TV-14 and maybe it is only for the sake of uncomfortableness in one scene. Sure, Stan (who narrates his own documentary posthumously) uses some really mild cursing, I don't see anything that would really take this beyond a TV-PG rating. It's pretty innocent. I watched it with my kids. Maybe, at most, there are some things from history that need to be explained. But honestly, I'm struggling to figure out the TV-14 elements of this documentary. Still, you report what you got...
DIRECTOR: David Gelb
My first exposure to this documentary was in the form of a scathing review. I think it was from IGN, who tend to like everything, so I thought that this movie must be something truly awful. I think IGN gave it a 3 out of 10, citing that this movie was just corporate propaganda and that it is insulting to the very mixed legacy that Stan Lee left, especially when it comes to the fractured relationships that ended with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. I know that the Kirby family found the documentary to be insulting. But I also really like a comic book documentary. So much of my college and Masters programs were centered, to some degree or another, on comic book history. To watch a short, well-produced documentary about one of the key figures in comic book history that I could watch with my kids was a good time. But is it corporate fluff?
To a certain degree, I can't deny the accusation. This is a documentary about Stan Lee on Disney+. The perspective of the documentarians is that DC Comics might be one of the most important cultural movements on the planet. Sure, that's a statement that I mostly agree with, but that's because I'm a fan. I'm also a teacher who teaches with comic books, so it's nice to have some confirmation bias. But I also have to argue with IGN's fairly simplistic take on the documentary as a whole. Yes, this movie is very flattering to Stan Lee. But it isn't completely divorced from some of the realities that Lee went through with his relationships with artists. My wife almost begged me to shut it off when Lee goes on the radio and lambastes Kirby for his involvement with comics. It was darned uncomfortable. As a comics history nerd, I couldn't stop listening to it. I was riveted. It really had that element of Mom and Dad fighting. You wish that it didn't exist, but you needed to hear every word because you ahd to make sure that they weren't going to get a divorce.
So what is the tone of this movie? I don't get the absolute vibe that this documentary is sycophantic. Again, I'm really pulling for this film. If it wasn't a streaming thing, I would own this movie in a heartbeat. It is flattering. But the thing is, I've watched the fan documentaries before. I've often complained that fan documentaries tend to be terrible becuase it is a bunch of self-congratulations. I don't get the same vibe with Stan Lee. With Stan Lee, I read touching eulogy. Stan Lee was always a guy who loved to talk about himself. If he was around today, he wouldn't exactly shy away from that description. Because there are probably hundreds or thousands of hours of Stan Lee talking about his life, coupled with texts and memoirs to boot, it's kind of wonderful to hear the story of Stan Lee, condensed and edited into a proper narrative to form a documentary. As much as it is a eulogy and a send up for a man who seemed absolutely lovely (but, again, with flaws), it more feels like Stan saying goodbye to all of his fans.
One of the thing that I have to applaud Gelb for is his use of visuals. As much as Stan's voice is around to tell his own story, there weren't videos for a lot of his life. After all, Stan Lee's success story really starts to blossom once the MCU was born. Yeah, Stan Lee was always a big name in our house, but that's because we collected comic books. It wouldn't be until he started making his cameos in films that made his co-creations household names that we would start getting commonly seen video. So Gelb does a lot of the movie in miniatures.
I'm sure that there was probably a discussion about making sections of Lee's life in comics. Perhaps that was a bit too on the nose. After all, Lee did that himself in his own graphic memoir, so why tread the same ground? But the use of miniatures, as much as miniatures had nothing to do with Stan Lee's life, creates a certain feeling of a heightened reality. Lee is the ringmaster of his own circus. He's the guy who lets you see what he wants to show you. It isn't going to be reality, despite what he says. As much as Marvel Comics claims to be the realistic of the two companies, everything that comes from Lee is a heightened version of reality. The use of models and dioramas sells that narrative, especially when it is mixed with file footage of the man himself.
Is this a perfect documentary? I can't give that up. It isn't. I love how a lot of the movie is sold. It goes chronologically from Lee's birth in the 1920s right up to his final speech given to a graducating class (UCLA?) in 2017. From that description, that sounds like it is going to be thorough. Unfortunately, the chronology of Lee's life is really in-depth until 1972 and then there's a large gap in until the birth of the MCU in 2010. As much as I care more about Lee's wins with his creativity and his losses with tense working relationships, the '80s, '90s, and aughts tell a far more somber tale. Again, if this is a eulogy, I can see why the film didn't pick up these years. These were years where Stan Lee was starting lawsuit after lawsuit with Marvel as a company, despite being the public face of the company. These are the years of Pow! Entertainment. They aren't the glory years. Even the 2010s paint a gloss over the reality of what Stan Lee was really going through at the time.
Upon Lee's death, Brian Michael Bendis penned a short comic about the time that he really got to sit down and talk to Stan. In that story, he was so proud of the films that he created, but revealed to Bendis that he wishes that he could see all of these movies that people kept talking about. As much as Lee seemed like a fun-loving cameo machine, his vision had gone to the dogs by this point. Even sadder is the fact that Lee was the victim of elder abuse for years. These are all things that a hard-hitting documentary would hit. But again, I'm almost happy that they didn't. This is a eulogy, not necessarily a think piece.
And maybe I'm being too forgiving. I absolutely don't agree with IGN's 3 out of 10. I mean, I get it. If I was angry and they might have the right to be angry, I could see the 3 out of 10 as a form of protest against the movie. I've been there. I've gotten truly angry over the rewriting of truths. But I want to live in a world where Stan Lee was everyone's fun dad or grandpa. It's funny. I hear the name P.T. Barnum and I want to spit because I know that the man was a monster. But Barnum and Lee have a lot in common. They were showmen of their own personality. Perhaps Lee's story isn't true. I need the Joan stuff to be true. The Joan story is one of my favorite real-life relationships. But I want to live in a world where it was true. Like Lee's focus on the heightened versions of reality, I want to imagine that Lee was a guy who loved to tell stories and take down the system through the funny pages. But I also want the Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko stuff to fix itself as well.
For a piece of corporate propaganda, it's really well made. It feels like it's not just there to make a buck. I imagine that this is a movie that Lee's family would want passed down. This is a tale of how grandpa decided to tell stories a different way and changed the way that we treated genre storytelling. There are some warts in there. I think everyone's relationship with their elders should reveal some warts. But part of me was just moved that there was this guy who really liked what he was doing and did it. That's a great story.
Not rated, but this one has this one moment that I want to talk about for a second. Let's establish, Godzilla movies exist in a world where we have to accept that massive amounts of casualties are just being ignored for the sake of telling a story where monsters can punch each other a lot. A lot of people must die in these movies. That's gotta be part of a parental advisory somewhere. But there's one moment, and I'm not sure if it is for comedy or what, but the mousy little evil sidekick just starts beating on the evil moneyman and that dude is hemmoraging blood. The mousey guy is shot and killed and the money man dies when Godzilla destroys his hotel. It's a lot.
DIRECTOR: Ishiro Honda
I hate coming to any movie from a place of ignorance. I love to watch things in order. I want to be the most knowledgable film viewer ever. But all rookies make mistakes and I have to admit that I made a mistake with Mothra vs. Godzilla. I'm watching this movie and I'm not big on Godzilla lore. I know what I know from the Godzilla movies I've seen and that's about it. In my head, outside of King Kong, all of the monsters from Godzilla movies are original villains. Apparently, that's not true. First of all, Mothra's the good guy in this movie. Secondly, apparently, this is Mothra's second movie.
I didn't know this. I am watching Mothra vs. Godzilla and the people in this movie just know tons of lore about Mothra. I Google "First Appearance Mothra" and get a short summary that tells me that this is the first on-screen appearance of Mothra. (This is not true. I should have clicked the link for more details.) It also tells me that Mothra first appeared in a novel years before and my brain can't handle that so many people had read this Mothra novel that they could have gone to directly sequelizing this character in double hitter with Godzilla. None of that is true. The reality of the situation is that there was a 1961 movie named Mothra that wasn't included in the Criterion set and I just powered through a movie that was technically a sequel to a movie that I'll probably never see.
Do you know why I'll never see it? As much as I was warming up to the whole old timey kaiju movies with Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Mothra vs. Godzilla reminded me that the formula for most kaiju movies is pretty bad. For the sake of shorthand and the fact that I'm writing as fast as I can so my newborn doesn't wake up with my wife (she's making noises!), I'm going to call this movie Mothra, despite the fact that I'm talking about the 1964 film, not the 1961 film. Mothra really hits the same beats as King Kong vs. Godzilla, which means that we have some characters that really film some archetypal roles in the movie. Then, Godzilla shows up. The military shoots a bunch of useless garbage at Godzilla. Then something narratively bonkers happens (in this case, two tiny little ladies try to save Mothra's egg) before watching a LOT of army stuff try to stop Godzilla and then the two monsters fight. I know. I mentioned the military stuff more than once. Because that's my real problem with these movies.
Godzilla movies tend to understand that there isn't enough story to justify runtime. To a certain degree, it is cool to see models try to blow up a guy in a Godzilla suit for a long time. But imagine that those scenes actually mattered. Right, you are blowing off this conceit and I beg you not to. Imagine with get a cocky general say, "We're going to throw everything we got at him." For the sake of this movie, it's going to be the electricity plan (which I kind of remember having a bit of validity based on the first Godzilla movie). Sure, we're going to see Godzilla squirm a bit. But we know that cocky general isn't going to get it right. I mean, you at least need to throw a scientist in there or one of the protagonists. But these movies have a lot of the general doing stupid stuff for a long time.
This one couldn't even fill the space with the general calling in support against Godzilla. This one's a bit interesting because Mothra herself doesn't beat Godzilla. There's something oddly bleak about Mothra being the contender in this movie because the two tiny ladies from Infant Island reveal that Mothra's basically on her deathbed and that this is just a suicide run at Godzilla for the heck of it. My headcanon is that she's doing it for the egg, but whatever. I'm already investing more than the people who made this movie probably did. Anyway, it comes down to the two twin babies that hatch out of the egg. These larvae look terrible. I mean, Mothra looks great. Even when the movie really embraces the aesthetic of two monsters fighting being the equivalent of a kid smashing his toys together, the design of Mothra is pretty rad. The larvae? Not good at all. Straight up terrible if you ask me. Anyway, if a general yelling at troops isn't repetitive enough, there has to be about ten minutes of footage of these two little slugs shooting webs at Godzilla. It's the webs that beat Godzilla, by the way.
I mean, I say "beat Godzilla", but that ending is unconvincing. That seems like Godzilla should just be able to swim up. But I digress. There is so little actual movie in this movie that we have to keep watching the spraying of webs just to establish that there's something working here. Again, I'm a guy who doesn't find modern Godzilla movies all that fun. Those movies have fight choreography and CGI. These are people who are desperately trying to make puppet fighting a compelling franchise. So to see these two slugs just vomiting webs all over Godzilla while his radioactive breath does nothing is more than anticlimactic to say the least.
I have a feeling that I'm going to have a rough go of the rest of this box set. I know that Mothra is one of the top tier Godzilla villains. Even a layman like me knew something about Mothra. Sure, I didn't kow that there was a 1961 film named Mothra. That seems like it should be basic. But if I'm not preaching Mothra vs. Godzilla, what's going to happen to mee when I get to the Godzookie era? Like, i looked ahead at the art for the future episodes. I already see that Mothra vs. Godzilla is phoning it in pretty hard. I mean, there's the whole Jurassic Park before Jurassic Park thing with this movie, with the attempt to capitalize on genetic abnormalities as a plot. But it seemed like Mothra had this rich story and this movie did everything it could to avoid depth. The scientist was there for exposition. The newspaper man and photographer were tropes. The only reason that there are humans in this movie is to remind ourselves that humans are terrible.
It's so funny. If I had to pick a franchise to condemn humanity with, it would be the Godzilla movies. But if we're using Mothra vs. Godzilla as our foundational text for why humans are terrible, we get barely any moments of understanding. I mean, the government seemed mighty cool with letting the Happy Corporation buy a giant egg in a time period where Japan is regularly getting smooshed by kaiju. And those guys suck so hard. Here's me, comparing the 1993 perfect film Jurassic Park to a Godzilla sequel and expecting them to have the same amount of pathos. But John Hammond was this guy who is clearly misguided from moment one, but believes he's the philanthropist in his story. Then there's the guys from the Happy Corporation, who want to buy women the second they see them because it will help them make more money. There's a shot of the bad guys looking at a wall of money. That's a thing that happens in this movie.
The Godzilla movies should be fun, yet constant accusations, for how crappy humanity has gotten both environmentally, but also morally. Godzilla should be a punishment for our sins. Yet, I hear that this is the last one where he's an outright villain. You can kind of read the writing on the wall with it too because Godzilla is hilariously clumsy in this one. He seems like he's not always trying to actively murderball civilization because he just kind of falls into buildings in this one. But he does flash fry that small village. It might be because that's where he's fighting other kaiju, but most of the movie he just sucks at navigating the terrain. It actually zooms into where Godzilla rolls his ankle as if he was wearing too tall Jimmy Choos.
Yeah, I had fun with the movie until I didn't. Maybe it was once the larvae were the heroes (and that they didn't fulfill the promise of eating everything in their way, as described) that I remembered that I really don't like these movies and I should stop holding out hope that they are going to change my mind. A real fact that I'm aware of in the back of my brain? I'm just waiting for Shin Godzilla and I want to have watched everything in order until I get there. But for all I know, Shin Godzilla is just fine.
PG-13, despite two solid f-bombs in the movie. I mean, this is a movie with a lot of death, including gun and fantasy violence. Not fantasy gun violence, although I suppose that's kind of true as well. It's got a bunch of creature stuff that could be considered a bit scary for younger audiences. Also, there's the whole racism idea that runs all the way through the movie. It's Avatar. It's that weird family friendly language that's for some reason okay because it's a big budget movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: James Cameron
I'm going to commit heresy here. I know. I've done it before on this blog, but I'm going to do it again. I am not the biggest James Cameron fan. I like Terminator, so I don't necessarily hate James Cameron. It's just that the rest of the James Cameron ouvre is mid. Yeah, even Aliens. It's just that he's a special effects guy to me. He's a bit Hallmarky and everything is a bit too fluffy for me in the grand scheme of things. I know, Aliens seems to fight that. But Cameron, for all of his innovations in terms of visuals, kind of lacks anything of bite when it comes to storytelling.
That's a huge swath. I know it completely simplifying things. But I just don't get why people lose their minds for him. I honestly consider Zack Snyder to be the darker version of James Cameron. Both of them are extremely visual storytellers. Everything is about imagery and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I'm a guy who loves nuance. I love something original and I don't think the Avatar movies are the movies to sell that idea. They are very pretty movies. (Although I have some yellow flags about Avatar visually as well...) I have a older friend. He was my high school English teacher. Then he became my boss. I really pray that he doesn't read this blog because I respect the world out of this man. He's getting up there in years and his Facebook (which makes sense) has become very touchy-feely. Maybe it is something that comes with age. Maybe my 40 year old self needs something that dives deep into the human condition and says something uncomfortable about it, but I don't really like fluff. Now, I will say that my boss's politics and James Camerons politics (for the most part, shy of the White Savior narrative) seem to align. But even me, who wants to gripe about the American military complex / violent late stage Capitalism, finds these stories to be so black-and-white that it almost feels absurd to use this as a defense for an argument.
I never got around to rewatching Avatar since this blog was made. I watched the first half of the family edit of Avatar with my kids before my eyes rolled back into my head out of boredom. But I was reminded that Avatar is so lacking nuance. Military is bad (which I don't disagree with, but make them human!) There's this almost pride in being villainous with these characters. Corporations are also bad. Again, this is something that I agree with. But there's borderline cackling from Giovanni Ribisi's character in that movie. If you ever watched Captain Planet, a lot of the same character beats. The indigenous people have that kind of proud nobility that would be seen on Al Momaday paintings. It's kind of a lot of what White people think about indigenous people. Of course, this leads to a lot of co-opting of culture, which is a little bit gross, but done with the best of intention. But let's shift away from the entire franchise and look at The Way of Water.
I wasn't very hopeful for The Way of Water. I'm sorry to go in with expectations. But all of those trailers did nothing for me. I remember the original Avatar fever and left thinking that the movie was fine at best. But midway through a three-hour movie, a movie that I was already disliking, I gave it an active shot. I told myself I gotta stop griping about this movie because I shouldn't want to hate movies. I do like movies and if I was going to make it through the rest of a three-hour movie, I should at least go in with a positive attitude. And there is some watchablility to this movie. But the biggest frustration with this movie is that James Cameron not only didn't learn from any mistakes from the original Avatar; he put the original movie on a pedestal. To James Cameron, the original Avatar is a perfect film. As I've clearly established, it's a very flawed film. (By the way, if you love the original Avatar, keep loving the original Avatar. It's a very fun sci-fi movie that I just happen to dislike.) But the original Avatar, for all of its prettiness, is a movie that is uncomfortably derivative of other tropes.
I need to do the paragraph break here because I should absolutely stress that everything is derivative. Everything borrows or steals. But I am going to say that Cameron's level of borrowing is so boring and safe. The original Avatar stole every White Savior movie. I am going to list Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, and others. But if you want to simplify it into one movie, it's just a live action Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. So much was repeated in that first film that I found it annoying. But sequels like The Way of Water have the opportunity to do something special. I'm going to look at Spider-Man 2 as the perfect example. When a movie is high concept, often the first movie has to focus on setting. That happens. Avatar is a film all about setting and very little about doing anything that is going to confuse an audience more than it needs to. But a sequel doesn't have to worry about setting up rules. As much as people don't like Age of Ultron, it has that nice cushion of getting the concept of the Avengers out of the way. But, I have to remind you, James Cameron really likes the first Avatar movie.
So instead of making the characters deeper, he just wants to show other parts of Pandora. It becomes even more about setting than it does about story. If anything, Cameron repeats the same beats that he does in the first film. He brings back the same villain. He takes Jake Sully and makes him (pun intended) as a fish out of water again. The movie, once again, becomes about discovering a foreign land where Jake isn't accepted, only for him to learn about the ways of a different people before he has to fight Quaritch in the finale against the military complex There's no growth. If anything, I really think that Sully backslides a bit because he's so convinced of his rightness throughout this film. So if the first one copied Ferngully and company, this movie copies Avatar, which is a copy of Ferngully and then adds a little bit of Free Willy and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
There's this element of missing the forest through the trees. (I'm not actually sure that's the saying, but it makes the most sense to me.) James Cameron loves visuals. There's something a bit off that, as a director, he's really concerned more about visuals than really honing that story. I mean, this is me being incredibly dense and awful considering that I consider that directors of animation are valid, visual directors. I consider directors who work closely with cinematographers are amazing visual directors. But honestly, the heavy lifting is done by WETA workshop and all the CGI guys. I think that Cameron might be able to communicate what he wants well. I think that he can give grounding elements and approve or disapprove of things. But when we all gush about James Cameron, he's a guy who points to how pretty things are, but doesn't really tell a good story. And here's the kicker. As amazing as the visuals are in The Way of Water, it still has a really uncanny valley element. I mentioned this when I saw the trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. My friend Pat always gives movies the benefit of the doubt when it comes to visuals, especially when it comes to fantastic concepts. After all, we don't know what swimming blue people would look like. But then Wakanda Forever came out which had, coincidentally enough, swimming blue people and I thought, "Oh, THAT'S what it is supposed to look like." So for all of the impressive visuals, it is still missing that sense of verisimilitude to the whole thing.
But this movie just keeps hitting the beats. This blog, too, keeps hitting all the same beats. I want to talk about Spider before closing up. Because this is a movie that so embraces tropes, this movie has a scene where the biological outsider has to choose between his monstrous biological father and his chosen family. Sure enough, in a desperate attempt for acceptance, he sees through his father's cold exterior and finds the good in him. But as the film progresses, the dad shows his awful true nature and he chooses his adoptive family. We've been here so many times. I don't need to explain this trope beyond this. But usually, these stories have a character like Spider misread a situation. After all, Jake and his family fail to get Spider back, so it can expand a rift between the families. But I'm going to say, Spider should be hostile towards Jake's family, especially Jake. They didn't look for him even for a second. If anything, there wasn't even a discussion about getting Spider back. He was gone and it was a very much, "Oh well" moment. Then Neytiri decides to hold Spider hostage? She cuts him and there's no repercussions? I mean, sure, that could be addressed in one of five sequels on the horizon. But it seems like Spider is this completely lost opportunity for the sake of a third act that is pretty watchable.
I don't like Avatar as a phenomenon. It feels somehow artificial. It somehow knocked Top Gun: Maverick out of the record holding for 2022 and I know one person who saw it in theaters. Sure, anecdotal evidence. But even when this was a film nominated for an Academy Award, I still considered this movie a burden to watch. I knew that I wouldn't have the opportunity to see this in theaters, so I wrote it off. But Avatar movies aren't great. They're kind of pretty, but that's as far as I can give them.
Rated R, primarily for language. It's not like there's a lot of language, but I can just see angsty Christopher Nolan putting in a little bit of smut to make himself feel like a grown up filmmaker. Don't get me wrong. This is a crime drama with its fair share of film noir, but he's just referencing things that he really doesn't need to be referencing. Also, there's some mild violence that is primarily off screen. Still, R.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
The first paragraph of every blog I write seems to be an excuse for why I haven't written this earlier. I watched this movie on Wednesday. It is now Sunday. That seems pretty irresponsible of me. Well, do you know what? I had yet another kid since then. I could say to my wife, "No, don't give birth. I have to write another blog for an audience of two." That would be reasonable, right? What I should be saying is "Thank you for all of the congratulations." No, I don't live in that world. It's amazing that I'm writing this blog with a three-day-old daughter. (Other people are holding her and I'm watching the other kids at the pool. I'm not saying I'm doing a great job, considering that I'm blogging right now.)
Part of me wants to watch and write about every Christopher Nolan film before I go see Oppenheimer. Much to Nolan's chagrin, the odds of me seeing it in the theater are slim. I like Christopher Nolan. He's one of the few auteurs we're dealing with in the 21st Century. (Okay, I could probably fight that with myself if I wanted to, but he definitely is an auteur.) I'm going to say this for him: auteur theory might be his enemy for when it comes to nerds like me. Man, Nolan is really good at what he does. He's so good at what he does that it makes me forgive that he goes to the same well over and over again. I'm dancing too much, aren't I? I'm saying that Christopher Nolan loves messing with temporal narrative so much and you can tell in his first film that this is who he is. He's the guy who refuses to tell the story in the right order. Now, I get it. Outside of his Batman movies, he has what might be a straightforward story that becomes infinitely more complicated by telling the story in a non-traditional way. When I write it this way, it seems dismissing. But Nolan is kind of smart. Nolan loves giving clues. He wants you to be interactive not only with the visuals of a film, but also the story that he's telling. For what ultimately is probably a student film, this is a very pretty movie. I mean, if it's just an independent film, I might write him off a bit. But this feels like one of the most ambitious student films that I've ever seen. (It's the 70 minute runtime that makes me think "student film.")
But as I mentioned earlier, Following has a lot of the trademarks of a film noir. It's a very small cast where people's odd behavior covers up a deeper crime. It's even got a femme fatale. I mean, what else do you need? Listen, as a guy who took a grad class called "Film Noir", I have strong opinions about the presence of film noir in today's cultural marketplace. That opinion? Film noir doesn't really exist organically anymore. It's simply merged itself with the crime drama. One of the key arguments of the class is that film noir doesn't really have a strict definition. It is more of a "you know it when you see it". I can see how Following might be the most appropriate first film for Christopher Nolan because, in the same way that film noir either evolved or de-evolved into the crime drama, Nolan's film have shared DNA with Following. It's almost pure-Nolan. It's not that great, let me establish that. Considering that Nolan would go on to make some of the most important movies that are both Hollywood blockbusters and quasi-respected by cinephiles (for the most part), Following is almost a test run for what we would be seeing later movies. It's smart. It's cinematic. That's what Nolan is known for. I'll even say that, as depressing as Following is, it's also kind of fun at times? I'm not saying "really fun" or anything like that. It's just fun at times.
I wonder. I really wonder. Is Nolan being cheeky with the title? The movie starts off and immediately gives you the meaning of the title, Following. It's quite simple. For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to call him "Bill" because the alias he gives is the only name we get for him. Bill is explaining to someone who we later identify as a policeman that he enjoys following people. He downplays the whole thing as harmless and we know that this quirk is what is going to be the inciting incident for the film. Very film noir. Moving on. But the movie kind of abandons the notion of following without completely ignoring it. The movie becomes about crime and taking away people's sense of security, yet the movie is still called Following. Like, do you think that Nolan thought that the title secretly had a question mark after it? Nolan, per ush, loves making things complicated. So you are watching a story about a guy who surrounds himself with con artists and it takes a minute to figure out everyone's agendas. I'm sure that cheeky little gentleman thought. "You know, it's complicated. Like, Following? You Following? Ha! I'm a clever little lad!"
But what I think that makes Following something a bit better than simply another version of The Usual Suspects is the motivation of the characters. There's something so absurd about the fundamental motivations of the characters that it almost becomes the most realistic film of all time. Listen, if I came up to you and told you that these characters' motivations is that they just want to disrupt peoples' sense of normalcy, you would scoff at that as a notion. But that's something that was indie '90s to the core. And I kind of get it. I mean, this is pre-social media social media. (Sure, Friendster was probably around at the time, but you know what I'm getting at.) It's almost bizarre that such an epic crime spirals out of simply ruining people's sense of security. Yet, it is reflective of the need to be seen. Bill has an almost Taxi Driver Travis Bickle mentality. He sits alone in a room and looks at the world with a scorn reserved for the antisocial. Scorsese's film was a commentary on a society that ignored its introverts and Following is a reminder that this is a problem that hasn't changed, it just looks different. But Bill acts more as a protagonist for us. After all, Bill should be someone who is considered harmless. If it wasn't for Cobb, Bill might just be a creepy guy. Yes, he escalates. But there's something just sad about Bill without Cobb's influence. Sure, there's a chance that Bill might have escalated himself to the level of Cobb, but that's a bit of an ask based on what we see in this film. There's something so relatable to the fact that the motivation of Bill is so stupid, yet comforting. He needs connection without the vulnerability of friendship. I love that this movie is called Following because this all spirals out of something just left of taboo.
I could keep writing, but I don't have a lot to say. It's a 70 minute movie, so how about we make the blog about it short as well. Besides, anything I say from this moment is either obvious or just stretching for time. Following is such a debut film that it's funny to think that this is Christopher Nolan. It's almost like a low budget director was in love with Christopher Nolan and tried to out Nolan Nolan. But that's a fun time, keeping in mind that this filmmaker would be the guy who destroys box offices with every movie he makes.
Rated R and I'm genuinely shocked that something like this doesn't earn an NC-17. Maybe there is no NC-17 for gore because thse are a subculture of movies that take gore to the next level. The violence and horror are aimed for being as disturbing visually as can be imagined. Also, the language transcends most movies in terms of language. Still, for some reason, this happened to sneak in under the R-umbrella.
DIRECTOR: Lee Cronin
I tell myself that I'm not going to watch movies like these. There are movies that are so over-the-top and uncomfortable that they don't seem appealing. Probably back in high school, I would have been all over movies like these. I can imagine this being a movie that I would rewatch and show my friends, probably priding myself on not only tolerating disturbing gore, but laughing at it. I'm an old fart now and I can see that my tastes in gore have changed. But does this mean that I didn't enjoy Evil Dead Rise? Oddly enough, I kind of dug it. I mean, I have to really stress that I don't want to watch this movie ever again. But I did enjoy it.
I feel bad for Lee Cronin. Lee Cronin is in that weird place where he was inspired by the original Evil Dead and all of the disturbing things that Ash went through in the original trilogy. Cronin wouldn't really exist if it wasn't for Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. But there was this one shot that existed for the very few. Raimi and Tapert, along with a handful of other filmmakers, were able to capitalize on a market that needed something like The Evil Dead. Honestly, I was thinking about how things have changed so fundamentally in the past couple of decades that something like Evil Dead Rise just becomes another movie. I feel bad. Cronin made something here that should be lauded as one of the most disturbing horror masterpieces in history. But even me, who was kind of jazzed to hear about another Evil Dead movie, left a movie that really made no mistakes, with a meh attitude. And I realize that Cronin didn't have a chance because streaming has changed things.
I don't want to take anything away from Raimi and Tapert from their original film. The legwork that everyone involved in that movie (yes, including and especially noting Bruce Campbell) is nothing short of mindblowing. But there were all of these outside forces that made The Evil Dead the cult classic that it is. Mind you, there are a hundred benefits to being a cult classic while simultaneously having a million downsides. In terms of lore and cultural impact, being a cult classic is a way to secure a legacy. Sure, you don't make the money you wanted to from the movie, but these movies weren't made to make a billion dollars. Those movies, today, have probably paid for themselves both in home video sales and in job opportunities. But at the time, they just did better than expected, recouping the costs of the production. But living in a post-home video marketplace, something happens that makes cult classics near impossible to appreciate. The Evil Dead made its marks from whispers after it was out of theaters. It was a movie that people would whisper about. One guy had a rough copy on a Betamax that he might pass around. Having seen that movie paralleled the story. A lost story that contained unspeakable evil was discovered and people had to view it to understand. The real film became a meta story mirroring the plot of the movie.
But Lee Cronin's Evil Dead Rise, despite being one of the most upsetting pieces of cinema I've seen in a while, will come and go with the tide. It's all because it is available. The closest that today's audience can get to matching the original Evil Dead is recommending it to friends. But they're also recommending this forbidden film amongst the accessibility to every other upsetting film that is instantly available, including the original Evil Dead. That's kind of depressing. I mean, I'm being a real elder millennial right now, but this might be one of the downsides of streaming. I honestly am getting the vibes that cinema isn't being something precious anymore. While film has had entertainment as one of its purposes, it is becoming something far more disposable. Cronin didn't make a mistake in Evil Dead Rise. I hinted at that earlier. Evil Dead Rise is fundamentally an Evil Dead movie through and through. He manages to find the balance of adding new things to the franchise without divorcing himself from the tenets of the series. It's the perfect balance of new and old and that is impressive. Maybe the tone is a little more intense, but I think that just comes with the fact that this is a big budget movie more than anything else. There's the line from Star Trek: The Next Generation where Picard says you can make no mistakes and still lose. Yeah, that's a lot of what is happening with Evil Dead Rise.
One of the things that Evil Dead Rise made me realize is that Deadites don't really have rules. I think the folks writing this movie also had the same epiphany. In the original trilogy, Ash fights these monsters and a lot of them seem afraid of him. He's a Deadite slayer. Yet, sometimes Deadites just do their own thing. If the movie is done with a Deadite, it stays dead. If the movie wants another scare, the Deadite comes back. I would have to go back and watch carefully, but I think that someone becomes a Deadite by somehow having some kind of blood swap. That's what Evil Dead Rise plays with. But I'm a guy that's all about rules. I want to yell at the screen and tell them what to do from the safety of my home. But Deadites don't have those rules.
I'm going to give the people behind this script props. One of the biggest complaints I have with horror and suspense is when it comes to kids. The movies become about protecting the kids. Adults can die Willy-Nilly. But kids keep surviving. It is meant to accentuate the potential loss. But kids surviving actually takes the edge off the story. But the people behind this movie decided to make the mom the bad guy and surrounded it with almost all kids. Honestly, this is a horror movie where it's mom versus kids. For the sake of grounding the movie in some kind of plausibility, we have a young aunt there. I mean, lo-key spoiler alert: a lot of the kids die. Not the youngest. I suppose that we have to follow that contrivance. The teenagers die some horrible deaths. The little one and the aunt survive. But I mean, they did have to kill some of the kids in this one. This makes me seem like a sadist, wanting this. But I just like the idea that you shouldn't make characters unkillable. If the story is questioning who is going to survive, why even include them?
There's a theme here that I have to unpack. This is a story about a mother being a monster and the children having caused her to be the monster. Per Evil Dead standards, someone has to evoke the beast that causes the horrors to unfold. In this case, Caleb, against the pleading of his sister, opens the door to the undead and mom is the primary antagonist of this movie. Okay, cool. Love it. But Mom isn't abusive. Ellie has recently divorced from her husband and is playing it way too cool considering that trauma that her family has experienced. Now, this could just be a story about a supernatural presence killing a family. Sure, that's what is literally going on. But I like the idea that her kids have placed too much pressure on mom and now she's not the same person anymore. Ellie is weird, even when she's not demon-Ellie. She's a perfectly nice person, but considering that the movie treats itself like a horror movie from moment one, there's always something a little off about Ellie. But if the movie is a metaphor, we have to look at Ellie as a person unable to be a person because of the creatures that made her this way. Ellie, pre-demonizing, is someone who is defined by her solitude. While she is surrounded by family, she seems to be holding up the world by herself. Her sister has neglected her in her time of need and she has three kids who need help constantly. It's not necessarily the Book of the Dead (the new name, I forget) that transforms her. It's the earthquake. It's this element of chaos on a dangerously unstable Jenga tower of stress. As dark as this is, Evil Dead Rise might be a commentary on mental health.
Part of that breakdown comes from the setting of the film. I love that this high rise is the antithesis of the cabin in the woods. I mean, Poltergeist III did it first, but whatever. But Ellie's family living high up in this building that is destined to fall, both metaphorically and literally, at the end of the month, is such a great image for stress. Yeah, we need Ellie to be a literal demon in this movie for it to have a modicum of fun. Then it would just be a story about a woman living in America in a country that loves guns. But this movie feels stressful. While the original movie is about a bunch of kids fleeing responsibility and having a good time, only to have adulthood thrust on them with the possession of their friends, Evil Dead Rise is about my generation and the collapse of whimsy. (Note: there are a few really fun moments that remind me of the original Evil Dead, even though the film is way more intense than normal). Life isn't a fun time at the lake. Life is finding a new house and divorce and kids hating you. This is the horror movie that's a gorefest exploring that life is terrible and it just keeps getting worse. Maybe making Deadites unkillable is a reminder that stress is unkillable. I love the ending monster, the amalgamation of all of the Deadites (mainly because it's just the right level of silly and gross). It's the perfect storm of all of life's problems needing to go into the woodchipper.
It's a bummer that Evil Dead Rise won't have the shelf-life of the original Evil Dead movies. Heck, even the Evil Dead remake didn't have the staying power of the originals. But that seems to be part of the dead that people have made. It's probably easier to make an Evil Dead movie at a major studio today. But it won't be something that transcends cinema. No one is going to talk about this movie given time.
PG-13 for typical superhero stuff. There's a bit more language than your typical Marvel movie (unless it's a Guardians of the Galaxy movie) and less than a typical DC movie (that's probably not based on anything). It gets pretty violent, but oddly less so than Man of Steel. It's just a lot more personal deaths than Man of Steel. Also, Barry himself is pretty crass. It's weird when the main character of your movie tells a decent amount of off-color jokes while not technically being defined as a gross character. It really tries riding that line. Still, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Andy Muschietti
First, I finally saw it. That's probably the biggest win. Secondly, outside of an active voice against Ezra Miller, I don't know how you could hate this movie. The worst thing I can see is not vibing with it or just not loving it. That's pretty much part of me right now. It's not my favorite superhero movie. But my bigger point is that it is fun. Honestly, my kids didn't really want to see this initially. They don't love DC movies. It's not me telling them. I want them to watch everything. But even when it comes to comics, I want them to get into a little bit of everything. But my kids actually really liked The Flash. Sure, my son was massively confused and I can't blame him. I have to say, I left having had one pretty darned good time.
My son's confusion about the movie is completely a sympathetic reaction to the movie. I know a lot about The Flash. I've read comics for as long as I could remember. I watched most of the CW show. I know me some Flash. Considering that this is the first Flash movie, they really cut deep into the lore of The Flash. I'm going to get pretty spoilery up-front, so please excuse me. On the grand scale of things, one of the more recent massive Flash storylines was "Flashpoint". The premise of Flashpoint was that Barry Allen was going to undo the murder of his mother. In the comics, Eobard Thawn, the Reverse Flash, decided to change Barry's origin by framing Barry's father for her murder when he --in fact --murdered her to tortrue Barry. There's a lot of time-travel stuff going on here. Barry tries to undo that action by time travelling himself, causing an odd timeline where the DCU is a nightmare. It doesn't really explain how Barry undoing Thawne's act causes Aquaman and Atlantis to go to war, or causes Thomas Wayne to become Batman, or how the government would capture Superman as a young man. But it happens.
The Flash is very much "Flashpoint". I don't care if it does different beats than the comic does. It would make more sense that The Flash would address Man of Steel sooner than any new storylines from the comic. I'm even going to give the movie points for trying to explain the changes to the timeline better than the comic did. (I get a secret joy that the character that explains timeline variations is Michael Keaton's Batman, despite the fact that Michael Keaton explained to journalists that he has no idea what is going on in this movie.) But I honestly pity any new audience member having to come in and see The Flash. Sure, you get get behind the jokes and the action sequences, so it's not like there's nothing enjoyable for the uninitiated. But there's a lot of things you have to accept about the plot the second you buy a ticket to this movie. If time travel movies aren't confusing enough, this one gets even weirder. Do you know the thing that is kind of just skipped over? We're all just expected to understand that Barry can time travel. That's such a thing that every recent adaptation of this character loves to touch upon. It's something that shouldn't really happen. (I mean, look at "Crisis on Infinite Earths".)
But I'll also say that the complexity that makes The Flash so watchable is the same thing that makes me love Back to the Future Part II. There's something incredibly easy about citing Back to the Future in a time travel movie, by the way. Talking about how small changes affect big changes makes The Flash something very different than what the trailers looked like. Honestly, the trailers did nothing for me. It looked like a CGI explosion nightmare. While there are a ton of explosions in this movie and more CGI nightmares than I can shake a stick at, I'm going to give the movie massive props for giving the film a ton of character and plot points because that's the stuff that will stick out for me. I don't care about digital characters punching each other. I care about Barry learning what it means to be a hero.
One of the things that the DCeU has done to Barry (which is not a complaint, just an observation) is that he seems like the intern of the Justice League. The movie calls him "the janitor", which is just a confirmation. The Justice League and the Avengers, while meant to be parallel concepts, are different in the sense that any League member seems like a top tier superhero while the Avengers just has a lot of temporary members. Anyway, no one seems to respect Barry because he's frankly a lot. The other movies annoyed me with Barry, even though I wanted the movies to have a sense of humor. But this is the movie that made Barry's neurodivergence something real and gave us time to understand who Barry is. Again, the big win for The Flash is giving us the chance to understand characters who weren't exactly deep before.
It's the juxtaposition between the two Barries that makes the character come alive. Barry actively hates himself. With The Flash, that dislike makes a lot of sense. Barry, like far too many superheroes, is a character defined by tragedy. Yes, Young Barry is actively annoying. He hasn't had that tragedy. He's just the right age for the greatest sense of entitlement. But the point is that OG Barry both hates himself and is jealous of people who have normal lives. I mean, look at the disdain that Barry has for the barista covering for his favorite employee. He almost has that "nice guy" syndrome where he thinks that he's the common man when he almost has a disdain for anyone who isn't a superhero in this movie. I will stress: OG Barry is the likable protagonist in this movie. We have Young Barry in the movie to remind us that Barry could have been way worse than what we've been getting out of these movies. And it is characters like Young Barry that stop OG Barry from enjoying the idea that Barry's (Note: I had to stop writing and now I'm picking this up days later. My train of thought was...?) powers were something devoid of consequence. I mean, the reason that the people who like this movie like this movie is because it is a story that focuses on Barry's trauma and his love of family. It's why that final scene with Barry's mom is so touching.
I do have some questions about that scene with Barry's mom. I know a lot of people really liked that scene. It's vulnerable and it's a touching end to what ultimately could have been a movie about superheroes punching each other with a little bit of time travel. Okay. That's fine. There's a heavy implication that Barry's mom knew that she was hugging adult Barry there. I mean, the camera stresses that Barry's disguise has all of the price tags in that moment. Now, there's supposed to be this thin chance that Barry's mom was just hugging a stranger who needed a hug. That scene doesn't read that way. Instead, Barry's mom became really cool with the notion that time travel was not only possible, but that her adult son felt the need to visit her just to cry on her shoulder. There's a lot to accept in that moment and it's just part of her life. Anyway, I love the scene. But I'm also very much like...really?
I desperately want this blog to be done because my daughter is begging to play outside right now and I can't ignore that. I want to talk about Michael Keaton as Batman. I could talk about Sasha Calle as well, but I have nothing to say outside of the fact that I liked her way more than I thought I would, but her character is a bit underdeveloped and thankless. But what I really like about The Flash is that this is the first Michael Keaton movie where he's Batman where I finally understand a little bit about what his Batman is. I don't hate Batman or Batman Returns. I actually kind of like both movies. Part of me loves Batman Returns. But as I mentioned in my blog about Batman, it is too much about atmosphere and not enough about character. Andy Muschietti might be the first guy to figure out his Bruce Wayne / Batman is. I love that. It's weird, because I don't think we'll ever have a proper continuation of this story, even if we get a sequel. That Clooney thing was a major get, right?
Finally, I don't get the need to swear up and down the multiverse with this movie. It feels largely unearned. Spider-Man: No Way Home completely stuck the landing with an earned multiverse. This feels like winks and nods that don't make a ton of sense. Also, Nicholas Cage as Superman is the most intense inside baseball fan service that, in no way, feels like it should exist outside of the concept of "we could do it." How many more Supermen were there that actually should have gotten nods beyond "Hey, remember that Nicholas Cage was almost Superman?"
Anyway, the movie is more fun than I thought it would be. Barry, like Jasmine from Aladdin, is simulatenously a genius and an idiot somehow. But who cares? It's way more fun than people care to admit. Yeah, the CG is garbage and the explanation for why the effects are so bad is terrible. But I don't care. The Flash is mostly a solid film that just came out too late and in the wake of Ezra Miller. It's weird that they haven't been fired immediately, but that doesn't affect the quality of the film as is.
PG-13. There's a slight shift in objectionable content. The Dial of Destiny is the least scary and gory of the bunch. I will say, it also has the most on-screen casual death, which is almost more upsetting in other ways. Instead of someone's face melting off or ants eating a dude whole, regular people die from gun violence. Do you see where I'm going with this? It's almost more upsetting, but grounded despite being an Indiana Jones movie. There's also the regular language that these movies share.
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
My daughter doesn't want to do her summer math league problems. I don't want to write. We're going to see who has the greater willpower as we sit next to each other to do something that we don't want to do. I've been prepping my kids for Indiana Jones and the DIal of Destiny. I think I've tried getting them on the Indy train for years now. But my kids don't often have the attention spans for whole movies. I'll give them credit. For all of their fidgeting, they made it through every movie. That must mean that they kinda sorta liked these movies.
I'm almost overwhelmed with thoughts. Part of me thought that this was the quintessential Indiana Jones film. Part of me was kind of bored. I think that the process of writing this might get me exactly where I need to be to find out what I thought about it. I remember with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that it was a story about an elderly Indiana Jones going out on one last adventure. I mean, context at the time was massive. There was old man Harrison Ford coming back to punch bad guys and dig up treasure? Surely, that was a story about aging. After all, Indy becomes a dad and is about to pass the torch to the next generation. Then Shia LaBoeuf decides to slag off the movie and get booted from the franchise. But knowing that there was going to be a real last movie (let's get back to that later), it makes this the movie about being old without saying that this is the movie about being old. Sure, Indy has a retirement and he has annoying neighbors who call him "Mr. Jones" as he stands outside in his underwear with a baseball bat. But the movie (as Harrison Ford has stated in interviews) doesn't need to remind us that Indy is old. The only thing is that, in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it made me think that Indy might have been losing a step in his action. Boy, Dial of Destiny really reminds me that 80-year-old men aren't exactly ready to be punching Nazis as hard as he used to.
It's not that this isn't an action movie and Harrison Ford definitely has action sequences. But they're all car sequences. There's a great line about Indy has been shot nine times and that he's full of all kinds of pins and that his spine is just a hot mess and I needed that line. But any time there needed to be an old man Indy action sequence, a vehicle with a stunt driver shows up. This where my split is. It was almost silly how Crystal Skull Indy was trying to (pun intended) keep up with the Joneses. But this is the Indy who is hesitant to punch his way out of a problem. Old Man Indy is constantly captured by guys who have the leg up on him. I mean, if there was a car or a horse or a boat nearby, Indy would hold his own. But this is a guy who is world-weary and incapable of doing stuff that young man Indy would do on a dime. It makes sense that the movie gives us a 16-minute reminder of what Indiana Jones used to be like so we wouldn't feel cheated out of a movie where Indy is doing all kinds of daring do. CGI is fun, isn't it? (Note: My only real problem with the slightly uncanny valley de-aging, which I think is B+ impressive, is that the voice doesn't match. Harrison Ford's voice has aged more than he has.) But it's fun. It's not like the movie doesn't give us some good ol' fashioned Nazi punching. I mean, it gives us Helena Shaw.
Helena Shaw is the character that Mutt Williams was supposed to be. Geez, Shia LaBoeuf, why are you so vocal against something that a lot of people worked really hard on? I mean, I'm a guy with a blog (who has become more forgiving with that movie each time I watch it). You worked along side people and you slagged off the movie? Anyway, Phoebe Waller-Bridge gets it. My goodness, she gets the charisma that this movie was supposed to have. She's not perfect, which is what was part of Mutt's character. But she's also not whiny. She's going through stuff. That's what movies are supposed to do. They put characters through stuff. But Helena is aware of the tone of Indiana Jones films and just lives up to it. She fills in the gaps that an aging Harrison Ford can't really live up to. Now, it feels like I'm being hard on Harrison Ford. In no way am I criticizing Harrison Ford. That dude would shame me into a corner if I said nice things about him, let alone mean things. I'm happy to see Indy up on that screen, even if things have to move a little slower to get there. I'm just saying that having Helena and Henry as backup (or, in this case, protagonists. More on that in a minute). They fill in so many necessary gaps for the movie to be fun. Like, Helena straight up knocks out Indy. She scales a moving plane. She's the new Indy, right? Also, I never thought as of Phoebe Waller-Bridge as an action hero. I'm straight up impressed by her and might start Fleabag tonight.
But it might be Helena and Henry's movie. I know the movie focuses on Indiana Jones, but from an outside perspective, it might only be because we're familiar with the two of them. The way that Raiders is structured is that people come to Indy to tell him to do this thing that he knows a lot about. The same happens in Last Crusade. But in the other ones, Indiana Jones is on the case. But when he gets a case, he usually jumps on that idea. He packs up his stuff and goes on an adventure. One of the core concepts of this movie is that he wants nothing to do with Archemedies's Dial. This is a burden on him. He rejects the call and is punished for it. There's a weird side effect for this: it makes Indy a secondary character in his own film. Helena has more to do with the dial than Indy does. From Indy's perspective, the dial has always been a representation of how obsession can destroy someone. It harkens back to Indy's view of the grail and how it destroyed his father. But with Bas, his friend actually loses all his sense of perspective when studying this dial. Shifting the story from Indiana Jones, if it was about Helena, this is a story of how she is trying to rebel against her father in a search for love by selling the dial. It's only through meeting someone who serves as a Luke Skywalker role in the sequel trilogy that she can remember her appreciation for what her father saw in history before losing his mind. It allows her to connect to two father figures in a small amount of time.
Can I state something may be blasphemy? Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny might have my favorite Indiana Jones third act. It's funny, because Indiana Jones movies have always had this religious element to them that Dial of Destiny doesn't offer. But I am almost more cool with it. Indiana Jones has always been way too much of a skeptic considering what he has seen in the past. This is the first movie that addresses that skepticism and thank you for that, James Mangold. But each Indiana Jones movie has a moment where Indy must accept that his skepticism was misplaced. With Raiders, he knows to close his eyes as the Ark of the Covenant is opened. With Temple of Doom, he knows that someone can be hypnotized, albeit temporarily by stones. Lost Crusade, he has to heal his father's bullet wound with the cup of Christ. Crystal Skull, the spaceship takes off. Okay. These are moments where the curtain is raised for a second. He remains a skeptic because he chooses to. But the third act of Dial of Destiny takes him back to 212 BCE. And it hangs out there. It doesn't just give us an image from a distance. Indiana Jones talks to Archimedes. It's everything that he loves and he is seduced by the Macguffin for the first time. Every time, he can give it up. The Dial is something that actually grants him a wish that he oh-so-desperately holds onto. He's alone. He's got no one. He's dying of a bullet wound. Who wouldn't want to take this once in a lifetime chance? Yeah, I kind of love that as an ending for Indiana Jones. But that's almost against the message of the film.
After all, Indy's big problem is that he doesn't realize how much of an impact he has made on the people around him. Despite Helena's frustration with Indy's aloofness all through her childhood, there's a reason that she still saves him even though he is directly in conflict with her. And that Marion bit. I've never seen a more necessary cameo for a film. My goodness, that cameo sticks the landing so hard. It's central to the story. If this is a story about aging, part of aging is being alone in the world. I don't know why Indy isn't the associate dean anymore. But something happened in his life that has perverted everything he's loved. Because he doesn't have anyone telling him that he's a good man, he believes that he's a waste of space. I don't like Indiana Jones drinking, by the way. But that's part of his character, especially in this one. So, as much as I want him hanging out with history, I don't know. I think the ending is the one that the movie needed. The thing is, it's not a guaranteed end. Everything I've read said that this is the definitive end of Indiana Jones. But the Marion ending keeps the door open for yet another one. Like, I could write one right now. I really could. (Okay, I don't want to and it's pretty much delusions of grandeur to think that I could write an Indiana Jones script on a dime.) But technically this story could keep going. I mean, I want a series of Helena Shaw movies, but whatever.
Can I dork out about one thing though? I know why they didn't do this, but there's a bit of a lost opportunity. Indiana Jones is in 212 BC and he meets Archimedes. Cool. Love it. Archimedes is in the middle of building the Macguffin for the movie. Helena knocks him out, worrying that Indiana Jones can't die alone in the past and that he would screw up history. Cool. Love it. She knocks him out and flies him back to the future. But before flying him back to the future, she can't have Archimedes put a little code on the dial that Indy would discover. After all, she knows that her father is going to be the foremost expert on the dial. She can't put something warning Mutt not to go to Vietnam? I mean, that's all within the realm of the story, right? It's such a specific message that only Indy and Bas would get. Sure, they wouldn't bring back Shia LaBoeuf. I'm just saying it's an ending.
So what's my take away? I think I'm in the same place I was at the beginning of this blog: I absolutely loved the movie and was also kind of bored at the same time. It's absolutely quintessential Indiana Jones. But it's a character who is known for risking life and limb on a dime; a guy who punches before asking questions. And he's an old man. It's a great movie. I mean, Picard season three pulled the same card and won. It's just that I wanted Indy as a more central character in his own film.
Rated PG-13 for being generally edgy. We all knew Superman hypothetically could be violent, but it never really seemed to be about violence until Man of Steel. There's mass death in such a grand scale that your brain has to shut down how many people are dying in a matter of seconds. It's one thing when Krypton blows up because that's a natural disaster. It's different when super beings just rip apart cities on an unfathomable scale. Also, this is infamously where Superman has to kill a dude with his bare hands. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
Okay, let's talk about how life is full of disappointments. The original plan: I was going to be at a family event for Fathers' Day and I knew that I wouldn't be able to go see The Flash. It's not that I was super jazzed to see The Flash. I think I would have liked to just gone to see a big-budget summer blockbuster in the theater. But because it was a get-together, I wasn't going to be the dad who said, "This dad wants to see The Flash." Then Fathers' Day was well over and I kept asking my kids if they wanted to see The Flash. They said "No." Oh. Okay. Well, I'll go by myself. Maybe I'll catch up on the DCeU and remind myself of the movies I didn't exactly love. But every time I got the kids into bed,it was too late to see The Flash. So now I just backlogged Man of Steel, a movie I infamously hated for nothing. Also, I was told I couldn't see Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny until I got the invite from my in-laws. ::cue fan fare in a minor key::
Since 2013, I've held Man of Steel in a specific spot: the worst movie ever. I saw it for my second Fathers' Day and it was such an incredible disappointment. The ensuing years would see Man of Steel as the backbone of what would be referred to as fans as the Snyderverse. Snyderverse fans were --and still are --the worst of the fandoms. Congrats, Rick and Morty fans, you've been promoted to second worst. (Maybe that's a demotion.) They tended to lean pretty far right and were toxic online and it only cemented my feelings about how bad Man of Steel was. In my mind, this movie reached insane levels of hate from me, but that might have just been the backlash that the fans had created. I decided that I needed to give Man of Steel another shake, if for no other reason than to remember the detail of the villain's plot that is apparently in The Flash, a movie that I'll never be able to see.
I'm going to make a lot of confessions here. I'm a bit too close to Superman. I loved Superman. To a certain extent, I really still do. A lot of that comes from Christopher Reeves' Superman. Honestly, I think I watch Superman: The Movie once a year. Yes, it's a bit corny in 2023, but not so much that we don't see a lot of the DNA of the modern superhero film here. It's epic and fun. But most of all, Reeves's Superman loved humanity. I argued once that I would sooner believe that Superman's ability to inspire humanity to be its best self was more important to the character than flying or super strength. Superman was inherently good. So when I watched Man of Steel that first time, I didn't get any of that. I'm not saying it isn't there. A second viewing allowed me to watch the movie with lowered expectations so I noticed that Clark is trying his best to inspire. He's just not very good at it. Or --in reality --he's great at it because he can do very little and people are looking to him for inspiration. I hope I come back and elaborate on that because there's a point to be made there.
If I'm going to be as clear as I can about this movie, it's way better than I remember it. But that being said, it is still a pretty terrible movie. I had propped this movie up to be the worst film of the century and it's just not good. There are things in it that are good, even kind of great. But for all the good / great stuff, there's a lot of stuff that is so cringy and terrible that it does spoil the movie as a whole. I'm sorry to say, Snyderverse folks, but it is typical of Zack Snyder as a filmmaker. He's not an idiot. I don't think that's the thing. If anything, there's a lot of smart stuff happening from Snyder as a filmmaker. It's just that he keeps holding properties with such a sense of "I could do this better" that he forgets to respect the property to begin with. Now, this brings up a complex debate that Snyderverse fans have probably been fighting for a while. It is the role of the artist (in this case, Zack Snyder) to not be beholden to source material. Every artist should approach a concept fresh. (Sure, there's also the idea that great artists steal, but let's save the subjective stuff for another day.) Zack Snyder doesn't really seem to think highly of people. Since Man of Steel, I've kind of joined him in that attitude. But the difference between Snyder and me is that I want to believe that we were redeemable. Snyder views people as sheep and monsters. There are a few good people, but the rest is just looking out for themselves. There are moments where individuals will do the right thing, like when Lombard chips in to save a trapped co-worker. But most are just screaming "Help me" and that's the role of Superman in Man of Steel.
I think I've written about this a lot. It's actually going to hurt to give Man of Steel not an abysmal review because it's been my base line for "as bad as it got" for a long time. But Superman is fundamentally a story of fathers and sons. Kal-El / Clark Kent / Superman is a guy who has two very different fathers. Jor-El, his biological father, is the story about intellect. He is a good father who has taught his son that every problem that Superman will encounter has an intellectual answer. (I'm talking about the comics and Reeves's incarnation.) After all, he's a scientist who failed to convince the society around them of their self-destructive ignorance. He's God the Father in this allegory. Jonathan Kent is a man of the people. He has worked with his hands. He doesn't scream "intellectual." Instead, he is a man wise in how people work. He is tasked with the role of taking care of God, despite being an above average fragile man. (He's got a bum ticker.) While he never wants Clark to fight, he understands some problems need a good ol' fashioned sock-in-the-nose. Never killing, but disarming. Snyder inverts this dynamic. Jor-El is a guy who, despite being a scientist who has never been in a fight before, disables Zod's elite squad single handed, jumps off a building onto a Kryptonian dragon pet and breaks into places stealing codexes. Jonathan Kent is the isolationist that Jor-El fought against. He's a dad who has taken his responsibility to protect God to an extremist place: people might have to die to protect his faith. The large swings are the same: Kal-El learns that there is science out there and Clark learns that he has to wait to help people. Listen, Man of Steel gets him to the place he's supposed to get to, but I don't quite know how.
As much as I criticize Jor-El for being an action hero, I'm more weirded out by Jonathan Kent's very muddy message. I always think that Jonathan Kent should be the protector of the most powerful man on Earth. No problem there. But Cosner's Jonathan Kent really muddles the whole "You were brought here for a reason." He teases it, to be sure. But there's a reason that Clark Kent is working on a crabbing ship. He has no clear goal. He's kind of taught to look after himself. At all costs, Clark Kent should put his own needs first. From an outside perspective, we might be able to glean that Jonathan knew that Clark would end up saving people. But think about how confused Clark would have been. Clark allows his dad to die for the sake of a dog. This is me nitpicking, but a tornado is the perfect time for Clark to do bananas things without anyone questioning him. Clark could fly around and just claimed that he was thrown around a bit. Jonathan sacrificing himself in that moment is the biggest question mark moment of the film and that's something that is forever imprinted on him. It's a choice that does not work.
But even when Clark does use his power, it's almost like Snyder is trying to say that Jonathan Kent is right. Let's talk about the message of Pete Ross. Poor Pete Ross as an abstract concept. Pete Ross got done dirty in this movie. I mean, he's the personification of people's stupidity in Man of Steel. Pete is a bully in this one, which is odd. But Pete is saved by Clark. Instead of Clark inspiring him with his act of sacrifice, Pete and his mom are the one's who have to make a thing of it. Yeah, it may be more accurate to what people do nowadays. But that's such a miserable take on life, isn't it? People will always be terrible and Superman inspiring people to be the best versions of themselves is kind of a waste according to this movie.
It's also real weird that people love Superman by the end of this movie. By the beginning of the next film, there's a statue of him (and also he fights Doomsday, so there's that). All of the horrible things that happen to Metropolis come from Superman hiding out on Earth. Listen, there's a story where this can happen. But Zack Snyder is reflective of a lot of culture: people want Superman to unleash his full punching power. When people love the Star Wars prequels, it often comes down to rad lightsaber fights. People complained that Brandon Routh's Superman Returns was no good because he didn't punch anybody. But if you want to see Superman unleash, there needs to be an established Superman before that point. From any citizen's perspective, Superman is responsible for people getting obliterated left and right. Snyder tends to lean into "what's cool" in his films. Everything's about rad shots and extreme stuff (while, admittedly, knowing how to light and shoot something). But I don't view Superman as a hero by the end of the movie. I mean, I have the benefit of having the camera following him at moments of self-sacrifice. But no one else saw those moments. The people who witnessed Superman getting wailed upon are dead because everything around that got destroyed.
I'm getting real tired of writing this because I'm just complaining. My last complaint is more of an observation than anything. Superman is really a tale of three people: Ur-Clark Kent before discovering the truth about his past, Clark Kent as a disguise, and Superman. I'd like to argue that Man of Steel is a movie only about Ur-Clark Kent. He's not really Disguise-Clark or Superman in this movie. He's the same personality at the beginning as he is the end. He's a reactionary person. He's trying to figure out who he is. Listen, Smallville made a meal out of this version of Clark. But we'll never really get Clark-as-disguise because Lois knows who Clark is before Clark knows who Clark is. This is all telling of a bunch of stuff.
Zack Snyder never really liked Superman. He liked a lot of the stuff. But he thought the Lois and Clark stuff was dumb. He hated the boy scout. He thought that humanity was way worse than anything aspirational achieved by the DC comics or the Donner Superman. He liked superpowered punches people surviving explosions and buildings falling. I'm going to guess that Rebel Moon is going to be more of a criticism of Star Wars than it will be anything resembling Star Wars. A lot of poeple have made great criticisms of this character and done it well. But the smart thing is that they didn't call it "Superman". Snyder totally should have made a Man of Steel that wasn't DC licensed. That would have destroyed. It's just that this seems like it kind of hates the character a bit.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.