Thanks to some extremely wonderful assistant instructors, I went home from the dojo early last night and got to eat dinner with my kids. We also sat together and watched Doctor Strange. My wife and I had seen it before in theaters, but the kids hadn’t. Strangely, I never actually left a review of the film. It seems a bit odd to do so this long after the film’s release. Yet I also felt it worth adding a few notes to the general consensus of the film.
Yes, the critics are generally right. Doctor Strange is, essentially, the first Iron Man film’s plot redressed. Doctor Stephen Strange is a rich, extremely intelligent, highly successful man. He’s also more than a bit of an asshole. Then, of course, the film takes him on his journey to finding real meaning, becoming a hero, etc.
Like many other films, the villain is not so much underwhelming (Dormamu is actually pretty cool) as underutilized. He’s just not in the film enough. This is also a fair criticism.
But the film still succeeds, and I think it’s due to three things.
First, the film is fun and generally well executed. As I’ve noted before, execution counts for far more than originality. A big part of this comes from the filmmakers willingness to fully embrace Steve Ditko’s 60s and 70s era trippy artwork. They turned modern CGI effects on that style and the result is amazing.
Second, the climax of the film is extremely well done. I’m talking about one effect in particular: when the sorcerers fight while Strange turns back time itself. I’ve read scenes like this in written fiction before. I’ve never seen anything like it in a visual medium. They executed it flawlessly, and the end result is super cool both visually and from a storytelling perspective.
Finally, the resolution is very clever. Strange manages to find the one weapon he can actually use against an infinite power. As a viewer, you get a sense that his solution would actually work – yet it’s also quite unconventional. Best of all, the script sets up the solution in a very clever bit of early, seemingly throw-away dialog.
On a side note, my children loved it. Even my four year old sat glued to his seat for almost the entire film. He rarely does that for live action movies – he didn’t even manage it for Homeward Bound, a film aimed at his demographic.
It’s not a perfect film, but it’s easily a four out of five stars.
Silver Empire is still accepting submissions for our upcoming Superversive Superheroes anthology! We’re still a few submissions short of where we want to be for this project, although the stories we have so far are quite exciting.
Submission guidelines are as follows:
I know, I’m a bit behind the times. But earlier this week I finally finished watching Season 1 of Luke Cage.
I entered the show with high expectations. I was never a regular reader of the comics, but I’d read enough of them to know that the character was actually interesting. Marvel and NetFlix had so far done a good job with the characters they’d brought to the small screen. I had faith that they could continue their winning streak. Also, I’d seen a preview of their version in the half season of Jessica Jones that I’d watched previously, and I liked what I saw.
Now… here’s where I need to admit that my expectations were somewhat tempered. I liked Luke Cage. I liked David Tenant’s villain. The writing quality on Jessica Jones was high. The production quality continued to be top notch. But I have yet to finish the show (I’ve seen about half of the first season). Why?
Because I can’t stand the main character. I’ve mentioned this to friends who like the show. Some of them informed me that her decision to “not be a hero” at the beginning was a strong part of the character arc. Fine, I can buy that. I’ve done similar things with my own characters. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Jessica herself is a despicable human being with almost no redeemable traits. It’s been in vogue for the last few decades for critics and writers to insist that characters with no flaws are boring and two dimensional. And they are correct. But so are characters with no virtues, and that’s how I felt about Jessica.
With all that said… I did rather like their portrayal of Cage. So I skipped the last half of Jessica Jones and went straight into Luke Cage.
Warning to anyone else who might follow my lead: I am still slightly confused about where Cage fits into the timeline. It feels like it must take place after Jones. If so, then I clearly missed the part where Luke is sent to prison and loses his bar. Or maybe it’s supposed to be a prequel? I honestly can’t really tell. This isn’t the fault of the show. It’s my fault for not watching the entirety of the previous series.
So I spent a bit of the first episode or two confused before I decided to just forget what I’d seen in Jones and follow Luke Cage as its own separate entity. That proved to be the right choice. It’s a strong show. The main character is quite interesting. He’s flawed enough to have a real arc, but also has strength (of character, not merely of body) and virtue. The setup of the show really drew me in. The supporting characters are interesting, especially the dichotomy between the dual antagonists: the sleazy druglord Cottonmouth and his Councilwoman cousin Mariah.
But those aren’t even the best parts of the show. Indeed, what really sets the show apart and makes it special is the way it absolutely nails race in America. And I don’t mean in an SJW way, or in a conservative way. This show is one of the most brutally honest takes on race – from all sides – that I’ve seen in a long time.
Luke Cage features police who are scared to go into black neighborhoods, and black neighborhoods who are scared of police. We see way the culture binds together against injustice (both real and perceived) – and the way that corrupt politicians stoke the flames in order to exploit those injustices for personal gain. It shows the very real ways in which living in that world holds someone down, but it’s not afraid to show the very real ways in which residents of that world contribute to their own prisons.
Yet at the same time each character has something crucial that Jessica Jones lacked: dignity. The show treats its characters with respect. Even the villains have clear motivations that – while despicable – are also understandable. Characters make mistakes, but they’re very human mistakes that you identify with. None of these characters – good or bad – has an easy life. And all of them – good and bad – have moments of honor, dignity, and even redemption. All the while, it tells a compelling and interesting story.
The show does exhibit one flaw, however, and it’s a doozy. The pacing is sloooooooooooooooow. Way too slow. As good as the show is, it probably should have been told in about 10 episodes instead of the 13 we got. Maybe it should even have had fewer. The first few episodes are the worst offenders, and the show does pick up a bit after that. Even so, it’s never what you’d call a particularly fast pace.
Worse, there’s no good reason for this. NetFlix continues to insist on the HBO/Showtime/BBC model of about 13 episodes per season. But it’s unconventional distribution model should free it from that constraint entirely. How many episodes should a NetFlix season have? As many as it takes to tell a good story – no more and no less. They are under no pressure to fill advertising time, no true “seasonal” constrains like network and cable TV traditionally has. They already release the shows whenever they feel they’re ready, without adhering to traditional release schedules.
The pacing issues of the show are a completely unforced error on NetFlix’s part. But at least for me, it was also the only real drawback of an otherwise most excellent show. Still, it’s enough to drop an entire star off the rating, taking this from a five star show down to the final four stars that I give it. If Marvel’s NetFlix shows are your kind of thing, you will probably enjoy Luke Cage. But you may have to push yourself through the slow bits.
DragonCon 2016 was great. I got to spend the weekend with my good friend Dan Baker of Oxide Games. I met a few folks who were well worth meeting, including meeting Declan Finn in person. We enjoyed a few fantastic panels. I photographed some lovely cosplayers. And I finally had some time to catch up on a bit of reading.
In particular, I finally finished Christopher Lansdown‘s Ordinary Superheroes. I must apologize to Mr. Lansdown. He sent me a free review copy of this book quite some time ago. The delay in this review is through no fault of the book. It is merely because August was one of the busier months of my entire life. Merging two already-functioning businesses together is a lot of work.
Quite to the contrary, this is a pretty fun book. As the title and the cover might suggest, it’s a young adult book and should be approached as such. With that said, however, there’s a lot here for adults and parents to like. For one thing, this is a pretty clean book, which is not at all guaranteed in YA these days! As a parent, I’d have no objection to even pretty young children reading this. For another, there’s genuine humor in the superhero banter, much of which will actually leave young readers thinking. The characters are fun, and Mr. Lansdown fleshes them out well.
But the best part of this book is its villain: The Bureaucrat. Seriously, how can you not love that concept? The name alone makes me want to punch him in the face – and it’s rewarding when Mr. Macho, one of the book’s trio of protagonists, finally gets the chance to do so. What’s his beef? He hates living. Not his own life, but all living. Basically, he’s like any other small-b bureaucrat. He just has a lot of superpowers to go with that. I’ll refrain from spoilers here, but the ending isn’t quite what I expected. That’s a good thing. And I liked how the characters found their way into it smartly, thinking their way through.
My biggest complaint about the book is that it bogs down a bit in the middle. If you find this happening, like I did, then note that it’s worth pushing through to the finish. You won’t stay stuck in that bit for long. The short, quick nature of the book helps alleviate this quite a bit.
I give this book four out of five stars. Most adults will enjoy it. But if you’ve got a young teen who likes superheroes, this one is for them.