Movie Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player Oneby Sean CW Korsgaard

 

Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg
Warner Bros. Pictures

Depending on who you ask, Ready Player One is either a fun science fiction adventure and loving tribute to the nerd culture of the 1980s, or the personification of everything wrong with modern geek culture and nostalgia. Regardless, the moment Steven Spielberg announced he would be doing a movie adaptation, I was intrigued. America’s greatest living filmmaker, the man who made turning airport novels into generational cinematic touchstones, tackling a book that partly serves as a love letter to nostalgia for an era he helped define, it made one hell of a selling point, at least if Spielberg could stick the landing.

Luckily, with Ready Player One, not only does Spielberg stick the landing, he delivers a rip-roaring adventure that may be the most entertaining movie he’s made in over 20 years.

Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, or as he’s known in the virtual reality world of the OASIS, Parzival, as he joins the ranks of millions of gamers questing to be heir to the throne of the world’s late trillionaire creator James Halliday. Alongside a group of his friends, he makes the first breakthrough in the contest, making him the most famous player in the OASIS, and the biggest target of corporate suits like Nolan Sorrento who seek to win the contest and twist the OASIS to their own ends. Risking fame, fortune, the fate of the world, and their very lives, Wade and his friends are in a race to the finish, and on the journey of a lifetime.

There are some bits that Ready Player One changed from the book that I liked, such as making the challenges for the keys more streamlined and cinematic, as well as giving characters like Art3mis and Daito more to do. There are other things I didn’t like that they changed, with the major one being really downplaying the dystopian aspects of the novel, the world of Ready Player One in the movie never feels like the broken, impoverished dying world people needed an escape from in the OASIS. That said, Ready Player One absolutely nails the most important thing, the OASIS being this vivid virtual world where the only limits are your imagination, and making it a place worth fighting for. There are some bits of coincidence in the movie that raise questions, but the movie moves at a brisk enough pace that it can be forgiven.

Part of that comes from the fact we’ve got a motley crew of heroes and scenery chewing bad guys who act and feel like they’re straight out of a classic Spielberg movie.

Tye Sheridan is charming enough as Wade/Parzival, and he really shines playing off the other members of the cast. Olivia Cooke gives Samantha/Art3mis some sass and personality that she was occasionally missing in the books, and she steals any scene she’s in. My personal favorite though was Lena Waithe as Aech, though I am somewhat disappointed that the movie downplays the big twist from the novel with the character.

Ben Mendelsohn is clearly having fun as scowling corporate suit Nolan Sorrento, and between this and Rogue One, is cementing himself as great actor for such villains. T.J. Miller and Hannah John-Kamen acquit themselves well as two of Sorrento’s henchmen.

Really, the only big disappointment among the cast is Mark Rylance who plays James Halliday, the deceased creator of the OASIS. In the book, Halliday comes across as a mix of Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes and Willy Wonka, but for whatever reason, Rylance has chosen to play him as a borderline autistic weirdo, and he just drags down ever scene he’s in. I’m not sure what dirt he has on Spielberg to keep getting lead roles, but I’m getting tired of Mark Rylance dragging down every Spielberg movie by playing bored, tired old men who mumble their dialog.

That said, the most important thing here is that Spielberg was clearly firing on all cylinders for Ready Player One. As huge as nostalgia for the 1980s has been in pop culture in recent years, Spielberg clearly took Ready Player One as a chance to thumb his chest a little, and scream “I INVENTED IT!”, as well as acting as both a love letter and an evaluation of such nostalgia.

There are moments in Ready Player One that are utterly jaw-dropping—a race scene in the first ten minutes of the movie, and the climactic final battle are worth splurging on IMAX 3D alone. The movie is colorful and creatively designed from start to finish, the action scenes are frenetic and creatively staged, and the references, when they drop, are a joy to watch unfold.

Ready Player One isn’t a perfect movie, anymore than it was a perfect book, but much like the Ernest Cline novel, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies in ages. I had a gigantic grin on my face from about the five minute mark onward, and I’ve already made plans to see it again with friends. I don’t care if you’re a nut for nostalgia, or are just looking to have a blast at the movies, Ready Player One is just what you’re looking for.

 

Movie Review: Black Panther

Black Pantherby Sean CW Korsgaard

 

Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Marvel Studios

Ten years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, everytime you think they’ve peaked, they’ve proved us wrong, yet with Black Panther they very well might have outdone even themselves. Where delivering the black answer to Iron Man would have likely been enough, instead they’ve done far more with Black Panther, delivering an Afro-futurist James Bond with the level of mythos and background characters usually reserved for something like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. It’s grand, it’s great, and brother, let me tell you, it more than delivers on the hype.

Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa, the Black Panther returns to Wakanda to bury his father, and assume the throne as the new king. He takes control of a kingdom facing a crossroads, and a decision on which path to take for the future of the isolated African nation—to continue the centuries of isolation, or to open Wakanda to the world, for good and for ill. The path will not be an easy one, with foes like Ulysses Klaue and Erik Killmonger taking shots at T’Challa abroad, and the sins of the father being laid bare at home, one thing is for sure: uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

At its simplest level, Black Panther is a Shakespearean family drama, where even the most familiar beats can be forgiven thanks to an ensemble cast that brought their A-game and a director whose capable hands at the helm and visionary style elevate the film to an entirely new level. Toss in some bold political subtext ala Captain America: Winter Soldier and the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have delivered one of the best comic book movies ever made—let the debates on just where it ranks begin in earnest now.

That cast is truly remarkable in a number of ways, and the least remarkable may be the one everybody has fixated on, that for all but three white guys (one of whom is Stan Lee), the entire cast is black. The more remarkable thing for me is that ensemble casts this large that work this well together are damned rare, and it’s a treat to see a movie deliver so many memorable performances that mesh so well together.

As one of the breakout stars of Captain America: Civil War—and not to toot my own horn, an actor I have been hyping up since he played Jackie Robinson in 42—Chadwick Boseman really gets to shine as T’Challa, in a performance that showcases not only the warrior king in a super suit, but a range of human emotions from jovial to mournful. Marvel has always had a gift for highlighting the human side of their movie superheroes, and Black Panther is well served by Boseman reminding the world T’Challa is more than just a man in a vibranium catsuit.

The ensemble cast is remarkable as well, the one two-punch from Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, an idealistic spy, and Danai Gurira’s Okoye, the head of the royal guard, who enjoy a back-and-forth with T’challa that is equal parts comic familiarity and undeniable badassery being a particular joy. Daniel Kaluuya, who some of you may remember from last year’s Get Out, sticks the landing in one of the film’s more complex roles, and Andy Serkis gets to enjoy himself outside of motion caption as the madcap arms dealer Klaue.

The movie’s two biggest breakout stars though may be Letitia Wright as T’challa’s sister Shuri, and Winston Duke as the boisterous and proud M’Baku, who both steal every scene they’re in, mostly thanks to some wickedly funny scenes they get to be front and center for.

Yet even they may pale in comparison to Michael B. Jordan’s chilling performance as the merciless Erik Killmonger. While I don’t want to spoil too much about the film’s central villain, let’s just say somebody took Magneto and turned the Malcolm X parallel up to 11, and that Jordan, once more proves himself to be the best Millenial actor in Hollywood with a performance of terrifying intensity. Much ink has been spilled talking about Marvel’s so-called “villain problem”—a conversation that should have ended by the time of Loki’s first scene in The Avengers—but after Black Panther, I think all but the most vocal Heath Ledger fanboys will be silent.

If there was ever any doubt that Coogler was the best director of my generation after Creed, it should be erased after Black Panther. He once again proves himself an absolute master behind the camera—lots of single-shot long takes, some expertly choreographed fight scenes, and really pulling the most out of his ensemble cast. From the first frame to the last, you can really tell Black Panther was a labor of love for him, and the film is a much richer place for it. If somebody at Warner Bros isn’t getting fired for letting Ryan Coogler jump ship to Disney over how they treated him for Creed, I would be surprised, because he once again went above and beyond the call of duty with Black Panther.

Visually, Black Panther is almost unlike anything ever realized in a Hollywood movie, certainly on this scale. Never before has a movie been so undeniably and unapologetically African, and love of the continent’s peoples and cultures is steeped throughout the film, from the colorful costumes including touches like lip plates and neck rings, and the fictional Wakandan language incorporating the clicks of the isiXhosa language of South Africa. If Black Panther doesn’t inspire a generation of worldbuilding to look closer at Africa for inspiration, I will be surprised and disappointed, and the Afro-futurist aesthetic is almost worth a ticket by itself.

While I’m probably not qualified to speak of its cultural importance—though I would say it’s probably too soon to say just how important Black Panther will be regardless—as a movie in its own right, Black Panther is about as good as they come. It effortlessly juggles a range of genres and tones from family drama to action thriller to science fiction. The entire cast delivers one of the best ensemble performances seen in ages, and a number of careers will likely be born or bettered by being here. From a directing standpoint, Coogler has more than proved himself as a generational talent, and visually, the movie will probably end up as big a genre milestone as Lord of the Rings or The Matrix.

If those early box office predictions are any sign of things to come ($192 million opening weekend), I don’t need to tell you, but I want to say it anyway—Black Panther is an absolute must see that I cannot recommend highly enough.

 

Soldier, scholar, writer and freelancer, Sean CW Korsgaard is a US Army veteran, award-winning journalist, and freelance writer.
www.korsgaardscommentary.com

 

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

EdgeOfTomorrowby Michael D. Pederson

 

Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Warner Bros. Pictures

There were a lot of reasons for me not to enjoy Edge of Tomorrow. I find Tom Cruise to be overrated, the movie underwent several script changes and didn’t have a finished script when they started shooting, and the director required several reshoots. Any one of these things could ruin a movie and all of them together sounded like a recipe for disaster. And yet…

Sometimes high concept pays off big.

If you haven’t seen the movie already, you’ve at least heard the pitch description: Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. An intriguing concept with an untold number of ways to go wrong.

However, EoT proved to be the action movie of the summer (well, pre-summer; release dates have gotten weird). Turns out, the final script revision was done by Christopher McQuarrie who contributed his usual trademark blend of suspense, action, and humor that made The Usual Suspects an instant classic.

In a nutshell… Cruise plays William Cage, a military PR expert; he’s a former ad executive that volunteered his services to avoid fighting in a war against invading aliens, known as Mimics—a coward. When he refuses to cover an invasion from the front lines he’s branded a deserter and sent into combat against aliens that have proven nearly unstoppable where he dies on his first day and (through some complicated plot trickery) gains the ability to restart the day every time he dies. On one of his early loops, he saves the life of Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a celebrated soldier who also had the looping ability until she lost it after receiving a blood transfusion. She tells Cage to find her when he wakes up. He does and they begin training, turning him into the ultimate weapon.

After the screenplay, the second thing the studio did right was casting. Cruise gives a self-aware performance that comes close to parodying his image but works brilliantly; Cruise is always at his best when he’s playing against type (see: Tropic Thunder). Blunt is hard-edged, smart, and fierce and turns an under-developed character into a memorable heroine. Bill Paxton plays the Master Sergeant for the platoon that Cage is assigned to and gives a performance that is somehow emotionally believable and over-the-top scene stealing at the same time. And Brendan Gleeson gives a very grounded performance as the General in charge of the war effort, the man who sends Cage to certain death.

The Mimic’s relentless spread across Europe, the line being held at England, and a science fiction invasion of Normandy draw clear but not invasive parallels to the Second World War, a move that further helps to ground a fairly crazy concept in an added layer of believability.

That’s not to say that the movie isn’t without it’s flaws and most of those flaws come right at the end. The movie desperately rewrites the rules on time travel that they had so carefully established early on in the film for no other reason than to give us a happy ending. That’s weak and, frankly, it compromised the sacrifices that several of the characters had made. There’s also an uncomfortable attempt at adding a romance angle at the end as well. Since Cage is the only character that has been reliving the same day, he may know Rita inside and out, but she’s only known him for a day. It’s just uncomfortable.

Edge of Tomorrow is definitely worth buying when it becomes available. More importantly, it’s a movie that makes me want to go out and read the book it was based on—All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka.

 

Movie Review: A Dance With Andrea

ADanceWithAndreaby KT Pinto

 

From the minds of award-winning director Lance J. Reha and screenwriter Christopher Mancuso, who created such thrillers as Bullet and Between Floors, comes A Dance with Andrea, a paranormal romance short (29 minutes) that made its world premiere at the Garden State Film Festival in 2012.

The movie is about Victor (played by Frank Albanese from The Sopranos), a man who for over sixty years has lamented the loss of his true love, and he finally makes a decision to get rid of the pain. Does a supernatural visit help him ease his suffering?

A Dance with Andrea takes you on a roller coaster of emotions using very little dialog and a lot of visual impact to drive the story home. Those who live in New York City will notice some familiar locations throughout the movie, but you don’t have to be from the area to appreciate the great characters and emotionally charged story. Definitely a must see!

You can preview the trailer on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/lakefilms.

 

Movie Review: The Wolverine

TheWolverineby Michael D. Pederson

 

It pains me to no end that some of Marvel’s biggest titles are still owned by other studios: Twentieth Century Fox has The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, and Sony has Spider-Man. Marvel’s single-universe continuity was always my favorite aspect of the comics and I’m enjoying the way that they’ve made that continuity work for them (so far) in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, I just really wish they had all of their characters to play with. In the last year we’ve seen Punisher, Daredevil, and Blade all revert back to Marvel, so there’s hope that one day all the kids will return home (having big Disney cash and lawyers on hand will also help).

On the plus side, though, Fox has clearly learned a lesson from the way that Marvel Studios is handling the Avengers franchise. The X-Men started off strong out of the gate with two fantastic Bryan Singer-directed X-films and then fell on their face with X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And you could see them start to put the pieces together with X-Men: First Class. With this summer’s The Wolverine it’s clear that Fox is trying to establish an X-Universe that’s as solid as Marvel’s Avengers films. And they seem to be succeeding.

The Wolverine uses the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller 1982 mini-series for it’s source material; a comic that many still consider to be the definitive Wolverine story. Wisely, they stay pretty close to the original, deviating only to update the story and to fit it into the movie continuity (i.e. since Fox doesn’t own Daredevil, they were unable to use the Hand as villains).

The movie starts with Logan living a solitary lifestyle in the Yukon, still haunted (literally) by his actions in the last X-Men film. When he’s summoned to Japan as the dying wish of a man whose life he saved in Nagaski at the end of WWII, Logan is offered the chance to give up his immortality. Thus begins the rollercoaster ride of ninja battles, street chases, an amazingly cool fight on a moving bullet train, and the inevitable CGI-heavy climax with an adamantium-clad Silver Samurai. The story arc begins with Logan giving up on the idea of being a hero and proceeds to ask the questions necessary to bring him back to that world. It’s neatly done and ties up with a teaser for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (another lesson learned from The Avengers).

Of the new characters added for this movie… Yukio: Japanese mutant who acts as Wolverine’s self-appointed bodyguard; an excellent performance and great chemistry with Hugh Jackman, I will be deeply disappointed if we don’t see more of her in future films. Mariko: Strong-willed and independent; a believable enough love-interest, however the actress seemed overshadowed by the other performers at times. Viper: Sinister, sexy, and creepy all at once; an excellent addition to the Rogues Gallery.

True believers will have already seen this movie, but if you’re just a casual fan I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well; the bullet train sequence alone makes it worth watching on the big screen.

 

Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

girl_with_the_dragon_tattooby Michael D. Pederson

 

Every once in a while you luck out and get the perfect marriage of artist and material. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as directed by David Fincher is that perfect marriage. Fincher has made a career out of dark subject matter (Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en, Alien3) and things don’t get much darker than Stieg Larsson’s novel that the movie was based on.

At it’s heart, Dragon Tattoo is a classic locked-door mystery—a girl disappears from an island that has been closed off from the mainland, setting off a forty-year search for her murderer. Investigating the murder is disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (a very solid Daniel Craig) with the help of the socially dysfunctional Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

Almost immediately the investigation hurls the viewer into a whirlwind of Nazis, rape, abuse of power, corruption, incest, torture and murder; it plays like a David Fincher greatest hits album. In addition to his dark materials, Fincher has a reputation for drawing strong, intense performances from some of Hollywood’s best actors. Mara’s performance as Salander should put her on the short list for an Academy Award this season. She is nothing short of electrifying and totally owns the screen every time she’s on.

Go see it in the theaters and then buy it as soon as it hits video, you won’t regret it.

 

Movie Review: Contagion

Contagionby Michael D. Pederson

 

I have two guilty pleasures that I will confess to: medical thriller novels and disaster movies. So, Contagion is a bit of a perfect storm for me. Especially when you add in the quality of the people involved with making it… Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Solaris); Oscar-winning actresses Gwynyth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, and Marion Cotillard; and Oscar-nominated actors Matt Damon, Lawrence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Elliot Gould.

I won’t dwell on the actors, with a cast like this it goes without saying that everyone gives a fantastic performance. I will say though, that no one actor steals the show. It is a true ensemble piece. The real credit should go to Soderbergh’s directing and a tight, economical script from Scott Z. Burns. It’s all too easy to let a disaster movie get bogged down in melodrama but Soderbergh and Burns let the reality of the situation shine through in every scene.

Perhaps, most impressive is what’s not in this movie. No inept scientists causing further mayhem, no opportunistic military trying to use the virus for their own ends, and (most impressive) no last-minute cure that keeps the virus in check. The action of the film covers several months and is the most realistic dramatization of a global pandemic that has yet been filmed. Contagion may be the scariest movie of the year.

 

Movie Review: Kick-Ass

kickassby Lucy Arnold

 

Taking Shit Seriously (or Taking Shit, Seriously)

In the vein of Watchmen and other “dark” superhero movies, Kick-Ass presents us with our very own flawed modern world and the flawed hero necessary to save it.

On the one hand, the movie is curiously engaging, particularly scenes including Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz (who hands-down steals the movie). Hit Girl is an intriguing character, one who could have made the movie all on her own, challenging as she does audience preconceptions about superheroes, little girls, and violence. Simultaneously thrilling and disturbing as it is to watch her pump lead into the brains of various villains, Moretz is absolutely believable. As her equally disturbing father, Nic Cage is brilliant. And their relationship raises questions about parenting outside of crime fighting. To what extent do all parents raise their kids with requisite baggage, churning out new generations of dysfunctional psychoses? All within the context of love.

In the mirror relationship, Chris D’Amico (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is desperate to engage in his father’s criminal business, even though Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) is loathe to see his son’s potential. But compared to the understandable and compelling family bond portrayed by Moretz and Cage, this father-son drama falls flat. Far worse for the movie, the villainy exercised by the D’Amicos just doesn’t have that old-fashioned evil feeling. Neither fully businesslike or intensely scary, the bad guys were always doomed to fall at the hands of Hit Girl and Kick-Ass. Or maybe we’re just living out post-Dark Knight villain depression.

The heart and title of the movie is Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson), though, it is with him that the movie ultimately fails for us.

Bad shit happens all the time. A lot of those times people are perfectly aware of said bad shit, and often they do nothing. Certainly there are those rare occasions when ordinary people stand up against the madness and say, “This far and no farther.” That’s real-life heroism. Then there are those fictional occasions when exceptional people stand up against the forces of darkness. That’s superheroism.

But in real life, if you decide to be a rogue superhero, what’s stopping any given person with a gun from shooting you? Which leads us to the real question: if you suck at being a superhero but you keep right on doing it anyway, you’re really just a crazy person, right? For just such an example, consider the Batman copycatters in Dark Knight… the lucky ones were tied up and sent to prison, the unlucky ones died horribly.

And that, in a nutshell, is Kick-Ass. He’s just a lame-ass kid with no assets or principles. He just wants to get a girl into bed. The stuff he does isn’t heroic. It’s dumb. And devastatingly, it’s not compelling to watch, just painful.

Here’s to Kick-Ass 2 being renamed Hit Girl.

 

Movie Review: Surrogates

Layout 1by Lucy Arnold

 

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

One thing that would be cool about the events of the movie Surrogates coming true is that I would have sent my surrogate to endure that too-long eighty-eight minutes instead of me. Meanwhile, I could have engaged in any number of meaningful activities, including but not limited to sock drawer reorganization and fingernail clipping. But, alas, here we are in 2009 with our paltry attempts at surrogates in Second Life and World of Warcraft

And on that note, if you can manage to keep your brain tied up in the social message of Surrogates, you might be okay. It does, in fact, offer an intriguing take on computer avatars and how our identities are constructed online. In one of the first scenes, it is revealed that a hot chick surrogate is actually being operated by a fat man. Speaking as a long-time MMORPG fan, I can attest to the reality of this sort of gender-swapping. I really liked how the movie asked me to challenge my thinking about online worlds. When I’m interacting with a hot female night elf druid in WoW, intellectually I know that that the odds are 10:1 that she’s a man in real life. But how often do I interact with online women as though they are women and online men as though they are men? And what difference would it make anyway? Since WoW introduced their new voice technology for grouping, I’ve been surprised many times by the type of voice I hear once the group is formed, often a players’ voice has nothing in common with the virtual avatar, whether they are men playing female toons or adolescent boys playing football player-sized avatars. For surfacing these kinds of questions, I was initially captivated with the film. The movie challenges the audience with these sorts of questions: how does the prospect of perfection impact our identities? How are gender and sexuality construed online? To what extent is “living” online just escapism? Who are you when you can be anything?

Unfortunately, the movie does not take even one of these questions and pursue it. Instead, Surrogates quickly devolves into another in a long line of “science-as-monster” fiction, warning against scientific progress because it will only come at the expense of man’s essential “humanity.” Whatever, whatever. This movie is a missed opportunity in that it could have been a really interesting exploration of the anesthetization of human beings in an online world but instead decides to paint the world with unrealistic swatches of “good” and “evil.”

The result is that we get The Matrix Lite. It’s got the same sort of beautiful perfection versus people who haven’t shaved or applied make-up (though with fewer dowdy sweaters). It also suffers from the same hero complex, with the fate of the world resting on one person; think everything that was wrong with The Matrix’s sequels and you’ll kind of get the picture.

Before this review comes off sounding overly critical, there were a few moments that I really enjoyed. I liked the overweight system operator who refuses to use an Avatar. I connected for long moments at a time with Bruce Willis’s actual human being, forced out into the world when his avatar is destroyed. Willis is nothing if not good at playing the slightly-perplexed-but-good-hearted-everyman. And Ving Rhames was fabulous.

The two chase scenes were both well shot and effectively showed off the advantages of police avatars versus plain old human beings. But for me, the movie lost its focus during the first chase; with lingering shots on the fearful expression of the human being chased by Willis’s avatar, I felt my sympathy conflicted. I was hopeful that this was a conscious move on the part of the filmmakers who planned to complicate the story, but this hope did not pan out. Rather than complicating the moral message of the story, the filmmakers led us a wild goose chase of a plot, winding up where we all could have predicted we were going from the beginning but figured it would be too obvious.

I wanted to like Surrogates substantially more than I actually liked it in the end. Too many missed opportunities for my taste.

 

Movie Review: G.I. Joe

Layout 1by Lucy Arnold

 

G.I. Joe as a Uni-cultural Fantasy

When I went to see G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra with my boyfriend, I did not have high expectations. But like most other people, I don’t mind occasionally vegging out by watching a mindless, violent romp with cool CGI, myriad chase scenes, and lots of inexplicable cleavage.

Ironically, in the areas of CGI, chase scenes, and boobs, G.I. Joe receives high marks. Unfortunately, in terms of just enjoying the ride, it fails miserably. I was so overcome by the anti-diversity subtext of the film that I just couldn’t enjoy the other stuff.

From a female perspective, this movie was downright disappointing. Both female characters began with really interesting potential: the Baroness is a bad-ass bad chick, and Scarlett is a science-brained kick-ass commando. But then… Scarlett cries after a fight. Really? Was Duke crying? Snake Eyes? (To be fair, he could have been weeping throughout the film, since we never got to see his face… but his mask wasn’t wet at any rate.) The only female on the team? Uh huh… Then she has to be rescued, physically cradled in the arms of the Big, Strong Man™. By the end of the movie, she disavows her scientific stance with the worst line in the movie, “I feel… emotional.”

The Baroness gets it even worse. First of all, I had been assuming throughout the movie that she knew Dr. Bald Guy was her brother, which is why she began working for Cobra. But no. We also discover that when she was “good” she was also blonde. Of course, she had to dye her hair darker to connote evil. Oh stereotypes, do you ever become tiresome? Then she starts cutting eyes at Duke (Isn’t he dreamy?). Her betrayal of the bad guys was imminent and would have been bad enough for her character. But this movie, to its credit I guess, decided to go whole-assed in the anti-woman arena. Because it turns out that the Baroness, well, she was being mind-controlled all along! She didn’t really want to do bad things! She wanted to be—blonde! And, just like that, the strongest female character in the whole movie never did a single thing of her own volition. Except love Duke. I feel nauseated.

Don’t worry, women, you were not the sole target of this movie’s ghastly subtext. The Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow battle also managed to highlight the superiority of white males over Asians. The backstory of these “brothers” is that Snake Eyes, a child of European descent, probably British or American, shows up somewhere in Asia and kicks the martial arts asses of a passel of Asian fighters, including Storm Shadow. Why this should be is never explored. The archetypal imagery of their final battle pits brother against brother, and, of course, who is the victor but the one of European descent.

But wait. There’s more. Who is the comic relief in this movie, cutting the fool with jokes, physical hijinks, and complete stupidity throughout the movie? The black guy, Rip Cord, apparently developed straight out of a 1930’s black male stereotype. I could also add a point about the required heterosexuality of the film; the women ended up paired with good guy-type males, both redeemed from their faulty thinking (Cobra and science). And all of the other guys were essentially asexual but totally masculine. Whew, homosexuality averted.

Before you begin shaking your head at me and saying that I failed to appreciate this movie for what it was trying to be: a brainless popcorn movie, let me step back a bit. As I tried to intimate at the beginning of this review, I love brainless popcorn movies. But this movie is insidious in its attempt to paint a picture of an America that is not only untrue but isn’t worth idealizing. I’m left reading this movie like it’s a white male American fantasy. Is this someone’s ideal America, ruled by tough guys, filled with compliant women and defeated or subverted minorities? I sure hope not.

Give me a popcorn movie, sure. But do I have to choke on it?