Year-End // A Handful of Amazing Things I Discovered in 2015

It’s been a while since we lived in the year 2015 and most ‘best of’ lists have long since been and gone. Alas, given my recent blogging hiatus I hadn’t gotten around to putting together any thoughts on the year. Until now!

The following is a pretty random selection of media that I really enjoyed over the year; there were plenty of other films, comics, and movies that I enjoyed too, but these are the ones that had that little extra personal impact. It’s not ordered by preference, or category, or chronology, and some of it predates 2015 and I just happened to encounter it then. Simply put, all of this stuff left a real impression on me and gave me a lot of pleasure; it’s likely it’ll be with me for a long time.

// The DC Comics of Brendan Fletcher w/ Becky Cloonan, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Karl Kerschal and Annie Wu

It’s wrong to single out the work of writer Brendan Fletcher alone over his many highly talented collaborators, especially given that it’s impossible to know who contributes what, but the various works Fletcher has been involved in this year managed to do something that few other books have done in almost a decade: get me excited about DC comics again. Batgirl and Gotham Academy have delivered some great characters and moments over the year as have the more recent travails of Black Canary. These are superhero books that have found a way to be refreshing, often through stories that feel like wonderfully spontaneous adventures with a bunch of good friends. At their best these are some of the most fun reads on my pull list.

// The Art of Babs Tarr

Batgirl #37 Pixtagraph (Babs Tarr)

It seems like I’ve spent a lot of 2015 discovering incredible new talent, and the ‘list’ of my favourite artists is markedly different at the end of the year compared to what it was at the start. Chief amongst those changes is probably my quick and all encompassing infatuation with the art of Babs Tarr. Every issue of Batgirl has been an absolute joy to look at and the variant covers and prints that Tarr has produced have all been just as wonderful. Characters look fun, wear modern fashion, and live in a relatable world; these are people I want to be and hang out with, even when they’re fighting tigers or super-villains, or each other. There is a playful and inviting warmth and a contemporary feel to Tarr’s art that captures a welcome shift in the way superhero comics are written and drawn.

// Elementary

Elementary Still 1

Although I am a fan of Holmesian stories I took a pass on this show when I first heard about it due in no small part to my memories of Johnny Lee Miller as Crash Overide in Hackers. My surprise was significant then when I finally did watch the first episode and it was a top notch procedural with a tremendous interpretation of, and performance of, the great detective. The show leans heavily into the drug addiction elements of the Holmes cannon and finds a great deal of compelling pathos in it. The weekly cases can suffer some of the problems typical of procedural shows (the most famous guest actor usually did it, the plots tend to swerve at the same time each episode, etc.), but the ever engaging performances by Miller and Liu, and the character dynamics at the heart of the show keep it very enjoyable throughout. When I finally started watching this show I just couldn’t stop; I ended up watching 3 seasons in about 3 weeks. I even gave dvds of the show as more than one Christmas gift. Plus the New York brownstone set is a place I would love to live in!

// The Steve Jobs Script

'Steve Jobs' film - 2015

The direction was perfunctory and the performances were excellent, but it was the script for Steve Jobs that elevated the film to incredible status. I’ve long been a fan of Sorkin’s work, and for all his problems he can still write dialogue like few others ever have. The fact that the structure of the movie essentially creates 5 ongoing conversations that take turns for 90 minutes means that there is sparkling dialogue everywhere; it is non-stop brilliance, full of smart, funny, piercing, and endlessly quotable lines. There’s a fair argument that it is more of a play than a film,but for me that is absolutely what makes the experience so amazing.

// They’re Not Like Us

They're Not Like Us #3 Panel

I stumbled upon this comic mostly because the striking cover featured the intriguing opening panel of the story, and I am so grateful I picked it up. This book has been the most interesting, compelling, and thrilling ongoing I have read all year – building up from a simple troubled teens with powers origin to a broader, darker rumination on society’s response to a youth culture it does not understand. The slower pace has allowed characters to organically reveal themselves and the sense of paranoia and oppression to really take hold. All the while the tremendous art/colouring from Simon Gane  and Jordie Bellaire has helped to drive the story and provide memorable & innovative demonstrations of superpowers in use. I’ve been lamenting the lack of a good mutant outcast X-book for years, and then secretly this book answered my prayers.

// The Art of Mike Del Mundo

Elektra #11 Panel

Elektra was a book that ultimately felt more like a dramatic rendering of the main characters psyche than a straightforward narrative and that was thanks to the spectacular art by Mike Del Mundo. Del Mundo manages to somehow create art that is both dream like and grittily detailed, and his worlds are both epic and intimate. Every book I’ve read that he has drawn has undoubtedly been elevated by his incredible artwork. It’s also worth noting that the various covers that Del Mundo has worked on have been ingenious and marvelous without exception. I’ve spent endless hours staring deep into Del Mundo’s art; each panel offers a wealth of beauty and detail that reward your attention.

// All New X-Men #37

All-New X-Men #37 Panel

I’ve been quite vocal about my disappointment with the recently concluded X-Men run from Brian Micheal Bendis, but this issue was an exception that genuinely blew me away. Telling an incredibly simple story, Emma Frost takes young Jean Grey on a training mission to Madripoor, this book managed to deliver deeper character, world building, action, and drama than the entirety of the rest of Bendis’ run. Featuring cinematic art from Mike Del Mundo the book has it all: outstanding action, fun moments, funny lines, sharply observed characterisation, and a hidden but palpably warm heart in Emma’s secret devotion to keeping Jean safe. X-Men comics have been in a sorry state for years (and continue to be so), but this issue really shows what you can do when you combine those merry mutants with tremendous art and on point writing.

// Killjoys

Killjoys Team Still 1

This series marked the start of the Syfy channel’s return to making actual sci-fi, and what a return it was. Killjoys is pure fun, a breathless action adventure that follows three good-guy-bounty-hunters as they work on ostensibly unrelated warrants, but it all becomes entwined in both the personal histories of our heroes and the fate of this particular corner of the galaxy. The show puts together a rewarding blend of character- and plot-led drama, comedy, spectacle, and action, all along side some very effective world building. There are plenty of cliche breaking twists and some really smart done-in-one stories, and by the time the season finale rolled around I was entirely hooked by the questions at the heart of the show’s universe and charmed by its likable characters.

// The Age of Adaline

Film Review The Age of Adaline

I’m a bit of a soppy romantic at heart and also a fan of magical-realism-meets-star-crossed-lovers stories (a surprisingly common genre!) so this movie is pretty much made for me. The story and style of the film seem to take their lead from the underated Fincher classic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even down to the lighting and framing of many scenes, but the elegance of the execution here ensures that Adaline never comes off as being derivative. Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to actual acting with this film, and he is good, but the film’s real secret weapon is Ellen Burstyn how manages to convey a lifetime of love and regret in her scenes with her mother Blake Lively. It also has to be said that Lively herself does an excellent job holding the film, and her performance as the stoic Adaline is full of masterfully delivered small moments of introspection and aching. Although the script could probably have done with a little more oomph at times, this is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acte, modern fairy tale that left me positively aglow with all kinds of emotions by the end. Also the costume design was absolutely on point!

// Master of None


Master of None Still 1

Aziz Ansari’s Netflix sitcom took me completely by surprise, both in it suddenly existing at all and in how good it was. I like Ansari from PNR and his live shows, but he can sometimes lose me when he gets deep into a celebrity story or Randy performance. Fortunately Master of None is brilliantly funny and Ansari is an excellent lead. The real strength, though, lies in how it consistently offers a smart, incisive alternative view on ubiquitous sitcom material. The second episode takes time out of the comedy to tell a wonderfully touching story of immigrant family life without ever becoming saccharine, and the way the show positions modern dilemma’s like wanting to spend time with the family that you love but also wanting your own life in a sympathetic relatable way whilst still finding the funny aspects of the situation. Over the 10 episodes there are some touching moments, some profound moments, and many many funny moments.


Film // Idle Thoughts // The Promethean Tyranny of Ridley Scott

In a recent interview once-excellent director Ridley Scott spoke about his plans for the Alien franchise. Inexplicably this upset me to a frankly unreasonable degree, in part because Scott used to be great but now just peddles in unnecessary/bad prequels, but mostly because the interview makes clear that Ridley Scott has no idea why his early movies were good or what people (meaning me) want out of a new Alien picture. It should be noted that my frustrations with the Prometheus/Alien franchise and Scott himself are entirely trivial so only read on if you can handle half-formed thoughts, circular logic, and self-indulgence.

The interview covered a lot of shilling for The Martian, and went on to explore Scott’s approach to the next movie in the Alien franchise, a direct continuation of Prometheus that still predates the events of Alien. What this interview failed to touch on was the absolute awfulness of Prometheus and its inherently redundant story. The movie featured characters without arcs (Charlize Theron’s wasted Meredith Vickers), events without reason (the idiot-brothers cradling a terrifying alien phallus monster), horror without purpose (the admittedly powerful alien abortion scene that then has no effect on the main character at all), and answers without questions (here’s an alien ship identical to the one from that Alien movie but completely unrelated to it!) And why exactly would the Prometheans put a map back to their world in an ancient Earth cave, except it wasn’t their world it was just a random factory planet, and it wasn’t an invitation it was a trap, but they had all already left the trap unattended because reasons, but actually there’s a Promethean right there, but oh no there’s a weird alien-hybrid that’s basically an alien but is completely unrelated to the alien from Alien because this movie takes place on a different planet to that movie even though it has basically the same name for no reason other than to confuse people?

Unfortunately it seems like Scott hasn’t acknowledged any of the problems with the Prometheus movie and it’s relationship to the Alien universe – he speaks of wanting to answer the big question at the heart of the Alien movies, “who would make such a terrible thing?“. Wait, what? Who made the alien? That has literally never been a big question of the franchise! The origin of the alien is ambiguous yes, as are that space jockey and its ship, but this forms the basis of the terrifying atmosphere of the first two movies – we don’t need to see the birth place of this species or the factory it was cooked up in or whatever as that just undermines the horror of it all. Besides which, it never really struck me whilst watching these movies that these creatures were anything other than just plain old aliens, literally. Just random things that exist in the universe, a deadly wild parasitic species that it is best to avoid. The space jockey is a good case in point here; it looked truly alien in Alien, a creature that was physically different to humans, with an unknowable and tragic backstory of how it came to encounter/die to a bunch of other aliens. Prometheus spends a good amount of screen time demystifying the space jockey, and instead of it being an imaginative creature that is different in form and thought to humanity, it just turns out that they are really tall blokes who are also idiots. I’m really not sure where Scott is coming from here – the origin of the alien isn’t a story that needs to be told.

The positioning of the alien always seemed to me to be one of a natural entities – the aliens are just creatures in space, driven only by a natural urge to eat, survive, and procreate. This is highlighted in the film Aliens by Burke’s (and by extension Weyland-Yuanti’s) plan to capture an alien for use as a biological weapon. By trying to subvert the natural order of things Burke essentially kills everyone on LV-426; from Newt’s parents through to the colonial marines they are all dead because the company tried to take a wild thing and bottle it up for nefarious uses later. Alien features a similar sub-plot wherein the company sends the Nostromo to investigate the Space Jockey’s signal in the first place (and also instructs Ash that the crew are expendable in pursuit of this goal). Both of these movies (still the only two in the entire franchise worth a damn) specifically deal with themes of the limitations of human technology/innovation in the terrifying face of nature; so many scenes in these movies show technology catastrophically failing to save the day (think androids). But now we’re being told that the alien actually is a piece of technology.

I think Ridley Scott is trying to tie into this theme by exploring the origins of the alien as a biological weapon, but this actually undermines the theme in both of those movies. The moral of Alien and Aliens is that messing with a dangerous natural organism and trying to use it’s power for yourself will just get innocent people killed. Except the proposed plot for Prometheus 2 is that the alien always was an artificial weapon of war, so does that mean that Burke was right? We should be trying to capture the alien and use it as a biological weapon because that was always the intent. I guess it doesn’t instantly justify Burke’s actions, but it certainly does cast a shadow over the idea of the alien as an unstoppable force of nature.

Also, Scott laments that he let “those movies get away from me”, which is understandable I suppose. Except to say that James Cameron’s Aliens is probably one of the best sequels ever made whilst Ridley Scott’s second entry in the franchise is abysmal so…maybe it was better that Scott walked away. The last thing to say in this probably unnecessary bit of soapbox nonsense is that I was sorry to see that Scott making Prometheus 2 has resulted in Neil Blomkamp’s Alien 5 being shelved. Whilst Blomkamp’s record is a little patchy, his movies do at least consistently offer some interesting concepts and some excellent robots (I really would love to see a bunch of Colonial Marine robots fighting a horde of aliens); I’m far more interested in seeing a new take on this franchise than Scott having a third bite of the apple when his second already caused the tree to rot.

Film // Inchoate Review // Spectre

Examining this awful cologne commercial of a movie.

Spectre Poster

Spoilers everywhere!

So, James Bond’s latest adventure from the mind of former cinematic auteur Sam Mendes has come out and about the only thing worth saying of it is that it is really really long! I consider Daniel Craig the best Bond character mostly because I find both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace to good spy action adventures. Truth be told I’m not really a fan of wise-cracking/silly/over-the-top/camp Bond of old so the remolding of the character as a ruthless espionage/murder machine was a big win with me (one that actually feels much closer to the original Casino Royale novel (although Fleming himself launched head long into camp silliness almost immediately afterwards)). Skyfall had a foot in both camps and just about came out ahead for me (even if references to crap like ejector seats and headlight guns had crept back into the franchise). Sadly it turns out that this wasn’t just Mendes giving a cheeky nod to the history of the franchise on it’s 50th birthday, but rather a taste of the absurd retro nonsense to come in Spectre.

History Repeating

Mendes constructs Spectre as a conscious reliving of ‘classic’ Bond moments; the problem is that even where the original moment being referenced is bad, Spectre‘s rehashes are without exception worse. There is not a single scene that betters the ones that inspired it; this is even true when Mendes is referencing himself.

Casino Royale climaxes with an old building collapsing so Spectre starting with the same must mean Spectre is going to continue the upward trend of escalating spectacle. Except the reason the collapsing building was compelling in Casino Royale is that it was directly tied up in the emotional arc of Vesper’s betrayal and subsequent sacrifice. Spectre just uses it as an opportunity for a consequence- and tension-less explosion. The sequence also includes a truly awful visual ‘joke’ about Bond landing on a sofa amongst the rubble that sets the tone both for the poor comedy to come and the return to campy ‘Bond is magically lucky at all times’ shennanigans. Sure we know Bond isn’t going to die any time soon, but the loose illusion that he lives in a functioning world and is in actual danger is what propels the action scenes forward. When he is cloaked in invulnerability from the very first action scene then it weakens the verisimilitude of his world and the sense of danger for the rest of the picture, fatally lowering the stakes of every action scene and in turn making everything that happens seem boring and pointless.

Similarly the scenes of Blofeld and a captured Bond seem designed to evoke both traditional Blofeld stuff as well as the scenes from Skyfall where Bond and Silva first meet. Silva is a genuinely frightening presence, with an air of spontaneous manic danger that is only partially mitigated by some relatively witty dialogue from Bond. In Spectre Blofeld lacks that sense of danger and his torture methods seem absurd. In an attempt to overcome the classic Bond ‘escapes before being tortured’ cliche Mendes actually has Blofeld drill into Bond’s skull – ok that’s an interesting enough idea, but the outcome of that brain drilling? Yeah, absolutely nothing, no effect at all. Once again Bond is magically invincible and all the possible tension of the scene evaporates. Also of note here is the weird choice to remove Hinx, Blofeld’s physical threat to Bond, a good hour before the film ends – one assumes this was designed to show that Blofeld doesn’t need muscle-men and can threaten Bond with only his superior mind, but as it turns out Blofeld is an utter imbecile so that doesn’t really work.

Rather than a friendly nod to the other Craig films this all feels like Mendes et al attempting to smash them into the ground and prove why Spectre is better. Except Spectre isn’t better, it is markedly worse with a near complete lack of tension throughout; the constant call backs just highlight the gulf in quality between these films.

True Love

Casino Royale is also used as a spring-board for the romantic core of Spectre; the relationship between Vesper Lynd and Bond is frequently invoked, primarily in a failed attempt to demonstrate why new character Madeline Swann is really Bond’s true love (Bond even literally discards the memory of Vesper, via vhs tape, whilst in Swann’s presence at L’Americain). The first meeting between Vesper and Bond took place on a fancy train over drinks and it is heavily alluded to when Swanning and Bond have drinks on a fancy train. Except the former lovers meeting involved a level of witty conversation and character insight that is unmatched by anything on display in the equivalent Spectre scene or indeed this entire movie. Vesper was quickly established as Bond’s intellectual equal, with an aversion to, but acceptance of, the necessity of his violent methods, and also as having a tortured past of her own. Swann’s characterisation follows a similar path, but in a truly lifeless, by-the-numbers way that offers very little compelling depth. Rather than a slow unpeeling of the layers of Swann’s character and emotional core (as per the Vesper story approach) she announces her entire Mr White’s daughter backstory in one monologue and then simply changes character completely as the scene in question requires it – at L’Americain she is grieving, angry, and entirely uninterested in creepy James Bond, but as soon as they are on the train she is flirtatious and sexually interested (even before the adrenaline high of the fight with Hinx). At Blofeld’s really awful crater-base (an uninspired revival of the hidden villain base trope) she suddenly declares that she is in love with Bond (a mere two days after meeting him!), but by London she isn’t interested in living a life with him after all. More startling is the speed and depth of Bond’s feelings for Swann; she doesn’t challenge Bond intellectually like Vesper did, nor does she follow a sympathetic life path like Camille Montes (his semi-spy semi-partner from Quantum of Solace). In fact in all the screen time they share they seem to talk only about being and/or being related to spies and/or murderers so as a viewer I have no idea what has driven this instant love connection. Why is this ‘Bond girl’ different to any other given that there is literally nothing that distinguishes her character-wise?

Quite frankly it would have been far more interesting to have Monica Bellucci’s character Lucia emerging as Bond’s true love – she is from a similar world to him and knows how it works, they share more chemistry in their two scenes together than every Bond/Swann scene that follows, and she is much closer in age to Bond. This could have been a smart move that explores Bond coming to terms with his age and making a more mature choice as he drives off into the sunset.

The uneven characterisation of Swann, and her clear positioning as a plot point for Bond rather than a character really gave me the impression that something else might be in the wings for the finale of the film. Could Swann have been playing the long game, stringing Bond along throughout the movie changing her character to what the scene and Bond required so that he wouldn’t worry too much about her motives? Could she have actually been revealed to be a villain herself, surprising Bond with a stab to the guts and the heart on that bridge at the film’s end? Alas not, this is the one trick from the Casino Royale playbook that Mendes doesn’t reuse. Instead Swann just makes no sense as a character because that’s how she was written.

Spectre Still 2

Spectre did what?

The film revels in highlighting Bond’s recent past, with several visual displays of the Craig villains Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Silva. Blofeld goes on to explain why these guys have been brought up so frequently, it turns out that he and Spectre have actually orchestrated everything that has happened to Bond in & since Casino Royale. This is a huge problem both in concept and execution. First of all, tying all of the recent villains into the machinations of Spectre shrinks Bond’s world immeasurably – MI6 doesn’t fight against all kinds of global threats it literally just fights Blofeld and his petty family motives. Similarly it gives the impression that over the last 10 years Bond has only been on 3 missions,there is no sense that he does work between the movies, that he is constantly on guard protecting us all. I guess he’s just been doing the paperwork all this time. Secondly it invites a rather unfavourable comparison for Blofeld himself – all 3 of those villains, even Dominic Greene with his piercing eyes and cold demeanour, were more threatening and compelling than boring old windbag Blofeld. Basically Blofeld’s various lieutenants have infinitely more interesting schemes and encounters with Bond; so let’s just see those interesting stories instead please. Finally, and most frustratingly, the writing takes the absolute laziest route to tying these villains into a single story – we are simply told that Blofeld did it. He never explains how he was behind them, or how they factored into his grander plan, or what he did after Bond took them out. In fact, besides several mug shots (mostly cheap-looking stills from in-movie scenes), their presence is totally wasted. They are invoked in an attempt to shock and scare the audience (“look, those scary guys were being controlled by this guy so he must be even scarier!“), but it is a heartless cheat. Maybe they would have gotten away with it if they had included some flashbacks featuring the original actors being given orders by Blofeld or offering some information about their part in Spectre’s plans, but doing it this way just comes across as lazy, boring and dissatisfying.

Quantum vs Spectre

The other negative comparison invited by bringing up those previous villians, and the inclusion of Mr White (who here has the admittedly good villain name The Pale King), is that Spectre with it’s inert boardroom and stupid ill-defined planning is nowhere near as compelling an organisation as Quantum was. All we see of Spectre is that boardroom, which is pretty nondescript and a toothless threat (Bond easily escapes despite the fact that Spectre knew he was there!), other than that Spectre as an organisation basically IS Blofeld – and all he does is have a load of people in a desert doing what, using social media or something and watching curiously specific live feeds from Bond’s super dull MI6 office. Quantum meanwhile is presented as a coalition of influential individuals collaborating on hundreds of nefarious schemes at once. Bond doesn’t just walk into a boring meeting room, he becomes part of an epic opera, has to use intelligence to surveil Quantum’s members, and engages in one of the most dramatic and beautifully constructed action scenes in the franchise’s history after coming face to face with Greene. As a threat Quantum has many powerful heads and plans that neither Bond nor the audience can fathom; Spectre just announces itself and offers nothing of interest other than empty words (“we did a bad thing in country x“, “our bad thing plans are on schedule“, “bad things up 20% this quarter“). And this isn’t even to mention the astonishing opening to Quantum of Solace wherein Mr White’s threat that Quantum have people everywhere is immediately proven true when M’s bodyguard almost kills her. This instantly establishes the level of danger involved, whereas in Spectre we know Bond is magically invincible and apparently one bullet can blow up an entire Spectre facility in a super-cheesy 80’s explosion – there is no threat in Spectre at all.

Spectre Still 1

Bond’s Seduction Technique is Intensely Uncomfortable & Sexually Threatening

After the distasteful and uninvited exploitation of a former victim of sexual violence in Skyfall Bond seems to have changed tact in his seduction of women – now the first thing he says to them, with an unbroken stare and a serious, ashen face, is that he is a murderer and that their husband/father is dead, possibly by his hand. He then leaves plenty of time for that to sink in BEFORE he tells them that he is a good guy and wants to protect them. Think about that for a moment, some guy turns up and tells you that he murders people and then he just stares at you for a bit. How insanely creepy is this behaviour! I guess I’ll sleep with him then.

Lighting and the Outfits

Perhaps the only redeeming features of the film are how nice it looks most of the time. The costume and set decorating departments have done some truly excellent work, especially in their efforts to capture a period feel. As has the lighting team; the train sequence is a particular highlight on all counts (and also features literally the only good action scene in the movie). Monica Belluci’s arrival at her assassin infested home is also a beautifully constructed moment (even if it does lead directly into more creepy-sex Bond).

Every outfit was good except this one
Every outfit was good except this one

Other fun things:

– Police in London will instantly arrive at the scene of a helicopter crash, but will put up police tape before helping victims out of the wreckage

– Pierce Brosnan left his speed boat under the ruined MI6 building for some reason

– What was Bond’s plan when he stole that plane to follow Hinx and the kidnapped Madeline Swann? Swann’s car is driving along a cliff top road and Bond attempts to shoot the driver through the window – if that shot had actually killed the driver then the car plummets to the bottom of the valley killing Swann, excellent work Bond.

Spectre seems to have about 18 endings; wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have Blofeld at large with a desire to get revenge on Bond instead of a further 30 minutes of lifelessly running around London rehashing better bits of Skyfall?

– More than ever Bond really doesn’t care about collateral damage and it is distracting and upsetting. He is in a helicopter over a crowded square in Mexico City but will attack the pilot and almost crash it into the ground (and will also throw people out of the craft into the crowd below possibly killing innocent civilians); he flies a plane through some persons house whilst they might have been in it; he let’s buildings blow up in the street and walks off. Bond has always been a bit reckless but some of this stuff is sheer madness, as if he is willfully trying to kill innocent people. How are we supposed to root for a hero who behaves like this? Maybe Bond is the actual fucking bad guy.

– When Swann chastises Bond for letting Blofeld’s men follow him to her it actually seemed for the briefest moment like the movie might have had a smart scene planned where Bond admits that this indeed was the case and that he was using her as bait. Instead he really is just that stupid.

– The meta-gag about Bond not wanting a hand from Tanner off the boat was the funniest thing in the movie.

– Why would Q go into the field to bring Bond back rather than Moneypenny (or just calling him or whatever)? Also, why was Moneypenny totally sidelined by the movie as soon as it was revealed that she was seeing someone else – as if the film was on Bond’s side in thinking that she should be eternally available for his flirtation and objectification and as soon as she chooses to move on from him she is no longer worth spending time with.

– Wouldn’t an ending where M and C work together using the combined power of big data and old fashioned ground work to succeed have been more interesting than the guy who seemed like a villain from his first scene turning out to be a villain? Also, must every Bond film spend time exploring the idea that the 00 programme is obsolete and some new thing is better? What the hell was C going to do with all that surveillance data once he had it, presumably he would still need agents to go do the capturing/killing? Emails can’t arrest terrorists! It doesn’t make sense!

Film // Inchoate Review // Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

This isn’t so much a review as it is a collection of random thoughts and questions that I had whilst watching this perfectly adequate blockbuster, as such you’ll find spoilers for the entire plot throughout

Mission Impossible Rogue Nation Poster

First up, why must every contemporary spy action movie focus on the lead character going rogue from their intelligence agency? Or at least the agency goes rogue from them. I guess there is some drama to be had by having the support structure removed, but given that these characters are rubbing shoulders with mass murderers and terrorists whilst attempting to defuse world shattering plots is the fact that they will be getting a disciplinary back in the office when they’re done really of value? Not to mention the fact that this has been a major factor in all of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, all of the Mission Impossible movies, all of the Bourne movies, and is even a theme in stuff like Spy.

Solomon Lame – We are frequently told that arch-criminal, and champion villainous whisperer (besting even Eddie Redmayne circa Jupiter’s Ascending), Solomon Lane is the greatest enemy Hunt has ever faced. Allegedly his mastery of tradecraft is unrivalled, he is one step ahead at all times, and not even spy-god Ethan Hunt can beat him. The writers seem to think that they are constructing an intricate tale of two chess masters playing an incredible game, unfortunately we get to see none of this. There are no brilliant plots or surprise twists or exciting betrayals, instead we get Hunt coming up with intensely physical plans that rely more often than not on brute force and lucky coincidence. Sure, some minor planning goes into the action set-pieces, but this is often just a single scene where everyone finishes each others sentences. Think back to the cleverly set-up and executed train sequence in M:I1, every character was there and everything was played to perfection. Here it’s just Hunt vs mindless thugs at every turn then an anti-climatic outdoor dining experience and a brief foot chase through the London fog. Lane’s unimpressive speeches via Benji and his DOS remote bomb-suit activation OS leave a lot to be desired. Maybe the glass box finale was a neat visual, but really they could have just beaten that guy up (there were five of them in that room!)

What Nation, exactly? – The Rogue Nation of the title, this much vaunted anti-IMF, barely seems to exist in this movie. It felt like half of the film’s screen time is taken up showing countless mug shots of MIA/KIA international spy people. ‘Wow’ we say as we are told that the Syndicate is the best of the best and that it is fully capable of toppling states and destroying rivals. But they’re so inefficient that they need four assassination plots in place to kill one person (just cut straight to the car bomb guys!) Other than that they are entirely limited to standing around threateningly until they get whacked in the head. These guys are all supposed to be evil Ethan Hunt’s, but they do nothing. At all.

Ethan Hunt, The Messiah – What on Earth is with the hyped-up-this-man-is-our-savior dialogue in this movie? The film opens with some odd dialogue in another wise neat context: the Syndicate have hacked the IMF briefing system* all so they can melodramatically query Hunt’s desire to “Face [his] fate”. Ok, I guess that is just bad guys being hyperbolic bad guys, right? But later the good guy CIA director explains that “[Ethan Hunt] is destiny made manifest”. What?! I mean what does he even mean by that? Interestingly Hunt seems to believe all of the hype about himself as he never challenges any of it, no doubt thanks to the fact that Benji and Stickell repeatedly back up whatever nonsense he says without question.

*Is it weird that no one questions how the Syndicate managed to infiltrate and take over the IMF briefing system? Sort of seems like it might be a major security breach that ought to be investigated a little bit.

DO YOU SEE? – The scene when Ethan Hunt calmly manages to persuade his skeptical colleague that the best course of action is to kidnap the British Prime Minister and expose the world to the risks of a fully empowered Syndicate by using cold logic and rational argument was really great. WAIT. That didn’t happen! Instead Hunt clearly suffers a massive onscreen mental breakdown due to the above mentioned messiah complex and simply shouts “DO YOU SEE” at Brandt several times. Which apparently succeeds in convincing him for some reason.

Ethan Hunt, The Gambler – Throughout the film there are several characters who question Ethan Hunt’s brilliance, more specifically describing him (and the IMF ethos he embodies) as being wreckless, unstable, and dangerous. Of course we’re supposed to know better as Hunt is our hero and he has saved the world so often that he deserves to do whatever he wants, right? But here’s the thing, those naysayers are right, Ethan Hunt is a dangerously unpredictable and impossibly lucky human being who despite being hyper-capable still only seems to get the job done by sheer luck (glad that flag pole lasted long enough!). In this franchise how many times has he actually robbed the macguffin on behalf of the villains? It must be at least once per movie! Think about it, Ethan Hunt is actually the world’s greatest cat burglar and he ends up working for every villain in every movie. Then he has to go back and stop the bad guys using the super weapon he just gave them. Those are some crazy risks to be taking…on every single mission.

Intelligence Community FTW – By the end of the movie the IMF and Hunt are reinstated just as they were before (meaning they continue to operate “without oversight” of any kind). Seriously? After everything that is revealed regarding the abuse of powers in the intelligence community in this movie (not to mention in real life) this movie is still content to peddle the idea that an unaccountable spy agency is an absolute good? Sure, this is Hollywood nonsense and not a political treatise (although there are some strong positions taken on the necessity for merciless statecraft), but it sure seems strange to have every character who survives come around to the view point that this crazy guy who repeatedly gets lucky (“oh, here’s the trumpet gun”, “Oh there is that high speed motorcycle chase meandering past us again, I guess I’ll get involved”, “oh, here’s the correct Benji-gait-profile chip-card”) should have unquestioned power over international affairs.

Why isn’t Benji dead? – Benji’s arc for the entire movie is that he wants to be seen as a ‘field’ agent not just a tech guy; this is the primary reason that he ends up staying side by side with Hunt for much of the movie (I am guessing the mistaken assumption that these guys are hilarious together was also a factor in this decision). At several points though it becomes clear that whilst he may have the spirit of a field agent Benji just doesn’t have the capability. Ilsa’s boss suggests, and Ethan himself confirms, that a good spy should be willing to die for their country and its secrets. Hunt’s confirmation is given in the very scene in which Benji is taken hostage by the Syndicate and he becomes a massive liability for Hunt that puts the entire world in danger. It surely makes sense that for Benji to complete his journey to becoming a legitimate field agent he either manages to effect his own escape, or he sacrifices himself to protect his country, his secrets, and his friends. After all, Ethan just explained that this is what a true secret agent ought to be willing to do. Instead Benji does literally nothing but squeal and wait for rescue. (I can’t help but wonder how differently things might have gone if Jeremy Renner’s actual field agent Brandt, another impossibly-capable human, had have been out there alongside Hunt instead of Benji – Solomon wouldn’t have stood a chance)

Sundry Questions

– How did Ilsa know where the glass-box-finale was taking place at the end of the movie (seeing as how she and Hunt got separated on the run)?

– Ilsa is clearly Ethan’s equal, why does she or Lane even need his help? Sorry I forgot, Ethan is destiny made manifest!

– If the Syndicate rival the IMF in terms of ability why don’t they just steal the red box themselves, and also kidnap the British Prime Minister (they wouldn’t even need to keep him alive)?

– So Solomon showed his face to Hunt at the start to ensure that he would chase him to the ends of the Earth (and inflict a bit of man-pain it seems), right, but hadn’t Hunt been on his case for over a year already? You’d have thought he would be sufficiently invested by this point.

Fantasy Casting // X-Men: Days of Future Past in 1981!

With Secret Wars offering up a glimpse into the past and the recent movie sequel it seems like a reasonable time to take another crack at else-world else-time fantasy casting. This time I’m concerning myself with one of the X-Men’s most vaunted adventures – Days of Future Past!

The Rules / So here’s the rules to the fantasy casting business – I’m looking to find the most appropriate cast, primarily based on their ability to embody the role, for the characters in the original version of the adapted story; the kicker is that they have to right for the roles if the movie were released the same year as the comic.

The Book / Running to only two issues the original Days of Future Past story appeared in Uncanny X-Men #141-142 way back in 1981, written by Chris Claremont and with art by John Byrne. The story is roughly the same as that seen in the movie, although there are a few major differences (including Kitty being the time displaced the lead not Wolverine) and the central cast is quite different. That said, the X-Men are still the X-men, Mystique is still Mystique (leading a misfit brotherhood), and the future timeline (2013!) is still a Sentinel controlled hell-hole!

Kitty Pryde / Karen Allen

1981 DOFP Casting - Kitty & Karen Allen

1981 was the same year that Raiders of the Lost Ark was released where Allen played Marion Ravenwood with the kind of gutsy independent spirit that would be perfect for future Kitty. Allen also looks the part for young Kitty and has the ability to imbue the role with the necessary vulnerability.

Storm / Pam Greer

1981 DOFP Casting - Storm & Pam Greer

Leader of the X-Men and an elemental force to be reckoned with Storm could only be played by someone with an incredibly strong screen presence; Pam Greer has that in spades, along with a don’t mess with me attitude that is perfect.

Colossus / Arnold Schwarzenegger

1981 DOFP Casting - Colossus & Arnold schwarzenegger

Still a year away from taking on the role of Conan the Barbarian Arnie none the less has the right look for the big hearted metal man Colossus. He can also play a man of few, but meaningful, words as demonstrated by his breakthrough smash a few years later – The Terminator.

Wolverine / Kurt Russell

1981 DOFP Casting - Wolverine & Kurt Russell

The gruff, knowing, cynical, but beneath it all caring Wolverine would be in good hands with Kurt Russell. An actor with incredible versatility and presence.

Nightcrawler / Jackie Chan

1981 DOFP Casting - Nightcrawler & Jackie Chan

The joyous, physical, funny Nightcrawler? Who better to play him than the best action comedian that’s ever lived! The timing is perfect as this is the year Chan began breaking into Western cinema with a role in Cannonball Run.

Angel / Warren Beatty

1981 DOFP Casting - Angel & Warren Beatty

Handsome and rich and with a butter wouldn’t melt vibe; all of which would cover a certain missing something and a sense of doom in his future. Beatty would nail this role.

Professor Xavier / Patrick Stewart

1981 DOFP Casting - Professor X & Patrick Stewart

Sure he was a lot younger, but this was the same year Stewart turned in a performance full of gravitas in Excalibur. In any case, the Professor was a young man once.

Magneto / Laurence Oliver

1981 DOFP Casing - Magneto & Laurence Olivier

Magneto is seen only in the future timeline where his wisdom and gravitas are on full display. Who better than the acting legend Laurence Oliver, who just got finished playing Zeus in Clash of the Titans.

Mystique / Meryl Streep

1981 DOFP Casting - Mystique & Meryl Streep

For the character that can take any form the actress that can play any role. Streep released The French Lieutenant’s Woman the same year and already had an impeccable catalogue of roles.

Pyro / Michael Caine

1981 DOFP Casting - Pyro & Micheal Caine

The Englishman Pyro had a dangerous streak and a certain charm. Caine just finished up Escape to Victory, so maybe something a little more realistic movie would be a refreshing change!

Destiny / Sigourney Weaver

1981 DOFP Casting - Destiny & Sigourney Weaver

Potential assassin and possibly Mystique’s lover Destiny was a little older in the book, but Weaver, who completed Alien two years earlier, proved that she can handle scifi and special effects movies whilst delivering a real, emotional, and powerful performance.

Avalanche / Carl Weathers

1981 DOFP Casting - Avalance & Carl Weathers

Avalanche is not a foe to take lightly and he causes more than a few problems for Colossus and the X-Men in this issue, hence the need for a strong, charismatic actor in the role. The chance to see Weathers and Arnie go head to head a few years before fighting side by side in Predator would be too good to miss.

Senator Kelly / Christopher Reeve

1981 DOFP Casting - Senator Kelly & Christopher Reeve

Superhero legend Christopher Reeve proved beyond doubt that he made an excellent good guy, but his range was far greater than just playing heroes. Reeve could play intense, self righteous and dangerous just as well, and he would have delivered a knock out performance as Kelly.

Are there any of these that you completely love (or hate) the idea of? Let me know what you think in the comments, as well as any better suggestions you have!