[SPOILER WARNINGS] Game of Thrones: The Return of the Hound & the Issues of Pandering

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Warning: Here There Be Spoilers!

Episode 7 of Game of Thrones’ 6th series –entitled The Broken Man– saw the return of fan favourite/hated Sandor “The Hound’ Clegane (played excellently as always by Rory McCann). The Hound hadn’t been seen since the end of series 4, when he was left to die by Arya after his devastating duel with Brienne of Tarth . His ultimate fate was left up in the air (in the TV series, he very much died in the book), with many fans clamouring for his return. So, apropos of nothing, the Hound suddenly returns so late into series 6.

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Yarp

What is odd is how his reappearance both felt natural and jarring.

Natural, in that the story of him being rescued by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray (a huge waste of a great actor, especially since he doesn’t even utter the word cocksucker once!) & contemplating his own violent nature and the possibility of redemption. The form of the Hound’s arc is perfect for the character, in that he finds himself rescued by a man who shows him both respect & kindness –two things that have been utterly anathema to the Hounds existence– but finds himself drawn back to his inclinations towards killing. He is given a place in a religious community who both fear & accept him, he works labour which suits his temperament but he is ill at ease with a life of peace –acting like Damocles waiting for the sword to finally drop.

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“What a bunch of measely-mouthed cocksuckers”

Yet it is a jarring return because it does not have a natural fit within the narrative.

Narratively it comes as a break in the current tension of the story. Beginning episode 7 in a way to purposely confuse the viewer, make them wonder why they are watching the scene of harmony & construction –two things that mesh against the usually themes of the show. Whilst the viewer has gotten to wonder about this tonal schism, they are shown the scarred form of the returned villain/anti-hero but not in any role or form they are used to.

This is an intentional jarring of expectations & visual setting yet it unfortunately breaks the established flow of the narrative.

It has no basic place within the current season’s arc; coming with the feel of being placed in as a breach to fit in other sudden shifts in the narrative direction.

Personal conjecture has it that since it showed the return of the Brotherhood Without Banners –who until this point had not been seen since the 3rd series– it is purposed to unite the Hound, Brienne (who is currently on her way to the Riverlands to recruit the Black Fish to fight for Sansa Stark) & Jamie Lannister in capture by the Brotherhood so Lady Stoneheart, née the resurrected Catelyn Stark, can have her revenge on all who betrayed her or served her enemies. Which is combining how characters are last seen within the books A Feast For Crows & A Dance of Dragons. This plays into bringing the Frays back into the fold & having Jamie, whose character arc was skewed with weird trips to Dorne & conflict with the High Sparrow, go to Riverrun to aid the Fray’s in their failed siege (which also brings the other fan favourite Bronn back to our screens),

In this writer’s very (very) unhumble opinion, bringing a character as looming in the minds of the television adaption as the Hound carries the odour of pandering.

Whilst it does fit that he could have survived his fight with Brienne and fall from the cliff, his arc should have been more naturally ended. Serving as a point of evolution of Arya as she chooses not to kill him because she both respected & hated him. This possible forced merging of divergent storylines & character arcs.

Yet the Hound is unneeded for such a resolution.

He has served his narrative purpose but his fate was left ambiguous. This meant that many fans & viewers could wedge their desires for his return into the conversations around the show. After the relatively poor reception of the 5th season, one could speculate that the show’s forerunners have been saving a return of such a divisive character within the fan community for a point that will garner maximum interest as the 6th series steams towards its conclusion. Thus making the Hound’s return both pandering & exploitative.

With the show’s forerunner recent announcing that they want to end the show in 2018 with the 8th series, possibly making seasons 7 & 8 shorter in the amount of episodes for each, one can see why they would be in a rush to draw in elements of the books (both written & forthcoming) to see the entirety of the story reach a satisfactory conclusion. Yet to bring in unnecessary threads, be in the return of the Hound or strange asides to fill in character happenings, chokes the already ongoing story as well as breaks the view of the narrative. Many viewers have complained on social media about how Arya’s arc with the Faceless Men drags on to nowhere –partly because of how different it is from the books but mainly because it feels boring in how its told– & this is something that could have easily been repaired if the showrunners had actually spent time on solidifying character arcs & the overall plot instead of shifting things to suddenly pander to viewers’ supposed expectation.

Which brings this writer onto what they consider the most extreme & vexing of Game of Thrones’ pandering: replacing proper storylines & scenes with pointless female nudity.

Cast your mind back to the events of episode 7. Do you remember the suddenly interlude with Yara & Theon Greyjoy as they with their band of reavers partied it up in what may have been Barvos (it was never made clear to this writer where they were). They were at a brothel, so naturally this meant there had to be lots & lots of naked women around & Yara had to be transformed into either bisexual or a lesbian (neither of which are an issue if they have always been a constant of the character before that moment).

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Les Be friends?

Now, do you recall what the scene was actually about? What purpose it had in the greater narrative scheme or even what Yara & Theon spoke about?

If not it was probably because you were distracted by Yara sucking on some whore’s tits.

Game of Thrones & HBO in general have built reputations for themselves as providers of adult content. Unfortunately, in the US ‘adult content’ tends to mean tits & violence.

Something that garnered Game of Thrones a lot of mainstream attention is that it did not shy away from either yet once that genie was released from the bottle, HBO could no longer tone it down. They had to keep pushing such angles because that is how they viewed audience expectations of the show –that they only watched it because titties would somehow be involved.

Now, this is not a prudish complaint.

There is nothing wrong with nudity in media but it has to serve a narrative point.

One can go on about how it can be seen as either empowerment & life saving or if it is entirely exploitative & vulgar yet that is not the crux of this writer’s vexation.

The issue at hand is how the insertion of scenes dedicated entirely to sex & nudity take away from important character scenes & story arcs. It is like the story is proceeding at an excellent pace, hitting all the right points for audience engagement, when it all screeches to a halt to grab our collective heads & say “hey look! Here some titties! Maybe some arse or bush! LOOK AT IT! LOOK AT MATURE WE ARE!!! All done? Good. Now back to the plot”.

This writer cannot be burdened by writing out every example in every episode & ever series yet the ones that stand out the greatest are Podrick’s visit to Little Finger’s brothel to lose his virginity as well as the pirate Salladhor Saan telling jokes in the bath to two prostitutes. Neither of these scenes served any narrative purpose. They were meant for ahem titillation & breaking of heavy tones that may or may not drag down an episode. Yet they have no function that could not have been fulfilled in other ways that did not have nudity as their centrepieces.

Yet this supposed obsession with associating nudity with maturity can only reach so far before it simply does become blatant pandering & exploitation of audience so socially starved of the normality of sex & nudity that they come to believe that any expression of it is a healthy taboo that one can indulge in with a sense of collective joyous guilt (which is also how shite like Fifty Shades of Grey become a brief zeitgeist but that’s an article for another day). One can endlessly argue that the over moralising of nudity & sex is something so profoundly toxic to social discourse that it overflows into & corrupts so many other aspects of society yet that wavers from this writer’s point.

The complaint remains that the majority of nudity within Games of Thrones is superfluous at best & distracting at worst.

It all remains within the contention that over pandering to fan demands/expectations can lead to a creative deathspiral for creative work because you, as a creative entity, are no longer controlling where your work goes but eternally responding to the whims of a vocal but very fickle few.

Maybe there will be a grand pay-off with the Hound’s return. Maybe it all threads together vital pieces of the story & direct us towards a glorious end. Yet his reappearance does not speak of confidence within the current format of the show. That the individual pieces have the strength to stand upon their merits & there is a wanting of faith in how both the season & show may conclude.

Yet this writer does find Rory McCann layered portrayal of the Hound enjoyable, given an emotional depth rare to how such a violent & unforgiving character is usually depicted upon our screens. So there is some measure of assurance that the Hound’s return is a portent for a strong series ending rather than a horrid death-flails of a program the showrunners & writers are losing faith in.

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1st impressions: Preacher & issues with over adaptation

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Truly we live in a cross-media Golden Age, where anything from any medium can find new life and wider fandom in a different format.

Basically, if it can be adapted from a comic or a book or a video game or someone’s stupid Twitter Feed it can be transformed into a television show or movie.

The zenith of this are the television adaptions of A Song of Ice and Fire (renamed A Game of Thrones after the first book in the still running series) & The Walking Dead as well Marvel & DC’s various superhero cross-media “events”.

Unfortunately this means that with so many adaptations filling so many screens, the quality & which parts of the narratives they choice to follow as well as which characters they may change or cut various from production to production. More often than not fans of the original medium are angry &/or disappointed that they favourite scene, character or story arc has been either cut or changed beyond all recognition. After sci-fi series The Expanse had run its first season I was going to write an article about how the show completely race-washed, turning minor characters white for no other reason then TV producers prefer white people on screen because they perceive their audience to still be almost all white. I shit-canned the article because of crippling mental health issues but the arguments stayed with me.

When an adaptation diverts or completely diverges from its source material, it often creates a schism in the fan base. With the source material purists on one side decrying the changes as they wrest their shirts and beat their manboobs and the new/adaptation fans being blessed in their supposed ignorance of what they are missing out whilst being deprived of the original greatness (from the view of the members of 1st camp).

Yet there are many reasons for altering material within an adaptation that go beyond mere culturally ingrained racism. These have to go with keeping costs down, having to fit things within time/broadcast restraints as well as basic ignorance of the people doing the adapting. These harsh practicalities often mean that sections of the audience are left lamenting what they may never see or what never was yet they are crucial to how an adaptation is both produced and viewed by a wider audience. Obviously there are issues with not including important material from the source but if the adaptation is handled well, all that is cut or changed is not truly missed.

This brings us onto AMC’s last comicbook adaptation (the other being the widely popular The Walking Dead), Preacher.

Preacher was a seminal work from writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillion as part of DC’s “mature” publication line, Vertigo, made (in)famous by how far Ennis was willing to push the idea of the grotesque, violence and the absurd (three trademarks of Ennis’ work). There had been previous adaptations in the works over the years, some even making into pre-production phases, but it wasn’t until 2013 when Hollywood uber nerd (and stoner) Seth Rogen had teamed up with AMC to produce a pilot of a series. Cut to 3 years later & the results are finally on our screen.

The short of it is, that the story surrounding Preacher is about titular preacher, Jesse Custer, being possessed by an entity called Genesis, the infantile product of breeding between a devil and an angel, that has escaped from a furious God, granting Jesse the ability to verbally command almost anyone around him to do, literally, what he says. This power bring him into conflict with forces divine and mundane who either want it for themselves or wish to see it destroyed. So he travels the US with his arsekicking ex-girlfriend, Tulip, & charming rogue-cum-scumbag Irish vampire, Cassidy.

Rogen & his writing/producing partners Even Goldberg and Sam Catlin obviously have a lot of love for the original comic but does not mean that they are not willing to make changes where they feel they are necessary or interesting.

The greatest toxic stain on any adaptation or franchise are those directors & writers who both adhere vehemently to the source material yet make drastic changes which make no thematic or narrative sense for the sake of a shiny visual or action scene. Zach Snyder is fundamentally the king for doing such things, so it is refreshing to see how Preacher’s creative team have handled their changes to the source.

One thing that riled a lot fans up was the casting of Ruth Negga (known mainly for being Raina in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD), born of Ethiopian and Irish parents, as Tulip in a case of what some net-dwellers called “reverse whitewashing”. Some people genuinely can’t handle a known character being turned from white into another race yet have no qualms about it going the other way (this is why I term to be examples of Cultural Paradigm & Cutural Privilege). Yet in complaining they fail to see how well Negga captures the essence of Tulip, in her brutal creativity, capacity for violence yet her utterly caring nature. The scene in which we are introduced to her is kept lighthearted in how she teaches two small children how to make a bazooka out of household items, metal toy soldiers & cornshine but never denies that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Negga’s ownership of the character is impressive, even down to how she gets her Texan regional drawl, but never once does she feel like she has been changed for a misguided sense of tokenism.

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Original vs. TV version: let the race debate begin!

In fact, it is how much the actors who play the central characters inhabit their roles which makes Preacher such an impressive adaptation.

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Dominic Cooper (who is known for playing Howard Stark in Marvel films & TV series) plays Jesse Custer & you would swear that he was a native Texan with how well he performs the accent. There is no trace of English civility within him, replaced with a broken scene of Americanism that’s a fettered mix of faith & violence. Within the first scenes you know that Jesse is a man who is running away from something, whilst trying to do his best but not his hardest for the small & exceedingly backwards/redneck community to which he has returned after a long, unexplained absence. Cooper plays Jesse as a man seething with an underlying sense of helpless & rage, trying not to fall back into old habits but struggling with keeping the moral high ground against people without any sense of shame or even human decency to their fellow man.
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He’s joined by Joe Gilgun as the Irish vampire Cassidy, portraying him, ironically enough, as full of life. Cassidy is the embodiment of hedonism & self destructive behaviour all cloaked within the guise of roguish charm, to which Gilgun plays up with utter aplomb. His accent is flawless, especially reflecting the speed in which Irish people can talk when they’re spinning up a tale. Gilgun plays Cassidy as a man without a plan but confident that he can get out of any situation he finds himself stuck in through a combination of disarming charm, ingenuity & extreme violence -as depicted in his fight scene on a private jet. His involvement with and meeting of Jesse is a little tenuous but plays off well as Cassidy sees Jesse as both a kindred spirit & a source of entertainment who can provide him with shelter from the sun & whomever he’s happened to have pissed off.

The strong trinity of Negga, Cooper and Gilgun pushes the pilot episode through despite how it changes so much from the original comics, such as introducing the character of Eugene Root way earlier than he should’ve been but the young actor Ian Colletti portrays what would otherwise be a pathetic character as one nuanced with hope, shame & fragility at how he is perceived by those around him.

This is a series that I have good hopes for, especially by the impact made by the first episode.

The episode itself exists to set up basic context with the three lead characters without flooding the viewer with an over abundance of background information, played out against an invisible force from deep space (as seen in an incredible retro sci-fi B film opening) that is possessing & destroying high ranking members of the global religious community (including a Russian high priest of the Church of Satan & Tom Cruise delivering a Scientology sermon). The focus is primarily on Jesse as he struggles & fails to be the moral centre for a highly immoral community, constantly beset by members of his congregation, like mother issue swamped Ted, & their personal issues. This is reflected in how a young boy asks Jesse is hurt his dad because he beats up his mum, with Jesse laying out how things escalated when resorting to violence but fully knowing that the other authorities in town will do nothing to prevent the abuse & that often violence is the only answer to a bad situation. This is constantly brought up in how other characters, such as the sheriff & Tulip, bring up his past & bad reputation within the town -mainly by referring to how he is no longer acting like he used to. It’s all brought to a head by Tulip’s return to recruit Jesse into what one would assume to be a major crime & Cassidy crashing out of the sky only to stumble into a bar where Jesse drinks away his emotional pain.

The episode as a whole does not take itself too seriously but does not disrespect the audience or actors by playing up serious scenes or ideas by being silly, self conscious or giving any knowing winks of fan service. It plays with comicbook convention & loose scene/time transitions as well the hyper-realised violence &  yet does not over play the jokes. This is seen from the opening scene of an African minister exploding over his congregation you are well aware that this will be a show that indulges, like the original comic, in the grotesquity & absurd idea of violence without flashing up nudity ever 20 minutes (which is Game of Thrones greatest failing, replacing drama with tits & now cock). There is even a lack of foul language, despite the gory violence, which is a little surprising but well done in its own way.

This is so refreshing when we are caught in such a glut of cross-media adaptations, where things are being turned into movies or TV shows before their even published or dragged out or transformed beyond recognition of the original. Preacher touches the high watermarks of other series like Game of Thrones or Marvel’s work with Netflix where it keeps largely faithful to the source but isn’t afraid to venture out when new ideas are needed.

Time will basically tell if a wider audience will be willing to adopt another comicbook adaptation for the small screen -especially one from the 90’s before a large section of the audience weren’t alt-pop culture consumers. If the actors & production team keep up with what they provided in the pilot & stick to the spirit of the comics then it will be easily adored by others. Yet if they decide to swerve away from the cores of the characters & narrative, especially what sets both apart from other series out there, then it will more than likely be dropped quicker than a sci-fi series on Fox.

Like a Gangrenous Limb -Devil’s Advocate: Moffat Era Doctor Who

Deny: Moffat’s Doctor Who


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Current flash screen

Like with any rules of Entropy, the Law of Diminishing Returns basically argues that the longer something is in production, the higher the surrounding costs & the lower quality begin to erode not only the product but also the consumers’ faith in said product. In terms of media: this means that the longer a series is being broadcast or a franchise is made the higher the costs it is to make & the lower the quality of the show/franchise becomes, which in turn erodes viewers faith that they will see a return to the (imagined) quality of the series.

This can be argued as being true for the majority of television series & media franchises in existence. With some long running series losing what originally made them popular because of changes in production costs/values, changing cast/production staff & disagreement between writers & producers over the direction the series should progress &/or end verses the (overbearing) expectations of the audience/fandom.

I think few series/franchises currently in production epitomise all these as greatly as the last few years of the seminal sci-fi Doctor Who.

Now, many people have been throwing around qualifiers such as “worse series ever!” & making (empty) threats to stop watching the show & cease investing in the merchandise. I’m not going to do such things, despite being a long long term fan of the franchise. In my never humble view, the past series has indeed been, overall, terrible but it hasn’t been ‘irredeemable’.

To begin this argument, some background first:

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Doctors 1 through 12. Missing is the War Doctor 8.5

My earliest media memories are of watching Doctor Who in that lovely two hours that the ABC used to dedicate to children’s programming between 5 & 7 PM. I began with the colour repeats of the Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker incarnations before the broadcasts progressed to Peter Davidson, Colin Baker & Sylvester McCoy. I also had the luxury of watching the repeats of earliest episodes when the ABC decided to show them as a double episode block when I was a teenager. I even watched the basically subpar made-for-television movie starring the eternally underrated Paul McGann as part of an advanced fan screening. I’ve even read the old comics & books, listened to the radio dramas & currently possess, thanks to a highly invested friend, all the episodes from the 1st to the movie.

So, yes: I am highly emotionally invested in the franchise as a whole but I am still not any sort of compulsive super-fan or mouth-frothing fanboy.

Yet, I do have to comment in the decline of quality over the past several years but I’m not going to lay the blame on the usual suspects. Instead, I am going to offer up a few (possibly controversial) views & opinions on where possibly the fault lies.

You see, the fans were particularly blessed with the relaunch of the series back in 2005, with the fantastic (but discontent) Christopher Eccleston in the titular role. That short run was memorable in that it paid homage to the original series but moved beyond what was known –leaving a chronological & narrative gap between the 8th & 9th Doctors, filling it with an unknown conflict simply called ‘the Time War’, that supposedly wiped out the Time Lords & their Dalek enemies. This new entry into the long running franchise rebooted audience expectations & demand, reaching into new US markets & reinvigorating a slightly stagnant fandom who were hungry for new produce to fuel their hungry. The short lived but excellent Eccleston run lead into David Tenant’s tenure & whilst I maintain that Tenant was an average Doctor (but great actor) working with amazing material, it was his 5 year period with the show that the majority of new fans latched onto. Unfortunately, the series decline began in 2010, when show runner Russell T. Davies left & Tenant hanged up his Sonic Screwdriver, being replaced respectively by Steven Moffat as show runner/head writer & Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor.

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The face of evil itself. Or a woolly headed Glaswegian. One or the other.

Whilst many erstwhile fans pin the blame on Smith for the series’ decline, I maintain that he was an incredible actor working with subpar & that it was Moffat’s fault for the failing quality of the show.

Many have already criticised Moffat’s failings, including accusations of misogyny (which he has oft times defended himself against but even more allegations of tyranny are still thrown at him), he is merely a single facet of a much larger problem between audience demands/expectations & the bureaucrats who run the BBC.

The heart of this issue is the current UK Conservative Government’s attempted to make huge cuts to the BBC budget which, in turn, will & have taken huge chunks out of Doctor Who’s soaring budget costs. Yet at the same time, the same BBC Trust’s is wishing a great merchandising stake, especially from the US market (even altering scripts & season schedules to fit the US timetable) & dumbing the series down so it will be both friendly to kids & the perceived average US audience.

This creates a dichotomy between the wants & needs of the BBC chairpeople, the extreme & diverse demands & expectations of the audience/fandom & the overall controlling nature of Moffat’s production. This is amplified by the fact that Doctor Who is the flagship franchise of the BBC & affected by political whims of various levels of governance, stakeholders & broadcast partners. Not to mention the extreme ways that the BBC sought to avoid online piracy & audiences having episodes ruined across various timezones & geographic locations.

Such behind the scene scuffles ultimately spill out onto the screen –such as having mid-season breaks to accommodate the US audiences or huge shifts in plots– yet it all spills at the feet of Moffat, his offsider/writing partner Mark Gatiss & the rest of the core production team, especially the writers.

Many people have levelled criticisms of the past two seasons of Doctor Who on Peter Capaldi & Jenna Coleman, similarly to how criticism was thrown at Smith & Karen Gillian’s Amy Pond, but they are all victims of the same forces. That being Moffat, his writers & the production.

The past two seasons have seen the uber fan Capaldi take the reigns of playing the Doctor & he proves himself again & again to be a powerhouse of an actor, bringing depth of emotion & contrast that you wouldn’t expect to see in a ‘mere sci-fi adventure show’. Yet, like Smith before him, he has been given such awful, inconsistent & boring material to work with. Similar can be said of Coleman’s character, Clara, who first only existed as a mystery to be solved, lacking in any depth or agency of her own. Both Smith & Capaldi were reduced to tropes, one-liners & caricatures whilst their companions enemies & plots only exist in relation to them. By playing to too many differing audiences & ages, Moffat has spread everything too thin, too haphazardly, throwing ideas at walls before disgarding all impact that they might have had -which is seen best in how he dealt (or didn’t deal) with the antagonists known as The Silence.

The utter nadir of this could be seen in the appalling episode Kill The Moon that presents the very worse that Moffat has to offer as showrunner. The plot is nonsensical & the resolution so Beyond the Pale that it actually lowered viewer numbers for the remainder of that season.

Yet even in the face of this, Moffat still reigns supreme on the show & does not look likely to dislodge himself anytime soon.

So, this brings up to his (series 9) 2015 tenure & the moddled tales that he brought us.

The true shame of Moffat’s run is that there are some genuinely good & interesting ideas floating amongst the detritus of the season -such as the Doctor’s speech near the end of Zygon Inversion. Again, this is epitomised with a single episode, stumbling amongst the wilderness: Heaven Sent, which sees Capaldi alone after Clara has died (for the 3rd time on screen). This showcases the strengths of Capaldi’s acting but also highlights the weakness of Moffat’s writing & handling of the show overall.

This is emphasised by the shockingly bad episode Sleep No More, written by Gatiss, who was has enjoyed much fan hatred for previously poor episodes (Cold War & The Crimson Horror), which is such a jumble of tropes mixed with exceptionally bad pacing & shallow characters.

It is this jumbled shallowness that does ultimately mark Moffat’s tenure on the series.

Characters & stories seem disconnected, often contradicting previous Moffat tales (such as stupidly repeated use of The Weeping Angels which lessened their affect & appeal each time they had to be explained, with the worst being The Angels Take Manhattan). More often then not the audience is given rushed stories, 2 dimensional characters & endless to camera gags to cover up the plot holes. This became one of the biggest criticisms of the Smith run as The Doctor but, again, it wasn’t Smith’s fault. He was a good actor doing his best with bad material. Unfortunately, Smith’s talent (& the talents of Tenant & John Hurt in the 50th anniversary episode) really show up the flaws in the series. More so when you have endless contradictions coupled with storylines that never end up going anywhere. More so is the fact that Moffat introduces characters & scenarios that seemingly have deep backstories that are part of some other associated  media, one which doesn’t get played out on screen, so it’s like walking into a conversation between old friends halfway through. Moffat doesn’t give his viewers a grounding point or a common reference, throwing in new idea after new idea without any development or reason other than he thinks it’s pretty cool. This too unfortunately affects how he’s made Capaldi portray The Doctor.

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Peter Capaldi as “cool dad Doctor”

Shifting from series 8 to series 9, the Doctor has seemingly undergone a transformation from grumpy problem solver to the cool dad showing off his mid-life crisis. This is seen in how the Doctor now plays the electric guitar (which Capaldi actually does) & has turned his Sonic Screwdriver into Sonic Sunglasses. Clara has also gone from mystery to be solved, to the ultimate control freak to fun loving friend (with benefits). Whilst the two leads play well on screen together, there is no narrative chemistry there. No reason that the Doctor feels the need to protect Clara above all overs (Before the Flood), even at the cost of other lives. Supposedly it plays into the idea of the old angry Doctor from the Time War as well as the 3 regretful incarnations that came after him who are either looking to escape or find forgiveness in their actions.

It reeks of Moffat trying to make his long term mark on the series, by altering the lore & history of the entire backstory, but also speaks of undermining what Davies did before him. This can be seen in how he changed the outcome of the Time War, brought back characters like Davros & changed The Doctor’s oldest (in story not continuity) enemy, The Master (whom Davies had already reshaped) into Missy –who comes off more as a trope-filled insane exgirlfriend than as someone who wants to bring the universe to its collective knee-like appendages.

Whilst it is perfectly natural for any person to want to leave their legacy, many fans (both long & short term) feel it is as though Moffat is leaving a shite stain on something they love; after rubbing himself all over all those whom came before him (especially Davies).

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Just a basic nostalgia shot. Nothing to see here.

Now, while Doctor Who is a show that has endured a great many ups & downs in terms of production, stories & acting, there is something lingeringly wrong with Moffat’s period. Whilst he has delivered fan beloved characters like River Song & has helped to create many “pop culture moments” the long term feeling towards his work will be one of resentment & confusion –especially at his narrative handwaving & ignoring his on continuities.

Is there a way to repair the damage that Moffat has done?

Probably but right now he just feels like a gangrenous wound to the franchise as a whole: needing to be cut off.

If the BBC would be rid of him & his offsiders, bring in a fresh creative team as well as sanction a stable budget & season structure, maybe Doctor Who can return to the Davies/Tenant era that so many fans want it to hark back to.

Yet, I personally do no feel as though that is the way the series should go.

What Doctor Who needs is an entire shaking up of the formulas of quips, running & single story episodes. Mixing a new formula with the old serial structure would be a giant boon to the franchise as a whole. The main fan demand is for a female Doctor but that doesn’t offer anything really new. As has previously been argued, if you want a strong female Doctor you need someone who can write interesting female characters; otherwise you just have a woman doing all the things that the Doctor has always done. Same as if you changed to a non-white, non-cisgendered character. If you do not have a production team that can bring out the positives & uniqueness of such a character than it is merely tokenism or pandering to the most vocal members of the fan community.

If Moffat is go, so must the philosophy of the BBC Trust of Doctor Who being a kiddie oriented cash cow whilst trying to keep an adult audience as well as the rabid mewling of the fandom -who except everything & so are never happy with what they get. Attitudes to fan pandering & treating them as idiots who will lap up any references like the proverbial dog also has to be destroyed –more so if you want to see something fresh.

So, it remains that Moffat needs to go. His attitude, story & era needs to be mainly forgotten. Not with an a waving of the hand to reboot the entire universe or disregarding all that has come before. More we should remember the good of what Moffat brought –especially from the actors involved– but ignore all the miscues, the fobbing off & sudden changes to the narrative. They should be ignored but not forgotten; so that they mistakes won’t be wrought again.

I could have spend my time in this article an episode by episode breakdown of the issues of the past season but, to be honest, I can barely remember the majority of the episodes. Nothing incredible sticks in my mind. There are the small glimmers of greatness here & there but more oft than not, they are buried under a mountain of nonsensical shite that coats my memories with things that I’d rather forget. There is much redemption still there –especially with Capaldi playing the titular role– but it is not enough for me to revisit it like I would the older, cheesier series that grew up with many of which haven’t aged well at all) but having to watch Clara die yet again & having our emotions manipulate over trite stuff with characters who we’d largely forgotten because of their dullness reeks of manipulativeness. Not to mention bowing to fan demands by bringing UNIT scientist Osgood back after previously being killed by Missy (in the most pathetic way). It is things such as those that leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, leading to resentment & back talk. Whilst the majority of the fans won’t simply switch off, less & less are defending the things that are wrong with the series against even the tiniest criticism (something which marks an ardent fan).

In the end, whilst there has been some good things that Moffat had brought to the franchise, he ultimately feels toxic to the long term future of Doctor Who. If he steps aside to allow a fresh perspective on the show from an entirely new team free from his influence & the interference of the BBC heads then we should see a diminishing of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Yet, I do personally feel that anyone at the BBC is brave enough to cut Moffat from the show right now, nor are they interested in altering the formula in any way.

Maybe it is the formula that is at fault. The eternal rhythm of banter, quip, running, problem solving & endless asides. Maybe the formula is too ingrained in both the series & the audience, with those in charge becoming unwilling to disentangle things to bring a new perspective or construct a new concoction to play around with.

In the end of the end, there is nothing overall wrong with Doctor Who. It does what it is intended to do, which is entertain, but it wears on the good will of the audience & pulls at both the demands of the invested fans & the blase nature of the casual fan. The nexus of so many of these issues does seem to be Steven Moffat, who has done so many good things in the entertainment industry over the years, yet seems to detrimental to Doctor Who as a whole. For this I cannot condemn him but I can still Deny him. & that I shall do. Until either he leaves or he remedies all the ills that he has caused.

doctor-who
At least we’ll always have the TARDIS

 

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This Ain’t Your Grandpa’s Muppets – TV Critique & Devil’s Advocate: The [Modern] Muppets.

The modernised Muppets
The modernised Muppets

From my earliest memories I have been a fan of The Muppets & the works of Jim Henson. I have almost annual viewings of The Dark Crystal & Labyrinth as well as watch other Muppet movies whenever the mood takes me.

Like so many of my generation, my love of The Muppets started with the children’s educational show Sesame Street as well as regular repeats of The Muppet Show. I endured the saccharine nature of Fraggle Rock but fell in love with Jim’s more mature works, such as the incredible first series of The Storyteller (which gave me a love of the actor John Hurt‘s amazing voice & mish-mash of tales in The Jim Henson Hour.

Jim has been dead for 25 years now, so there are a few generations that have missed out on the raw, wild & fertile imagination of Jim Henson & his loyal crew.

His work has been carried on, for the most part, & the Jim Henson Company & Creature Workshop have been involved in pushing the limits of technology to create fantastical creatures for the screen -both big & small.

Through all this, The Muppets have endured -mostly through a strong sense of nostalgia- yet have been tainted by some of the cheap (both cost & emotionally) feeling productions that Disney have pumped out.

The nadir of this was the gods awful Muppets Tonight (1996-1998) as well as some of the straight to DVD stuff that Disney pumped out in order to hold onto the franchise.

Yet the memory of The Muppets -especially the stoicism of Kermit The Frog– has endured. People quietly asked for a new Muppets show, much like the old one (& unlike Muppets Tonight), so Disney & (US) ABC have given us one.

But it’s not the one that people remember.

It’s not like it at all.

& this upsets people & makes them put words into Jim’s mouth like he is one of his own puppets.

I’ve heard people saying “oh, an adult Muppets! It’s not what Jim would have wanted!” & they are both utterly wrong & ignorant of what The Muppets are.

Jim loved adult humour. He loved subversive, risky & dark jokes. He loved innuendo & word plays. You only have to see the original Muppet Show & Muppet movies to realise that fact.

The reason most people take the assumption that Jim wouldn’t like a more adult & mature Muppet show is because they primarily grew up with either The Muppet Babies or the pap that Disney & other companies pushed out after Jim’s death.

Yes, I am assuming that Jim would love that his Muppets have returned to their more adult roots based upon previous evidence of his works & writings. It’s just I’m not sure that he would have enjoyed what the current mature Muppets is.

The premise of the new Muppet show (simply called The Muppets in bad type writer font as you see in the picture at the top of the article) is a show much in the vein of many recent “trage-comedies” like The Office (the awful US version) or Parks And Recreation where there is a supposed documentary crew following characters around. This allows the characters to make asides to the camera, break the 4th wall or intercut the dissonance between words & actions. They’ve also made many changes to the characters, such as having Kermit more bitter & cynics, worn up by his break up to Miss Piggy (which news media & the interwebs went mental over despite it obviously being info released to help hype the show’s premiere).

It’s these changes to well established characters & roles that seems to have many people upset. I can see their points but it wasn’t this new, darker tone to Kermit, Piggy & others that got me. For me it was the miscues of the actual characterisation of the individual Muppets.

The aspects are all there –Fozzie is stll failing at his jokes, Gonzo is still weird, Statler & Waldorf are still heckling, Kermit is trying to be a calm island in a sea of panic- but how they are portrayed feels wrong.

To me, it’s the change in voices. They seems off. Like they are doing bad impressions of the original cast.

I mean, Jim hasn’t voiced any of his creations in 25 years but the new crew just don’t seem to have the vocal cues or forms right -giving it all an askew angle.

Maybe this is good. Maybe it will help break older people like me from nostalgia’s teat. I don’t know.

The thing that really got to me was the lack of spark.

The change of style & setting means that they can do things differently yet they still want to keep the individual characters in their little pigeonholes -such as Sam Eagle still trying to make everyone moral & wholesome & the Electric Mayhem being utterly out of it at the best of times. The same goes with trying to wedge in special human guest stars each week. If they dropped the celebrity aspect or polished it up a bit, it would work wonders for the new formula.

It’s also very cynical & bleak in it’s outlook -which does go very much against Jim’s positivist outlook on life. He believed that people should love each other & get along, where as this new formula relies on keeping the dysfunction going without any resolution or nicety about it.

But let’s not get things wrong, when the show is funny it’s bloody funny.

It still has some incredible wit & the more mature tone allows them to fit in some wonderful little entendre throughout. Great ones being Fozzie talking about online dating & his reaction to meeting his girlfriend’s bigoted parents to Zoot crossing lines of ethics & taste.

Unfortunately, having such moments of brilliance against the mundane formula & plot of Kermit trying to run a show & deal with Piggy post breakup whilst an unseen documentary crew wander around shows how unbalanced it is.

I want to see them work on the core strengths of the Muppets & the humour that they bring. I want this show to succeed & go on. I don’t want another Muppets Tonight situation.

I really do encourage people to watch & give it a go. Don’t let the new formula & mature outlook get to you. If you can look past them to what makes The Muppets awesome, then you’re sure to get a laugh out of it all.


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One More For The Road – Movie Critique: Wyrmwood – Road of the Dead

Wyrmwood coverTitle: Wymwood (AKA Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead)
Genre: zombie, horror, action, comedy, road movie
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Studio: Guerilla Films
Original Release: 12 February 2015
Running time: 98 minutes


Synopsis:

“After meteors fall over Australia, Outback mechanic Barry, his aboriginal friend Benny & their companions must battle flesh crazed zombies, non-combustible & a dwindling beer supply in order to save Barry’s sister Brooke from the clutches of a rogue army and the insane Doctor.”


Review:

When people think of Australian cinema, the first film they tend to think of, more oft than not, is Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior). It wasn’t the first Australian genre film but it certainly set the benchmark for all those that followed -more so since it was more popular than the respectable Aussie releases of the era, such as Picnic At Hanging Rock. It was Mad Max 1 & 2 (& to a lesser degree, Mad Max [3] Beyond Thunderdome) That set the template for Post-Apocalypse genre from then on, with their crazed, leather clad raiders, insane & inhuman villains, wasteland setting & off-ya-face car designs & chases. They became the stable, & then the cliche, of so many Post-Apocalyptic forms. That was until the zombie genre gained a resurgence & took the throne. Yet, what would happen if you were to blend the tropes of the Mad Maxes & (over-indulged) zombie genres? The result would be the Aussie zombie road movie Wrymwood: Road of the Dead.

What makes Wrymwood instantly different from the hundreds of other zombie films out there is it’s very Aussie sense of humour. It’s dry, laconic, sarcastic, caustic & very self aware of how stupid the scenario is but it doesn’t give any knowing winks to camera. It plays the silliness straight & the actors –whilst not entirely brilliant– take it all very seriously so you can suspend your sense of disbelief. It’s very much more like Peter Jackson’s classic take on the zombie flick Braindead than George A. Romero’s genre launching flick Night of the Living Dead. The directors kept the trick of never letting the audience getting a proper rest to digest anything. It’s not non-stop action but the plot moves at a quick pace, yet still fitting in times for reflections upon the End of the World & a few beers to pass the time.

At first the narrative is chronologically disjointed. It begins with armour glad men trying to get a truck into a mechanic’s garage whilst fending off a ravenous hoard (well, cluster) of the Undead before cutting to Benny (Leon Burchill) telling his unseen (on screen) companions about how he & his two brothers, Tony & Mulla, were out hunting when they witness a meteor shower. The story sticks with Benny for a bit, with him telling the audience-surrogates how next day, Benny’s brother Tony has turned into a zombie who just slowly followed Benny around until Benny got the courage to put him down with a good old double barrel shotgun to the head. It’s a very good way to open such a cliched story, since it neatly tells you how the zombie outbreak began & how quickly it spread without getting bogged down in needless dialogue or rapidly intercut scenes of the news & global/local panic like so many other movies tend to do. It’s a very sedate start, lulling people in before it ramps up. The narrative then jumps back in time & between two characters, Barry –builder & family man– & his sister Brooke –alternative & tattooed artist-type.

Whilst doing a zombie inspired photoshoot, Brooke’s friends are turned into zombies & she is forced to kill one of them. This shows some very creative use of camera & actions –which very typical of early Aussie genre films with lots of Dutch Angles being used to give a sense of tension & make up for a lack of technical knowledge & budget. Brooke’s chaotic fight is juxtaposed with the serenity of Barry’s domestic life, with his wife & daughter settling in for the night. When their home is invaded by zombies, Barry must do all that he can to save them. The intersection of these two plots comes together when Brooke calls Barry to warm him of what’s going on, followed by Barry & family’s hectic escape from town -mowing down zombies who leap for them in their car.

What follows does come straight out of the zombie flick playbook –with Brooke being kidnapped by evil military people & given to a mad scientist, who is simply called The Doctor (played with utter relish by Berynn Schwerdt) & Barry dealing with the zombification of his loved ones (not really a spoiler, since it’s so obvious it was going to happen)– yet how the playbook is handled is what really pushes Wyrmwood above the usual grind(house).

Is everyone ready to. . . dance?!
Is everyone ready to. . . dance?!

One way is how the characters each react to the zombie apocalypse or have circumstances pushed upon them. Barry is both grieving & stoic but shows a vile temper simmering beneath the surface that he is all too happy to unleash upon some shambling flesh munchers. That temper is echoed in Brooke, who is subjected to torturous experiments by The Doctor, which seem to have no purpose other than to make Brooke suffer & for the camera to angle down at her cleavage. Yet she remains utterly defiant, even whilst tied up. She has the ability to fight, as seen in her earlier scenes, & is smart enough to learn when to wait. Other characters try to cling to some sense of (Australian) normalcy. Mainly by doing those little rituals that keep you human & keep you sane. This includes the character Chalker always toking on a joint, Frank & his mate doing a BBQ for Barry & Benny & keeping their sense of humour about them.

One thing that I do applaud the film makers for doing, something I’ve been saying all zombie media is stupid for lacking, is putting their characters in protection.

It might be made of plastic but it gets the job done
It might be made of plastic but it gets the job done

Early on they learn they zombies get you by biting you, so they quickly figure out that the best way to survive is to go all Ned Kelly & armour up. It doesn’t make them invincible or destroy the tension but it helps bridge the credibility gap that so many zombie things fail to grasp (looking at you The Walking Dead).

The other little clever twist that the directors add in is that formerly combustible fuels –such as gasoline & methylated spirits– no longer combust, so they can’t use their cars. What our heroes do discover is that the zombies produce a gas that can be turned into fuel, giving them a zombie powered road machine. So the zombies become both predator & prey for Barry & his mates. Since they need to escape the zombies but also need them to get away.

There are some other little nice genre twists but going into them would spoil the film somewhat.

Aside from the subversions of genre establishment, the other thing that Wyrmwood really has going for it is the very very Aussie sense of humour. There is lots of swearing –“fuck” & all its derivations are pretty much used as punctuation & sentence joiners– but it feels natural as an aspect of the Aussie vernacular (for the part). It plays on some lost tropes of Aussie humour, such as irony & understatement. Even though it does have a very Aussie flavour, I don’t think it would be alienating to international (at least English speaking) audiences.

The special effects & design also stand out. With a lot of time seemingly spent to get the zombie makeup just right & the gore everywhere. The film does overindulge in the old claret but it fits with the nature of genre films –where more blood than a body can hold has to spray out everywhere. It’s beyond cheesy but it’s done with love -mixing practical old fashion blood effects with CGI to fit bullet wounds. The action is also very well shot, with a clever & low grade fight scene at the end being a stand out. It can’t really compare with something out of Hong Kong or Hollywood but the fight choreography shows a love of genre & a working knowledge of how a scene should be shot without losing any sense of character, place or perspective (something which so many Hollywood fail to do these days).

Another note to add is that the film was made on a very limited budget ($160,000) with backing from  foreign investors -with the cast & crew saying that they won’t take any payment until the film sees a profit. So this is one film that I implore people NOT TO PIRATE! It’s rare to see a good Aussie genre film these days & it had a very limited cinematic release in Australia, so if we want to see the promised sequel we need to support it as much as we can.

In the end, if you are feeling jaded by the whole over saturated zombie genre but still can’t get away from it, Wyrmwood is the film for you. It may not be entirely original but it does so much that is new & interesting that it does breath new life into an (un)dying genre. & it’s good to resurrect a local industry once powerful, now near death.

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wyrmwood zombie
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Between the Prequel & the Sequel -TV Critique: Marvel’s Agent Carter

AgentCARTERTitle: Agent Carter
Series Creator(s): Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Network(s): ABC (USA)
Original Airing Dates: January 6-February 24 2015
Number of Episodes: 8


Synopsis:

In 1946, Peggy Carter must balance the routine office work she does for the Strategic Scientific Reserve (S.S.R) while secretly assisting Howard Stark, who finds himself framed for supplying deadly weapons to the top bidder. Carter is assisted by Stark’s butler, Edwin Jarvis, to find those responsible and dispose of the weapons.


Critique:

When you have a tightly focussed & structured narrative universe like the current Marvel cinematic one, it’s hard to fit in side stories that parallel & enhance larger narratives that play out within a different media space (i.e. movie to television).
HayleyAtwellAsAgentCarter
That was pretty much my issue with the MCU TV line’s 1st show, (Marvel’s) Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because it had to adhere to a timeline structured between several movies (mainly after The Avengers & then fitting in overlaps from both Thor: The Dark World & Captain America: The Winter Soldier). This meant that the narrative & scope was fairly stunted because it couldn’t create story conflicts with the larger (& more important) cinematic universe. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been hampered by what it could & couldn’t do & whilst it has been able of late to break out of the MCU constraints with it’s own storylines it’s still tied into the larger idea of the Inhumans & that new movie franchise (since Fox owns the rights to Marvel’s Mutants).

 Agent Carter is fortunate in that it does not have to adhere to a myopic narrative structure but it is still trapped within a much, much larger structure which limits what it can do.

The 1st limit is the big one: Captain America -both the 1st film & the character himself.

Even though the series is about Peggy Carter & her search for purpose & meaning in a world after WW2, everything is still set in her relation (& failed relationship) with him. This hampers both the overall story -because things have to be references to a world after Cap’s supposed death- & the character of Peggy herself, because she’s only really framed in terms of references to Cap. Even though he’s not a physical presence within the series, he basically affects all of Peggy’s motivations, as she does actions in regards to what Cap would do or think.

This is something that is constantly put to her by other characters, such as members of the S.S.R (which is an odd choice of name considering that the Cold War was rolling in) & her friends from the war, like Howard Stark & the Howling Commandos. Peggy isn’t really allowed to be her own woman, she’s always Captain America’s other half. This idea is quasi played with a meta-radio play within the series that has Peggy’s character dumbed down to a field nurse & Cap’s love interest always being rescued & always played juxtaposed against Peggy enacting her own agency (as in: kicking someone’s head in).

It’s not that she’s a bad or shallow character, she’s just reactonary.
peggy carter
She’s always reacting against what others think of her how how they treat her (such as her S.S.R. colleagues turning her into the office tea lady & disregarding her years of combat & field experience) or against expectations of the time (her role as a woman in Post-War USA) or even reacting to the hidden villains’ plans. She has agency within the narrative but she’s never really enacting. Her motivation is to prove herself to her male chauvinist colleagues & proof her worth as an agent but that’s still a reaction. Same with how she chooses to socially & personally isolate herself in the 1st few episodes of the series -this is a reaction against losing Cap & her general experiences during the war.

That is not to say that Peggy Carter is robbed of all development & action, it’s just framed poorly in terms of development. Always leaving her on the backfoot & behind. Done well, this can create great tension in the story but it’s not deftly done her, leaving some parts -such as the threat of the various villains- feeling rather flat. It speaks too much of how poor Hollywood is at depicting female characters who do not fit within comfortable moulds & stereotypes. Even when empowered that they still have to fit typical feminine rolls of love interest, daughter, sister, et cetera as well as fitting the physical form of societally accepted beauty (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer for some examples of the empowerment-disempowerment dynamic & the superstrong Barbie Doll).

Yet, despite this reactionary form of agency, this is actually a very well put together show.

This starts with strong performances of the central characters of Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, James D’arcy as Jarvis (Howard Stark’s long suffering butler) & Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark is what holds so much of it together becuase of the natural yet conflicted chemistry that they bring to their individual roles. I think because they are all British actors with a diverse range of past roles they seem to perform better than their American counterparts (who do come off as fairly 2 dimensional). Add to the mix the other great British actor Ralph Brown as the nuanced Dr Ivchenko, you have a great front line cast.

It does help that Hayley Atwell is so gorgeous!

I need to build a bunk so I can be in it.
I need to build a bunk so I can be in it.

That’s not to sexualise or trivialise her in any way but she just has this dominant presence upon the screen where she just conquers all of your attention. She really inhabits the role, the struggle for acceptance & reacting against a society & occupation that just wants to keep her down. She also twists these expectations, knowing that everyone underestimates her she can do and get away with what others can’t. Her outer & inner strength shine through but she still needs support from friends.

This does lead into a character who was wasted & inconsistent: Jarvis.
carter & jarvis
James D’arcy plays him brilliantly but he’s so weak & wishy-washy in terms of his depiction despite having a strong & determined back ground. He exists almost solely as the Yank’s idea of the stiff upper lip Brit servant who has been a fixture of pop culture since the 1st World War. Jarvis is shown as having great fortitude & determination yet is so weak & easily yielding, lacking physical presence & abilities that Peggy has in abundance but this is in direct contradiction he was in the British army & has been trained to fight (according to his & Howard’s own words at least). That all given, D’arcy plays Jarvis with aplomb, giving him little gestures & habits that endear him to the audience -especially when he talks about his equally love suffering wife & their history together.

The other cast members are a bit of a mixed bag, with many of them not getting any development beyond stock misogynistic G-Men. There are some hints of things deeper, such as with Chief Dooley & how he views Peggy as someone who needs to be protected because of his estrangement but this is pretty much thrown out of the window in order to ramp up the tension & bring the S.S.R. together.

Yet the biggest thing that truly annoyed me about the series is how they didn’t connect it to the larger Golden Age period of Marvel Comics. There is a swathe of classic characters they could’ve referenced & used -such as the hero Angel. They could’ve connected a lot of the superpowered heroes back to the Captain America Supersoldier projects that spawned many other fictional heroes (which in turn can be used to explain superpowered individuals within the larger MCU).

That aside, Agent Carter, despite (or because of) it’s short run stood out amongst all the other superhero TV adaptions of the past few years. It has rich visuals, fairly good acting & a focussed core story (for the most part) without resorting to many choking tropes of TV series (ships in bottles http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/LockedInARoom, et cetera).

Hopefully it will get a 2nd series that expands the past MCU a fair bit & introduce other classic characters. Plus more Hayley Atwell on screen is always a good thing.

shield-comamndos-1

How a Space Opera Should Be – Live Action Critique: Guardians of the Galaxy

Title: The Guardians of the Galaxy
Genre: comic adaptation, space opera, sci-fi, comedy
Director: James Gunn
Studio: Marvel Studios
Original Release: 7/8/2014 (Australia)
Running time: 121 minutes

The Standard Promo Poster
The Standard Promo Poster

Synopsis:

In 1988, following his mother’s death, a young Peter Quill is abducted from Earth by the Ravagers, a group of space pirates led by Yondu. Twenty-six years later on the planet Morag, Quill steals an orb only to be intercepted by Korath, a subordinate to the fanatical Kree, Ronan. Although Quill escapes with the orb, Yondu discovers his theft and issues a bounty for his capture while Ronan sends the assassin Gamora after the orb. After fighting Gamaro as well as the bounty hunters Rocket (Raccoon) & Groot, all four are arrested by the Nova Corp & sent to prison station, The Kyln, where they encounter Drax the Destoyer, who wishes vengeance upon Ronan for the death of his family. Together they plan to escape in order to sell the orb but Ronan will stop at nothing to obtain it.


Review:

Guardians of the Galaxy, based upon the Marvel comic of the same title (that had two separate runs many decades apart), would probably be my favourite Marvel film to date.

That is because it eschews most of the standard Superhero fare of moral actions based upon power & responsibility in favour of a more rip-roaring Space Opera epic.

Basically it’s what Firefly wanted to be (yes, am trolling to get more page views) but, in reality, it’s more the best bits of that classic pile of cheese Flash Gordon (1980) mixed with the good Star Wars trilogy as well as some aspects of the aforementioned Firefly in terms of character interactions/relationships.

Don’t want to get on the complaint train right away, so will start with what the film gets right.

It’s a beautiful film.

Utterly stunning visuals, smoothly integrated CGI that will (probably) date well (except in some scenes) coupled with amazing make-up & costuming for the non-human characters. There are tons of wonderfully rendered background details as well, from subtle references to huge city, space & land scapes. This is honestly not a film that could’ve been made a few years ago because of the level of technology & investment that it represents. There would have been no way Marvel Studios & Disney would’ve sunk so much money into visual pre-Avengers.

In so many ways, GotG represents a huge risk that both Marvel & Disney took.

Left to Right: Gamora, Quill/Star-Lord, Rocket, Drax the Destroyer, Groot
Left to Right: Gamora, Quill/Star-Lord, Rocket, Drax the Destroyer, Groot

That’s because outside of the comic fans, the Guardians aren’t really well know & if it wasn’t for the modern classic Annihilation comic storyline from a few years ago & it’s spinoff Annihilition: Conquest, it’s doubtful anyone would know who the Guardians were (apart from those who appeared in other Marvel titles over the years). The further risk was so drastically altering the various origins of each of the characters -especially Rocket (Bradley Cooper). Who in this film is a product of a genetic experiment but in the comic comes from a planet of anthropomorphised animals (basically taking the piss on Disney & Warner Bros cartoon short’s characters). Drax (the wrestler Dave Bautista) is also changed from a cosmically altered human to an alien, which actually works better in the context of the movie because it makes it far less human (& American) centric like sci-fi tends to be.

The film is also exceptionally funny. With many laugh out loud moments from either the character interactions, dialogue or some random sight-gag that occurs in the background. This is ultimately the strength of the film. How the humour is used & how it’s used to balance out the majority of the characters. The humour is characters use isn’t the quips of confident heroes but the self-depreciating and boastful fashion of those who are trying to cover up their pain, loss & ultimate emptiness & self-loathing at their own inadequacies.

Which leads to the other strength of the film; which is the characters.

Collectively, the team that will become known as the Guardians of the Galaxy are basic broken individuals. Without true family or friends or even homes. All of them have either been taken from somewhere or had something taken from them. They had make up for it with bravado (often which they can back up, unlike the usual sort of character) or extreme violence. They have physical & psychological flaws as well as scars (literal ones as well) & they know that they are losers as well as broken. The way they come together as a team does feel fairly natural, based upon self-interest & greed at first but blossoming into mutual respect & understanding for they have each been through.

Unfortunately, as a whole, they are not as developed as I would have preferred them to be, that is more then made up for by how natural they seem -especially being such unnatural (actually & figuratively) creatures. This is proved by how much suspension of disbelief you put into two of the characters: Rocket & Groot. The aforementioned mentioned Rocket is a small human-like Raccoon with a passion for weapons & can quickly Macguyer any sort of weapon from scrape as well as come up with complex plans on the fly; whilst his constant companion is Groot, which is a humanoid tree with incredible shapeshifting ability but a limited vocabulary (he can only say the phrase “I am Groot”). In the hands of a less director, writer & special effects team, these two characters would not only look horrid but lack any ability to garner an audiences’ sympathy & attention. Bradley Cooper makes Rocket sounds like an utterly psychotic George Costanza & whilst vin Diesel has little to say as Groot, he managed to alter his 3 word lines in such a way that they convey the immediate emotion of Groot’s intention & inner self.

Unfortunately, the more human characters aren’t rendered so well. Whilst Chris Pratt & Zoe Saldana are admirable as Peter Quill/Star-Lord & Gamora respectively they still come off as occasionally more artificial than their CGI screen companions. Part of me thinks that this is probably more to do with the Studio Execs wanting to simplify things & not spend too much time on actually character development. There are some attempts to flesh out the characters by giving them token backstories but they at least go some way to giving logic to the characters’ actions. Quill/Star-Lord was abducted from Earth immediately after his mother died of cancer & raised by space-thugs called Ravagers, lead by Yondu (who is very much modified from his heroic incarnation in the original GotG comics). He was never allowed to properly grieve or grow up, forced into a criminal life at a young age & never given any true emotional support (except for Yondu’s constant forgiveness), so Pratt plays Quill as a cross between Captain Kirk (boning all the alien babes) and Han Solo (the lovable rogue). Whilst Saldana is the emotionally vulnerable arse-kicker trying to seek revenge on the creature who turned her into a living weapon as well as destroyed her planet. She unfortunately isn’t given a flesh out or visualised backstory but Saldana (whom many know as Uhuru from the recent Star Trek reboot) tries to make her layered in her performance but is let down a bit by the script. Bautista, despite his very limited & wooden acting range, actually brings some interest to the very literal & verbose Drax. Naturally he fails to show any real emotional depth with the character but he delivers his lines with furious relish that you could see that he was having fun making the film -which I think has to do more with the physicality that he brought to the screen. You don’t really feel the weight of the pain or fury at the world that he has, which, again, is probably because of his limited acting range but the character has some pretty witty lines because he takes everything literally, failing to understand metaphors or what a turn of phrase is; quipping after being told that language goes over his head “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are to fast. I’ll catch it.”.

The action scenes are also where the film soars -be they person on person fights, group melee or CGI laden spaceship battles. Everything is shot in a way that you can see the action & who’s involved, especially when you have characters taking out multiple opponents at once across various points of the mise-en-scene. This is something that Michael fucking Bay & his cronies should learn after they butchered both the Transformers in those 4 cinematic abominations & in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ recently released film.

Unfortunately the greatest let down in the film are the villains but that seems to be pretty standard for a Marvel film unfortunately. Outside of Tom Hiddleston as Loki, I doubt anyone but the most ardent fans can really name or remember the various villains from the other Marvel films, other than the brilliant turn at the Mandarin by the usually always brilliant Ben Kingsley.

Ronan looking like an ancient Egyptian drag queen
Ronan looking like an ancient Egyptian drag queen

Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace, who plays the Elf King in the recent Hobbit films) had so much potential as an antagonist because he’s depicted as a zealot who despises the recent peace treaty with Xandar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xandar but since we have no idea as to the background of this supposedly galactic war, there is no impact or threat from Ronan’s actions. There is no gravitas or true reason to his being; only words spoken, so you get no inner sense of him like you did with Loki. Even when Ronan is slamming Drax about the place, I felt no sense of action danger from him. He does have some good scenes with the mad god (though actually a powerful alien known as a Titan) Thanos (the mastermind behind the alien invasion in The Avengers), who is revealed in a greatly understated fashion (which was perfect in my view) but they all go to waste when he turns into generic universe destroying bad guy number 468 (for some random reason). The same goes for Karen Gillian (of the long legs & Doctor Who fame) as Nebula, another of Thanos adopted assassins. She’s driven by her sadism & jealous over Gamora’s position as their ‘father’s’ favourite but she barely gets any screentime, despite her awesome make-up & the fact she shaved her head for the role.

She may be bald, cybernetic & pure evil but you'd still try to bang her given half the chance
She may be bald, cybernetic & pure evil but you’d still try to bang her given half the chance

There are also lots of incidental characters & quick references -especially during the scenes in The Collector’s museum (& one that the producer Kevin Feige is connected to the next GotG film, the Infinite Gem saga & the classic character Adam Warlock). In fact, the film packs in heaps of references to the larger meta-Marvel universe as a whole, especially with the Infinite Gem mythology, adding in the god-like Celestials http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_%28comics%29, Cosmo the psychi Cosmonaut Dog & a certain anthropomorphic duck who featured in one of Marvel’s earliest, & also universally considered the worse, mainstream films. Plenty of Easter Eggs to keep the ardent fans watching it again & again but enough useful info for the lay audience to engage in the larger (mainly Jack Kirby created) Marvel Universe.

Also have to make a quick special mention of the music used within the film, which is both diegetic & non-diegetic, stemming from the mixed tape that Quill was given by his mother. The songs -many of which were overplayed in the trailer- are all 70’s pop stuff yet used to great effect. Mainly because they juxtapose the action on the screen or boost the humour content (such as with Quill’s final challenge to Ronan). The other non-diegetic music is your typical blockbuster fare but still used to good effect, adding to the mood of a scene, such as Quill & Gamora, when the acting doesn’t quiet cut it. Also, the final pre-credits scene featuring Groot & a Jackson Five song will sure to have you squeeeee.

In the end, this is a fast past, very funny film full of action & amazing looking scenes. It gets you onside enough to overlook it’s few down sides (mainly when it tries to get emotional on you). The end scenes actually hold together well but was annoyed at Gamora’s transform from an utter badarse to another (green) babe in a mini-skirt -thus diminishing her threat level (but not as much as if they put her in a mid-riff cleavage exposing top). Over all, it’s a great popcorn film that doesn’t leave you feeling mentally deadened & has enough hooks in it to make fans watch it a few more times (as well as buy the DVDs on 1st day release). I’ll no doubt go see it again, which is a rare thing for me & the cinema (mainly because it always costs so bloody much!). I only hope that Marvel Studios doesn’t rest on it laurels, making the same film over & over again until we are sick of them. Naturally a sequel is due out in 2017, which will connect up to the 3rd Avengers film (as well as all the other Marvel films due out within the next 3-4 years).

Some man-meat for the ladies.
Some man-meat for the ladies.