Category Archives: Reviews

Processing Endgame VIIa: The Avengers (2012) (continued…)

Please note that this is one of a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Date re-watched: 2019-09-06

(Note also that this I liked Avengers (2012) so much, that I had to write more about it. #filmateleven)

In an effort to make this not just a laundry list of ramblings, I want to organize my thoughts into a few themes. Remember that a lot of this is about processing my feelings from Infinity War & especially Endgame, and really about the finality of the character arcs that ended there. There’s something about character death, similar to the death of a famous painter or sculptor. It puts all of their other actions into relief, and each moment becomes more poignant, as you see how each moment led them to their now inevitable end. Your mind tries to piece together their story, and make each bit make sense, now that you know the ending.

As far as characters, Tony is of course at the top of the list for me, probably because he’s the intended stand-in for the cis white male viewer, and perhaps also because he tickles my nerd/maker side (in a very cinematic way). In Avengers, a lot of the interesting interactions with Tony happen with Cap. As Jack Saint[1] argues, they are representatives of the two main sides of the heroic ideology in the MCU[2], Tony being the ‘pragmatist’ and Steve being the ‘idealist’, but still both representatives of the fundamental ‘great man‘ ideology of the MCU.

That being said, Tony & Steve, though they have philosophical differences, respect each other, well enough that Tony, who never takes orders from anyone, says at the height of the battle for New York (his home): “Call it, Cap.”. In the other direction, Cap asks everyone about Loki, to better understand his tactics. (Especially since Cap is the only one who has physically traded blows with Loki, and understands and appreciates his strength.) Thor is too embarrassed about being Loki’s brother, Banner dismisses him as having a brain with ‘a bag full of cats’, and Cap ends up understanding that only Tony can understand the way that Loki is a “full-tilt diva“. They also agree on other fundamentals, very distinctly that SHIELD should not be developing super weapons[3], and on defending the Earth from external threats…such as Loki.

Speaking of Loki, like Gamora, he is reborn (in a way) after Endgame, effectively re-setting his character development to the end of Avengers, so it’s worthwhile talking about where he is as a character here.

Physically, he’s the Asgardian/god/high-level ‘rogue’ of the party, able to hold his own in combat against ‘lesser beings’, even a ‘super-soldier’ human like Cap. With an artifact weapon (the staff), he is fought to a standstill by his warrior brother (Thor, who is likely pulling his punches), and falls twice to Tony’s repulsor blasts, and is taken out by the Hulk.

Loki wants attention and adulation ‘Full-tilt diva'[4], and is happy to bully lesser beings to get it, or to talk when he perceives that he has the upper hand, instead of using it. Tony is able to read this, perhaps because he sees it in himself, and has had to confront some of those demons in himself[5]. Perhaps more importantly, Tony is able to use this against Loki, using Loki’s distaste at being reminded of his brother Thor to distract him while he puts on the Mark 7 ‘bracelets’. Out-tricking the ‘trickster god'[6]. How much must that sting?

So, where is Loki sitting at the end of this? He had been cast out by his family and home, was taken in by an interstellar villain, given power (but always reminded that he was subordinate to them)[7]. He knows that he is being taken back to Asgard, to face some sort of punishment. He likely knows it will be some sort of imprisonment or exile. Like ‘a bag full of cats'[8], Loki is at war with himself. Thor is able to convince him briefly that they can work together to undo things, but he is unable to help himself from stabbing Thor and running away[9]. Throw the influence of the mind stone/scepter, and it’s difficult to come up with a consistent characterization. If anything, he might have learned something about being more effective, and perhaps how he is unsuited to command in a combat situation.[10] Or is he still ‘burdened by terrible privilege’?

Speaking of alternate timelines, the scene where Tony is thrown out the window in Stark tower has always been super-harrowing for me. Think of how many timelines there are where Tony didn’t survive[10], where Loki thought to shoot his suit with the scepter, all the times he almost died, both before and after this.

Moving on to the Natasha, she is easy to overlook, as she rarely gets a lot of screentime, and she is not the flashiest character, but we really have to give her credit for being the bravest character in the movie. (Also each scene she’s in makes sense, and there’s a reason for her being there.) She’s a (well trained) normal human being who decides to take it upon herself to leap onto a flying Chitauri chariot, knowing that one misstep would be her death. (And how did she even grab it? Was it her suit locking her hands?) We also get to see her unique ‘interrogation’ technique, allowing herself to get captured[11] earlier in the film, and again tricking the trickster god to get his plan for the Hulk out of him. Her ploy/way of understanding people and making them talk is not really played up in the other movies, and I hope that they explore it more in her solo movie. Avengers also brings out her relationship with Barton, and perhaps explains some of her bravery, as S puts it, the self-sacrifice might be a way to wipe the ‘red in her ledger’ clean.

There was also a nice gentle non-toxic masculinity scene with Tony & Banner (about 3:10), where Banner talks about being ‘exposed, like a nerve’. ‘A terrible privilege’ ‘but you can control it’ ‘because I learned how’ (Note that this scene also includes blueberries that RDJ hid on set.)[12] This is perhaps Tony trying to do for Banner what Yinsen did for him, trying to remind Banner that he can be a force for good. Tony is proven correct, when Banner shows up to the Battle of New York, after perhaps making a difficult decision while talking to a security guard who seems curiously well informed, and pushing him towards helping out… “I know where I can do the most good, but it’s also where I can do the most harm.” “Your mind’s already made up, son. The rest of you will follow”

A few last random comments, so this doesn’t become three posts:
I really enjoyed the ‘Metal Man’ comment by Thor, and the idea of Thor charging up Iron Man’s suit (which would not be fully realized until Endgame). I also wonder if the ‘Shwarma’ scene was part of Tony’s journey to deal with his PTSD and accepting the good things that the Middle East has to offer. I thought the ‘Hulk yelling at Tony’ to save him was silly, but it had the desired filmmaking effect to break the mood, even if it was outside the film’s general scientific basis (unless the Hulk has special ‘jumpstart’ powers in his yell).

Cap is also understated and seemingly hurt all through the helicarrier section, perhaps because the mind stone/staff is getting to him, perhaps by bringing out his PTSD and his feeling of being ‘out of time’. Eventually, perhaps Cap and Tony bond over their shared pain, but in a subconscious way (as opposed to the conscious way that Tony & Banner, or Natasha & Hawkeye bond over shared pain).

We also see the first installment of Thor vs. The Hulk, where they seem to be evenly matched, although Thor’s dodging prowess seems to be vitally important.

Lastly, we see the Tesseract acting with inconsistent characterization, with it ‘telling things’ to Selvig, although that could easily have been the Mind Stone (or the other stones have powers beyond what is normally assumed by their expected bailiwicks).

Thanks for reading all the way to the end! Next time, we’ll continue with Iron Man 3, where we follow Tony’s reaction to the Chitauri invasion and almost dying carrying a nuke through the portal into space. Stay tuned!

[1] S showed me this video this week. I recommend it very highly. 🙂

[2] And this conflict will spiral into ‘Civil War’.

[3] This leads to the great scene where Tony is trying to break in and comb through SHIELD files on the helicarrier, to figure out what Fury and SHIELD are up to (‘Phase II’, energy weapons similar to ‘Hydra weapons’, as Cap puts it), while Cap simply breaks into the armory and brings one to the lab. “Sorry, the computer was moving a little slow for me.“[3a]

[3a] At 2:36, that video shows one of multiple occasions where Hawkeye enjoys posing with his bow slightly too much for non-sequential-art.

[4] Funnily, this just seems to add to the Shakespearean feel of the Asgardians, almost like they understand that they are but players on a stage.

[5] There are interesting questions here about whether humans, because of their mortality, are more likely to see it necessary to learn and grow.

[6] We never really get to see Loki’s illusions in ‘Avengers’. The closest we see is a few costume changes, and one image projection to trap Thor in the ‘Hulk Hotel Room’ on the Helicarrier (and to get around behind Coulson). So, we never really get to see how Tony would have dealt with them. There seems to be a ‘Mirror Image‘ quality to Loki’s illusions, where sometimes (like Ragnarok), he seems to leave an image behind while he walks away, while in Stuttgart, he seems to almost be able to teleport between them. (Although, upon watching it again, they seem to be only images…but this disagrees with what we saw in Dark World…) So, how would Tony deal with have dealt with these? Are they only visual illusions? We know that the Soul Stone was able to dispel Dr. Strange’s images in Infinity War, so we know that it is possible to tell them apart, but can it be done using only things like heat signature detection?

[7] Thanos’ herald: “You would question me, him?”

[8] As per Banner.

[9] Similar to the ‘snake story’ in Ragnarok.

[10] In Dark World, we see Loki only being truly effective in combat when paired with Thor. In Ragnarok, Loki will learn that he is not the most effective at command in the rulership sense, but eventually learns some of how to do this by the end of the movie (while still fighting alongside Thor). There’s also questions as to how much Loki was being influenced by the mind stone/scepter, and how much that impaired his judgement and abilities…but he seemed perfectly willing to cause chaos and destruction after being separated from the scepter during the ‘final battle’. However, Loki perhaps learns very different lessons when he escapes from ‘Avengers’ at in the middle of ‘Endgame’, perhaps having learned how to be a little more effective, but perhaps thinking that he just needs to find people more suitable for his ‘rule’, similar to how he pretends to be Odin later in the series, or perhaps he will just go around messing with people, taking the opportunity to be actually free of constraints.

[10] Although, we see in Endgame how the Ancient One is busy fighting off Chitauri during the Battle of New York, so one would expect that she would have used the Time Stone’s powers to set things so that New York would not be nuked. This also brings up general questions of fate, and how much the events were controlled by various types of puppetmasters, but that is perhaps more appropriately a better conversation for a later post about Dr. Strange’s plan(s).

[11] Perhaps by some of the arms dealers that Tony refers to in Age of Ultron.

[12] Perhaps the best foreshadowing of ‘Professor Hulk’ from Endgame.

Processing Endgame VI: Captain America: The First Avenger

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Selflessness. Nobility. Bravery. What are the words that come to mind when you think of Captain America?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started watching Captain America. I had seen enough clips over the years since I had first watched it, and the story wasn’t really that complex. Scrawny kid gets chosen to be a super soldier, the serum works, but because of a mishap, he is the only one it works on[1]. He then goes and defeats the menace, and crashes the plane to protect millions of civilians.

Watching it, I think I perhaps now understand a little more of when people talk about ‘formula’.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I liked the movie. It just felt a little flat compared to the Iron Man movies (perhaps even compared with The Hulk).

A great part of these origin story[2] movies is seeing the hero[3] going through character growth, as they struggle with their inner selves because of a huge inner stimulus. But Steve Rogers always knew what he wanted to do, on the inside. It was just that his outer self was not capable, and when he was finally able, he slipped into that new body, no problem. His struggles were all against external forces, his internal forces were consistently always ‘in alignment’.

I can’t help but compare and contrast with another superhero period war piece that came out recently, Wonder Woman. It’s also an origin story, of a character with singular origins, who is created to created to defeat a similarly (previously) constructed[4] villain, one that didn’t quite work out the first time.

But Wonder Woman feels deeper, perhaps because it asks deeper questions about the human condition and truth, that Evil has more depth, and wants more than just power, and that Good has self-doubts[5], and has motivations other than punching caricatures of nazis[6]

Perhaps the one thing that Cap really learned was that although he has great power as a propaganda tool, he’s much more powerful/useful/effective as the leader (from the front) of a small squad.

Some other observations: The first time we watched it, back in the day, S found Chris Evans’ digitally altered physique super-incongrous (I didn’t really know who he was, so I hadn’t noticed it). Expecting it this time, it didn’t bother me so much (except for where, even <10 years back, some CGI looks almost uncanny valley). What I did notice (and bothered me) was the bass/baritone/large voice of Chris Evans coming out of the tiny-seeming character. It kinda threw me out of suspension of disbelief. I had forgotten that it started in present-day with Cap's plane, but this was ultimately unimportant to the story. Rogers and the scientist (Dr. Erskine) ultimately bonded over their mutual dislike of bullies. The 'Genetic Code' is mentioned during WWII, placing it about 20 years ahead of our reality, where the first part of it was discovered in 1961.

[moving a blue power source from a Hydra weapon from one WALDO arm to another]
Howard Stark: “Write that down!”

Here we see the interest in knowledge (at the cost of self-image) that so characterized Tony Stark in his (recorded) experiments. (Perhaps their playboy/famous lifestyle/attractiveness acted as insulation or a helpful counter, allowing them more leeway to make fools of themselves…)

S: “What if they had found Cap as a skeleton?” “How would that change the rest of the series?”

Would Tony and Thor have worked out their differences in Avengers? Would the team have been able to work together as well to defeat the Chitauri? (Who would have let Iron Man out of the helicarrier rotor?)

Would there still be a Civil War? Tony would probably have still overreached in some way, whether it was Ultron or some other thing, that caused a calamity, that caused him character growth.

Would Bucky have caused even worse problems? Would Tony have become even more powerful and megalomaniacal, with no moral foil (that he trusted)?

Would Vision have fallen at the beginning of Infinity War? Would Thor and Iron Man have been able to delay Thanos for long enough during the final battle in Endgame?

It feels like Cap is a subtle but vital part of the MCU, perhaps more as a foil to Tony than anything else, perhaps as someone to look after all of the other Avengers, to get them to actually work together as a team, rather then minions of Iron Man (you could think of them as a lead vs. a tech lead, and how it’s important to have each of them, but you want to have the correct person in each role).

The post-credits scene, with Cap realizing that he’s lost everyone, but now he has a job to do, a new war to fight, helps understand his motivation going into Avengers. Perhaps we see him as the ‘Noble Super-Soldier’ because that’s all he has left, and he doesn’t find anything else (except for a few moments with Bucky) until the end of Endgame.

Interestingly, all of the MCU movies are PG-13, but Captain America had significantly more onscreen deaths and seemed much more violent than Avengers.

Captain America throws his shield kinda like a baseball pitcher[7] (although slightly more underhanded), using the whole body (which makes sense), but not like a javelin, discus, or shot-putter. (Note that it’s hypothesized that he is able to aim and ricochet his shield so well because of his super-reflexes and super-ability to calculate trajectories.

More parallels: Both Cap and Iron Man are saved by a foreign scientist with an accent[8] who helps them get their super powers. It is perhaps telling that they are given different messages, Tony hearing ‘don’t waste this gift, do something better’, and Cap hearing ‘Don’t change who you are’.

Coming up next, Avengers (2012), where we finally get to see many of these threads come together, and we see what everyone has learned. Stay tuned!

[1] Although, we know at this point that The Hulk was a result of others (Bruce Banner) playing around with the same super soldier serum. Interestingly, I don’t think we’ve ever seen Cap go up against The Hulk in the MCU. Only Thor & Iron Man (amongst the heroes) have done so, ‘our biggest guns’ as per Cap (Avengers). If it is the same serum, does that mean that Cap is acting at his full potential? Or does Hulk’s anger (and whatever went wrong) push his power level up?

[2] If you’re lucky, your character has enough growth for more than one movie, like the tormented Tony Stark, or the ‘continually-buffeted-by-forces-even-he-can’t-control’ Thor.

[3] Or Anti-hero (but not in this case).

[4] The Red Skull was the first recipient of the (not yet perfected) super soldier serum, and Ares stated ‘only a god can kill another god’, showing them to be two sides of a coin[9].

[5] Can you think of any time in this movie that Captain America had self-doubt? Perhaps when he was performing to sell war bonds, instead of being in actual war zone, but even then, it seemed that he was able to justify it to himself as the optimal use of his talents. Even when he had the largest defeat of his life (Infinity War), it only redoubled his motivation, as emphasized in his tag line: “I can do this all day”. He did have other things happen to him, his whole life in the future shaped by the tragedy of losing everyone he held most dear while frozen, his losing and finding and losing and finding Bucky, but even that felt like a secondary reason for his conflict with Tony Stark (I’m sure more on this later).

[6] As satisfying as that may be…

[7] And yes, of course, there’s a “Captain America Shield Throwing Compilation” on Youtube.

[8] There must be some kind of social commentary here, if only that the best scientists often have accents, as talent knows no borders.

[9] Note that I didn’t specify how many sides this coin had.

Processing Endgame III: The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

Music playing: Still “Avengers Theme Remix”, remixed by ‘Approaching Nirvana‘.

CW: suicide

We had originally planned to skip The Incredible Hulk (2008), as many do, but after thinking/hearing about all of the controversy regarding the arguments between Edward Norton & Marvel about scripts, we decided we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

The movie opened with a strange choice: The film’s editors decided to put the usual character origin story into a short montage at the beginning[1]. S noted at the time that she felt cheated of the best part of one of these superhero movies, the part where they discover themselves for the first time, when they go from zero to one.

The rest of the movie just seemed a bit off. It’s hard (for me) to put my finger on exactly what the issue was. I’m sure part of it seemed to be that the Hulk character seemed a bit inconsistent with the later portrayal, with Norton’s silent & brooding fugitive contrasting with Ruffalo’s more comedic take, some of it was the on-screen depiction of the Hulk, seeming scarier and more visceral, but I think I could have dealt with that, and found my peace with the film, accepting that Banner and the Hulk were learning about each other, and that this movie was all about acceptance of one’s inner Hulk…

…except they never really talked about that. There was a deleted scene in Norton’s edited screenplay that showed Banner trying to commit suicide to get away from the Hulk (a similar scene alluded to by Ruffalo’s Banner in Avengers). This was supposed to be the opening scene, and it might have gone a long way towards justifying an arc through the movie of Banner slowly coming to terms and accepting the Hulk as part of himself, where after trying to remove him, he finally accepts the necessity, in order to defeat Abomination[2].

Some things that were done really well: The chemistry between Tyler & Norton was fantastic, they were really believeable as long-lost lovers (apparently they spent a lot of time discussing their backstory, even though they didn’t talk much about it in onscreen), and Tyler’s character was pretty badass, in one scene, leaping on top of the Hulk to try to save Banner, in another, taking them out of a cab, to reduce Banner’s stress level.

The rest of the characters…well…it felt like they never really fit into the story. I always find it difficult to figure out what drops me out of my suspension of disbelief in a film. Is it the editing, that makes the time between comments feel unnatural? Is it the script? Is it the actors not living their parts? Whatever it was, Thunderbolt Ross felt unnatural, the scientist ‘helping’ them felt absurdly over-the-top, and I can’t even remember the rest of them[3].

The one other shining star was Ty Burell’s Samson, who felt believeable all the way through. You could just picture him understanding Tyler’s character, feeling her inner torn-ness, and choosing to let her go.

Overall, the movie felt like Banner trying to find Betty Ross (eventually successfully), while trying to control and suppress/expurgate the Hulk part of himself. Along the way, he eventually accepted that the Hulk was part of himself[4][5] (which is a long way from liking or trusting the Hulk[6]).

But overall, it didn’t really deliver. It might have been because Norton and the editing team had different ideas about the character, or what movie they were making. It might just not have been put together well.

In my head-canon, I see The Incredible Hulk (2008) as being an alternate universe explanation of how the Hulk came to be, and not really part of Earth-199999 (unless there are cross-overs), and not really informing the Hulk’s (or Banner’s) character moving forward[7]

I would recommend this film only for completionists, or those who like Ed Norton (or Liv Tyler).

Next up: Iron Man 2! Purported to be ‘not as good’ as the first, but we’ll see how well it’s held up.

Other random notes:

Much of the film was shot in Toronto, leading to some interesting cognitive dissonance for the scenes shot on UofT campus, as the terrain/buildings really didn’t connect well with each other. (It’s difficult to know how much of this is because I know how things connect, and how much is because they had a grassy meadow with no buildings visible in the distance right beside a university building with a treed circle and cars.)

(Contrast with Avengers, which had regular establishing shots[8] with Stark tower in the background)

[1] Apparently, there was a test screening where viewers found the original plan (a reboot with flashbacks) too similar to Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003), and that is why they made this decision. 11 years later, it just seems like an odd design decision.

[2] This might also have helped a lot with explaining the ‘leap of faith’ that Norton’s Banner took near the end of the film, to try to transform into the Hulk in mid-air. I didn’t feel that there was anything in the movie that showed that Banner felt guilty enough about being the Hulk to take that action.

[3] Looking at Wikipedia, to check part of this post, I realized that I had forgotten Tim Ross’s Abomination. I felt during the movie that I never really understood where he was coming from. Yes, he said that he a survivor, that wanted to keep fighting (very likely some form of PTSD), but it was a bunch of ‘tell-rather-than-show’ moments, and some sort of flashback would have been much more effective for this character.

[4] This would eventually lead into the ‘Hulk is feeling taken for granted’ storyline from Ragnarok->Infinity War->Endgame

[5] Also, random note. They changed the ‘>200bpm -> Hulk’ to ‘letting yourself be angry’ after this movie, likely for storytelling reasons, but it’s a super-interesting ‘science’ part of the film.

[6] There was a final scene, where Banner is off somewhere hiding, and you see him almost gleefully going to ‘days without incident: 0’, which could have been a super-interesting ‘addicted to Hulk’ story.

[7] I’ll have to wait until Ultron to decide, but I feel that it is unlikely that Banner’s romance with Ross in this movie is consistent with his later romance with Black Widow.

[8] Thanks Ty Templeton for his fantastic Comic Book Boot Camp, which taught me about Establishing Shots, and many other important things!

Processing Endgame I: Preludes

Please note that this is one a series of posts, all of which may contain spoilers for the MCU, and particularly Endgame.

People talk about the cultural phenomenon of Avengers:Endgame, but I don’t know if it’s been fully addressed how the movie, indeed the culmination of the series has, and is continuing to affect viewers.

Trying to avoid lines (and get reasonably good seats), we ended up seeing Avengers:Endgame the Tuesday the week after opening. For various reasons[1], we decided to take the afternoon off to watch it. I laughed, I cried, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I left the theater with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that they had done the movie justice, that (aside from a few issues[2]) it was a satisfying conclusion to a 22-movie series.

So, it took me a while to realize what was happening in the subsequent weeks. I found myself watching analysis, and re-watching scenes from old MCU movies (mostly Avengers:Assemble), especially scenes of Iron Man. It wasn’t until I watched a youtube video about how Endgame actors reacted to the movie, and read Dave Bautista’s tweet about how he was still processing, almost a week after viewing the movie.

I realized that I was still processing. I also realized that Iron Man was quite my favourite character[3]. It took me a while to notice that I might have been grieving, and re-watching ‘All Iron-Man suitups’ videos wasn’t going to bring him back.

So, perhaps as a way of processing, perhaps as a way of getting closure, perhaps as a way to notice all the things we didn’t see the first time[4], S & I independently came up with the idea of re-watching the MCU, in order[5].

So, please enjoy this series of reviews/processing/introspection.

[1] We really like afternoon movies, as you can fully react to them, then, while still processing, go outside and walk in the sun, perhaps get some dinner. Also, it was much easier to get good seats during the day on a weekday.

[2] I’ll get in to this later, but I was most bothered by the treatment of Black Widow.

[3] Maybe since my youth, but I know I def. recognized him from comics I read when I was growing up. I might have liked Cyclops more growing up, but the X-Men movie version of him was pretty unengaging.

[4] I would mention the Infinity Stones here, but my understanding is that they didn’t intend for all of the movies to be about them, until about GotG:Vol1.

[5] Starting with Iron Man, and probably skipping Hulk, as neither of us are particularly interested in it (even less than Thor:2, that S slept through[6]).

[6] In her defense, she may have been sick, and Dayquil:SEVERE may have been involved.

1997: The year they made Contact

20 years ago, I watched Contact in the theater with my family[1]. Tonight, I watched it again, with S.

To me, it held up well as a movie. All the characters were believable, and the science and the effects were well within the normal parameters of suspension of disbelief.

What struck me[2] was how hopeful a movie it was, that our better natures would win out, that our endless curiosity would take us places we’ve never imagined.

[Note that spoilers follow]

It’s always interesting the things you remember 20 years later. “Why not make two, at twice the price?” The destruction scene. The prime numbers sounding so ominously alien from the aether. The speaking through her father. The 18 hours of static[3].

Interestingly, I had remembered that 18 hours of static as being the vindication at the end of the movie, that she was not crazy, that something had indeed happened, but I had forgotten how much it was covered up.

The one (gaping) plot hole I had missed the first time around was the absence of study and testing before a human was sent through the machine. If you look at the history of the Apollo program, you see that it was preceded by Mercury and Gemini, with dozens of sequential missions, each testing new parts, to make sure that each part of the system and plan were well-enough understood to ensure successful missions. The idea that they would build a half-trillion-dollar system in Contact and not fully study it (especially if it’s generating strange EM radiation) before sending a human through it ‘strains credulity’. Even the EM it’s radiating would be a fantastic discovery for humans.

But I can understand how they would cut out things to make a move that was watchable, and which was able to spend its time focusing on the humans in the story.

The alternative view of events that the NSA directory was trying to convince people of at the end of the movie was reminiscent (for me) of the big con[4] at the end of ‘Watchmen’, albeit at the opposite end of the hope-fear axis.

Apparently, like Bladerunner, the ending was supposed to keep your doubt alive as to whether the events she experienced had actually happened. To me, it didn’t, as 18 hours of static (and whatever metallurgical data they could get from the sphere) would be enough to prove the story.

I laughed, I cried, I am full of hope. A new year dawns. Time to use that hope to build something meaningful, starting with some words.

[1]We immediately followed it with Men In Black. I’ll leave it to you to enjoy this juxtaposition.

[2]If you’d read or watched any Carl Sagan, this would probably not be surprising. “The sky calls to us. If we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars.”

[3]I had remembered it as 18 minutes.

[4]In ‘Contact’, it was posited that a billionaire had faked first contact to inspire humans to push themselves outwards. In ‘Watchmen’ (the graphic novel[5]), Adrian Veidt fakes an alien invasion to scare humans into working together against a common foe.

[5]’Watchmen’ the movie simplified the plot to have Doctor Manhattan be the scapegoat. this lead to a much tighter movie, but slightly less appropriate for my analogy, however much he played with space and time.

Enterprise: Broken Bow

So, we finally watched the pilot (Broken Bow) for Star Trek: Enterprise.

I thought it was pretty good. (I’ll try to keep this as spoilers-low as possible.)

The pacing felt good, through the action scenes, I was actually (figuratively) on the edge of my seat, genuinely tense about what would happen to the characters.

I feel like they captured the feeling of exploring into a completely unknown and dangerous galaxy, that any moment, they could be overwhelmed by an alien force, if they should do the wrong thing.

It was also a really interesting choice having the Vulcans being almost reluctant parent allies. Not quite adversaries, not quite obstacles, but always watching and judging…

It’s also interesting to see the first real human/vulcan team start to really learn to work together. To see the first tentative steps towards actual friendship…Two peoples who know they’re better together, but are still learning to trust each other well enough to actually find the synergy they know is there somewhere.

I had been worried about the T’Pol & co. ‘Decontamination Chamber’ scenes, that they would be pure fan service, uninteresting/unrelated to the show. Instead, they were a very odd, fascinating confrontation between the Id (Tucker) and the Superego (T’Pol). I’m not sure exactly how well the scene worked, but it was fascinatingly brave, having two characters who have to rub decontamination gel on each other, a very intimate act, while having an intense emotional argument about Human/Vulcan relations going back decades and discussing the future of the Human species. As the canonical Superego would say: ‘Fascinating’.

Perhaps the most jarring parts of the episode was the slightly too wordy exposition, setting out the political and historical landscape of the early Federation, especially the Human/Vulcan conflict.

At the same time, the Klingon-Human first contact was handled well, with the imperfect universal translator adding a nice touch.

Scott Bakula was a good choice for captain (although the cast felt a little white male focused, with little differentiation between them, even compared with TOS or TNG.) He genuinely seemed a little more afraid, pushing through with more bravado than even Kirk. But perhaps that’s because he didn’t have his Spock yet. Some reviews described him as somewhat of a ‘pirate’, but that hasn’t come out yet.


I think the Temporal Cold War arc was introduced well, but I could see how it could get old hat if it becomes too commonplace.

Walking into the Rigel X Trade Complex felt like a very Star Trek experience. I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why, but something about the atmosphere of the music (or the visuals!) was very Star Trek.


Interestingly, this episode also featured the first in canon definition of a specific warp speed[1], when Archer says: “Neptune and back in six minutes”, when describing warp four point five.

(Neptune being around 4.5 billion km from Earth, that puts warp 4.5 as 9e12m/360s, or 83.3c. This is only slightly different from the TNG technical manual, which places warp 4 at 102c, which can be explained by the need to avoid using warp drive while close to gravity wells.)

I also greatly enjoyed the ‘mad scientist’ Doctor Phlox and his menagerie.

Overall, a good episode (and I believe lived up the ‘best Star Trek pilot’ that they were shooting for). It was more dramatic than usual Star Trek, probably more emotionally raw, but it worked well to keep the audience engaged, by having heightened emotion even while arguing important points of philosophy, almost like the best of the lightsaber battles.

4.5 stars, some of the best Star Trek I’ve seen. Even the opening credits, and their message of humans hopefully striving, made me cry[2].

[1]“Warp 6.” “Aye sir, full impulse.” doesn’t count.

[2]Interestingly, very similar to the “Cineplex – 100 Years of Movies” trailer.

The Art and Words of Comics

What do you look for when you’re reading a comic? The words? The art? Both? Does one interfere with the other?

I was talking with S recently, and I was extolling the virtues of Casey and Andy[1], one of my favourite web comics. S mentioned that she had tried to read it multiple times (often at my behest), but had been unable to get into it because of the art[3].

For me, I had briefly noticed the bad art very early on in the run, but the ideas he played with, especially with non-standard comic framing were more than worth it. (And it didn’t really bother me much at all.)

Thinking about it, I realized that the webcomics I like are generally very simple art-wise. I’m not sure if I actively prefer webcomics with worse art, but I may prefer those with simpler art. Some of the ones I read most often:

Questionable Content (mature themes, sometimes nsfw)
Order of the Stick

have very simple art, perhaps well done (I think), but very simple lines and drawing.

Some of my other favourites are still simple, but (I think) most would say that they are reasonable artists:

Prequel Adventure
SSDD (sometimes nsfw)

I’ve stopped reading:
Dr. McNinja
Goblins (often disturbing cartoon violence)

perhaps because of the more complex/busy art. I know I stopped reading Goblins because I find the art a little too gory/uncanny valley/disquieting.

I also enjoy:

Cyanide & Happiness (Trigger warnings)
asdfmovie (NSFW/warning/etc.)

But they are both incredibly simple art. Cyanide & Happiness is probably the worst art of any on this list, but I enjoy it because of the humour.

Among the graphic novels I’ve enjoyed are:

Transmetropolitan (nsfw, probably triggers in there too)
Watchmen (natch) (movie was rated R)
Ex Machina (some adult themes)

I feel that all of these, their art enhances the story. In Transmet, it really brings the world alive, and it works that you have a really busy future city, where everything is happening all the time. You also get important information about Spider’s personality and how he treats people. Watchmen is just a work of beauty woven on so many levels, and I like the vibrant colours of Ex Machina. I feel that something more realistic would almost detract, bring things closer to the uncanny valley, perhaps.

Interestingly, I have a perhaps similar reaction to music, that when I’m listening to a piece of music, I can really only listen to the music part of it, the words I can almost never hear, except when they are very clearly in the foreground, and/or I’ve heard them many times before. This may be related to being an instrumentalist in my previous life.

tl;dr: I like the words of web comics. I like it when the art is simple, or when the art if more complex and is cast in a supporting role to the story. Art more than that can detract (for me, at least) from the words, which (in comics) are my favourite part.

[1]This comic is perhaps one of his more bizarre comics, but I think a fair example of his artistic style/talent. He mentioned in his AMA[2] that “I realized I hated doing the artwork. I just liked telling jokes to people and the art was a necessity for it. That was the main reason I stopped making the comic.”

[2]Also, you probably know him as Andy Weir, the guy who wrote ‘The Martian‘.

[3]You can see a takedown of his drawing of a different comic called ‘Cheshire Crossing’ here.

“I Want To Be Her!”

Today, we went to see the new Ghostbusters movie.

Before I go any further, there may be spoilers below, and you should go see this movie. S loved it. For me, it was worth it just for the bad-ass ghost fighting, for Kate McKinnon stealing every scene, for the closing credits. Just go see it. (Also, Market Square on Front is a great theatre.)

The review that best captures the feeling for me, I saw on facebook shortly before we saw the movie, and I quote part of it here:

I’m almost 30 and last night was the first time I saw a movie where a woman fucking did a thing and was funny without crying into a pint of ice cream and was badass without being a pinup and all I could think was… I really didn’t know that was an option. I really didn’t know you could save the world without looking like you’re trying to pose for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition at the same time. I have never, in 30 years, seen a major movie that didn’t reinforce the message that how I look is more important than what I do.

The Atlantic talks about how the new movie is a product of its time, just like the old movie:

In that sense, though, Ghostbusters is engaging in one of the most valuable aspects of the culture’s current reboot mania: It is serving, in its very re-ness, of evidence of all that has changed, for better or for worse, since 1984. In the years since the original Ghostbusters premiered, 9/11 happened. The web happened. CGI improved. Feminism got normalized, and then commercialized.

Here, believing in ghosts makes one not iconoclastic, as it did for the men of the original, but potentially that most loaded of gendered epithets—“crazy.”

The film is, in many ways, a study on what would have happened if the original Ghostbusters had been female. They are treated totally differently, routinely called ‘crazy’, even at the end of the movie, the powers that be want to keep them swept under the carpet.

Chris Hemsworth was fantastic as Kevin. I think he should do more comedy.

Kate McKinnon’s fight sequence near the end of the movie was to die for. If they don’t make her a superhero movie, there is no justice in this world. She also stole just about every scene that she was in.

A new movie for the kids of today, a new product of its time. Go see it (and stay all the way to the end!)

I Miss Grand Admiral Thrawn

So, I’m re-reading the Timothy Zahn ‘Heir to the Empire’ trilogy, and I was once again struck by how good it felt to be reading a Star Wars book where there was a real, believable villain who actually knew how to plan and was actually a threat.

This article probably says it best: that Thrawn was a complex and charismatic enough character that you could actually see threatening the New Republic, and able to conquer the galaxy on his own merits.

The new Kylo Ren & sundry associated characters just don’t seem anywhere near as competent. (Just so needlessly destructive.) You have the feeling that Thrawn would conquer them in the matter of weeks. [sigh.] Anyways, here’s hoping that the new Star Wars movies have people on both sides (or even multiple sides?!?) who have reasonable motivations and who are each striving from a place of competence.

Wikipedia Humour

My favourite page on Wikipedia is the description of the ‘Lamest Edit Wars’

Wikipedia is a treasure trove of (very) dry humour about often very controversial topics. Normally, if you’re in a conversation about a controversial topic, you can step out, but not an encyclopedia, which is expected to have words on everything.

You can see the workshopping that must have gone into it. I wonder if there are ways to detect the most workshopped phrases? To detect the ‘most controversial*’ parts of Wikipedia? (Although parsing the revision history may give you this.)

“Both frequencies coexist today (Japan uses both) with no great technical reason to prefer one over the other[1] and no apparent desire for complete worldwide standardization.”

If you enjoyed the humour above, you may also enjoy (hattip to AM):

And my favourite subreddit of them all:

It is truly sublime, including such gems as:
“checking the radiator pipe cover”


*It turns out that Wikipedia has a list of these (of course it does):
This is different from controversies about Wikipedia:
There are even articles in reputable news sources written about this: And research papers: