Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Apparently it took two people to do anything on this film.

Markus and McFeely wrote Captain America: The First Avenger (the previous movie) as well as Thor: The Dark World and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and all its sequels. If it's got a colon in the title, like as not they wrote it.

As for the Russo brothers, who knew the directors of You, Me And Dupree could make such a good film? Actually it should come as no surprise, since they've directed several episodes of the TV series Community, namely A Fistfull Of Paintballs and For A Few Paintballs More. They've reportedly been signed up for Captain America 3, which is good news.

I enjoyed the first Captain America movie quite a bit, and this one's just as good if not better. It's not quite as much fun as 31, but it's a very well made and action packed political thriller.

The actors played a large part in elevating the material. Once again Chris Evans proves he's the perfect person to play Cap, as he has the wholesome and earnest thing down pat. Scarlett Johansson seems to be having a blast as Black Widow. And Anthony Mackie hits it out of the park as the Falcon, even though he didn't get a lot of screen time. Hopefully he'll turn up again soon somewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they somehow even got Robert Redford to sign on as Alexander Pierce!

The only real shortcoming? For a movie subtitled The Winter Soldier, there wasn't a lot of the Winter Soldier in it. I have a feeling this was just his introduction though, and he'll be back.

MAJOR (OR SHOULD THAT BE "CAPTAIN?") SPOILERS AHEAD!


The Plot:
Captain America has a new job working for S.H.I.E.L.D., and soon begins to think all is not right in the super secret spy organization. His suspicions are proved correct when S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is killed by a super powered assassin known as the Winter Soldier. S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce then brands Captain America a traitor.

The Captain and Black Widow seek refuge in a forgotten S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker, where they discover that HYDRA, an enemy agency from WWII, is alive and well in the 21st Century and threatening to take over not only S.H.I.E.L.D., but the world itself.

Captain America, Black Widow, Agent Maria Hill and the Falcon must then band together to defeat HYDRA and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

Oh, and to absolutely no one's surprise, the Winter Soldier turns out to be Cap's childhood friend Bucky Barnes.

Thoughts:
• Unfortunately I knew the basic plot of the film a week before I had a chance to see it. The April 8th episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was pretty much a sequel.


By the time I got around to seeing the movie, I already knew that HYDRA was back, S.H.I.E.L.D. was kaput and Nick Fury was kind of dead.

As I've said before, it's cool that the movies and the TV series are part of big happy universe. But this interconnectivity can result in major spoilers.


• S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a huge part of all the Marvel films ever since the first Iron Man film. It's the spine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The engine that drives them, so to speak. 

It was a very bold move to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. in this film. Obviously it'll be back at some point, but in the meantime, well done to them for having the guts to actually shake things up a bit!

• I'm not a fan of Cap's dark blue stealth suit, but it looks very much like the one he wears sometimes in the comics, so I guess I can't squawk about it too much. They're being faithful to the source material, even if I don't particularly care for the look.

At least Cap was wearing some kind of costume for the majority of the movie, unlike Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, who spent the majority of that film in civilian clothes.

• Speaking of costumes, why was Nick Fury wearing what appeared to be a Nehru jacket? I much preferred his Avengers ensemble.

By the way, this film marks the first time we've seen what's under Fury's eyepatch.

• It was fun to see Batroc and Arnim Zola, but… it would have been even more fun if they'd actually looked a bit more like their comic book counterparts.

I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really do, but they seem to have trouble cutting loose. It's as if they're afraid to be too weird, lest they scare off the general public, so they play it safe when it comes to the look of certain characters.


Go for it, I say. Which would have been more awesome, the movie version of Arnim Zola who's a boring Matrix-y looking face on a computer monitor, or the comic version who's a freak with a TV camera for a head and his face on a monitor in his stomach? I know which one I'd pick.

Your movie already has a ninety-something year old super soldier who was frozen in the ice for seventy years. Why not take that last step into comic book weirdness? Captain America has a very bizarre looking rogues gallery. Why not take advantage of that?


• Cap uses his shield much more extensively all through this movie, bouncing it off walls to knock out the bad guys, and even using its energy absorbing powers to break his fall. He uses it exactly as he does in the comics. Kudos to the writers for doing their homework!

• It's starting to look like we're never going to get a Black Widow solo movie, which is too bad. Then again, it almost felt like this was her movie, as she was in virtually every scene. I guess as long as she keeps popping up like this in other Marvel films, I can live with the lack of her own movie.

 • At the risk of sounding like some overprotective Soccer Mom, I'm surprised that the filmmakers don't have Steve Rogers wear a helmet when he was tooling around on his motorcycle. He definitely looks cooler without one, but Captain America is a huge role model for kids, so you'd think they'd stick a helmet on his head to send a message to all the kids in the audience. Just because he'd likely survive a helmet-less crash doesn't mean his fans would. 

• Steve Roger's neighbor Sharon (who poses as a nurse) turns out to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who's keeping an eye on him. 

I'm assuming this is Sharon Carter, who in the comics was Cap's sometime girlfriend. And she's the niece of Peggy Carter, his 1940s love interest from the first film.

• I wonder if Tony Stark designed the artificial intelligence in Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue SUV? Because it sure sounds and acts a LOT like Iron Man's JARVIS system.

• Reading behind the scenes movie info is fun, but can be a down side to it. When Nick Fury was "killed," I knew he wasn't really dead. How'd I know? Am I psychic? A good guesser? Did I read the script? No, I knew he wasn't really dead because this is the sixth movie in Samuel L. Jackson't nine film deal with Marvel. There's no way they're going to kill off his character while he's still got three films left on his contract. They're not going to pay him to sit at home!

• Nick Fury "dies" on the operating table, and of course his doctor wheels in the defibrillator unit and heroically tries to shock him back to life. 

This is an old, old refrain, but one more time: DEFIB UNITS DO NOT WORK LIKE THIS!!! They are not jumper cables for your heart! If your heart has stopped, a defib unit will do absolutely nothing for you. The doctor can shock you for hours until your nose hair ignites, but it absolutely will not restart your heart.

How this particular trope ever got started, I have no idea. It's got staying power though, I'll give it that. It absolutely will not go away.

• When the Winter Soldier appears, we see he's got a red star painted on his bionic arm. A red star is the symbol of Russia. According to the backstory we got, Arnim Zola found the injured Bucky Barnes, rebuilt him and then wiped his mind. He then became a HYRDA assassin. So he worked for the the Russians and HYDRA as well? I don't recall any mention of that, but if so, he's been a busy boy the past seventy years.


• Chris Evans has three films left in his Marvel contract. Most likely he'll star in two more Avengers films and one more Captain America.

Sebastian Stan, who plays the Winter Soldier/Bucky, reportedly just signed a six film deal with Marvel (!). Some have speculated that at some point Steve Rogers will either retire or be killed off, and Bucky will become the new Captain America. 

That exact thing happened in the comics, so it's entirely possible it could happen in the films as well. 


• This is admittedly some extreme nitpicking, but here goes. S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division, which is as tortured an acronym as I've ever heard. 

When Cap and Black Widow visit the forgotten S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker in New Jersey, we see the current emblem on the door. The thing is, I don't ever recall hearing anyone say the word "homeland," as in "homeland security," until the late 2000s. This bunker looks like it was
abandoned sometime around the 1960s or 1970s.

The exact meaning of S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed many times over the years in the comics. It originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division, and that would have been a more appropriate meaning for a 1960s bunker. But it would have been too confusing if they'd used more than one acronym definition in the film, so I'm willing to give them this one. 


• By the way, in the bunker we see photos of the three founders of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Colonel Chester Philips, Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. All three were in the first Captain America film.

• In the underground bunker, Arnim Zola gives Black Widow's birth year as 1984. Whoops!

She's mentioned several times that she was a former KGB agent, but that organization was dissolved in 1991. Was she really a secret agent when she was seven? She did have a line in The Avengers about starting out young, but sheesh!


• Speaking of Black Widow, all through the film she wears a necklace with a small arrow pendant. I'm assuming from that we're to guess there's something going on between her and Hawkeye?


• Well would you look at that! This movie featured the Falcon, a cool black superhero who was actually black in the comics. They didn't have to take a white character and turn him into a black one, against all reason and logic (I'm lookin' at you, awful upcoming Fantastic Four reboot).

By the way, the Falcon's wings have a Stark Industries logo on them. 

• Agent Sitwell, we hardly knew ye!

It turns out that Sitwell was a secret HYDRA agent all along, which was surprising, as he's been a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for quite some time. He had bit parts in Thor, The Avengers and several episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. I'll actually miss him.

• Sitwell mentions a list of people that HYDRA considers to be threats, one of which is Steven Strange! Comic fans will recognize that name as the alter ego of Marvel's Doctor Strange! So were they just throwing a bone to the comic fans, or will we be seeing the Sorcerer Supreme in his own film one of these days?


• A bloated Gary Shandling returns as Senator Stern. Stern first appeared in Iron Man 2, trying to coerce Tony Stark into giving up his Iron Man technology.
 
• Skinny Steve returns! And the effect is just as amazing as it was last time.


• During the big HYDRA attack, Danny Pudi (Abed of Community fame) pops up in a cameo role. Not surprising, given the director's Community link. As much as I like Pudi, I have to admit it was a little jarring. And it occurred to me that he's going to have a lot of trouble shaking his Abed image once Community's done.

• There was a lot of action and awesome fight scenes in the film-- I think. The directors used extensive use of the patented Shaky Cam™ Filming System, rendering much of the action incomprehensible.

I'll never understand why filmmakers do this. Why hire fight coordinators and train your actors and hire stunt people and film your scenes like the camera's sitting on an unbalanced washing machine?

• In the third act, Alexander Pierce welcomes the visiting World Council members to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and gives them special all-access security badges. Later he reveals that he's actually a HYDRA agent and can use the badges to burn a hole in the Council Members' chests if they don't cooperate.

Black Widow is posing as one of the Council Members, and surrenders to Pierce when he threatens to detonate her security badge. She must have been really flustered by his treason, because she apparently forgets that she could simply take off her jacket and be rid of the deadly badge.

• At the end of the film, HYDRA Agent Brock Rumlow battles the Falcon, and is engulfed in an explosion when two helicarriers collide.

Later we see Rumlow lying on an operating table, burned almost beyond recognition. The camera lingers an abnormally long time on him, indicating that something's up.

In the comics Rumlow is the alter ego of the villain known as Crossbones. Apparently they're setting him up here for a future appearance.

• The epitaph on Nick Fury's tombstone reads, "The Path Of The Righteous Man. Ezekiel 15:17." That's a Pulp Fiction reference.

• Since this is a Marvel movie, you know what that means-- end credit scenes! The first of them packs quite a bit of info into itself. We're introduced to Baron von Strucker, a high-ranking HYDRA agent from the comics. He's apparently performing experiments on two "miracle" twins, one of which can move at superhuman speeds, and one with telekinetic powers. 

Of course these twins are Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who will both be showing up in The Avengers 2: Even Avengier. Awesome!

You might wonder why Strucker calls them "miracles" instead of mutants, which they most definitely are. It boils down to legal reasons. Fox unfortunately owns all the X-Men characters, and apparently even the word "mutant." So Marvel can't use the word in regard to their own superheroes. Weird.

We also see that Strucker is conducting some sort of experiments on Loki's scepter, last seen in The Avengers. It's pretty obvious that the glowing blue stone in the scepter is another of the Infinity Gems. This makes three we know of so far. The other two are the Tesseract (from The Avengers) and the Aether (from Thor: The Dark World).

There are a total of six Infinity Gems, and whoever possesses them all will have the powers of a god. The evil alien Thanos (the purple faced guy from the end of The Avengers) is looking for them all, and when he finds them he'll most likely be the big bad in Avengers 3. Cool!

In the final end credits scene, the brainwashed Bucky goes to the Smithsonian to see the Captain America exhibit, which includes info about himself. He must have sneaked in the rear entrance, or else his bionic arm would have set off the metal detectors!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a rare sequel that's as good as the original, and brings major changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I give it an A-.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All Characters Must Die!

Hey, how about that latest episode of Game Of Thrones? You know, The Lion And The Rose. The Purple Wedding and all that. You just never know what's gonna happen on this show! Shocking, shocking stuff. Shocking stuff.

You know the most shocking about this particular episode? No, it wasn't who was killed off this week. It's that It was written by none other than George R. R. Martin, author of the novels on which the show is based.

What. The. Hell? Seriously, George R. R.? You're telling me you have absolutely nothing better to do right now that to sit around writing scripts for your TV series? Wouldn't your time be better spent, oh, I don't know, FINISHING THE LAST TWO GODDAMNED NOVELS

It's patently obvious at this point that the Game Of Thrones TV series is going to catch up to the novels, and very soon. Season Four just started, and it supposedly adapts the last half of Book Three, along with elements of Books Four and Five. It's safe to say that by the end of Season Five they'll have caught up with the books.

But Martin keeps on smiling and making that "calm down" gesture with both hands, adamantly denying that this will happen. He assures nervous fans that he'll have Book Six done well before the series even comes close to catching up. Nice try, George R. R., but I ain't buying it.

Martin's convinced there's no hurry because he's laboring under the delusion that show runners are David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are filming every word he's written. They are not. As the series progresses they're picking up the pace, dropping certain subplots and combining characters as they streamline the story.

Even a quick glance at the timeline reveals a grim pattern. He published Book One in 1996, Book Two in 1998 and Book Three in 2000. So far, so good; just two years between each one. But then Book Four didn't come out until 2005. And Book Five, the most recent one, came out in 2011. At his current rate I wouldn't look for Book Six to be on the shelves any time before 2018!

These are massive books too, generally clocking in at around a thousand pages or more. If he's got two more books to go, that's 2,200 pages. If he writes a page a day it'd take him six years to finish them.  

It's not helping matters that instead of actually sitting down and writing, he's popping up everywhere these days, doing interviews, appearing at conventions and schmoozing on every talk show that'll have him. He's become a bonafide celebrity. 

Heck, he's so recognizable that he's become a semi-regular character on Saturday Night Live! They can actually spoof him on SNL and people know who the hell they're talking about! How many other authors can the general public recognize on sight? Probably Shakespeare, and... well, that's about it. Shakespeare and George R. R. Martin. 

Listen George, for the sake of your fans and the HBO shareholders, you need to stop gadding about Hollywood, post haste. Grab your suspenders, your Greek fisherman cap and the rest of your GRRM costume, belly up to the goddamned typewriter and start writing for frak's sake! Here, I'll make it easy for you: "Danerys Stormborn, last of the Targaryans, rode her red dragon over King's Landing, burning everything in her path. Everyone died and she took the Iron Throne. The End."

"Divergent" Just Got A Little More Divergent

Right on schedule! To absolutely no one's surprise, this week Lionsgate Studios announced they're splitting the third Divergent movie into two parts. Exactly like the Harry Potter, Twilight, Fast And Furious, Hunger Games and Hobbit franchises.

Because why make just three movies like a chump when you can drag out the story into four parts and rake in another half billion dollars. Who cares if there's enough material for another installment? Artistic integrity, schmarschmistic schminschmegrity. There's no doubt in my mind that they'd make thirty Divergent movies if they could.

Super Cynicism powers, Activate!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Exact Words

I re-watched all three The Lord Of The Rings films last week, for the probably the twentieth time. The Extended Editions, even! Every time I see The Return Of The King, I always think the scene with Eowyn versus the Witch King should have gone like this...


I mean logically that's how it should have played out, right?

I watched too much TV as a kid.

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 17: Turn, Turn, Turn

Holy Crap! Now that was an episode!

I'm amazed at how much this series has improved in the past few weeks. I'm actually enjoying it lately, as opposed to the feelings of apathy I had toward it in its early days. It's just too bad it took them so long to find their footing. Hopefully it's not too late and everyone that tuned out early on will come back.

BIG SPOILERS AHEAD FOR BOTH AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AND CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER!

The Plot:
In the wake of the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D. is taken over by Hydra sleeper agents. Coulson and the Team try to liberate S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters without getting killed in the process. Agent Garrett turns out to be the Clairvoyant and is also working for Hydra. He's eventually captured by Coulson's Team. Ward and Agent Hand escort Garrett to the Icebox for incarceration. On the way there Ward kills Hand, revealing that he too is a Hydra agent.

Thoughts:
• I think we may be witnessing television history here. I can't think of any other TV series that's had its plot line affected by a theatrical movie set in the same world. 

Star Wars: The Clone Wars comes close, but even that series debuted well after the movies ended.

• This close connection with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while certainly cool, can be a double edged sword. On the one hand it gives everything a cohesiveness and unity, just like old Marvel comics had. It makes all these events feel like they're really happening, and right now.

On the other hand, the new Captain America movie came out just four short days before this episode. The vast majority of viewers-- myself included-- haven't had a chance to see it. So the TV show just spoiled the main plot of the movie for everyone. D'oh!

• Coulson forces May to contact Nick Fury, and they're told he's dead. Everyone who believes that, stand on your head…

As I said, I've not yet seen the new Captain America film yet, but I'm assuming Fury is "killed" or presumed killed sometime before the end of the film. I wouldn't worry too much about him though. There's no way Marvel's gonna kill off Fury yet, especially since he's still got three films to go on his nine film contract.

• Another big revelation: May tells Coulson that the Team was assembled in order to keep an eye on him, lest the alien blood in his veins make him go a little funny in the head. And the person who ordered this? Fury, of course. Interesting.


It also explains why the team is so oddly balanced, with three field agents and three eggheads.

• I enjoyed the scene in which Coulson, Fitz and Garrett argue over the Hydra motto. 

Coulson: "Cut off one head, two more take its place." 
Garrett: "Is it a head? I thought it was a…"
Coulson: "It's a head."

Fitz: "Head."

• Woohoo! I totally called Garret being the Clairvoyant. And as an added bonus, he's a Hydra agent to boot. I wouldn't be surprised if he was there on the Grassy Knoll as well.

As I said last week, I'm a bit disappointed that the Clairvoyant didn't turn out to be, well, a real clairvoyant. Someone with honest-to-goodness psychic powers instead of a plain old spy with access to everyone's records.

• How did May get her hands loose during the battle at the end? One second she's handcuffed, the next she's swinging roundhouse punches and karate chopping Hydra agents left and right. I suppose it's possible someone freed her hands in all the chaos, but if so I sure didn't see it.

• In the middle of the Hydra takeover, Skye wipes all the Bus' computers and stores the files on a hard drive. She then hands the drive over to Ward for safekeeping. Whoops! Now Hydra's got all of the Team's files!

• So Ward's a Hydra agent too! Wow! I didn't see that one coming, although looking back at last week's episode (in which Ward killed the "fake" Clairvoyant) it was pretty obvious.

You know, I'm actually OK with this development. All season Ward's been the dullest character on the show, so this actually makes him more interesting.

I'm still not a fan of these "sleeper agent" plots though. If Ward truly has been a traitor all this time, why would he so obediently follow orders that would make it tougher for Hydra to take over later on? Why hook up with May? Why get all sappy over Skye?

Yes, yes, he's "hiding in plain sight" and all that, but it seems like there were ample opportunities during the season for him to subtly sabotage the various missions. More reasons why these "secret traitor" plots aren't a good idea.

I'm kind of wondering if Ward really is a Hydra agent after all? That final scene in which he's giving the camera a seriously demonic look made me wonder if he's under some kind of mind control. I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case. That way he could be a traitor for as long as the plot requires but then still come back.

• This episode's shocking revelations had a bit of a "go for broke" feel about them. I'm hoping they're just building toward a big season finale and not trying to wrap up everything because the show's getting cancelled. Now that the series has finally found its groove, it definitely deserves a second season.

Smile!

I've been a big fan of the art of Alex Ross for many years now. He specializes in photo-realistic portrayals of superheroes, and his work is nothing short of amazing and awe inspiring.

Most of the time.

Take a look at this variant cover he did for the upcoming final issue of the Life With Archie comic.

By Stan Lee's Toupee! What the hell happened here? I don't know if I've ever seen a more sinister and disturbing piece of art. Everything about it, from the detailed rendering to the bizarre and extreme angle is downright terrifying.

First of all you've got a smug looking Jughead in the foreground silently judging you, as if he's somehow privy to all the darkest secrets you hide from the world. Then you've got Archie positively leering down at you in the most unwholesome way possible. Note that Ross even attempted to translate that grid pattern on the sides of Archie's hair into reality, with unsettling results. What did he do, press his head in a waffle iron? And then we have Betty and Veronica, both sporting unholy rictus grins as they've apparently been exposed to the Joker's Smilex Gas.

I guess the lesson to take away from here is that some comics weren't meant to be rendered realistically.

Monday, April 7, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Divergent

Divergent was directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and written by Evan Daughtery and Vanessa Taylor. It's based on the young adult novel by Veronica Roth.

Ah, another week, another teen romance set in a post-apocalyptic world. Try as I might, it's next to impossible to judge this film without comparing it to others in the genre such as The Host, The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games. In follows the established Hunger Games template almost to the letter. You've the same star-crossed young lovers, you've got the Reaping, er, I mean the Choosing Ceremony, you've got the same intense training pitting teen against teen, you've got a small group of rebels trying to overthrow the oppressive government...  

Heck, both films were even released by the same studio, Lionsgate.

Perhaps a better name for the film would have been Derivative.

The Plot:
In a futuristic post-war Chicago, the population is divided into five Factions: Abnegation (selfless public servants), Amity (peaceful farmers), Candor (truthful public defenders), Erudite (intelligent and educated researchers) and Dauntless (law enforcers).

When a citizen turns sixteen, they're given an aptitude test to decide in which Faction they'll live. Beatrice Prior was born into the Abnegation Faction. Since she's the hero of the story, naturally when she takes the test she finds she's a Divergent-- someone who doesn't fit in any of the Factions.

The government shuns and exiles Divergents, fearing they'll upset the delicate balance of Society. Beatrice hides her test results and chooses the Dauntless faction, because they're kewl. She names herself Tris and trains with them for several months, slowly becoming one of them.

Eventually the Erudite Faction use mind control devices on the Dauntless army and uses them to stage a coup against Abnegation for control of the government. The mind control device doesn't work on Divergents, so it's up to Tris to save the City.

Thoughts:
• Oy, another young adult love story that takes place in a futuristic dystopia. And an incredibly specific one at that.

One thing they never bother to explain in these types of stories: How the hell do these worlds come to be? Why would anyone ever agree to live such a societies?

Why would anyone agree to split the population into five highly specialized factions? Why would a citizenry that outnumbers their enforcers willingly sacrifice two of their children every year? Why would anyone agree to have a death clock implanted in their forearm?

I get that the authors use these societies to examine facets of our own, but they never tell us how these far-fetched systems started up in the first place. 

I can see why the Divergent series is so popular, as it plays in perfectly with the typical teen's feelings of non-conformity, isolation and rebellion.

The hero exists in a world where everyone is forced to conform to society's rigid rules. But she's special and doesn't fit in anywhere. Why, she's just like every teen in the audience! They don't fit in either!

• During Tris' opening expository info dump, she says that the Five Faction System has preserved the peace for decades. Not ten minutes later we see that there's friction between at least two of the factions, one of which (Erudite) wants to overthrow the other (Abnegation) and run the government. So much for the Faction System!

• Along these same lines, some people don't conform to any of the of the five groups and are known as the Factionless. They're shunned by society and have to eke out a living digging through garbage, living in alleys and relying on handouts-- within the walls of the city.

Why the hell would such a rigidly hierarchal society allow the Factionless to live inside the city walls? Why wouldn't they kick them out and let them fend for themselves in the wilderness?


• Speaking of the Factions, it seems like they left out a few. Wouldn't you need a Manufacturing Faction to produce tangible goods? Somebody's gotta make the clothing, furniture and vehicles the people need, but we never see any factories. How about a Merchant Faction to sell the various goods? I'd think they'd need a Medical Faction as well, to treat people when they're sick. What about a Janitorial/Maintenance Faction? Someone has to haul away the trash and fix things when they break down. You'd need an Entertainment Faction as well, to keep the population distracted so they don't think about rebelling.

I suppose you could argue that some of these might be covered by the existing Factions, but I'm skeptical. Erudite would have the smarts to be doctors, but probably wouldn't have much of a bedside manner. Abnegation have the right attitude to be healers, but they live and dress like the Amish and probably don't know much about CAT scans. And so on.

• Just to make sure everyone knows their place in this society, all members of each Faction are forced to wear color-coded clothing. Just like the Power Rangers, or the audience on Tattletales. In fact, during the Reaping, er, Choosing Ceremony, the wide shots of the audience, segregated by Faction and color, looked very much like that relic of the 1970s.

For the record Abnegation always wears grey, Amity wears red and orange clothing, Candor wears white, Erudite wears blue and Dauntless wears black.
 
• One thing the filmmakers did right-- the film takes place sometime in the indeterminate future. No exact date is ever given. Good. 

As regular readers of my blog know by now, one of my pet peeves is when a sci-fi movie presents us with a radically altered society full of highly advanced technology, then places it in the unimaginably far off year of 2021.

When dealing with futuristic dates, vague is the way to go.


• During the daytime, post-war Chicago appears to be a modern city with technology ahead of our own. At night though the city appears to be completely dark. So they have stun guns, mind control and machines that can read and display your thoughts on a screen, but apparently no light bulbs. Got it.

Is there a reason why all the lights are shut off at night? Some kind of curfew? Is there not enough juice to power the lights as well as the gigantic electrified fence that surrounds the city?

• One of the characteristics of the Abnegation Faction is that they have no vanity. To ensure they abide by this trait, the use of mirrors is heavily restricted. When Tris is getting ready for the Reaping, er, Choosing Ceremony, her mother only allows her a brief glance into the family's sole mirror. It's even hidden behind a special sliding panel!

If mirrors are so verboten to this Faction, why do they have one in their house in the first place? Yeah, it's normally hidden, but if they're so unconcerned about how they look to the world, why have one at all?  

• In this society, when a child reaches the age of sixteen they're required to take an aptitude test to decide which Faction is best for them. But they don't have to adhere to the test results. During the Reaping, er, Sorting Hat, er, I mean Choosing Ceremony they're allowed to pick whatever Faction they want.

If you can choose any Faction, then what the hell's the point of the test? It seems like a big waste of time if you can willingly override it. Is the test meant to identify and weed out Divergents? Apparently it's none of our concern, as this is never addressed.


• One last thing about the Reaping, er, Choosing Ceremony. The initiates are told that they can choose to join any of the five Factions, but once they choose, that's it-- they're in for life. No backsies or do-overs. 

Would you want to have to live a permanent decision your dumb sixteen year old self made? That's even worse than our system, in which we have to live with the career choices our eighteen year old selves made.

• Some or all of these nitpicky questions I have may have been answered in the novel, which I haven't read. Too bad! This is the movie! If I have to read the book to understand what's happening in the film, then the screenwriters failed badly.

• No one ever says for sure, but I'm guessing Tris and her brother Caleb are twins, since they both choose their Factions on the same day.

• Tris was born into the Abnegation Faction, and her parents of course hope she'll choose to stay there. She ends up choosing Dauntless, which acts as the city's police force and army.

At first I wondered why someone from such a peaceful and benevolent Faction would choose one so violent and warlike. It seems like Dauntless would be a completely alien way of life to her. Then I figured it out--  it's so they could fill the run time with some of that Hunger Games kid vs. kid battle action! All the other Factions are filled with people who sit around and talk or farm all day. Dauntless was the only one that would feature anything even remotely exciting.


• Tris' love interest in the film is the leader of Dauntless, whose name is Four. Yep, I said Four. His real name is Tobias Eaton, but he's known as Four because of his four fears. Cause you know, everyone has just four specific fears, right? Right?

• During the Dauntless War Games, they use guns with live ammo. Tris is initially apprehensive about using such weapons on her fellow Factioners, until her sadistic instructor Eric demonstrates that the guns are perfectly safe and fire a cartridge that simulates the pain of a bullet hit, but not the damage.

Maybe so, but I'd hardly call them harmless. These cartridges appears to be at least three to four inches long. If you caught one in the eye you might as well toss your Viewmaster in the trash.

• Near the end of the film Tris and Four rebel against their mind controlled brethren. There's a big shootout between Four and Eric, his former friend. We see several closeups of Four and Eric shooting at one another. However when they cut to a wide shot, hilariously we see they're crouched ten feet apart at the most.

It looks exactly like a scene from one of the Naked Gun movies.

• In the third act we find out that Erudite is plotting to overthrow the Agnegation Faction for control of the government. They inject everyone in the Dauntless Faction with a thought control device that turns them all into mindless drones that follow orders without question.

This whole mind control plot point is pulled right out of the author's ass. It literally comes out of nowhere, as the audience had no idea such a thing was even a possibility in this world. Bad form, movie!

Additionally, the mind control widget doesn't work on Tris or Four because they're Divergents. Well that was certainly convenient! If that hadn't happened Erudite's coup would have gone off without a hitch!

• Since everyone and their dog writes nothing but trilogies these days, and studios are desperate for successful film franchises, this is of course the first of three planned films. So you know what that means-- it doesn't have a proper ending! They might as well have thrown up a title card that said, "Continued Next Year!"

• At the very end of the film, the rebels hop onboard an L train and ride it through the Wall and outside the city with no trouble. 

First of all, where's the security on the Wall? Why is it possible to ride right through it? Does the Wall only work one way? It keeps people from getting in, but you can freely walk out any old time you feel like it? 

Second, as my pal KW Monster pointed out, what's the deal with these trains? All through the film the Dauntless gang jumps on and off them while they're moving. In fact I don't think we ever see them stop. Is anyone driving them, or are they automated? And if you want to ride one, do you have to risk your life by leaping on as it speeds by?

Divergent is yet another young adult love story set in a dystopian society, that's just too derivative for its own good. I give it a B-.

Because He's The Hero Evansville Deserves...

This past weekend Evansville hosted its first annual PopCon. It was a decent show, but fairly small as conventions go. But hey, you gotta start somewhere, amirite?

As I walked around the show, I looked up and saw this. Yep, it was Batman, standing silent watch over the convention. Just in case there was trouble.

I feel safer already!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 16: End Of The Beginning

Hey, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is finally back, after yet another ong hiatus. I don't know what's causing all these pre-emptions, but it'sa shame because the show is finally starting to hit its stride. These constant breaks aren't doing any favors for the show's momentum. Or for the ratings.

Supposedly there will be no more breaks from now until the end of the season, so that's good.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:

After Deathlok attacks a S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house, the Team gears up to capture his boss, the Clairvoyant. They track him to an abandoned building, and find that he's really Thomas Nash, an immobile man on life support who can only speak through a computer. Nash taunts Grant, who reflexively kills him. Coulson deduces that Nash was a decoy, and that not only is the real Clairvoyant still out there, but he or she doesn't have super powers and is a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. 

Oh, and Coulson discovers May's might be a traitor. 

Thoughts:
• Deathlok's back, and getting more Deathlokier all the time.

It's cool to see Mike Peterson's evolve into a character from the comics, but I'm not a fan of his current look. As many have already pointed out, he looks like he's wearing some kind of Laser Tag gear. I get that this is a TV show and they don't have as big a budget as the Marvel films, but good lord… Star Trek: The Next Generation was regularly featuring the Borg twenty years ago, and their costumes were miles better than what Deathlok's modeling here.

What's interesting that when Skye saw an x-ray image of Deathlok, he looked pretty much identical to the comic version, complete with a half-metal skull. Hopefully his metamorphosis isn't done, and this is just an interim look for him.

• Nice line by May to Agent Blake: "So you don't believe in the Clairvoyant, but you believe in astrology?"

• Welp, Skye is now officially a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Never mind that she sidestepped the academy and has had little or no field training. She's a valuable member of the team! She got shot in the line of duty! She deserves this and much, much more!

All the massive amounts of love and accolades being heaped onto her just feels unearned. We're constantly told how amazing she is, but so far we've seen little evidence of it. As I said last time, Skye is Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Bilbo Baggins all rolled into one. The hero who has everything handed to them and never has to work for or earn anything, falling ass-backwards into success.

What's odd is that all the other characters seem very pleased with her promotion. Even FitzSimmons, who are two of the most gung-ho, by-the-book agents that could possibly exist. One would think they'd be more than a bit put out by the fact that they had to spend years at the academy and go through all the proper channels to unlock their achievements, while some self-taught hacker gets an agentship handed to her on a silver platter.

I'm starting to think Skye really does have a super power, one that makes everyone around her bend over backwards to reward her for doing nothing.

• Good to see Brad Dourif on TV! Too bad he won't be back next week.

• So suddenly Ward's a traitor, maybe. And May as well. Or not. We're not sure.

I'm generally not a fan of these paranoid "You can't trust anyone" and "Everything you thought you knew is wrong" plot lines. Why? Because they never make much sense. We've seen Ward and May acting very untraitory all season. Even when they were alone and could drop the pretense, they acted normal. Then out of the blue we're told they're not what they seem.

These plots also tend to undermine the characters. If none of our favorite agents can be trusted and can turn on us at any time, then why should we care about them?

• Coulson deduces that the Clairvoyant isn't really a super powered entity, but a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent with access to all their records.

I have to say I was a little disappointed by this. For weeks now everyone and their dog has been telling Coulson there's no such thing as psychic powers (despite the fact that they live in a world of superheroes and alien gods), and I was sure that this whole Clairvoyant storyline existed for the sole purpose of proving them wrong. Nope! He or she is just a plain old double agent. Boring!

So who is the Clairvoyant? The obvious choice would be Agent Victoria Hand, since she seems to be gunning for Coulson and the Team at the end of the episode. I honestly hope it's not her though, as she's a bit too obvious.

My money's on Agent Garrett. Bill Paxton's folksy charm would be a perfect, er, shield for a secret evil identity like the Clairvoyant. Plus he's only contracted for four episodes, so it's not like he's going to be series regular... Yep, I vote for Garrett.
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