Wednesday, April 11, 2018

another incubational phase

I have been mulling over writing about film again, here, and elsewhere.  But other writing projects have taken precedence, ones that involve a good bit of reading and score study.

I've been meaning to write a few thoughts on Black Panther (which I enjoyed, actually) and The Last Jedi (which I find exasperating).  In lieu of maybe not doing so I'd say the Marvel blockbuster is fun but that I would propose its core political conceit is one that I find unpersuasive, which is essentially positing a peak global level empire that refuses imperialism.  Though I enjoyed the film the least believable part is Wakanda as a non-imperialist or anti-imperialist empire.  Everything else except that foundational political theorem about the nature of Wakanda made sense to me as popcorn movies go.  The real power fantasy of the film isn't that T'Challa has the strength of many men and has access to fantastic tech, it's that an empire like Wakanda would not be imperialist. 

The Last Jedi ... I'll have to write about later, perhaps.  I will say, for now, that people complaining about Rey as a Mary Sue are partly right.  The problem as this franchise proceeds is not so much Daisy Ridley's take on the character as the writing.  Rey is awakened by The Force in The Force Awakens and while she's given a huge amount of power it's given to her with no agency.  She's not given a choice.  The Force forces itself on her, more or less, and she's just so pure of heart she can handle it.  That, actually, I don't really have a problem with.  I think she's an okay actress and I thought she did decently well  in the English language dub of the anime Only Yesterday.

What I did have increasing trouble with as I thought about things after I saw The Last Jedi is that we get Oscar Isaac and John Boyega, both capable of charismatic and likable star turns, and then The Last Jedi chumps these two characters Poe Dameron and Finn with the toxic masculinity idiot ball and for what?  So that Rose can give a speech or two about war profiteering?  So Rey can battle Kylo?  So Vice Admiral Holdo can do something so route in action films that if a guy did it (like Chris Pratt does in The Magnificent Seven remake of the remake of Seven Samurai that I only sat through because Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt were in it, and which I largely hated except for the part where the black guy, the Mexican and the Native American are alive at the end. :) )) it would be pedestrian action movie fare. 

Let me put this another way, the problem I ended up having with The Last Jedi is that thinly drawn white female characters kept "saving the day" in the wake of stupid decisions made by non-white males that were supposed to be taken at face value as stupid or dangerous decisions. 

But ... in the vacuum of space how do you really run low on fuel flying endlessly in a straight line?  That's the kind of plot-induced stupidity that's impossible for even a genre film to escape.   It's not like the expanse of space is a paved road and the starships in Star Wars are automobiles.  The disconnect between Rey being righteous but having those Force powers forced on her by plot mechanics means that the girl-power motif is a sham not because Rey is a bad person but because in contrast to Luke Skywalker, who chose to learn the ways of the Force, Rey has the ways of the Force forced on her by The Force itself.

If Vice Admiral Holdo were a guy in a Chuck Norris film and played by a guy the stupidity of the set-up for her "moment" would be easier to spot for what it is.  What makes the moment more dubious is that, of course, when Finn attempts a parallel life-ending save-my-friends gambit in the final act of the film he gets thwarted and told that you have to save what you love and not destroy what you hate.  When this kind of double standard is at work in which the white character played by Laura Dern is supposed to get the feels from the audience for a gambit that Finn's not supposed to be given because author's message it seems like an especially egregious double standard.  Finn's an ex-Storm Trooper for the First Order.  An ex Storm Trooper. If there's any sort of person trained from birth to be anonymous canon fodder for the sake of a cause it's a Storm Trooper.  It's in character for someone like Finn to decide that if self-sacrifice accomplishes the mission that's a good thing to do.  Based on everything we know about the training and creation of Storm Troopers what Finn tries to do to destroy the ground base laser howitzer/drill is what you'd expect even an ex-Storm Trooper to do.

Now, sure, a person could ask why people fled to a salt mine planet and then proceeded to dig a trench as if the exigencies of trench warfare had anything to do with anything.  Maybe the Resistance just wanted to make sure everyone was dug into trenches so they were easier fish in a barrel targets ... .

But I digress.  I've practically written what I meant to not get around to as it is. :)

There's other stuff I'm incubating that won't necessarily appear here, and so I'm going to be writing a bit, but not necessarily blogging for a bit.


Cal of Chelcice said...

I enjoyed Black Panther as a Marvel-style B action-hero type film. But it has been touted as something far more revolutionary and important, which it is not. Besides the fact that it was not so long ago that there quite a few powerful, and black, superheroes that seemed a bit more realistic (from Jon Stewart GL in JLA, to Static Shock, to Blade), the idea that only a fictional African kingdom shows the way forward is pretty sad. Lest we forget, Ethiopia never was conquered, and yet it is hardly the richest and most powerful African nation, and that the returned "black" citizens of Sierra Leone and Liberia did their own bit of conquest/colonization on the tribes and nations further inland. And I found the whole royal politics angle for T'Challa's confusion perplexing. Is it really that shocking that inter-dynastic relations would involve brother killing brother? T'Challa is more shocked that his father killed his brother than Killmonger's anti-colonial bid for global revolution. There's never a sense that T'Challa is remotely disturbed by Killmonger's (and thus his uncle's) rage at the West, or ponder whether its maybe better to let play out.

And that's the rub. It's not the fake accents that show Black Africa is an American movie, but its the whole plot set-up. T'Challa's uncle is incensed at LA gang violence, police brutality, and the oppression of blacks. What about Africa? Certainly many Africans think their current woes, and sufferings through the 19th and 20th century especially, are worse than American. Wakanda's isolation permits it a plausible deniability as to why Wakandans seem totally clueless about the horror and bloodshed that happened in neighboring Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia. And not only is this account lopsided, but Killmonger's quest seems almost goofy. He slips in lines about the Middle Passage and American racism as if they're cartoonish tropes. And the movie's final answer? Wakanda joining the global market through becoming a NGO-state. It's Bill Gates-esque capitalism in a fantasy model. The Marvel brand can make this level of market-state global capitalism seem palatable, especially when its backed up by super-heroes.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I heard from a friend the plot for Black Panther was in some way adapted from the storyline written by Ta-nehisi Coates. Not sure if that's the case but, if it is the case ... it might explain a few things.