman has changed, he’s still just as powerful and dangerous as he was before. And the fact he has a mother doesn’t exactly distinguish him from the countless other thugs Batman has fought – and killed – already. It’s just a convenient way to resolve a difficult conflict between two characters, and it selfishly devours the best parts of the film.
5 – Uninspiring
Throughout the film, we are informed that Superman is some kind of god-like figure to the denizens of Earth – a hated beacon of fear for some, but a loved icon of hope for others. And, as with so many other elements of this film, Superman’s status amongst the humans is handled as cack-handedly as possible.
First of all, the only heroics of Superman’s that we witness occur in a 30-second montage in which he rescues some astronauts from a launchpad, pulls a ship through some ice, and then saves a little girl from a fire – after which the locals reach out to him to stroke his beautiful muscles. And sure, these are nice moments, I suppose, but that’s all we get of the “inspiring” side of Supes – half a minute of dialogue-less cutaways.
We do, however, get several minutes of screen time in which Clark Kent pointlessly argues with his boss. Oh yeah. Superman wants to write about Batman, but Perry White wants him to write about some random game from some low-key local sports team, it’s all terribly thrilling. Oh, and, again, adds nothing to the overall story.
This is a post that has recently been doing the rounds on social media. I will be honest, I wouldn’t be very interested in it normally, but it does an incredible job of demonstrating exactly how Superman can be a hopeful figure, even in the context of a very dark narrative. Superman’s value is not his ability to punch invincible villains for hours on end – it’s his messianic ability to do whatever needs to be done to help humanity.
And once again, this all ties into some of the best aspects of the movie. My favourite line from the entire two-and-a-half hours is when Bruce Wayne justifies to Alfred his intentions to kill Superman. “He has the power to wipe out the ENTIRE human race, and if we believe that there is even a one percent chance that he is our enemy, we have to treat it as an absolute certainty.” It’s a cold, ruthless perspective, and it makes absolute rational sense. Superman is en entity of extreme destructive capability, and no earthly weapon can stop him – the danger he poses is absolute and undeniable.
What’s even better is that the argument doesn’t change. If we had seen more of Superman doing heroic things, saving people, acting for humanity, then at every turn Batman could have broadcast the same footage from the destruction of Metropolis, of the collapsing buildings and of victims falling thirty storeys to their deaths. And as Superman does ever more heroic things, pulls off ever more dramatic stunts to save people, uses more and more of his power to do good, Batman’s message gets stronger: “But what if he turns? That power which right now helps humanity could just as easily destroy it.”
And as I explored in my previous segment, when it then came to that climactic fight between the two of them, when it came to that brutal contest of ideologies – hope versus vigilance, inspiration versus independence – you can make that fight mean something. Give it more significance than a fist-fest which gets resolved by maternal insecurity. You could have fully half the human race cheering on Superman whilst the other half call for his destruction.
The fact is that Batman wins the fight. Man defeated God, and he always will. And Superman should be defeated because, as I said above, his value is not derived from his own strength, but the strength he gives to other people. Render him helpless and vulnerable, put him at Batman’s mercy – hell, have Batman crucify him if you really want to hammer the point home. And then, maybe have him simply ask Batman to take care of the world. Maybe Superman tells Batman that the people don’t just need someone to defeat the bad guys – they also need someone to help the good guys, to protect the innocent. That it isn’t enough to destroy evil, you must inspire good in people – do things that nobody else can, that others might try to do the same.
Maybe Batman will ask why so many people think that Superman is on their side, and Superman will answer “Because they have faith.” I mean, this whole thing is about Superman being a god, right? That’s what the film keeps telling us. So whack us round the head with the religious aspect. In a godless time of danger and instability, Superman is the omnipotent protector that the world needs, that the world deserves.
Why not get cheesey with it? Why not have Superman’s supporters try to help him, try to save him, regardless of how helpless it is. Have them display a level of kindness and compassion that this Batman hasn’t seen in a long, long time. Maybe the two heroes are fighting in a burning building, surrounded by fire and smoke and brimstone, and Batman watches Superman’s believers throw themselves into the flames, work together despite the danger to preserve the life of someone they believe to be good and righteous. Have it mirror a scene from earlier in the film, where Superman instructs people to work together to save an imperiled family. Maybe make some of them previous enemies – cops and robbers working together, rich people and poor people, sworn enemies united by their own faith in something good.
Make that the thing that convinces Batman. Make it meaningful, relevant to the story, and relevant to the things these two heroes represent. Batman, the one who would sacrifice his own safety every day to prove that humanity at its base level is more than an evolved pack of animals. Superman, the one who lifts humanity from its base level to something greater. Batman, the violent thug who justifies his brutality with antiquated notions of justice. Superman, the demon with the face of an angel, who at any given moment might enslave all of humanity.
Instead, we get a ten-minute fight scene in a dingy ruin, isolated from any onlookers, which is resolved by a ten-second moment of realisation that Superman cares about at least some people, I guess.
The thing is, you can still have darkness and grit in a hopeful tale. I get that everyone ejaculates uncontrollably every time they see a film that is “dark” and “gritty”, but those things alone aren’t indicators of quality. They’re elements that can be used well to make a story more compelling, or believable, or relatable, but that’s all they are – storytelling devices. In the same way that a kid’s film can be sad and upsetting whilst still being colourful and bright, you can have a more mature film that can be positive and uplifting whilst still being dark and gritty.
6 – Show, Don’t Tell
There’s one final element of this mess of a movie that I would like to call out, and that is its refusal to adhere to perhaps the one unbreakable rule of film-making: show, don’t tell.
This ties into my previous segment, where Superman’s heroism and inspiration is never visible to the audience. We are told that he is inspiring people, but we never really see how. Simlarly, we are told that Batman is executing, by proxy, those villains that he brands. That when those people reach prison, they are murdered by other inmates, but we are never shown this, only told it through news reports.
An actual depiction of one of these incidents would not only be more interesting, but might also give us an insight into why these inmates are murdering Batman’s targets, why they are doing his bidding. It would go a long way to defining how Batman is seen by the population, by the people it has locked up. Instead, we get a few seconds of news footage before being whisked back to more random wittering by Lex Luthor.
Lois Lane travels to Washington to discover the origin of the special bullet used to kill terrorists, and she is told that it was made by Lex Luthor’s company. Yet another plot thread that goes nowhere, but I have to ask: why not show this? Why not have a scene where, instead of Lex Luthor trying to convince a minor politician to change import laws, he briefs his own mercenary squad, gives them the special ammunition, explains some of his motivations? It’s not as though his villainous nature is a secret to anyone by this point, so why even bother with the cloak-and-dagger stuff?
Instead, we focus on Lois Lane’s exciting quest to ask questions of a minor character from the previous film in such glamorous locations as a men’s toilet and a park bench. And as soon as she finds out, the thread gets dropped anyway. It’s baffling to me that they would include scenes like this, but not a scene that actually works to strengthen the film’s antagonist.
Despite Superman’s mother being used to bait him into fighting Batman, they only actually share a single scene together. In it, they stand in a field, in the dark, and Superman’s mother tells him that he can either be the hero he could be, or he could not – basically, a repeat of the themes from ‘Man of Steel’, almost verbatim. It’s a scene that exists primarily to remind us that Superman has a mother before she is kidnapped and used against him.
Maybe, instead of the stupid mother thread, you could have shown what happens when Superman stops being Superman? Show people calling out for him, even praying for him to come help them. There’s an entire sequence in which he hallucinates the ghost of his father on top of a mountain, and his father does even MORE “telling”, relaying a lovely story about digging ditches and drowning horses. Why not show the impact Superman’s absence is having? Why not show him watching from afar, weighing up his choice of not getting involved against the suffering he now sees occurring? Why do we need a scene from Kevin Dead-ner talking about farming and pie, when we could have some actual characterisation for one of our two main protagonists?
Wonder Woman steals Batman’s data thingy. Later on she returns it to him, telling him that she couldn’t access it because it was encrypted. Again, WHY would you not show that? Why wouldn’t you show her trying to access it? Give us an idea of the resources at her disposal and, more importantly, give us a hint at what she might be up to? Once again a character with no motivation is denied valuable development for the sake of expositing a minor plot point.
We have a brutal car-chase where Batman attempts to retrieve a supply of Kryptonite from Lex Luthor’s thugs. It ends abruptly when Superman stops his car and tells him to fuck off. First of all, there is no reason for Superman to pick this particular moment to talk to Batman, he seems to just do it for the sake of it. Secondly, Batman later actually steals the Kryptonite from Lex Luthor’s secure research lab – and it happens off-screen! Again, I am left baffled – we are shown the failed attempt that happens to involve the Batmobile (and its immediate destruction), but denied what would have been a fun display of Batman in action actually infiltrating and fighting. We get dark and murky special effects when we could have had an interesting heist scene that actually shows of Batman’s capabilities.
So much of this film is done in such a backwards fashion that it strains my suspension of disbelief. I have an easier time accepting the existence of a bullet-proof, flying God-hero than I do the fact that people were actually paid to come up with this story, and the way in which it is told. There are so many missed opportunities to make this film good that I actually wonder if it’s not a post-modern experimental piece that got a bit out of hand after an accounting error put a couple of extra zeroes on the end of its budget.
7 – In Summary
So, if you enjoyed this film, that’s fine. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you go on happy with your life. But when you really break it down, there’s a lot here that’s just awful from a story-telling perspective. I have only seen the film once, and have no intention of doing so again – I personally found it boring, dull, monotonous, bland and absurd. I will be very interested to see the thoughts of people who watch it a second time – and wonder if it will match up to their initial positive assessment.
I think what really galls me is not what this film is, but what it could have been. Marvel’s ‘Avengers Assemble’ was a joyous romp with a lot of fun characters and silly moments. It was not particularly deep or meaningful – indeed, you might almost call it shallow, lacking substance. But it at least entertains, and that in itself is a quality all of its own.
‘Batcock v Supernips’ fails to entertain – or at least, it did for me. And what’s more, it missed out on a key opportunity to appeal to those who tire of Marvel’s unrelenting action-comedy. ‘Beatnik v Uberdriver’ could have loaded itself with a weighty plot about godhood, social responsibility, faith and optimism. Instead, it abandons a strong developing story for the sake of angry punching and ludicrous CGI. It dips its toes into the water of meaningful narrative but loses its nerve, running back to the warm safety of greenscreen and people shouting.
What I really hope comes out of this, and I’m sorry to say it, is that Zack Snyder gets his arse fired and they bring in a director more capable of depth and subtlety. Snyder can create a visually stunning film. ‘300’ is a classic for me because of how aesthetically revolutionary it was and, to an extent, of how “pure” it was – it stuck to its simplistic premise like glue, and was all the better for it.
But ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Sucker Punch’ and now ‘Bloodbath v Seasonal-Affective-Disorder: Bored of Just This’ have really shown Snyder’s limitations as a story-teller. He did a fine job with ‘Watchmen’, but that was a beat-for-beat recreation of the original graphic novel. As soon as he tries to tell an original tale, Snyder’s reliance on special effects, shadows and slowing things down and then speeding them up again really starts to hold him back.
Somethings in life catch you off-guard. Like when you’re driving safely down the motorway, and a tyre blows. When you get a phone-call from a sobbing relative, and you can hear the hospital announcements in the background. When your boss calls you in to tell you that there’s been another complaint, and this time Legal’s involved. Actually, I should probably have seen that last one coming.
Other things, though, don’t surprise you. Like when the vet tells you that it would be the kindest thing to do. Or when you get the letter through the door with the big red “Final Notice” stamped on the front. Or when your wife books in an appointment with her gynaecologist after her work trip to Las Vegas with that rock-climbing guy from her office.
And the weird thing is that the unsurprising moment can be just as hard to deal with as the shocking events. Sometimes more so. The fact you had time to emotionally prepare doesn’t make life any easier when it hits that critical point.
The truth is, we all knew that ‘Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ would be the cinematic equivalent of cot death. To review it normally would be to perform an autopsy on a pet cat that had been run over by a sixteen-ton earth-mover – and the cat itself had always been an asshole that would piss all over your laundry pile and scratch any guests who foolishly tried to stroke it. The fact is that you know it’s dead, the cause of death is pretty straight-forward, and its loss isn’t actually that big of an inconvenience to you in the long run.
It still hurts, though.
It’s still difficult to deal with.
As such, I’m not going to review ‘Murderer vs. Moron: Other Stuff Happens Too’, and instead I’m going to try and help. I want to help the people who saw this movie, like I did. Those people who thought maybe, just maybe, this film would surprise them. That it might have possessed hidden genius, that it would exceed the expectations set by its own trailer and produce an actual worthwhile viewing experience. People who knew it would be bad, but still held out hope, because hope is at the very heart of human nature.
I can’t make this film good for you. All I can do is help you through it.
As with other forms of grief, there are a few stages to getting through Zack Snyder’s latest release, and I’m going to take you through them sequentially. This isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll get there – together.
1 – Delayed Acknowledgement
The film has started.
You’re half-an-hour in and there are already eight different plot lines going, seemingly in different directions. You don’t have an emotional response yet, because you haven’t had time to form one.
Like with sudden, enormous catastrophes, all you’re doing right now is watch it happen whilst your mind tries to wrap itself around the awful metaphors and clumsy set-ups and sporadic pacing. Like a spectator to the Hindenburg, you only barely register that something bad is happening, because the scale of the awfulness is beyond your brain’s emotional capacity.
This is the calm before the storm. Your brain races to anticipate each story arc, tries to figure out how it all might tie together, how this sequence of seemingly unconnected events will build into one climactic resolution – but there’s so many trails to follow, so many threads that need tying that your primitive intelligence can’t envisage any kind of solution, so you calmly rest on the assumption that the director knows what he’s doing.
2 – Confused Vexation
The film’s been running for what feels like the last three hours. You’re pretty sure you’ve followed most of it, but there’s now twice as many story threads as there were a few scenes ago, and that entire bit with all of the visions and dreams completely – wait, was that a time travel plot? He was just dreaming? So was he actually visited by a time traveler or… what the hell’s going on?
Right now, the critical-thinking part of your brain is taking a hammering. You want to keep on top of everything that’s going on, you reckon it might be building up to something big, but there’s been a few sequences now that defy explanation. The main villain is definitely up to something, but it’s difficult to determine what that might be because he doesn’t actually seem to want anything.
Just try and maintain your composure through this step. The better you cope here, the smoother the ride will be later on. Stay strong, because the worst is yet to come.
3 – Stunned Disbelief
You’re still going. You’ve made it over the initial hurdles. But now Batman has just out-right murdered about six people by crushing their cars into each other, using some startlingly improbably physics to do so. Hell, he just machine-gunned the back of a car he was chasing, and whilst you don’t explicitly see the mangled corpses of his victims, you’re pretty sure nobody lived through that. And you can’t accept it.
You can’t accept that the film is this cretinous, that it is so disloyal to its source material, but worse, that it’s just stripped away the most interesting aspect of its chief protagonist. You can’t, and indeed won’t, believe it, because nobody could get it this wrong. Superman just stopped Batman in his pursuit of deadly criminals, allowing the criminals to escape with a weapon that could specifically be used to kill Superman. Lois Lane is pursuing the origin of a mystery bullet, but it’s taken three scenes and half an hour for us to reach the revelation that it was made by Lex Luthor, surprising nobody and adding nothing to the story.
You’re stunned. Things are happening without explanation. Characters are acting without any clear motivation. You are asked to accept developments in the story – indeed, that the film even possesses a story – and your brain is rebelling. It is rejecting this particular sequence of events, refusing to process them, to make sense of them. You can’t believe that such an experienced and talented production crew could have allowed such a flawed product to be released.
My advice is to pinch the skin on the back of your hand, or clench the arm-rests of your chair, or just slap yourself around the face a few times. Tell yourself that this is real through actual solid interactions and stimuli. Remind yourself that you are sat in a cinema, watching a film that was actually made and released to the public. Maintain your grip on reality.
4 – Mental Collapse
You’ve seen Superman allow the entire U.S. Capitol Building be destroyed along with everyone inside it because he failed to perform even a cursory examination of the room. You’ve found out that the whole business with the mystery bullet amounted to nothing, and worse, so have about half of the other plot lines so far revealed, including that stuff with the people smugglers and everything Lex Luther has so far done in the entire movie. You can’t figure out why he needed to get permission to bring the Kryptonite into the U.S. if he was just going to smuggle it in anyway, and every interaction he had with Helen Hunt’s senator has led to nought after he simply blew her up.
Batman keeps having confusing visions which tell us less about his character and more about the fact that Zack Snyder has some kind of weird directorial ADHD, incapable of making a film with a single setting and insisting on using overly-long dream sequences to wedge in scenes that look like they’re from a different film entirely. Lois Lane continues to do nothing of significance but is apparently very important, and Wonder Woman is around, too. By which you mean, she’s there. She’s present. Her appearance has been noted.
You’re now no longer sure if your incomprehension of what’s going on is because the film has failed to explain itself properly, or if your brain is simply shutting down. Your cognitive abilities are becoming weak, strained. Like a marathon runner, you’ve hit the wall: it would be so much easier right now to just switch your brain off entirely and sit out the rest of the film quietly dribbling into your popcorn tub. But you’re better than that. Stay strong. Stay with me. We can do this.
5 – Self-Destruction
You’re past the point where you can cope solely with your own resources. Drink, drugs and other forms of escapism are the lifelines you now need to maintain a grip on sanity. Lex Luthor sets Superman up to fight Batman, so that he can – well, you’re never really sure what Luthor’s getting out of any of this, he just seems to be doing things because the actions themselves are inherently villainous.
You want to like this version of Luthor, you’re desperate for a credible enemy for the two most famous superheroes of all time – but he is so completely unlikable that you spend every minute of his screentime waiting for him to leave. You’re reminded of Kevin Spacey, Gene Hackman, and their intense, charismatic portrayals. Of how they seemed to have goals, objectives, motivations. You’re saddened, because Jesse Eisenberg is doing a fine job as an unpleasant psychopath, but at no point do you feel like you’re witnessing the machinations of a fiendish and calculating intellect. You rather more feel like you’re watching a failed pilot for a show about a time-travelling Joffrey Baratheon in the modern world – but with much less charisma.
None of which particularly matters as you tighten the belt around your arm and tap the inside of your elbow to locate a vein, desperate to detach your mind from your body and so seek a new reality where any of the characters have any kind of motivation. Where Superman doesn’t just wander from scene to scene, occasionally talking about how the Batman is a vigilante and consequently ripping the doors off of the Batmobile so he can make vague threats to the Caped Crusader before fucking off back to… somewhere.
I can’t stop you from turning to narcotics and alcohol by this point, but I can implore you to keep a friend close by, to turn you onto your side and safety-pin your tongue to your cheek. You’re most of the way through this ordeal now, there isn’t much further to –
Two and a half hours? I – I’m sorry. You’d better have another drink. We had all better have another drink.
6 – Inevitable Despair
In your final moments your head is filled with thoughts like sparks in the air above a bonfire. Thoughts such as “This cost $250 MILLION to make?” and “How did they fail to explain the story when they had 150 minutes to play with?” and “Seriously, what the shit was up with that time-travel bit?” You realise that this film is so irrevocably flawed that there is no way out – except one.
As you press the solitary brass casing into the chamber, confident that you will at last find release from this particular horror show of melodrama and ineptitude, you struggle to figure out what went wrong, but deep down, you know the answer.
Fucking Nearly Everything.
You know the acting wasn’t terrible. You know the effects were fine, but you also know that they always are these days. You felt the pacing was sporadic at best, especially in the final few scenes. The script was obtuse to the point of being baffling – Batman remarks that he “failed [Superman] in life, he won’t fail him in death” – but how he failed him is a mystery you will never solve.
The story itself is bizarre, the action scenes go far beyond the limits of your suspension of disbelief. For a moment you wonder how it occurred that Batman in a cloth costume could survive a fight that took the life of the invincible Superman, but that wonder is quickly swamped by all of the other nonsensical elements of the plot. You’re still not sure what Lex Luthor was trying to achieve – or indeed Wonder Woman.
Lois Lane never contributed to the story in any way, beyond saving Superman from Batman’s wrath – and even that scene was absurd, as Superman whispers his mother’s name, which just happens to be the same as Batman’s dead mother’s. And so you wonder – did Batman spare Superman’s life purely because their mothers shared a name? Is that honestly enough to quench two years of burning anger and hateful reason?
But it doesn’t matter. None of it matters anymore. Zack Snyder won’t be able to hurt you ever again. You’re past that. It’s clear now that there will never be a good Superman movie ever again. ‘Man of Steel’ failed, ‘Dawn of Justice’ has failed. Whilst Marvel romps on with its colourful, over-the-top exploits, you know that DC have put the final nail in their own coffin.
7 – Ultimate Acceptance
It’s easier this way. There will be people around you who haven’t seen the film, who won’t understand. But I do. I know your pain. You sat through two and a half hours of dreary tedium, of meaningless action, forced emotional drama. You endured, you persisted, but now you know that the only true solace will be found in that great undiscovered country. Only there will you be free of the overwhelmingly depressive nature of Zack Snyder’s particular brand of “entertainment”.
Depressing not because of its subject matter, but because of its execution. Lazy writing, ridiculous plot development, despairingly shallow characterisation. You want to call it stupid, you want to brand it dull. You want to excoriate it for its lack of loyalty to the source material, but that would ultimately do it too much credit.
No, there is one simple solution. A narrow but safe path to release ahead of you. Walk that path. Walk it with me. Do the sensible thing.
I was going to do a chapter dedicated to the characters of ‘Prometheus’, but then I realised that too big a proportion of it was dedicated to one single character, the epitome of stupid characterisation. The rest of the cast will follow in their own chapter, but Charlie gets his own, all to himself – he can rule his little Empire of Shit and be its only citizen all at the same time.
“Charlie Holloway” – Chief of the Shitlords
Something special happens when you take a character who is arrogant, selfish and narcissistic, and then also make them stupid, ignorant, abusive, paranoid and generally irrational. You end up with a “perfect storm” of annoyance. “Charlie”, as his friends call him, or “Dickhead”, as I prefer to refer to him, is intent on meeting his creators – on getting answers about why they made humanity in the first place. And based on Dickhead’s propensity for being an obnoxious arsehole to every conscious being in proximity to him, I can only assume that he in particular was made as some sort of cruel joke – maybe even a Biblical punishment.
After the ship arrives in orbit, Ms. Vickers decides to pull Dickhead and Dickhead’s Girlfriend into her own little bar-equipped escape pod to brief them on the mission. She tells them that, should they encounter alien life, they’re to do nothing except report back to her. Makes sense – new species, no guaranteed means of communication, who knows what could happen if you try to say hello, right?
Except Dr. Ballsack decides that she must be up to something, asking her if she has another agenda. I dunno, Dickhead, maybe she wants to enslave the alien species and force them to build monuments to her glorious image – or maybe she just wants to avoid a Total Party Kill when an attempt at a handshake turns into a Viking holiday in a North English monastery.
He really cranks up the stupid when they begin their descent. Pointing out a road on the ground, he exclaims “Right there! God doesn’t build in straight lines.” And that’s certainly true, unless God’s building certain trees, for example, or several types of rock formation, or sedimentary layers of stone, but whatever, I guess the fact that it’s a straight road means it’s artificial. I’m not about to disagree, although he doesn’t seem too concerned that this might be a planet full of Space Romans.
As they discover an enormous walled structure at the end of this artificial road, he asks them to scan it, to figure out whether or not it’s artificial. So he’s obviously thorough. Except, it’s an enormous fucking dome surrounded by a concentric, vertical wall on otherwise flat ground – and it’s at the end of a road he’s just claimed for certain is artificial.
So far, so stupid. But, as soon as they set foot inside this enormous building and establish that the air is breathable, Captain Brainbleed decides to remove his helmet. Because the air’s clean, apparently. There aren’t any microbes. Alright. So, you just decide to remove your helmet and start gulping down huge lung-fulls of alien atmosphere. I mean, what if the small scanners on your space suits couldn’t pick up a pathogen that would never before have been seen on Earth? What if you wander into a part of the structure that isn’t habitable? They’d just established that all the air outside would kill a human after two minutes of exposure – what if this clearly ancient structure contains pockets of that deadly stuff?
Here’s another consideration – you’re the first humans to ever set foot on this planet. What if you’re bringing something with you that affects the environment around you? You’re here to study and discover – how do you know that the microbes that exist inside your own body, that you’re now breathing out casually, won’t irreparably damage the surroundings? Are you a total fucking idiot? And was that a rhetorical question?
Later, after the team has explored the caverns and brought back a souvenir in the form of an over-sized head which they electrocute until it explodes in a Mengele-inspired bit of biological experimentation, Admiral Arsebucket spirals into a self-destructive alcohol binge as he whines about the fact he didn’t get to meet his alien creators, being a twat to just about everybody in proximity to him.
This is the point where we discover that he is not only stupid, but also incredibly childish, defeatist, petty and, in essence, a coward. Because the fact is they’ve just discovered the body of an ancient precursor race of space travellers. Given that mankind has never encountered another intelligent alien species at this point, that’s a huge discovery – even if it is dead. Further, they’ve been on the planet for about half a day, and it’s a whole PLANET. Planets are, by all counts, RATHER FUCKING LARGE, who knows what else might be out there?
And even if he can conclusively say that there is nothing else on this planet – a tough task, given the Prometheans’ DEMONSTRABLE TENDENCY to build things underground – they still haven’t explored the entirety of the structure in which they found the dead body. For all Corporal Cuntfeatures knows, there could be still-living Prometheans elsewhere in the structure. And I feel confident saying that because IT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FUCKING MOVIE.
So, why is Lord Loosebutt so absolutely sure that he’s missed his chance to meet his creators? Why is everything now lost, despite the fact that he’s just been standing on an alien world looking at the creations of a lost civilisation? He’s a FUCKING ARCHEOLOGIST, this should be, like, orgasm-central for someone who’s spent his career on dig sites, trying to piece together remnants of ancient cultures. Instead, he just turns into an angry, bitter arsehole.
David, the lovably creepy android, poisons Shitheap McShitstain with some weird alien goo he found in the caves. We never find out why, but it should be clear by now: chemical and biological weaponry is the only ethical way to treat such a suppurating sack of bile-ridden faeces. Regardless, he contaminates a drink in about the most obvious way possible, but because Hotdog Burgerpants is so blithely moronic he doesn’t even notice.
The next morning, after using his girlfriend’s insecurity about her infertility to manipulate her into sex – something he does so easily and casually I can only presume he’s done it many, many times before – he wakes up to see something squirming around in his eye. Of course, any normal person might consider running to the nearest physician and getting a completely invasive check-up. But apparently it’s just easier to ignore it and move on, and who can argue with that?
Again, let’s contextualise this – you’re on a remote planet, completely new to humans. You foolishly removed your helmet without being aware of the consequences, exposing yourself to whatever nasty stuff might be out there. Even if that didn’t expose you to infection, last night you witnessed the EXPLODING of a GIANT ALIEN HEAD which was judged by YOUR OWN GIRLFRIEND to have BEEN INFECTED WITH SOMETHING before EXPLODING.
Speaking of your own girlfriend, last night you engaged in carnal activities with her, presumably punctuated by you looking in the mirror at yourself, smelling your own socks and calling out your own name during climax. Let’s assume you care about this woman – obviously you don’t because you’re a narcissistic bag of shite with a larynx – but lets assume that you do, even a little.
Now, you wake up to see something squirming around in your eye. Maybe you’re just hungover. Maybe you’re tired. But why, in the name of ZEUS’ BUTTHOLE, would you not consider speaking to a doctor? If you are infected, which you are, you have almost definitely been in enough contact with your girlfriend to spread it to her – or you got it from her, but either way she’s infected. So even if you don’t give a shit about yourself, she’s at risk too. Why would you not alert anyone to your condition?
Don’t get me wrong, if I wake up and find a rash on my arm, I don’t immediately rush to the doctor with fears of meningitis. But I live on a quiet housing estate in rural Oxfordshire. I very specifically have never woken up with disease symptoms whilst on an alien planet – after having REMOVED MY HELMET for NO FUCKING REASON and exposed myself to ALL MANNER OF CONTAMINATION AND INFECTION.
At this point, High Pontiff Jizz Poop the Turd is endangering not only himself, not only the woman he pretends to love, but also the entire rest of the crew, all because he can’t keep himself together enough to perform even the most basic self-care. Fuck me, I mean, after he wakes up they agree to venture back to the fucking temple-thing, and people are asking him why he looks bad, and HE JUST PRETENDS IT’S FINE. HE LITERALLY GOES WITH THEM BACK TO THE PLACE WHERE HE MOST LIKELY GOT INFECTED AND DECIDES TO BE STOIC ABOUT IT INSTEAD OF WARNING THEM ABOUT THE EYE WORMS HE NOW HAS IN HIS EYES. WHAT A CUUUUUUUUUNT.
Shortly afterwards, Shittimus Prime inevitably and predictably gets liquefied from the inside out before the always-awesome Dr. Vickers administers the cure with her medical flamethrower. So ends a bloody awful character, sadly all too late in the film.
1500 words in and I’ve still not covered everything that’s hateful about this walking spit bucket of a character. Throughout his screen time he is invariably and very personally obnoxious and hurtful to David the Android for literally no reason. He makes snide comments about his lack of humanity, teases him about the inherent contradictions in his creation – even dismisses the very reason for his creation in the first place.
And, sure, David might not be someone who technically has feelings to hurt, but the level of cruelty Dick McHead displays towards the robot-person exceeds even that of Dr. Vickers, who arguably has much more deep-seated and personal reasons to hate David. It’s as though Bell McEnd has real reason to hate and diminish androids – but we get no exploration of that.
He’s just nasty and arrogant and hurtful to the one person who just spent two years making sure he didn’t die in his sleeping pod and piecing together an unknown language so that Commodore Crappy McCrapcrap can actually speak to his idolised creators. Talk about gratitude. I treat my microwave more humanely, and that things hits me with a static discharge every time I open it.
The terrible, unavoidable truth is that Holloway Ballsack serves absolutely no purpose in the story whatsoever. You could take him out entirely, and the only thing that changes is that Shaw doesn’t get impregnated with a snot monster. Really, that’s it, he does nothing else in the story that could not be achieved by Shaw herself. And he doesn’t add to the entertainment value, because… well, see above.
The worst bit of it all is that he’s meant to be a sympathetic character. When Vickers does the decent thing and puts an end to him once and for all, we get this last shot on his little goopy face with sad music playing, as though the filmmakers actually expect us to care. But I was practically cheering. I didn’t even feel badly for Shaw as she wept – the sad truth is that him getting annihilated is probably the best thing to happen to her in the whole movie.
So there you have it. One of our lead protagonists is pointless, unpleasant, annoying and hateful. Again, I could probably write more, but I have plenty more wheelbarrows full of shit through which I have to sift for the little crusty nuggets of concentrated wank that make up this movie. Next up – the entire rest of the fucking cast.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I know some women – I’m even friends with a few – and I wanted to join in the celebration. Sadly, I was left at a loss of what to contribute. What could a white middle-class male between the ages of 25 and 40 add to a discussion about women’s role in the world?
Well, given that I spend my working time as a business analyst, and my spare time ranting about movies, I decided to combine those two dominant facets of my personality into a numerical analysis of women in film. It’s neither exhaustive, nor is it particularly robust, but hopefully it will offer some insight. Or not. I don’t care. You don’t like it, do your own fucking spreadsheet.
ANYWAY, I carefully and deliberately constructed a very rudimentary spreadsheet covering a few key variables of women’s roles and actions in films, and populated it with the films with which I, personally, was most familiar. I have filled in scores for these films based on my own memory – this means some of the numbers in there *may* be out by a small amount, where I have missed something small or where my memory has failed me, but I’m about 95% sure on most of them. If I had the time, I’d re-watch these films again, but I don’t. Blow me.
The sample size is relatively small, hence I’ve chosen not to go into too much analytical detail for this one at present. Instead, I will present a link to the file download below, followed by some exploration of the variables themselves. The file itself was created in Microsoft Excel, and that is probably the best tool for viewing and adjusting it.
That’s right, it’s called “The Femindex”, get over it.
I attempted to keep it as objective as possible – things that either are, or are not. For instance, “Female characters who have strong character development” is a tough one to quantify, as opinions are so varying on what constitutes strong character development. But “Female with flaws unrelated to sex and reproduction” is much easier to measure.
What I’d really like to see with this is other people adding their own favourite (and least favourite) films to this document, and seeing how much we can grow it by. Then we can really do some in-depth analysis. However, for now, hopefully it will prove to be at least a little interesting, and offer some food for thought in the wake of International Women’s Day.
1 – The Femindex Score
Each film gets a score, based on the criteria it meets and how frequently it meets them – more or less. However, a low score does not represent a particularly misogynistic point of view, and neither does a high score represent a great feminist achievement. ‘The Hunt For Red October’, for instance, scores just as well as ‘Immortals’, largely because there are only two female speaking roles in the Cold War naval thriller – just as you might expect of a film set almost exclusively in military environments during the 1980’s. ‘Red October’ isn’t particularly hateful of women – they just don’t feature because of the authentic setting.
In general, though, those films which do score highly do so for good reasons – they generally feature a number of female speaking roles, and those roles manage to interact with one another and meaningfully affect the plot in a number of ways. Those films with low scores are generally male-focused and don’t have much to offer in the way of inspiration for modern-day women.
To account for varying tastes in what’s good and what’s bad, I’ve added a weighting system. Very simply, along the top of the sheet is a multiplier for each criterion which changes its significance. If you’re so inclined, I absolutely encourage you to mess around with this, see how it affects certain films. If nudity doesn’t bother you, set it to “0”. If you think female authority figures need more credit, you can double or even triple their significance.
2 – Inclusion
The most obvious metrics are the easiest to determine. Namely:
How many women are in the top two names of the cast list?
How many female antagonists are there?
How many women speak more than a single line?
These are the very basics of inclusion – if you want to see women doing interesting things in a film, there have to actually be some first. The stipulation that they must utter more than a single line is an attempt to avoid extras, women who are there merely to scream, be in peril, and so on.
In terms of top billings, I have based this on either the end credits, the film’s poster, or worst case, IMDB’s order of cast listing. Hence, ‘The 13th Warrior’ gets a point, because Diane Venora was apparently the second-billed cast member. I can’t argue with the facts.
Note, I have given ‘Jurassic Park’ a point for female antagonists because the dinosaurs are all girls.
3 – Interaction
The Bechdel Test is already a popular measure of female inclusion in movies – and is famously a very, very low bar by which to set the standard for “inclusion”. The Bechdel Test has three very simple criteria, criteria which I have adjusted to suit my own interpretation. The three criteria in my own analysis are:
At least two speaking female characters interact in a conversation that does not include men.
The conversation does not discuss a male character in a romantic or sexual way.
The conversation does not discuss any male character from this film / universe.
I have chosen these criteria for a number of reasons. Firstly, by having three different scoring criteria, a Bechdel-friendly conversation scores very highly. Secondly, I am comfortable giving a point away even if a male character is discussed, because I want to see more scenes where women discuss how to defeat the villain or save their friend – and in this regard, I don’t care what the gender of the villain or the friend is.
The third criteria is a modification of the standard Bechdel rule of discussing “something besides a man,” mostly to give a bit of credit to ‘Iron Man 3’. In the film, Rebecca Hall talks to Gwyneth Paltrow, comparing her own situation to that of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The fact is, it would be very difficult for women to discuss history and science and exploration without referring to men at all as, sadly, most of our our history revolves around the actions of men. Since I think more women in movies should be having conversations just like this one, I personally find it acceptable for a deep discussion between women to feature the actions and words of historical figures who happen to be men.
4 – Influence
‘Gravity’ is an unusual film, in which a female protagonist actually makes very little impact on her surroundings. In her role as a victim, we are essentially watching things happen to her, as opposed to her deciding to do much herself.
As such, my measure of “Change in Plot due to Female Action” is a score out of 5, and is arguably the most subjective of the metrics in this little exercise. I have tried to stick to a basic rule: the score is equal to the number of decisions that a female character makes, that subsequently change the direction of the story – and that number is then divided by two.
In a film like ‘Alien’ or ‘Into the Woods’, where almost the entire plot is pushed forwards by women at one point or another, I have assigned a flat ‘5’ as the score – since actually measuring this would be an exercise in tedium.
It should be noted that actions taken by women under duress – i.e., where they had no say in the matter, or actions taken because of women, don’t count. Just because the plot of ‘Star Wars’ revolves around rescuing Princess Leia, doesn’t mean she gets any credit for getting herself captured. She does get credit, however, for hiding the plans in R2-D2, for lying about the location of the Rebel Base, and for blowing a hole in a garbage chute and facilitating an escape from an unwinnable situation.
Similarly, the plot-relevant actions actually have to have an impact. ‘Uhura’ speaks Klingon in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ so she could avoid the away team’s slaughter by the Klingons – but all she manages to do is get herself choked, and the entire scene has literally zero impact on the film’s story. The same goes for Carol Marcus – if you were to remove her from the film entirely, nothing would have changed in terms of the narrative, so ‘Into Darkness’ gets nada.
5 – Significance
Women might feature in a film, but that doesn’t mean they’re well-represented. As such, I have awarded points for women carrying out any of the following:
Combatant – namely, participating in a fight in which their own efforts are meaningful and threatening to their enemies, and they themselves are threatened by their enemies. Lamping an unsuspecting thug round the head with a bust of Adolf Hitler doesn’t count, but getting stuck into the fight “along with the men” does. 1 point for each woman who takes part in at least one fight in this manner. Note that this is NOT just a record of violence against women – they may get hurt or killed, but they need to be part of the fight, not victims of it.
Authority Figure – specifically, a point for each woman who gives instructions, and those instructions are heeded – not necessarily followed – by those around her. Can include women who act as mentors or sources of advice and guidance, but is focused on leadership. ‘Starship Troopers’ nails this one.
Positive Replacement – Actually inspired by ‘Starship Troopers’, in which crusty old white man Sky Marshall Dienes suffers a humiliating defeat, and is subsequently replaced by the commanding presence of Sky Marshall Tehat Maru. It happens twice more in the movie, in fact. It is essentially the replacement of one character in a significant role – male or female – with a female character – and the replacement is portrayed as mostly positive, or is made based on that woman’s abilities and qualifications rather than the fact there’s nobody else to do it.
Technical Role – a great suggestion by a very creative friend of mine, James. At its most basic level, a point for each woman with a job or duty that requires expertise in a particular field. ‘The Hangover’ gets a point for having a female police officer, whilst ‘Aliens’ runs rampant, featuring the qualified loader-operator Ripley alongside a female pilot, a female board member, a female medic and a trained female heavy weapons officer. Professors, technicians and doctors all count – secretaries and house wives do not.
Top Performer – Surprisingly rare given how easy it is to achieve. Points awarded for each woman who is “top of her class”, such as ‘Star Trek IV’s Valeris, or “the best and the brightest”, such as Mako Mori in ‘Pacific Rim’.
6 – Characterisation
A tough one, this, especially if you want to stay objective. As such, I broke it down as simply as I could:
Flaws unrelated to sex and fertility – Too many female roles are “rounded” with character flaws and insecurities that are defined by some issue to do with their fertility (looking at you, ‘Prometheus’) or their sexuality (Inara and Kayleigh in ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’). Points are scored for this criterion for each woman who has some kind of personal issue that isn’t vagina-related, and as such I’m also excluding motherhood and romance from this one.
Character “flaws” for men in movies include things like alcoholism, parental abandonment, arrogance, inferiority, a desperate need for validation by their peers. Women need similarly varied problems – hence Ripley scores a point in ‘Alien’ for basically being pretty fucking ruthless when it comes to ship-board security. ‘Prometheus’ also manages to score a point for Vickers, who has some major insecurities from her relationship with her father and is generally a bit of a douchebag – if a very sensible one.
The other criteria for characterisation is for women who initiate or push for sexual or romantic contact. I’ve begrudgingly given ‘Deadpool’ a point, as it seems that it’s Morena Baccarrin’s character who wants to kick things off with Ryan Reynolds. And, because it’s the Prophetess in ‘Immortals’ who seduces Theseus, I am forced to give another begrudging point away.
Sexual confidence and assertiveness is really important – too many girls and young women are taught to wait for the boys to get things started, and having female characters who are capable of being proactive in relationships is definitely a good thing.
7 – Negative Points
I mostly want to celebrate the positives and highlight where films have gotten things right, but I must also point out a few of the worse examples of women in films. The following criteria grant Negative points each time a film meets them:
Swooning – a woman passing out or collapsing when confronted with something unpleasant or threatening. It’s unrealistic, trite and pointless – and thankfully absent from the films I’ve so far included in the analysis.
“Mrs Pacman Effect” – This was an excellent suggestion by my friend Emma, and is mostly restricted to cartoons in which female characters are shown to be female by their long eyelashes, lipstick and blusher. I actually docked ‘The Phantom Menace’ for this one, due to Queen Amidala’s absurd get-up. No other Naboo citizen appears like this, and I’m quite confident that “King Aladima” would not have been presented in the same way.
Sex Work – a point docked for each female Stripper or Prostitute that appears. There may be some contention as to whether or not stripping counts as “sex work”, but I’ve included it. I do not wish to shame or denigrate in any way women who are sex workers, but I do wish to point out how frequently these roles for women appear in movies, compared to the very small percentage of the real-world population that actually do engage in these occupations. In ‘Independence Day’, half of the adult female speaking roles are strippers – and that’s statistically significant, I feel.
Female-only Nudity – doesn’t matter how artistic it is, or how much it counts as a metaphor, I have docked points for each scene in which a woman appears more naked than any of the men around her – or in which she is naked with nobody else around her. Although I would dearly love to slam both of the Abrams Trek movies for their gratuitous underwear scenes, I am counting nudity as Nipples, Arses and Pubes / Genitalia, because those things are objectively measurable. I am making no distinction between female nipples and male nipples. ‘Starship Troopers’ gets a clean pass, because no women appear naked when not accompanied by similarly naked men – meanwhile ‘Prince of Thieves’ actually scores negatively, because the only nudity we see is Kevin Costner, and there is absolutely no way that could be considered exploitative of anyone except the audience. And the camera operators.
Sexual Assault – regardless of the gender of the assaulter or the victim. I’m not trying to suggest that sexual assault should never be portrayed in films – indeed, it’s a powerful issue worthy of appropriate discussion and exploration – but too many women already suffer from sexual assault on a daily basis without having to see it in a film, so I have decided to dock two points for every instance of it as a blanket rule. I have also included threats of sexual assault – the fact that the threat of rape might be used to coerce or bully someone is really not much less distasteful to me than the act itself.
So, there you have it – a fairly comprehensive breakdown of the criteria by which I have judged each film.
Later in the week, I will be following this post with an analysis of the stats I’ve collected. But for now, I’d like to simply present the format, and hope that you have some fun messing around with it. Maybe you’ll find a film that scores surprisingly highly? Maybe a film you thought was very representative scores very poorly. Either way – let me know! I’d love to add to this index and get an actual, useful tool out of it.
‘Starship Troopers’ is the dumbest fucking movie I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is stupid – so unfathomably stupid, I could barely get to the end credits without collapsing into a heap disbelief. Who the hell signed off on this moronic piece of crap? Did the creators just detach themselves from reality altogether?
As beginnings go, this film has a pretty terrible start, introducing us to a bunch of high schoolers whose main concerns are just fucking each other and passing grades. Can we really not have some more interesting personalities? They’re all so shallow and air-headed I honestly wonder if this film didn’t actually start off as a school drama that got landed with pointless action to make it more marketable.
The characterisation is awful, but the plot is even worse. As our boring bunch of teenagers go through their training (yes, apparently they ALL decided to join the military, how convenient), after what seems like ages we finally get some story development when a huge asteroid strikes their home town, wiping it out completely.
I may have made that seem like an interesting, dramatic way to advance the plot, except for how ludicrously it’s executed. As the protagonists watch a news report, we see that the asteroid was apparently flung against Earth from ACROSS THE GALAXY by a civilisation of “bugs.” That’s like hitting a bullseye on a spinning dartboard in another room using a gun made out of spaghetti – a hundred million years in the future. Are we really meant to believe that the human government would start a war with the bugs even when there’s no realistic way that they could be behind the attack?
Revealed within this news report is a “death toll” for this particular calamity, with the number rising by a few dozen every second, just to add cheap emotional impact. Even with future technology it would be impossible to identify deaths at such a quick rate. An asteroid hit like that would have obliterated an entire city – you won’t be able to identify individual casualties like that, especially so quickly after the event. This film makes me feel ashamed for having a brain.
Everything in the entire movie is bafflingly dumb. It’s constantly interrupted by weird interludes, where we’re taken on little cut-aways to infomercials and bite-size news tidbits, all terribly acted and fake-looking, and occasionally overlapping so that it’s difficult to tell which bits are the film and which bits are the god-awful pieces of in-world propaganda.
Maybe I should just switch my brain off more when watching this atrocious production. We get one scene where a recruit asks why they’re being forced to train in knife-throwing when most fights can be resolved with nukes by “pushing a button”. Cue the drill sergeant throwing a knife and pinning the recruit’s hand to a bulkhead, thereby “preventing him pushing a button.”
Obviously that’s incredibly realistic, and in no way has the asshat sergeant missed the point that you don’t launch the nukes from the battlefield. I mean, Jesus, the film actually sides with the sergeant on this one – apparently the film-makers themselves believe that you have to be in knife-throwing distance of your target in order to authorise a nuclear missile launch.
Really, I mean, every scene in this film falls victim to its inherent incompetence. In a scene in which our main protagonist, Johnny “Big-Chin” Rico, confronts a food-line bully, we see the aforementioned drill sergeant just standing there in the background – he was obviously meant to intervene at some point, but for whatever reason they managed to edit out the parts where he does anything, but not the parts where he’s clearly visible. Christ, what’s he meant to be doing? Watching the confrontation to assess the recruits for how they deal with conflict? Why wouldn’t they just edit him out altogether?
Or maybe they should have edited out the protagonists. At the beginning of the film, they’re all incredibly vacuous idiots, but the writers couldn’t even bother to be consistent. The final few scenes show the main characters talking about huge subjects, like the nature of sacrifice and the need to fight for a bigger cause, and the audience is expected to accept that these stupid teenagers all of a sudden care about the nature of the conflict in which they’re taking part – it’s as though after their experiences in the war and the loss of their friends, they’re entirely different people.
Nothing suggests that any member of the production team was paying any attention to the dreck they were churning out, even the fucking costume department. One of our heroic trio turns up later on as a high-ranking intelligence officer, replete in black leather trench coat and peaked cap – it is so painfully obvious that they simply reused an old stock Gestapo uniform from some other film. Seems nobody realised that this would make the protagonists’ own government look like the fucking Nazi party. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Probably both. Either way, you don’t serve the purpose of building sympathy for your own heroes when they’re all dressed as the Wehrmacht – had any of these people even worked in movie production before?
Seriously, I could go on about how shitty ‘Starship Troopers’ really is, but it’s so painful that I’m not sure I can bring myself to relive much more of it. It’s clear that the director, the writers, the entire production crew and all of the actors had no interest in the film as a whole, and equally clear is how oblivious they were to its many, many faults. Reviewing this turd has left me so emotionally drained that I’m going to have to go and reset my brain and try watching an actually coherent sci-fi action adventure like ‘Star Trek Into Darkness‘ which has a sensible plot, and desperately hope that nobody looks too closely at the first letter of each paragraph in this article.
When ‘Prometheus’ was announced, I got excited. Not just because it was another sci-fi epic from Ridley Scott, not just because it was his return to the ‘Alien’ franchise, and not just because of the amazing cast that were involved.
No, I was excited because it promised to be different. From first glance, it looked like it could be the kind of meditative, thoughtful creation that I love. I was expecting tense action, a rich and philosophical plot, an exploration of a universe that I love, incredible special effects, and close-ups of Charlize Theron.
But as I left the cinema, I wasn’t intrigued. Neither was I entertained. I wasn’t even angry. I was disappointed.
I was disappointed not because I expected great things and the film failed to deliver. Not even because the film failed to deliver on the promises that had been made on its behalf. I was disappointed because I had gone into the cinema expecting a film, and was subjected to series of pictures, projected in sequence and in time with recorded voices and music.
One of the key elements of almost any creative work is the Story it tells, either implicitly or explicitly. You can look at Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ as an example. Regardless of the quality of its composition, the image itself implies a story, one that the audience crafts for itself using the limited information presented.
In ‘Alien’, the film that “started it all”, we get an explicit narrative – a straightforward tale of a woman struggling to survive a deadly predator as all the people around her are gradually slain. We aren’t left trying to figure it all out ourselves, and that’s fine – we are shown enough to reach the end of the movie satisfied with a story that runs from A to B to C.
But ‘Prometheus’ treads the fine line between implicit and explicit narrative, finding that little reservation of shit that runs between the two and riding it determinedly to a tragic, terrible end. It doesn’t leave enough blanks for its audience to fill in, but it possesses so many huge, gaping, cavernous, echoing holes in all of the important bits that it looks like a victim of “The Red Wedding.” Except that it didn’t have the good grace to die.
There’s a lot of debate over ‘Prometheus’ on the internet. Specifically, debate about whether ‘Prometheus’ really is just the dreck that it appears to be, or whether it’s full of hidden meaning and is actually deeply “philosophical”, which is wanker-speak for “pretentious”.
To put this debate to rest, I’m going to dissect ‘Prometheus’ piece by piece. I’m going to look at every aspect related to the story – the characters, the setting, the events, and explore fully what their significance is and, specifically, the reason that none of them work.
What I don’t give a flying winged lesser-spotted shit about is anything that’s not in the movie. I loved the marketing material for ‘Prometheus’, but if it’s being released as a film, it needs to work as a film. If you have to start reading fake company websites and watching Youtube uploads to enjoy the damn movie, they ought to put that on the fucking poster. ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ didn’t have a fucking marketing campaign to explain the most salient plot points, yet it managed to make more sense than ‘Prometheus’ with a plot that requires its primary villain to serially rape green-eyed women in order to get his dick back.
This has been a long time coming for me. Let’s get stuck in.
Chapter 1 – The Entire Fucking Film
The first time I watched ‘Prometheus’, I adored it. For about an hour.
The first half of ‘Prometheus’ is a gloriously slow-paced tale of a team of varied characters exploring the relics of a forgotten alien race. From the enigmatic first scene, showing a mysterious figure planting genetic seeds on an uninhabited planet – which is both more and less gross than it sounds – to the sense of awe that is captured as the crew take their first steps into a derelict alien structure, this film was just as pondering and cerebral as I hoped it would be.
We watch David the Android get up to no good, try to guess what his motives are. We wonder what the purpose of the weird gooey substance is, how it might be related to the opening scene. We share in the crew’s attempts to unravel what happened to this ancient race, to make sense of what we’re seeing, to decipher the meaning of it all.
All of this would be great if any of it led anywhere. But it doesn’t. We are presented with so much random crap from every angle and the only reason any of it is in any way entertaining is because it leaves you wondering what it all means. But once you get to the end of the film, and realise that none of it means anything, on subsequent viewing the first half of the film becomes just as inane as the second.
And the second half is where everything really falls apart for me. As our explorers find the body of the first extraterrestrial that humanity has ever encountered, a storm approaches over the horizon, forcing them to retreat to the safety of the eponymous vessel. On first glance, this might seem like a tired and unoriginal plot device, but on second glance you realise that it’s also boring, pointless and silly.
The storm arrives, forces the explorers to leave the site early, and then is gone by morning. What was the significance of them being forced to leave early? FUCKED IF I KNOW, that’s what. The storm gets several minutes of screen time, a huge chunk of the special effects budget, and ultimately offers nothing beyond eye-rolling cliche.
From this point on, ‘Prometheus’ is doomed, and I’m not even referring to the fucking ship. Every scene after the arrival of the storm is nonsensical, and the plot itself effectively grinds to a halt.
Crew members act stupidly, get turned into monsters, attack the rest of the crew and get killed off, all without consequence or explanation. Our leading lady gives cesarean birth to a writhing mass of tentacles, for it to be completely ignored by the rest of the crew and ultimately serve as a cheap death for a mute antagonist in the penultimate scene.
The sequences and events to which we bear witness barely follow on from one another. It’s as though “causality” is a dirty word, a forbidden concept, like some kind of Orwellian thought crime or those daydreams I have about your mother.
Now don’t get me wrong: there are components of this film that are masterfully executed. The visuals are generally stunning, the sets and costumes are all perfect, the sound and the music and the lighting all work just fine – this is not a work lacking in technical expertise. None of the acting is jarring or particularly unbelievable, or at least not enough to stand out.
Even the directing is on-point; each scene, examined in isolation, is constructed and executed perfectly well. Everyone says their lines in the right order and at the right time, the cameras are all in-focus and pointing the right direction, and I don’t think I noticed ANY booms or set lights or stage markings or Damon Lindelof’s personal stashes of methamphetamine.
Please note that for legal reasons I am not stating or implying that Damon Lindelof uses methamphetamine recreationally whilst writing, I am simply pointing out that I didn’t see any stashes of methamphetamine that belonged to him at any point during my viewings of ‘Prometheus’.
But the core of it all is rotten. It is a festering stool wrapped in pretense, packaged competently enough to entertain, just as long as you suppress the impulse to remove the packaging and take a closer look at what it contains.
Ultimately, I just can’t identify the story of ‘Prometheus’. It can’t be a character piece, because our characters act so fucking randomly that they may as well be shit- and blood-filled ping pong balls stuck in a tumble drier. And it’s not about the events of the mission itself, because the collection of scenes on offer match both of the definitions of “Brownian Motion” – random, sporadic impulses and rapid gastric evacuation.
The themes involved are abstracted to the point of disconnection. The ancient Greek tale of Prometheus is the story of a powerful being sharing stolen technology with mortal humans, leading to his unending punishment by the Gods. The closest I can get to that is that ‘Prometheus’ is the story of a powerful director stealing two hours of everybody’s life to ceaselessly punish his mortal audience.
So, on a general, broad level, ‘Prometheus’ fails to be a compelling piece of narrative, but I’m not satisfied to leave it there. No, there are so many specific, critical failings that I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Next up, a look at the characters, starting with King of the Shitheads, Charlie Holloway.
You can find Chapter 2 of this review, a look at Charlie Holloway, here.
‘Deadpool’ is, hands-down, the best Deadpool movie you will see this year.
An old, weary joke I know, but in this case it happens to be true. Is ‘Deadpool’ an exceptional superhero movie? Is it riotously entertaining? Is it a deep and thoughtful exploration of love and loss? Is it a refreshing change of pace from the preceding and succeeding torrent of superhero films with which we are supplied? Are all of these questions rhetorical?
In order: No, Yes, No, Yes, Yes. Funnily enough, your mother said exactly the same sequence of words to me last night. Only with exclamation marks instead of commas. And a lot of heavy breathing.
‘Deadpool’ is an “experience film” – every element of it exists solely to provide the audience with the experience of watching a movie about Deadpool. You may think that’s a semantically-null sentence, and you may be right, you’d have to explain the meaning of “semantically” to me first. But ‘Deadpool’ is a vehicle for the character Deadpool, and that’s the limit of what it offers.
If you enjoy Deadpool’s personality-laden antics, then this film will entertain – almost beyond measure. I am not a comic-reader, and so I knew little about the character beyond his origin and main characteristics, but I hugely enjoyed every minute of exposure that he received – which happened to be the entire run-time, more-or-less.
However, if playground humour doesn’t particularly entertain you, and if you prefer some of the more mature characterisation of the first two X-Men films by Bryan Singer, or the brutal reality of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, or the traditional, grandiose heroics of Captain America and The Avengers, then ‘Deadpool’ won’t have much of great appeal.
As I left the cinema with my friends (I have at least two, believe it or not), we discussed films in general, and what we liked about certain productions compared to others. We mostly enjoyed ‘Deadpool’, and we mostly disliked James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ (2009) – which is another “experience film”. In the same way that ‘Deadpool’ is all about putting the audience in the same room as a fun character, ‘Avatar’ is about bringing the audience to a strange, visually-encapsulating world – things like story, plot, character development, narrative, all take second place to the larger objective of crafting an “experience”.
That’s not to say that those elements are done poorly in either film – ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Avatar’ also share a great deal in that they are both very well made. The acting is fine, the stories are simple and coherent, the characters largely act in the way they’re supposed to act, the shots are all in-focus – because that’s all they need to be. Indeed, I could make the argument that some kind of deep, intense plot with twists and revelations would detract from ‘Deadpool’ as a product, because crafting such a plot would demand screen time that could otherwise be dedicated to the title character.
However, if the extravagant visuals of ‘Avatar’ aren’t enough for you, if the zany babblings of ‘Deadpool’s Deadpool don’t quite hit the mark, and if your brain demands the stimulation of an original, well-crafted story to entertain, then any “experience film” is going to leave you unsatisfied. And that’s fine – we each enjoy different things.
Except for ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’. Nobody actually enjoyed that.
Jesus Bollocking Christ, this is a dull movie. I haven’t been so bored whilst staring at a T.V. screen since I watched that documentary about my own romantic success stories. Somehow, ‘The Counselor’ actually manages to be less eventful and more masturbatory than my love life, and that’s fucking going some.
This is a film about nothing. I mean, stuff happens – there’s at least two beheadings and a woman fucking a car, but none of it actually builds to anything approaching a story. Ridley Scott filmed this two years after he did ‘Prometheus’ and apparently the only thing he he learned in the meantime was that his films really need less coherence and more baffling dialogue.
Right from the get-go you can tell something’s up. Michael Fassbender and Penélope Cruz roll around beneath the sheets, spewing dialogue that is meant to be intimate and sexy, and instead makes me feel ashamed for having genitals. Nobody in this film talks like a real person, except maybe Javier Bardem, whose most notable character trait is wearing colourful trousers.
The plot revolves around a sewage truck full of drugs, and its theft. That’s… that’s basically all that happens. Micky Fastlender is somehow involved, having something to do with the original deal, which means that when the truck is stolen, he and every single person he has ever spoken to is apparently to blame.
But the thing is, he doesn’t actually do anything. We never see or understand what his role in this big drug deal is going to be, and consequently all of the action that results seems fairly abstract. The script spares what feels like three hours to allow a character that we meet only once to pretentiously monologue about the philosophy of Mike Fuzzbuffler’s fate, but we never fucking understand what those choices actually are beyond the fact he planned to take part in some kind of drug deal in some capacity that is NEVER FUCKING EXPLAINED.
I understand entirely that this is meant to be a deep, thoughtful, philosophical film, but if that’s the case why do we get a scene of Brad Pitt being slowly killed and decapitated, spurting fountains of blood onto a London pavement? It’s a scene that’s gratuitous in every sense of the word – he just staggers about shouting “Fuck you!” over and over, as his fingers are sliced off and his carotid artery punctures. There’s nothing philosophical or deep about it, it’s just fucking vile.
Or that wonderful, truly insightful scene where Cameron Diaz fucks a car windscreen? With Javier Bardem describing it as “like a catfish on an aquarium wall”? Yeah, that was REALLY fucking deep, I can really see what you were going for there. It was an important scene that definitely needed to be included in the film, much more than any kind of explanation of the story.
In truth, this is a film where just about every scene proves to be redundant, or even indulgent. We see the truck getting stolen, but given that it directly involves precisely no speaking characters – there may have been a line or two, but it was all purely functional – the entire sequence may as well have happened off-screen. We see Javier Bardem chased down by cartel thugs, only for them to accidentally kill him, and then run off.
I’d be more forgiving of ‘The Counselor’ if it didn’t think so highly of itself. It could have been a creative misstep – an attempt at a meditative masterpiece like ‘Unforgiven’ that sadly missed the mark. But it feels much more like the writings of a moody, highly-literate sixteen-year-old who “sees the world the way it really is” and who “like, totally, y’know, gets what’s going on” and who thinks “like, yeah, y’know, she’s fucking the car because it’s, y’know, a metaphor for the thalassocracy.”
It tries to totally blow your mind, man, but instead is mostly empty, shallow drivel, packaged with a top-rated cast and filmed by a director who’s capable of so much more – as we later saw in ‘The Martian’. Indeed, it’s this kind of film that seems to be Ridley Scott’s weak point. When he sticks to focused, tight stories with a simple narrative – and that’s no criticism by any stretch – he can deliver magic. But as soon as he tries to stray into unknown territory, he just seems to lose focus entirely. ‘Gladiator’ was great for so many reasons, but it was at its heart a simple story in which the audience could invest. I wish Mr. Scott would stick to those kinds of narratives.
As a final note, other reviewers seem to have heaped praise on Cameron Diaz for her performance in ‘The Counselor’, and whilst I can’t really argue that she was bad, I’m not quite sure she was that amazing. She did well with an absurd script, but I’m not sure I every fully believed her performance.
Except for the bit where she fucked the car. She really convinced me that Ridley Scott had actually put a scene in his movie where a woman fucks a car. Otherwise, I would never have believed it.