Tuesday, July 28, 2015

RECAP: Hannibal 3x08 - Where Did the Time Go?

Quick reminder that we have Kyla Furey of Feedback Force doing weekly Hannibal recaps for us right now because she is awesome.

This is the first episode of Hannibal in a long time (maybe ever) that left me feeling unsatisfied, uncertain, and - dare I even say it - disappointed.

It’s a shame, really, because this episode has a lot to recommend it. It’s got an absolutely wonderful and intriguing first performance by Richard Armitage as Francis Dolarhyde, the Red Dragon. It’s got one of the most interesting and disturbing crime scene re-creations in a long time* (although that might just in part be contrast from not having seen one in so long), and it had the smile-inducing return of Team Sassy Science with Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams (Price and Zeller, respectively).

What bothered me most of all about this episode I think was the lost time. The bulk of the episode takes place three years after the previous episode, and a lot has changed since we last left Hannibal in police custody in Will’s driveway. In broad strokes, here’s the episode:

Hannibal’s in jail, with Alanna and Chilton as his nominal keepers. He seems only vaguely interested in them, more bored than anything else. Alanna, at least, seems very aware of the danger he could still potentially pose. Chilton is, well, Chilton.

Meanwhile, a series of gruesome murders have begun and Jack Crawford has once again reached out to Will Graham to help solve them. Will has been away from the business for three years and has found and married (or is at least living with) a lovely woman named Molly and her son and all the dogs. He comes when Jack calls, but very reluctantly.

Unfortunately, his efforts and the combined forces of Will, Jack, and Team Sassy Science are pulling up nothing of use, and so Will is forced to re-visit Hannibal in order to regain the mindset he needs to really get into the brain of this killer.

That’s all that technically happens in this episode; it literally ends on the start of the scene re-uniting Will and Hannibal. There’s a lot of surreal character-defining sequences with Richard Armitage that are amazing and animalistic and truly bizarre in some instances** and really give a strong sense that “Oh, this guy is straight-up crazy.” But those are just mood scenes that give us very little actual information about the man behind the Red Dragon (or the “Tooth Fairy,” as the media apparently calls him).

It took me a while to pinpoint what I didn’t like about the episode. After all, I didn’t have a problem with things not happening in the early part of the season when it was all arch, dream-like emotions and lovely European landscapes. No, I think what really bothered me was, as I said, the lost time.***

There is a very strong implication in this episode that people have changed. Hannibal is different - he is more withdrawn, less arch. Will is certainly different, given that he’s apparently having trouble coming to grips with the psychotic mindset the way he used to. Not to mention, you know, the whole “family” thing that he’s finally apparently achieved.

But my question is, how did we get to this point? What happened in those three years? This show has always been so on-point with its emotional arcs, so driven in terms of really letting us feel the characters. It seems crazy that so much emotional character development just happened off-screen, and we’ve gotten not an inkling of it.

When we last saw Will, he was psychotic and unstable enough not only to follow Hannibal to his own death, but to willingly and randomly (okay, not entirely randomly, but still) bite off a piece of a man’s face. 

How the hell did he get from there to the point where he was stable enough for a family? Where he is far enough removed from death and violence that he can’t readily summon it anymore? What even is his current mindset? Was the last time we saw him his rock-bottom, or did he have further depression to spiral into without Hannibal before he could start to recover? We see into him so much less this episode than in any other since maybe the first season.

And what about Hannibal? How does he feel about being in prison? What was his emotional journey like since his capture? Is he really bored, or just waiting? Is he angry? Was he, in the beginning? Does he miss Will? Or has he come to terms with not seeing Will? Where is his head at?

Again, so much of this show is usually spot on with the character emotions that I feel completely adrift after this episode. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be feeling, which has never happened to me before with this show. I don’t know what any of the characters are feeling, which is unheard of.

I really think the show needed another episode between the last one and this one. Maybe we could’ve pruned some space out of the tone-setting early episodes of the season and placed it here. I want to see Hannibal’s descent into the darkness of captivity as paralleled with Will’s journey back out of it. I want to see Will meet Molly, and figure out who he has to be around her to manage this concept of “family.” I want to see Hannibal play with the press, and then get bored of it. I want to see Jack have the option to approach Will and decide against it. I want to see Will intentionally distancing himself from anything crime- or violence-related. I want to see Hannibal pining after Will in prison.

For heaven’s sake, the first half of this season was a drawn-out, tension-filled five episodes before Will and Hannibal even saw each other again, and that was after an absence from each other of only a few months. And now, when they haven’t seen each other for literally years, we get basically a single scene of Will saying, “Well, I guess it’s time for me to see Hannibal again,” and boom, there he is?**** It just seems so abrupt, so unrelated to everything this show has been so far.

My hope is that we’ll get part of this emotional back-story as flashbacks as we go further into the season, but I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s not where the show intends to go. I know this show’s days have always been numbered and they were really in a rush to get to the Red Dragon stuff, but I really think you could have had, if not a whole ‘nother half-season, then at least an episode or two of how the time apart changed Will and Hannibal to help ground us in the now, and make this reunion truly mean something.

* My favorite part of this is that when Will enters the scene, his flashlight becomes a “window to the past” (as Bryan Fuller put it) that allows him to see the fresh crime scene in little circular splashes of light that disappear as the flashlight swings away.

** My favorite part of his sequences was the scene where his head becomes a film projector, wrapped up in old celluloid like bandages and projecting light from his eyes and mouth.

*** That and, I’m sorry to say, Molly. Or at least her actress. This isn’t a crazy shipper Hannigram thing; I really want to like Molly. I think Will needs something healthy for him, at least for a while. (Plus anyone who thinks that someone else can fill the spot in Will that Hannibal fills is just kidding themselves.) I just don’t think the actress has really got the timing of this show down. All of her lines felt really rushed to me; she didn’t give them the time to breathe and settle that the dialogue on this show is famous for and really requires at this point. Hopefully we’ll see more of her that will change my mind.

**** I guess technically we get a letter from Hannibal earlier, but again I have so little idea of what either of them are thinking surrounding that letter that it almost doesn’t even count.

Kyla Furey is an independent game designer and writer. She is also one of the hosts of the game-analysis podcast, Feedback Force, and hosts a weekly Saturday night game livestream on Twitch TV. She enjoys the surreal and the moody in her media, hence her great love of NBC’s Hannibal. You can follow her on Twitter @Kyla_Go where she livetweets Hannibal on Thursdays at 10pm Pacific, following which, she posts delirious stream-of-consciousness reaction videos on YouTube.

Think of the Children! Tuesday: Is 'Dog with a Blog' Dadaist?

Okay, for those of you who come here for my brilliant and profound considerations of popular culture, which I assume is clearly the main reason people visit this site, then you probably want to sit this one out.* I have no profundity today. Nope. I have no logical thoughts whatsoever. Today's post can literally be summed up by a shot of my face skewed up in confusion because all I have to say is "What. WHAT? Wat."

This deep and meaningful questioning of, well, everything, is because last Friday night, curled up on my very comfortable couch for some post-GREs couch potato-ing, I stumbled across a show that broke me. I mean that very really. I watched this entire episode of what I can only assume is a real show that people really watch and pay for and I feel like something inside me died. That show was Dog with a Blog and I have no idea what happened. But I think I just discovered a secret cache of dadaist philosophy on children's television.

To back up, I have done absolutely no research into this show. I didn't go and watch more episodes to get a better idea of if this particular one was representative of the show as a whole, I'm afraid to find out how long it's been on the air, and frankly the concept of looking it up on IMDB horrifies me, so we're really flying blind here. But this is what happened.

First I was lulled into a false sense of security by finding a rerun of an episode of Gravity Falls playing on the Disney Channel. Gravity Falls is a legitimately good show that I will definitely talk about someday for reals, so my barriers were down. I was enjoying myself. Then the episode ended and the network proceeded on to the next show. That show was Dog with a Blog and I was totally going to turn it off. Only I didn't.

I didn't turn it off because from the first second I genuinely couldn't believe that this was a real show really on television. 

It's like how when I first saw a trailer for Jack and Jill, that disastrously terrible Adam Sandler movie where he played his own twin sister, I was sure it was a prank. A fake trailer. A movie that didn't actually exist because no one is stupid enough to pay for it. Only it is a real movie that really does exist and that you really shouldn't watch, and this show is real too. 

The premise of Dog with a Blog, as far as I can tell which is not very far, is this: there's a dog who can talk. His name is Stan. He is apparently married to another dog and they have two little puppies together. The puppies are really stupid but can also talk. Stan and his dog family live with a human family. This human family does not know that Stan can talk and also that he runs a semi-successful website, with the exception of their teenage daughter, Avery.

I did not gather from this one episode why Stan can talk or if every animal in this world can talk and only Stan went public or if there was magic involved or if Stan is actually an alien... We just have to go with it. Stan is an obnoxious freaking dog that can talk and the teenage daughter is the only one to know. Maybe? At least that's what this episode made it seem like.

She's the only one who knows because literally everyone else in the family is painfully stupid. The parents are the kind of idiots you see most often on kid sitcoms like this, but who seem to be too moronic to actually function in society. I mean, we are told that they hold down jobs, but I do not believe it.

The other children, an older teenage son and a younger preteen daughter, are also stupid, but with slight variations. The son is stupid and obsessed with girls. The daughter is stupid and obsessed with fashion. I hope you're managing to remember all of this riveting character development.

The only member of the family who can tie her own shoelaces seems to be Avery, the daughter who knows about the talking dog, and her life mostly revolves around her friends. Or at least it does in this one episode. Her friends are a sitcom-only group of motley misfits. One is a supervillain-esque inventor who speaks in an affected British accent, one is an angry goth, and one is a sunny airhead whose entire personality appears to be "stupid". Avery meanwhile is very smart and nerdy and "quirky". So it's clear to see why these people are friends.

That's the setup of the show. I think. Stan the dog does things and the family does things and I guess we're supposed to laugh? But personally I spent the entire episode I watched marveling at the sheer dadaist surrealism of the show. You think I'm kidding? I genuinely could use this episode as an example of how the amplification of sitcom tropes creates a story in which humor is abstracted past the point of being funny, the surrealism of the story becomes almost Dali-esque, and NOTHING MEANS ANYTHING ANYMORE.

I meant it when I said that this show broke me.

The episode I watched, which I have not looked up the title for because I don't want to know, had three main storylines. First, Stan the dog tries to teach his puppies how to play pranks on people using a soundboard app on his iPad. Why the dog has an iPad we are not told. Second, Avery discovers that her supervillain friend and her goth friend are dating and worries about group dynamics. Third, the father has an extra ticket to a geology exhibit at the museum he supposedly works at and tries to figure out how to trick his stupid family into going with him.

In the first plotline, which I think is supposed to be funny, the father dog spends the whole episode playing "pranks" on the humans of the house trying to teach them what practical jokes are. So he uses the soundboard app to record them talking and then remix the words to be weird and crazy and "funny". The puppies do not understand until they finally do and prank their father. The end of this horrible horrible storyline. 

It's horrible, for the record, because the talking dogs are incredibly obnoxious. Stan is smug and downright smarmy, like a fedora-bro you just want to punch, while the puppies are so "cute" it makes you want to hurl. They call him "dada". Ugh. If only that were a reference to dadaism and Russian futurism. If only...

The Avery plotline is like a whole season worth of drama on another show piled into one twenty minute episode. First the boy and girl reveal that they are dating and that they're worried it will hurt group dynamics. Then they date and do hurt group dynamics. Then they break up. Then their two other friends decide to get them back together because it was sad that they broke up. 

But they're too stubborn to apologize to each other. Then everyone is transported to a medieval faire. Then the friends use the soundboard app and Stan the magical dog to trick their buddies into apologizing and reconciling. Then the two lovers kiss. While wearing gigantic costume masks that block their faces. One of them is a dragon and the other is a knight. What.

The family plotline has the father announcing his extra ticket and his wife and two children doing everything possible to get out of going. They escalate their avoidance tactics until the father decides to tell them that it's going to be a big "rock show" and "the stones" will be there. The whole family thinks that he is talking about the Rolling Stones because they are stupid and very proud of how stupid they are, and then they go to the museum and are very unhappy. The end.

I feel like this does not fully do justice to the confusion of actually watching the show, though. I'm not sure how to fix that.

Because, really, I'm not sure anything can compare to the sheer terror and confusion that raced through my mind when it finally sunk in that, yes, this is a real show. Real people made this show. Real people write episodes of this show. Presumably real people watch and enjoy this show. And I had never heard of it before in my life.

I'm just... this seems like the kind of thing I should know about. For science.

And I'm not kidding when I say that the only thing I could think of while watching this was that it was a kind of dadaist experiment in the abstraction of humor. For those unfamiliar with dadaism (which is completely reasonable because you can live a long and happy life without knowing about dadaism, trust me), dadaism was a European avant-garde movement in the early twentieth century. It became incredibly influential in the art scene and helped create the surrealism movement, the pop art movement, and a lot of other cool stuff.

Dadaism, at its heart, is a leftist rebellion against war and bourgeois capitalist values. The dadaists held firmly that "logic" and "reason" were tools of the bourgeois capitalist society that they used to bring about war. As such, the dadaists embraced chaos and irrationality and not making much sense. They called themselves not an art movement, but an anti-art movement, committed to breaking down colonialist, racist, and capitalist structures by confusing people into thinking for themselves. 
Dada was born out of negative reaction to the horrors of the First World War. This international movement was begun by a group of artists and poets associated with the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich. Dada rejected reason and logic, prizing nonsense, irrationality and intuition. The origin of the name Dada is unclear; some believe that it is a nonsensical word. Others maintain that it originates from the Romanian artists Tristan Tzara's and Marcel Janco's frequent use of the words "da, da," meaning "yes, yes" in the Romanian language. Another theory says that the name "Dada" came during a meeting of the group when a paper knife stuck into a French-German dictionary happened to point to 'dada', a French word for 'hobbyhorse'.
- from The Language of Art Knowledge by Dona Budd 
Dadaism was intended to offend people out of complacency. It wasn't supposed to be beautiful or good or pleasant, it was meant to be shocking and ugly and harsh. So, yeah, I think Dog with a Blog is kind of dadaist. A little bit.

Not so much because it's horrific and it offends my senses, though it kind of does, but more because I feel like it does to sitcom humor what dadaism sought to do to fine art. It abstracts it past the point of meaning and in so doing makes clear the underlying absurdities we have been lulled into accepting. Dog with a Blog feels aggressively unfunny. Each sitcom cliche unfolds with more absurdity than the last. The laugh track doesn't so much feel out of place as it does atonal and out of sync. Honestly probably the closest thing I can compare it to is David Lynch's Rabbits

Word of advice, don't google that unless you're ready for some very unsettling dreams tonight.

Anyway, I'm not saying that Dog with a Blog is actually dadaist. That seems probably unlikely, if for no other reason than because it's on the Disney Channel and that goes against everything dadaism stands for. But I do think that the show is aggressively weird and not very funny in a way that seems maybe intentional? Or at the very least not being guarded against.

And it seems to me like this sort of absurd abstraction is happening a lot in children's media right now. Not the cool surrealism of Adventure Time and Steven Universe and Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall and Bee and Puppycat and all that, but the distressing slide into madness started by Teletubbies and apparently continued with Dog with a Blog. I mean the way that it almost feels like network executives are doing madlibs to come up with shows now. 

Then again, maybe it's an age thing. I distinctly recall loving Ghostwriter, and the premise there was pretty absurd itself. Let's not even get started on Wishbone, which featured a Jack Russell Terrier playing the lead in classical literature reenactments. Or what about Square One? It was a math show about spies. I think.

The point is, I don't think I have a point. Maybe I'm just too old to really appreciate Dog with a Blog. Maybe I'm too cynical and have lost my childish wonder. Maybe it's all of that and also none at the same time. Or maybe Dog with a Blog secretly really is a dadaist children's show, intent on disrupting children into seeing the horrors that surround them.

I'm honestly not sure which one of those options frightens me the most.

*Check back this afternoon for an intellectually worthwhile recap the most recent Hannibal, courtesy of Kyla Furey, our resident Hannibal expert.

Monday, July 27, 2015

'Boondock Saints' - Men Shoot Gangsters, Women Don't Exist

This article was originally written as part of Bitch Flicks' theme week on Cult Films and B Movies like two years ago. I'm crossposting it here because I'm lazy and I don't really feel like writing something original today. I mean, I guess I could pretend there's a more grand and interesting explanation, but there isn't. Sorry.

I fell in love with Boondock Saints the summer that I turned sixteen, about four days before I went off to live and work at a Christian summer camp for eight weeks – a torturously long time when you’ve just fallen in love with the most profane and violent movie possible. I was told that I shouldn’t watch it, that I couldn’t watch it, because it was too violent, too swear-y, too much for my faint little heart to take. I told them to eff themselves and watched it anyway. And I fell in love instantly.

It was a long lasting love affair too. I had the poster hanging above my bed, I still own a copy on DVD, and I saw that film so many times that I could recite it in real time as my college roommate watched in horror. I even went to see the sequel. In theaters. On purpose.

But it wasn’t until last year, when I started to write out a list of my all-time favorite movies that I realized something important: I might love Boondock Saints, but it doesn’t love me back. Or, specifically, it doesn’t love my gender. That was when the romance started to fade.

To back up a little, Boondock Saints is a cult shoot-em-up film released in 1999 and written and directed by Troy Duffy. It stars Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as the McManus twins, two good old Irish boys living in South Boston who receive a message from God to go kill gangsters. Which they then proceed to do with alarming vigor and good humor. They’re pursued by Agent Smecker, played by Willem DeFoe, and helped by good friend Rocco, played by David Della Rocco.

Also, Billy Connolly turns up as a terrifying hit man known only as “Il Duce,” and Dot-Marie Jones makes a brief cameo as Rosengurtle Baumgartner, who kicks one of the boys in the crotch. But I digress.

The film is weird and violent and profane, like I said. The basic premise, that Connor (Flanery) and Murphy (Reedus) are on a holy mission to rid the world of evil is both strange and deeply non-Biblical, but there is a thrill to it that makes you want to believe. The plot kicks off when the boys are involved in a bar fight with two enforcers for the Russian mob. After the fight, the mobsters go track down our heroes and try to finish the job, but Connor and Murphy get the drop on them (literally), and kill the two men.

Agent Smecker is then called out to figure out what the hell happened. Smecker, who is inarguably DeFoe’s best and most interesting character to date, deduces the exact events effortlessly and is proven right when the two boys show up at the police station, turn themselves in, and claim self-defense.

The story would end right there if during the night spent in jail, the two men didn’t receive a vision from God. A mission, you might say, that calls them to “Destroy that which is evil, so that which is good may flourish.” This all tracks in with a sermon shown in the beginning of the film that cites the murder of Kitty Genovese as a sign that good men must do something to stop evil from spreading. All well and good, but I’m not sure the priest was calling for mass murder.

Which is precisely what happens. Connor and Murphy start picking off members of the Russian and Italian mobs, with a little help from their friend Rocco, a low-level numbers runner. They get so good at it, in fact, that Smecker is at a complete loss and the mob is running scared. It all comes to a climax when they try to take out the Don of the Italian mob in Boston, get captured, and come face to face with the man hired to kill them – Il Duce. Except Il Duce is actually their father, and the men happily reunite to go off and kill another day.

Like I said, it’s a weird, violent movie.

There are, in all honestly, a lot of things worth discussing with Boondock Saints, from the way it is one hundred and ten percent a white, male fantasy of justice and badassery, to the fact that it’s so Biblically inaccurate as to be kind of painful, to Agent Smecker as one of the most interesting gay characters to grace the silver screen, to the fact that it’s honestly just a very strange story, chock full of coincidences and arguably terrible writing that somehow becomes awesome instead of cliché. But let’s focus in for a minute on what turned me off of it. Let’s talk about the ladies.

Or, rather, let’s talk about the lack of them. In point of fact, the women of Boondock Saints are most notable by their absence. I can count the number of named female characters on one hand, and none of those characters appear in more than two scenes. That’s actually a false representation as well, because only one of them appears in more than one scene at all. Of all of the female characters in the film, not a single one receives more screentime than the scenes of Agent Smecker in drag toward the end of the film.

That is bad enough in and of itself, but there is also the actual characters to consider. Of the female characters shown or mentioned, one is an unnamed stripper (who, ironically, is the most visible woman in the film, appearing in two whole scenes), two are junkies and sluts (according to Rocco), and one is Rosengurtle Baumgartner, an avowed lesbian who we are supposed to laugh at for taking offense to one of Connor’s jokes. She kicks him in the nuts. He deserves it.

There are two more women of note in the story, but both had their stories cut down in the final version of the film and appear mostly in the deleted scenes on the DVD. One is Connor and Murphy’s mother, who calls them to wish them a happy birthday, and the other is a nice girl outside the courtroom who gives the news cameras a completely convincing and not at all ridiculous explanation of why she is perfectly fine having seen someone shot to death right in front of her moments before.

Like I said, that’s pretty much it. There’s a waitress, a nun in a hospital, an Italian grandmother, and a female news reporter, but I genuinely struggle to think of any more female characters. At all. In the entire movie. It would seem that in the world of Boondock Saints, women are not just irrelevant to the narrative, but also virtually invisible. They just don’t seem to exist.

I suppose it makes sense, given that the film is a white, male power fantasy. Connor and Murphy are the ultimate slacker heroes, the guys we’re supposed to want to be. They have no formal education, but somehow happen to know about six languages fluently. They seem perfectly content living on the fringes of society, because tough guys don’t need furniture or shower curtains or functioning plumbing, I guess. They’re religious, but in the cool way. They don’t have to learn how to use guns, or find out where to buy weaponry, or even struggle as they assume their mission. They just effortlessly seem to know what they need to do and then do it. No fuss, no muss. Without a second of training they are the two most proficient hit men ever to grace the streets of Boston.

It’s a fantasy, and you can see why it would be intoxicating. They’re good at what they do. They’re cool. What they do is unassailably (within the context of the movie universe) right. They get to shoot people and have fun and laugh with their friends, and it’s fine because it’s all justified by God. They don’t kill women or children, so it must be okay, right?

Well, no.

The ethics of the film are one thing, but it says a lot about the world of the movie that it’s able to go nearly two hours without a single important female character showing up on screen. There are no women cops, there are no women in the mob, there are only a couple of wives or passers-by or maybe a drug-addled girlfriend or two. But no one who matters. The acting characters in the film are all overwhelmingly and vocally male.

Even the ethos of the characters, that they will destroy that which is evil, but leave alone the pure and blameless, is inherently sexist. Because when they say pure and blameless, what they mean is the women and children. In this universe, women are not even people enough to do things wrong. We do not have enough agency even to commit evil.

But here’s the problem. I know all of this, and yet I still like the movie. I mean, I’m not in love with it anymore. The scales have lifted off my eyes, and I can see it for what it is – a bloated, self-aggrandizing, violent ode to vigilantism – but I still enjoy it.


I think ultimately it comes down to something deeper. Something about how it took me eight years to realize that the movie was toxic for women. I genuinely did not expect this story, or really any story like it, to include women. I naturally didn’t even think to look for a female character to relate to, because it inherently assumed there wouldn’t be one.

Troy Duffy, aware of the criticism he received for this first film, included a major female character in the execrable sequel, Boondock Saints: All Saints Day. In it, Agent Smecker is gone and in his stead we have Agent Bloom (Julie Benz). But this is just another stunt meant to show how “progressive” and “totally not sexist” Duffy is. Bloom is relegated to a backseat role, and shown to be yet another innocent in the world. She’s a badass lady cop, but actually just a scared little girl who needs to be protected. And if she happens to fulfill a couple of fantasies about women in power suits and heels while she’s at it, then so much the better.

I wish I could tell sixteen-year-old me not to bother with this movie, that I should, for once, listen to my friends and back away slowly, but I don’t think I would, even if I were given the chance. Because as much as I now can see this movie for the sexist doggerel it is, it still has a place in my heart. It was the movie that taught me how much fun schlock flicks could be, the one that showed me that a movie doesn’t have to be good to be fun, and the movie that introduced me to one of my all time best friends. I wouldn’t take it back.

But I still wish it didn’t make me feel so gross inside.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

'Minions' - Sexism, Fart Jokes, Bananas, and My Waking Nightmare

To start off this review, I would like to list for you all of the things about the Minions movie that I actively liked. Not just tolerated or found potentially interesting, but genuinely enjoyed. Here's the list: the soundtrack.

I'm really not kidding. While I still do maintain that the premise had some potential, the film itself was the kind of mind-numbing, soul-deadening corporate cash-in that we've largely come to expect from lowest common denominator children's media. And if you think I'm being overly harsh, well, then, yeah, I probably am, but I really sincerely did not like this movie.

A big part of that probably comes from the simple fact that I am over the age of ten, and therefore watching small yellow pills speaking gibberish and laughing uproariously for an hour and a half reminded me a tad too strongly of some of work-related stress nightmares to be enjoyable. 

After all, this is the Minions movie, and if you've seen the source material (Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2), then you know that the minions only speak in a garbled mush of Spanish, English, and what may as well be Finnish for all I can tell. You can grad a word here or there, but for the most part you're listening to intonation and speech pattern, which is weirdly exhausting.

But that wasn't the real reason I found this movie awful. It wasn't even the basic premise, because, as I said above, I actually found that kind of intriguing. It was the plot, or lack thereof, and the film's absolute adherence to only the most rigid and nauseating gender tropes. The problem is that this movie is made up almost entirely of gags, of moments that the animators and presumable writers found so funny they just had to include them, whether or not they made sense in the context of the film.

There's no emotional core to speak of, no greater story or redemptive arc. There's no structure or clear point to the story. Sure, there's some nominal gestures at an emotional plot, but it never comes to much of anything. And where in the Despicable Me films the humans handled the important feelings stuff which left the minions free to be weird and hilarious in the background, here the minions are meant to carry the entire weight themselves. 

Is it any surprise that they buckle under?

The film is a prequel of sorts, taking place about forty years before the events of Despicable Me. The narrator (a presumably well-compensated Geoffrey Rush) gives us the backstory for how minions came into existence: they evolved from single celled organisms with a single goal in the mind of their entire species. They are to find the biggest bad guy around and serve him.

Note, for the record, that it says "him". That's what the narration says too, and throughout the credits-sequence montage we see that this holds true. From prehistory to the present day, the minions only ever serve men. I guess we can assume that this means that in this universe not a single woman in the hundreds of millions of years minions have been around was sufficiently evil to be followed.

Anyway. The minions love to serve their bad guy, but they are terrible at keeping said bad guy alive. And so they're always on the look for a new boss. After a catastrophic event got them on Napoleon's bad side, the minions found themselves hiding in a cave for a few hundred years, developing their own culture and nation-state, and then dwindling down to almost nothing. By the time of the story, the minions - who are apparently immortal, reproduce asexually, and are possibly invulnerable - are in grave danger. Why? Because they don't have a boss. Without a boss they're just kind of depressed, I guess, and that's the worst fate that could befall anyone! Apparently!

Which is the movie's cue to begin. Our hero in the film is Kevin, a noticeably tall minion who decides to strike out on his own to find them a new boss and save his tribe. His companions, Stuart and Bob, are not chosen for their skills but rather for their willingness to go at all. And so they're off on their epic adventure.

Since the minions speak gibberish, their personalities can only come off as broad stereotypes. Whether or not they would come off any more complex if we did know what they were saying is a mystery I have no desire to touch. But at any rate, they can be described like this: Kevin is the dad-figure who keeps everyone on task, Stuart is the wanna-be lothario who just wants an electric guitar, and Bob is a child. Like a literal child. He has a teddy-bear and everything.

The three of them wander through 1964-ish New York City for a while before finding out about VillainCon, a convention of the world's most evil supervillains down in Orlando, Florida. Reasonably figuring that this is the best place to find a new boss, Kevin and the others hitch a ride to Orlando. The family they hitch a ride with, the Nelsons (headed up by Allison Janney and Michael Keaton), are an apple-pie family of bankrobbers also on their way to the convention, so it all works out great.

At the convention, Kevin and the others have difficulty getting the villains to pay attention to them, but when the headline speaker arrives they get their chance. See, the headliner this year at VillainCon is Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock), the world's first female supervillain. She's pretty and sexy and evil and everyone wants to be her henchmen. She holds a ridiculous contest to see who will be her new flunkies, and lo and behold, the minions win it.

After that, Scarlet flies the minions to her evil stronghold in London where she explains the deal. She likes them and will totally hire them, if they can pass the job interview. Said interview is to steal the Queen of England's crown. Why? Because Scarlet has wanted the crown since she was a little girl, and if she gets it she'll be a princess and no one will be able to be mean to her anymore. I'm not editorializing that, for the record. That is literally the plot.

Blah blah blah, they get the crown, hijinks ensue, and somewhere in the reign of chaos, Bob happens to pull the sword from the stone and reveal himself as the true king of England. For some reason. Which pisses off Scarlet until they abdicate and make her queen, but then she still hates them... It's a lot to take in.

Anyway, the climax of the movie involves Kevin, Stuart, and Bob running from a crowd of angry supervillains when they accidentally ruin Scarlet's coronation and save England. That is, as far as I can tell, what happens in this movie.

Look. I don't hate fun. No matter what anyone tells you, I am not morally opposed to things that are enjoyable just because they're silly and nice. I can be chill and fun. Watch me blow these bubbles and play laser tag. I am just like one of you normal "fun-having" humans.

But I find it really hard to enjoy movies like Minions. Because in this case, it feels like the movie gets defended as "fun" because it has nothing else going for it. Like, there's no greater depth here, no emotional resonance, no meaning. It's just fart noises and gibberish and high-pitched laughter. Sorry, but that's not my idea of fun.

I get that this is basically child-crack, since the minions are cute and make rude noises and the story is about explosions and wacky inventions and there are dinosaurs. I completely understand that this is the kind of thing children have a lot of trouble passing over and not getting super hyped about. But you know what? I work with kids who saw the Minions movie over the weekend. Sure, they liked it, but do you think it stuck in their minds? Not at all.

Seriously, I was braced for a few months of nauseating minion jokes and constant references to bananas, but they seemed to only even remember seeing the movie when prompted. You know what they are into? Well the little one is four. He used to be crazy into Cars, but recently he's been obsessed with Wild Kratts, a PBS show about two guys saving endangered species from evil supervillain poachers. And the older one is nine - she's obsessed with Harry Potter.

In both of those cases, they didn't go for the lowest common denominator stuff. They fell in love with franchises that have deeper meaning, whether it be environmentalism or the world of meaning and imagery that is Harry Potter. Minions was barely a blip on the radar. I've gotten bigger reactions out of them by showing them youtube videos of ballet performances.*

So even the target audience here found it hard to really get invested in this film. It's not hard to see why. There's nothing to be invested in. Sure there are jokes and gags and set pieces, but those do not a movie make. They make a sort of extended gag reel, nothing more. There wasn't enough plot or feeling to hold onto, and so the movie just slipped through their fingers.

I mean, for all that I have a few (alarmingly well documented) problems with Frozen, I get why that movie did so well. It had soul. Meaning. Depth. You could really latch onto the story there. There was love and sacrifice and stakes and everything was important. You even cared about the wacky sidekick characters because they added to the weight of the story. Not so here.

And for all of this, I still feel like there was the potential for a good movie locked in here somewhere. Maybe if the minions weren't so one-dimensional. Maybe if Scarlet Overkill weren't a painful stereotype of men's assumptions of what women are like. Maybe if Allison Janney were in more of the film. But the movie never went where it ought to have gone because it was hamstrung both by a nonsensical plot and by the absolute fear of making its lead characters - small yellow pill people - unlikable.

Yup, you heard it here. Dreamworks spent this whole film terrified that because the minions are inherently evil and serve supervillains the audience might get the idea that they're not, you know, nice

So the plot had to be massaged and tweaked until the minions were the good guys, always horrified by what the evil bad guys were plotting. Even though that went utterly counter to everything the movie was telling us about them. They cowered away from violence, but apparently they're invulnerable? They shuddered at Scarlet Overkill's brutality, but they're trying to serve the evilest evil they can find? Aaaaaaargh.

And that's the frustration level I have without even getting into the regressive gender politics of hte film. When it comes to gender representation, this film is so backwards it's basically a Rolling Stones record going in reverse on the turntable. Nearly all of the characters in the film are male and the most important female characters are a supervillain obsessed with being a princess and the actual Queen of England. So that's not great. In fact the only other female characters really worth mentioning are the mother of a family of criminals and her daughter. That's it.

Worse, Scarlet Overkill is possibly the most insulting female character I've seen in years. She's supposedly the very first female supervillain in the history of ever, and all she wants is a crown? Because she has daddy issues and wants people to like her and to be a princess? That's her character's entire motivation? It makes no sense. That's all we know about her. We see her do nothing actually evil, she just seems to really want to be Queen of England. Or Princess of England. 

And yet we're told that Scarlet is not only a supervillain in her own right, but also an amazing one. A wholly feminine one. Which suggests that the writers of this movie think all women want in the world is a fancy crown and a big party where everyone calls them a princess. Ugh.

This is made even worse by the fact that the minions, who should arguably be genderless, are clearly defined as male. Like, the narrator refers to them with male pronouns, they all have traditionally (white) male names, and the only minion who seems to prefer feminine things is called immediately "an idiot."

So that means that this is a movie about a bunch of farting, giggling boys overthrowing a woman with some serious emotional problems and also the 1960s. As far as I can tell. It's just all so awful. I mean that both in terms of my feelings about the gender representation and also about the movie itself. It's awful.

I'm not even going to touch on all the creepy stuff with Stuart and the fire hydrants.

Still, there's a tiny part of me that insists that it didn't have to be this bad. Maybe not good, but I maintain my belief that there could have been a Minions movie that was at least not execrable. Maybe put the Nelson family more in the spotlight, give the characters a stronger emotional connection with the main character, make Scarlet less of a stereotype. Remove some of the set pieces and put in character work. Actually think about the logic of your film. I'm not sure there's a good movie in here, but there's a better one.

Maybe the real reason that Minions offends me so much, though, is that it's pretty much an embodiment of everything I work against as a writer. I mean, it's sexist, it's commercial, it's crass, and it's clearly made for the merchandising value more than any "artistic merit". In other words, this is everything I hate about children's media rolled into one film. I wanted it to be good, I really did, but it's just not. And it kind of makes me feel a little bit dead inside to know that they're probably already eyeing a sequel.

The soundtrack was really good, though.

I'd totally watch a whole movie about the Nelsons, though.
*I am a huge gigantic nerd.

Monday, July 20, 2015

RECAP: Hannibal 3x07 - All The Feels All The Time

Quick reminder that we have Kyla Furey of Feedback Force doing weekly Hannibal recaps for us right now because she is awesome.

This week was the mid-season finale of Hannibal. It wasn’t exactly marketed as such, and there’s no hiatus between this and the next episode, but it was clear from the episode itself: things wrapped up. Climaxes occured. Catharses were catharted. Major storylines came to a close and character arcs came to satisfying resolutions. It was a symphony of emotional resonance as everything fell where it must and came together to an inevitable, beautiful finish. By the end of the episode:

Mason: is dead
Margot: has killed someone
Alana: has somehow managed to reconcile her old character with her new persona in a way that makes sense, go show
Chiyo: is explained... ish
Will: desperately tries to let go of Hannibal
Hannibal: refuses to let Will have closure
Jack: has caught the Chesapeake Ripper... sorta

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The episode. So, we do actually get to see what happens at the end of the previous episode when Mason’s goons - in the form of the Italian police - show up to kidnap Hannibal and Will. The police nab the two of them, and then their leader orders Jack killed because he’s a witness, intending him to be “the final victim of the monster of Florence.”

Fortunately for Jack, Chiyo - being the absolute badass that she is - snipes the last few guards before they can get rid of him, and sets Jack free.* In exchange, Jack tells her where they’ll be taking Will and Hannibal; Muskrat Farm. Jack then proceeds to concentrate for most of the episode on getting out of Florence alive, which would frankly be my priority as well in his situation, and so we don’t see much else of him.

At Muskrat Farm, Mason reveals his evil evil plan - and it’s a pretty darn disturbing, Mason-style plan too. He wants to eat Hannibal piece by piece - keeping him alive as he does so, like Hannibal did to Abel Gideon - but he wants to do it while wearing Will’s face. That’s right. For some reason, Mason wants to get a face transplant from Will to himself so that he can eat Hannibal, in front of Hannibal, while looking like Will. 

There’s some pretty silly wheeling around of people on pig-carts and stretchers and dressing them in nice suits and restraining them in pig pens and etc etc, which would all be cute fun and games if the entire thing weren’t so fraught with the tension of what’s coming. Will and Hannibal are both on a time limit and they know it.

Possibly the best moment amidst this tension comes when Mason, Will, and Hannibal are seated at a dinner table and Mason instructs his nurse/caretaker/personal human-meat chef to moisturize Will’s face. When the man, Cordell, gets too close, Will leans over and bites a chunk out of Cordell’s cheek, spitting the blood-soaked lump of flesh onto his plate with a red-stained face and giving Hannibal a sidelong glance. Hannibal, for his part, looks like a proud mama bird whose baby has just left the nest.

It’s worth noting that never once in what might be the most tense episode of the series (barring maybe Mizumono) does Hannibal ever seem distraught or nervous or out of control. Only in one moment at the very end is he even vulnerable, but we’ll get to that.

Meanwhile, Alana and Margot are lurking and scheming. Margot learns from Mason in a horrifying twist that when Mason stole her “lady parts,” he kept some of her eggs and had them implanted with his own sperm, and now he has a surrogate pregnant with their baby. The surrogate is supposedly somewhere at Muskrat farm, but Mason refuses to let Margot see her.

Margot does go to see Hannibal, however, and he gives her an out - she can kill Mason, and he’ll take the blame/credit. He’s already known to be the Chesapeake Ripper, after all; what’s one more kill added to his body-count? But Margot knows that she can’t get rid of Mason without verifying that she has an heir; otherwise she loses everything she’s ever had. Hannibal reminds her that Mason is never a man of his word; this promise of a surrogate will be just another game to him. Mason will never give her what she wants. He will never relinquish his leverage over her.

Alana, meanwhile, seems to be harboring some second thoughts now that Will is here. It becomes slowly clear that her goal in all this was not merely revenge on Hannibal - she wanted to protect Will. She realized that Will is completely incapable of making a sensible decision where Hannibal is concerned, and so she sought to take any such decision away from him. 

I kind of love this, actually, because it reconciles for me the character that we know Alana to be - kind-hearted, compassionate, protective - with the character she has become; ruthless, hard-hearted, and bent on revenge. It reveals the remaining presence of the former character without undermining the latter transformation. Her goal may be protection, but her methods are still ruthless and unflinching.

Alana was willing to let Hannibal be tortured and maybe even killed, but it’s different now that Will’s involved. After a stiff conversation with Will, where he informs her in a very Hannibal-esque manner that if she wants things to turn out well, she’s going to have to kill, Alana seeks out Hannibal himself.

He repeats to her the offer he made Margot; take some of his hair for DNA evidence to frame him, cut him loose, and he’ll make any statement they like about what actually happened here. Alana agrees, but not before she makes him promise: he must save Will.

He promises, and as she cuts him loose they have their own closure. “Could I have ever understood you?” Alana asks Hannibal.

No. No she could not.

With a knife and one hand free, Hannibal (who is naked and trussed up in a pigpen at this point, it should be noted) escapes the rest of his bonds and proceeds to murder an undetermined number of people with a hammer. Meanwhile, Alana and Margot go searching for this supposed surrogate that Mason is keeping somewhere in the house. And elsewhere, Cordell preps both Will and Mason for the facial transplant surgery. Mason gets to be unconscious for the procedure; Will does not.

Alana and Margot find the “surrogate,” but it’s more horrible than they could have imagined. The baby is inside a large sow pig, the pig itself arranged grotesquely in a sort of baby crib. It’s hooked up to a variety of medical equipment, so that two things are equally obvious: there was a human fetus involved; a real, mostly-developed baby.** Also, it is dead. Margot demands Alana cut the baby out of the pig.

In a typical Hannibal montage, the images of Alana removing the human fetus from inside the pig are intercut with surgery of a face being removed elsewhere in the building. We see the scalpel go into the side of Will’s face, and our hearts leap into our throats - or at least mine did.

Margot holds the dead baby-that-might-have-been in her arms. Elsewhere, Mason wakes up with a new face.

He sits up, groping for the mirror, and looks at himself; the skin that is loosely overlaying his own is Cordell’s, and falls from his face as soon as he sits up, leaving his usual visage a bloody mess in its wake. Hannibal is nowhere to be seen, and neither is Will.

He does however find Alana and Margot, who show up for revenge. Mason is cocky, knowing that Margot can’t afford to kill him without some kind of genetic insurance to create an heir. 

What he doesn’t realize is that the mock face-transplant was not the only thing that happened to him while he was unconscious. Apparently Margot and Alana, with the help of Hannibal, “milked” him while he was asleep by applying an electric cattle prod to his prostate. They now have a vial full of viable Verger sperm that can be used to create an heir.

Realizing his danger too late, Mason tries to raise a gun to shoot them, but they rush him and knock him off-balance. The bullet instead shatters the glass over the eel tank in the floor of Mason’s room, and the two women drown him, holding him under until he stops moving and the eel begins to first eat his face, then burrow down his throat. Yes, that’s as gross as it sounds. But you know what? Margot is free. She and Alana can do whatever they want. If Alana wants to have Margot’s baby, she can. And Mason can’t stop them. Good riddance.

Hannibal, meanwhile, carries an unconscious Will away from Muskrat farm, as a hidden Chiyo snipes down their pursuers behind them from her perch amidst the trees. Somehow Hannibal manages to get Will all the way back to Will’s home in Wolf Trap***, and puts him to bed before he and Chiyo finally have a heart-to-heart that’s been a long time coming. 

Chiyo, it seems, is remarkably patient, stable, and single-minded; more even than we gave her credit for. Her motives are actually very straight-forward: she came to protect Hannibal. She’s been protecting Hannibal. She doesn’t want to see him caught. She won’t let him push her around, she’s not doing it out of any particular love for him, but she doesn’t think he should be caught or harmed. 

When Hannibal asks her if she’s doing all of this for him or for herself, she says she’s doing it for Mischa’s sake. She makes Hannibal finally admit what happened to Mischa, giving Chiyo closure of her own: Hannibal ate her, but he was not the one who killed her. I’m sure finally knowing the truth, no matter what it might have been, must be a huge comfort to Chiyo after all this time.

Back inside, Will is just waking up, and he and Hannibal have yet another in what have been a series of heart-wrenching moments this season, again set to the sad slow music of Mizumono.**** Will draws his line in the sand - he’s had enough. He’s not angry, he’s just quietly sad as he lays out his intentions. 

He needs to be done with Hannibal. He can’t go back to the way things were. He doesn’t want to keep thinking about Hannibal, obsessing over him, always wondering. “I don’t want to know where you are, what you’re doing.” He says. “I don’t want to think about you anymore.” It’s quiet and heart-broken. “I miss my dogs,” Will says. “I won’t miss you.”

Hannibal, for once in the entire show, actually looks vulnerable. He looks like he wants to say something, but can’t make himself. Instead he seems to accept Will’s “goodbye” and stands, leaving the house. Later that evening, Jack arrives with a fleet of black SUVs full of FBI agents, intent on storming Will’s house and dragging Hannibal out. Will greets them on the porch.

“He’s gone, Jack,” Will says, but as it turns out - he isn’t. Hannibal appears from the shadows and surrenders, finally giving Jack custody of the Chesapeake Ripper. Jack is unimpressed. “You surrendered.” He’s clearly skeptical. Hannibal answers him, but looks to Will as he does so: “I want you to know where I am. And where you can always find me.”

Even now, even after Will’s goodbye, Hannibal refuses to let him go. He must play this one last mind game, knowing that closure was the only thing Will truly wanted and that Hannibal has the ability to snatch it from him. Giving up his freedom is a smaller price to pay than the thought of Will being able to move on, to finally give up on Hannibal. 

And so Hannibal maintains his control over the situation even unto his own capture and arrest. What this will do to Will remains to be seen, but I look forward to the Red Dragon arc that begins next week to give us some sense of the answer.

* Well, she removes the drug that’s paralyzing him and lets him get out of the restraints on his own time. ...Good enough, I guess?

** For me, at least, this is possibly the most horrifying thing that’s ever been on the show. I feel like everybody who watches this show has at least one thing above all others that just freaks them the hell out in a deep and visceral way, and it seems I have finally found mine. It’s unclear if the fertilized egg was implanted into the sow to grow to begin with, or if the fetus was surgically implanted in the pig’s uterus just for this tableau, but either way it is profoundly messed up.

*** He probably doesn’t just walk, carrying Will, the entire way, but we don’t actually know what happened. Maybe he killed someone on the road nearby and took their car or something. Maybe Chiyo rode shotgun while Will was passed out in the back seat, and wouldn’t that just be the world’s most awkward drive.

**** I believe this music is actually a slowed-down version of the Goldberg Variations, a song that has significance in the Hannibal canon, all the way back to the books.

Kyla Furey is an independent game designer and writer. She is also one of the hosts of the game-analysis podcast, Feedback Force, and hosts a weekly Saturday night game livestream on Twitch TV. She enjoys the surreal and the moody in her media, hence her great love of NBC’s Hannibal. You can follow her on Twitter @Kyla_Go where she livetweets Hannibal on Thursdays at 10pm Pacific, following which, she posts delirious stream-of-consciousness reaction videos on YouTube.

'Ant-Man' Is Fun, Entertaining, and Suffering from Trinity Syndrome

Okay, easy stuff out of the way first: yes, Ant-Man is an eminently entertaining film. You will almost certainly enjoy watching it. The jokes are good, the running gags manage to stay relatively fresh throughout the movie, and the story is different enough from your average superhero fare to keep you guessing. I mean, not guessing too much, because this is still a movie whose ending seems written before it begins, but a little bit. It might surprise you.

But, as I'm sure you're all aware by now, I don't necessarily consider "entertaining" to be sufficient reason to like a movie. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love entertaining movies. My favorite films include such intellectual stunners as Pacific Rim and A Knight's Tale - movies that are entertaining in the extreme. 

Only they're not just entertaining. They have more going on in them, in terms of representations of class and gender and race and generally taking a more critical view of our understanding of our own reality. The movies themselves might not be especially deep, but they contain multitudes, and that's just as much of a reason for me to like them as their fun-ness.

All of this is a very backwards way of saying that while I really did enjoy watching Ant-Man, I'm also not about to put it up there on the wall and name it as one of my new favorite movies. 

It's a cute, fun movie, but it has some moments of really regressive gender politics that chafe at me and, frankly, the biggest problem I have with the movie is so big that it kind of made me utterly baffled by the plot.

So, you know, sit back, relax, and let me ruin some movie magic.

Ant-Man continues in Disney/Marvel's tradition of releasing film adaptations of the lesser known parts of their comics canon in the hopes of hitting on a, well, hit. You may recall that prior to the film, most non-comics nerds really didn't know much about Thor. And Guardians of the Galaxy? Most actual comics nerds themselves had trouble placing that one. Ant-Man is actually one of the more mainstream adaptations they're doing right now, but he's enough of an oddball that not all that many non-comics fans had heard of him before this movie started. 

Ant-Man has always sort of been a second-rate hero in the Marvel universe. I say "Ant-Man" and not Hank Pym, because technically speaking there have been four Ant-Mans. Ant-Men? Hank Pym was the first man to wear the suit, but since the superpower was the suit itself (or rather the "Pym Particles" that power it), he was able to pass it along to others. Most notably, in 1979, to Scott Lang, a disgraced electrical engineer who turned to theft when his beloved daughter fell ill. Awww. 

Hank turned the suit over - or rather let Scott steal it - because he was in mourning at the time, mourning the apparent death of his partner and wife, Janet van Dyne. For a while he even took her superhero name as a tribute. But by the 2000s, all three of them had been resurrected from their various deaths and were working together. Last I checked, Hank was going by Yellowjacket, Janet was still Wasp, and Scott was the Ant-Man. Also baby Cassie grew up to become the size-changing Young Avenger named Stature, so that's pretty cool.

All of this is relevant because, by and large, it informs the story of the movie. And don't worry, now we're going to talk about that dang film.

The movie mushes most of this history together. There's a quick flashback to begin the story, showing Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) deciding in 1989 to hide away all of his research into Pym particles and to make sure that no one ever finds it. He breaks ties with SHIELD - including an amazing cameo from Hayley Atwell - and goes off on his own. Quick cut to the present day where Pym Industries is now run by Hank's old protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). 

This is, for the record, a bad thing. While Pym has clearly grown up to be a curmudgeon of an old man, estranged from his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Cross appears to be just straight up insane. Obsessed for years with recreating the research that Hank Pym hid from the world, Cross has finally done it. He has figured out how to shrink stuff. And he's immediately decided to weaponize it, creating a horrific suit called "The Yellowjacket", that Cross claims could change warfare as we know it. Uh-oh.

Meanwhile, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is just coming out of a three year stretch in San Quentin. He's happy to be out and desperately wants to go on the straight and narrow, but it turns out that not many people are interested in hiring convicted felons who stole millions of dollars. Plus, his only place to stay is with his old cellmate, Luis (Michael Peña) and his criminal associates*, and they keep enticing him to get back in the life.

Scott manages to hold out for a good long while, but when an attempt to crash his daughter's birthday party ends with him being escorted off the property, he figures he doesn't have anything else to lose. Or rather, he has no other way to win? Scott's big goal here is to prove to his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer, who needs better roles), that he's capable of paying child support and being a stable influence on their daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). The fact that Maggie's fiance happens to be a cop (played by Bobby Canavale) doesn't help either.

So Scott agrees to this crime, and it turns out that said crime involves robbing a reclusive millionaire's house. You guessed it! Scott and company break into Hank Pym's historic San Francisco mansion because he has this big safe that must be full of super valuable stuff. Only, it isn't. All that's there is an old motorcycle suit or something. Scott steals it to be sure, but he's mostly disappointed. Until he puts it on.

And then the plot is officially going! Scott quickly accidentally triggers the shrinking abilities of the suit and goes for the ride of his life. Even weirder, Hank Pym's voice is in his ear, informing him that the owner of this suit would like to talk to him. Completely freaked out, Scott tries to give the suit back (which is a thing that really does happen in the comics) but gets arrested instead. And then Hank Pym shows up at jail to give him the opportunity of a lifetime. Maybe. A very weird lifetime.

If Scott will put on the suit and come with him, he will make sure that Scott gets to see his daughter again. Naturally Scott caves.

This is when the movie really picks up because here we find out what has been going on this whole time: Hope and her father really are estranged, but they've teamed back up with a singular mission: stop Darren Cross from making his own version of the Ant-Man suit. To that end, they want to steal his prototype and destroy his research. If they can do that, then Cross will have nothing left to sell to the paramilitary organizations and terrorist groups of the world.

But their problem is that they need someone to actually put on the Ant-Man suit and do the thing. Which is where Scott comes in. Sort of.

See, from this point on in the movie it's a pretty standard heist flick. Hope and Hank and Scott all plan the heist (eventually with some help from Scott's criminal associates) while deluding Cross. Hope and Hank train Scott in how to use the suit and how to talk to ants telepathically and how to fight and all of that, in montages that cover a couple days or so of intensive training. And by the end, Scott is officially Ant-Man. He has proven himself and he can take on the big guys!

I won't spoil the rest of the film for you. Suffice to say that there are some very entertaining set pieces, the good guys win because obviously, and the schtick about things that shouldn't be big being big and things that shouldn't be small being small never actually gets old. Lessons are learned, fathers are reconciled with daughters, and generally everything turns out as you figure it ought.

We have, however, already covered my biggest problem with the film. And that, simply put, is Scott himself. Well, Scott and Hope. Because as we get further and further into the film, as we spend more and more screentime on the entertaining but kind of lengthy preparations that Scott must go through in order to become Ant-Man, we're faced with an undeniable and frustrating question:

Why the hell isn't Hope the one in the suit?

Seriously! She's incredibly qualified and well-placed. She's on the board of directors at Pym Industries so she knows where everything is. She has passcodes to get through doors. She already knows how to fight and how to communicate telepathically with ants. She understands the severity of the situation. And her alibi is airtight! Come on!

What makes it even worse is that the film itself acknowledges this multiple times. Hope is utterly miffed that her father has passed her over in favor of some ex-con. His explanation is, frankly, irritating and kind of hypocritical. Hank insists that he won't let Hope use the suit because he "can't lose [her] too!" As in, he can't lose her like he lost her mother, Janet van Dyne. So Hope is sidelined for the entire film because her father has some manpain to work out. Scott's entire presence in the film is that he's expendable. I mean, he's also a good thief, but he's really mostly there because Hank doesn't care if he dies.

And this is awful just to start with, but the more you dig into the concept of this plotline, the more uncomfortable it gets. Janet van Dyne died** while on a mission with Hank back in the day. She made a choice to sacrifice herself to save the world, and Hank has respected that choice even though his inability to tell Hope about it killed their relationship. 

The problem is that he defends his actions by saying that he respected Janet's choice to sacrifice herself and now he's refusing to respect Hope's wishes and trying to control her life and actions.

Ow. Headache.

I'm not saying that this isn't believable behavior from a grieving, emotionally stunted, kind of chauvinistic old man, but that doesn't make me enjoy seeing it. It doesn't make it a good thing to hang a plot on. The movie has to bend over backwards to figure out how to work Scott into the narrative. Everyone agrees that Hope is the better candidate for the job, including Scott. But no. She can't do it. It's Ant-Man, not Ant-Ovaries!

The problem here lies not really with the characters inside the film but with the writers outside of it. Honestly, and I hate saying this, the problem really comes from the inclusion of Hope at all, or at the very least the way she's written. Hope is a fantastic character, but her actual existence in this movie makes the movie not make sense. If Hope weren't a character, or weren't a hyper-competent, martial-arts trained, ant-telepath, then it would make total sense for Hank to seek outside help. But she is. And so the movie doesn't make sense.

It's like the writers understood that they needed to have a strong female character in their film, but they didn't think hard enough about how to create a female character who made sense in the plot. Instead, they went with "Trinity Syndrome", which is when the film introduces a female character who is competent and amazing and the best in the world at whatever the thing is, and then has her teach the male lead to do it so that he can beat her at the end of the montage and then we all bow down before him because he's the chosen one.

You know, like in The Matrix. Or Wanted. Or Edge of Tomorrow.*** I can keep going. The point is that these tropes have become a mainstay of our fiction and they suck. The idea that a woman can be super badass and amazing at what she does but then after four hours of training the white hero can beat her is honestly insulting. I'd have much rather had that Hope was a nuanced interesting character who wasn't supremely qualified to wear the suit than to have her be so amazing and relegated to the background because of reasons.

That, in a very large nutshell, is my big problem with this movie. Oh it's fun all right. It's very fun. And Hope is an amazing character who I really want to see more of, especially given that by the end of the film she is finally given her own suit. But it kind of ruins the movie for me. It makes it really hard for me to focus on what's going on, because I can't figure out if we're all supposed to just ignore how much tighter this story would be if Hope van Dyne were the main character.

I mean, to start with, you'd get a female lead superhero, which would be rad. But then you would lose huge chunks of the story that seem to exist only to kill the suspense and flow of the film. We'd get a much deeper and more compelling look at Hope and Hank's relationship. We'd probably get more about Janet. And the heist would be even more engaging because we would spend the whole time worrying about Hope and her relationship with Darren Cross and all this juicy psychological stuff.

But no. We don't get that because that "wouldn't be true to the comics."

Who cares?!

The movie already is picking and choosing what it wants from the comics. I mean, in the comics, Hank Pym is Yellowjacket and Yellowjacket is a good guy. Here the Yellowjacket suit is a cause of international turmoil and worn by Darren Cross. Hope doesn't even exist in the comics, and here she is. Why not put her in the suit? Why create her at all if you weren't going to actually follow through?

And, for that matter, why the heck did they fridge Janet van Dyne, the woman who founded the Avengers Initiative and actually named it in the original comics? There are few characters as central the Marvel universe as Janet, and to have her shunted off into the "quantum realm" where her only hope is that Hank will somehow magically figure out how to save her is really not okay.

Aside from this big stumbling block, I find the film mixed in its representations of gender. On the one hand, I really respect the movie for not making Scott's ex-wife fall back in love with him and leave her fiance or anything. Nope. She just warms up to him slightly as a human being, but appears to be very happy where she is. Plus, Scott comes to respect Cassie's step-dad as a person and they end up forming a nicely complex family unit.

Also, the contractually obligated romance between Hope and Scott is kept thankfully brief. Luis, Scott's crime friend, even turns out to be a surprisingly complex man, at least in terms of gender roles, which is a nice change of pace, even if it is played for laughs.**** But the fridging of Janet van Dyne is still really problematic, as is the way that Hope's personality seems to shift based on whatever the movie needs her to be at any moment. Urgh.

Okay, so the basic gist is this: Ant-Man is a fun movie, but it's not a very progressive one. It gives lip service to the idea of women being superheroes, but it frankly refuses to put its money where its mouth is. Ant-Man is probably worth seeing and I would bet you'll enjoy it as long as you don't think too hard about it. Entertainment isn't everything, and at some point Marvel is going to have to own up to that.

Also, I liked these guys, but I found it problematic that most of the men of color in the film were felons.
*Said criminal associates are very entertaining but don't seem to have memorable names. Basically I remember them as "that Russian guy played by David Dastmalchian" and "the one played by noted rapper T.I." As it turns out, T.I. is a pretty good actor.

**Maybe. Sort of. It's a superhero movie, so probably not for good.

***Slightly subverted here, as the article points out, in that she never becomes less amazing, the hero just largely levels up to meet her.

****Luis, also a convicted felon who seems like he should be obsessed with machismo or some other stereotype about Latinx male performativity, reveals in his long rambling stories that his preferred leisure activities involve going to wine tastings and art galleries. He has strong feelings about neo-cubism and white wine, and the narrative takes the effort to make sure this is just one facet of his personality. Also these scenes are parts of the film that feel most like Edgar Wright wrote them.