Avengers: Infinity War

Directed by: Anthony Russo/Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus/Stephen McFeely
Based on characters created by: Everyone under the Marvel Sun

I’ve been sitting with this movie for a week. I feel like I still don’t really know how I feel about it. I know that I liked it, hence the four-star rating. But I’m not really sure how much it affected me. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think it’s done things that no other series has managed. Over 18 movies in 10 years, it’s managed to build a solid world with multiple important characters that we love. Sure, there have been weak entries, here and there (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, any Thor movie not also called Ragnarok), but even the weak ones are watchable and even enjoyable on a certain level. (Even if it’s really only Kat Denning that makes it watchable.)

Basically, for someone who has never read comic books for any substantial length of time, I’m fully invested in the adventures of Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)…and every other character that could possibly fall under the “Avengers” title, even if they haven’t officially been named “Avengers.” If even one of them falls in battle, it’s going to crush my little geek heart…right?

When last we met with the Avengers, they were in disarray. Cap and Tony had split everyone up by being on opposite sides of a Civil War. Do the Avengers need government oversight? Or should they just be allowed to be their own thing, basically lording over the entire world? Both sides made good points…although, I was pretty firmly on the side of Cap. These guys saved the world more than once. If anyone needs government oversight, it’s Tony Stark. He’s the one who allowed Ultron to happen. His creations were weaponized by themselves. He’s an arms dealer, for Stan Lee’s sake! Everyone else is pretty altruistic.

But that’s neither here nor there. Bruce suddenly shows back up on Earth after a couple of years of fighting on Ian Malcolm’s planet, and he’s got a warning: Thanos is coming. And Hell’s coming with him. It’s time to get the band back together, whatever it costs. Even if Rhodie (Don Cheadle) has to be court-martialed to do it.

So our friends go to all corners of the universe. Tony and Spidey (Tom Holland) end up on a ship trying to stop one of Thanos’s minions. Thor and half of the Guardians head to Nidavellir to get a new weapon. The other half of the Guardians head to Titan, home of Thanos. Everyone else on Earth heads to Wakanda to try to extract the Mind Stone from Vision (Paul Bettany) so they can destroy it without killing him.

Lots of fun stuff happens for the next nearly three hours. Not only do a lot of people get beaten down, but they manage to keep this dark stuff lighthearted. I mean…Thanos is trying to collect all of the Infinity Stones to stick in his Gauntlet so he can destroy HALF OF THE FUCKING PEOPLE IN THE UNIVERSE! Why, you might ask? Because there are just too damn many people. Resources have been depleted. People live in poverty and hunger. His solution, instead of creating more resources, is to kill half of everyone. Because he’s batshit insane. He’s a monster. He’s inconsolably crazy.

BUT…he’s also kinda right. Like Killmonger and Vulture before him, he’s an actual sympathetic villain, not just a “let’s kill everybody because I likes killin'” villain. He sees the suffering of the world and wants to do something about it. This, to him, is the only way. Creating more resources would just cause it all to happen again. And he would have to constantly be creating more resources for the rest of his life. And more people would come. And the cycle would be neverending. Killing half the beings in the universe means that the few resources that are left will last a LOT longer and it will take millennia to restore the universe to the numbers that we have now. So, yes. Kill ’em all! (Or half.)

By the end of the movie, I actually kinda LIKE Thanos. I mean, I wouldn’t have him over for coffee, or anything. He might turn one of my cats to dust. But I get it.

So, what are my issues with the movie?

Sigh…

(Here there be spoilers, because I really can’t talk about this movie, or my problems with my feelings about it, without them.)

My main issue with the movie is an issue with comics in general: nothing sticks. At the end of the film, Thanos wins. He gets all six Infinity Stones, snaps his fingers and half of all beings in the universe are turned to dust.

This includes half of our heroes. Black Panther? Gone. Dr Strange? Gone. Falcon? Gone. Spidey? Gone. (THAT was hard. Man, they got his death right. That was…hard to watch.)

Then the movie ends. Just…ends. Thanos goes back to Titan and sits down to watch the sunset. Cap and Tony fall down and cry over their lost brothers and sisters in arms. And we’re left to…what? Wait until next year to see that all of them are coming right back.

No, really. Not only is this comic book land, where death is never forever, but it’s also movie land, where we know whose contracts are up and who has a sequel coming. Black Panther and Spider-Man? Their sequels are due out next year or the year after. So, they’re coming back. I might have teared up a bit when Peter Parker said, “I don’t wanna go!” while Tony held him in his arms like a dying son…but I know he’s coming back. I know that they’re going to get the Gauntlet and someone is going to turn back time to where no one is dead.

Ok…maybe a few are actually gone. I’m betting that Heimdall (Idris Elba) is gone. Idris was done with this character years ago.

But the ones whose contracts are actually up? They’re still here. Chris Evans is done. He’s been done for a few years, now. He just wants to hang out with his girlfriend, direct, and swim in pools full of money. Iron Man 4 might be coming out in the near-ish future, but Robert Downey, Jr is done. He’s absolutely ready to pass the suit.

I know that this story couldn’t have been contained in one movie. At least, not under four hours. But I think releasing them a year apart is a mistake. We’re all sitting here, thinking about what happened, and saying, “Ya know…nothing mattered. The only thing that matters is HOW they get out, not THAT they get out. We KNOW that they’ll get out.”

I know that Captain Marvel is next and will likely have SOME connection to the events of this movie, even if it takes place in the 90s. (Can she travel through time? Because they’re going to have to age Brie Larson up if she’s going to play 2019 Carol Danvers eventually.) And the Ant-Man & Wasp movie is right after that. It will DEFINITELY have some repercussions from this movie, no matter how insulated Scott and Hope are from the Avengers, right now. (They’re not in this movie at all. “Wait. There’s an Ant-Man?!”)

But, really, we’re just waiting for next year for the emotional content of this movie to actually MEAN something. Until then, True Believers…we’re just in limbo, wondering what it all meant.

Ready Player One

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Ernest Cline/Zak Penn

(Seriously. I couldn’t choose a poster. So you get a few of ’em.)

Back in 2011, a book was released by an unknown writer from Austin named Ernest Cline. Upon its release, it garnered praise from Entertainment Weekly, NPR, AV Club, Huffington Post and dozens of other publications. It shot to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List, becoming one of the biggest geek books ever.

It also got its share of backlash. The lead character, Wade Watts (aka Parzival), was a “nice guy” who didn’t know how to take no for an answer. He was a “gatekeeper,” asking his love interest, Artemis, a bunch of questions to make sure that she was as knowledgable of 80s culture as he was. Art3mis seemed to be a prize for him to win, along with the Easter Egg. She was a “Mary Sue,” only there to prop up Wade’s adventures.

I missed a lot of this when I read the book a year or two later. Ok. I missed ALL of it. I fell in love almost immediately. I know that almost every geek book is written basically for me, being a straight, white dude. I absolutely get that. But this felt like the first one (that I had read, anyway) that spoke DIRECTLY to me, the kid who had no luck with women, was obsessed with a time that he wasn’t involved in (for me, it was the 60s), and basically spoke a different language to everyone around him. (Try quoting Laugh-In to a bunch of teenagers in 1989. Or (just to show that I wasn’t COMPLETELY backdated) discuss the intricacies of a Genesis video. I was told “NO! No one knows this because no one’s that weird!”) Basically, I was Wade Watts. I just wan’t into RPGs.

The book is problematic as fuck. So is Ernie, even though he has a kickass car. (That poem. Oh, god, that poem.) But I had a lot of fun with it.

Fast forward a few years and the only person who could possibly make an adventure movie about a kid who’s obsessed with the 80s makes a movie of Ready Player One. Will he fix the problematic bullshit? Will he be able to make a movie out of this that people who found the book insufferable will like?

Read on, my Audience Of One.

Let’s start with the actual story: Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is an orphan living with his aunt and her abusive boyfriend in 2045 Columbus, Ohio. The population is so huge, now, that mobile homes are stacked on top of each other, dozens high. His (an millions of others’) only escape from the drudgery of modern life is the OASIS, a virtual world where you can be anyone or anything you want to be. You might be the poorest, weakest kid in Peoria, but in the OASIS, you can be a giant ogre who can fight like Jet Li. That’s why it’s so popular in a world where everyone has been numbed to the fact that the world is shit.

James Halliday (Mark Rylance) and Ogden Morrow (Simon Pegg) created the OASIS to be for everyone. Halliday, especially, wanted it to remain free for everyone with only some accessories costing money. (Most, though, can be won in game.) Morrow was the public face of the company, while Halliday was the private heart.

When Halliday died, he left the OASIS rudderless, but not without a future. He hid three keys to an Easter Egg somewhere in the game. Whoever found the Egg won control of the OASIS. So, Steve Wozniak meets Willy Wonka.

Wade (along with basically everyone else in the world) is after the Egg. In game, he’s Parzival, a fairly normal looking dude who drives a DeLoreon. His friend, Aech (Lena Waithe) is a master builder. He’s working on an Iron Giant in his machine shop. (I say “he” because in game, Aech is “he.” In the RL, though, she’s Helen Harris, an African-American lesbian. This would be a spoiler if it wasn’t already written everywhere. But Wade doesn’t find out until mid-movie…even though they’re best friends.)

In the race for the first key, Parzival meets Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), one of the leading “Gunters.” (That’s “Egg Hunter” to you and me, Russ.) In the way that so many movie characters are, he’s immediately in love…or something like it. He saves her from being killed by King Kong. She gives him a bit of a cold shoulder, but eventually goes back to Aech’s shop to get her motorcycle fixed. (Yes, it’s the one from Akira.) This starts a friendship that seems far more real an mutual than the one in the book.

Of course, there’s a villain after it, too. IOI, run by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), wants to get the Egg so that they can take over the OASIS and start charging for it. They want to commoditize the hell out of it. ‘Cause, why not, right?

Goddam trump.

Anyway, fun, Spielbergian adventure ensues.

Seriously, this movie is a LOT of fun. Spielberg took the bones of the book and had Cline and Zak Penn (of Marvel fame) take out most of the egregiously problematic bullshit. There’s no more gatekeeping (although Art3mis does a little bit to Parzival) and Art3mis does quite a bit of saving, herself. Oh, and all of that “But WE SHOULD BE TOGETHERRRRRRRRR” stuff? It’s gone. The relationship between Parzival and Art3mis (and Wade and Samantha) comes about way more organically and mutually, starting as a friendship.

The only problem, on a social level, that I really saw was the fact that TJ Miller was still in it. That guy’s a dickbag. Funny, sure. But a dickbag. BUT, I kinda understand why he’s still in it. When shit started coming out about Kevin Spacey, Ridley Scott was able to gather the crew back together to reshoot the 6 minutes of film that he was in with Christopher Plummer. It cost a couple mill, but it was pretty easy. They shot everything in about a day.

TJ Miller’s character in this is fully CGI, but based on his face. In order to change it, you have to get a full team of animators in, find a new actor, recreate a character, re-animate the entire 20 minutes or so that he’s in and, honestly, probably re-write the character, too, because it seemed to be based on Miller’s actual character, not just something that Cline and Penn wrote. It would have cost upwards of $20-30 million and months of work. (Principle photography was done in late 2016. The allegations against Miller came out in late 2017. Most of the work on his character was probably already done.) It was probably easier to take the backlash. Sad, but true.

Notice one thing that I did in this review: I barely mentioned the fact that all of these characters are obsessed with the 80s and there are, literally, 100s of references to 80s nostalgia. (I have a feeling that, even if I watch it 100 times, I still won’t catch all of them.) That’s because, while the 80s nostalgia is fun and I loved it, it wasn’t the entire point of the story. The characters didn’t talk in pop culture references, like an action version of Reality Bites. The 80s stuff was important, but not overwhelming.

What the movie is really about is reality vs fantasy. The OASIS is fantasy. It’s a fantasy that allows people to be who they want to be, sure. It allows them to escape from the hell that is their lives. But reality is just that: reality. You can’t live your life in a fantasy world. Because, as Halliday says, where else can you get a decent meal?

Is it as good as Spielberg of the 70s-90s? I mean…how do you top Raiders, Jaws or Jurassic Park? You don’t. He can’t make a movie like those again. I’m not asking for him to make another Raiders. All I want is a good movie, and this was definitely it. Absolutely. It’s a good, solid action movie that really immerses its audience into a new world. I saw it in 70mm 2D, but I hope to see it again in IMAX 3D. From what I hear, it’s a completely different experience. It’s the way that Spielberg meant for it to be seen.

Whether you liked the book or not, whether you think that it was a fun vision of a dystopian future or a geek-boy’s Twilight (seriously?), go check out the movie. It’s a ton of fun.

The Prof Is Re-Tooling!

Hey, everybody. Been a long time since we rock ‘n rolled. I’ve made a pretty rash decision and archived all of my old stuff. In light of the current wave of activity against saying really stupid shit, I’ve decided to preemptively take my stuff down and re-tool my website. This isn’t me saying, “I’ve said stupid shit and I don’t want anyone to see it.” This is me saying, “I have no idea if I’ve said stupid shit, so I’m making this decision on my own just in case there’s something in here that might be seen as horrible in the current social climate.”

I am all for the #MeToo movement and the dethroning of toxic masculinity that’s been happening over the last year. It’s a very good thing. Things change and people wake up to the idiocy of the past. I’m sure that I did or said some pretty awful things in my past. (I mean, nothing physical. But definitely verbal.) But I, like everyone else who is actually paying attention, am trying to be better. At some point, if I ever have time, I might go through and re-read some of my old stuff to vet it for this new climate. Maybe I won’t find anything or I’ll edit it. Then I’ll re-post it. Or maybe I’ll just decide that it was horribly written and I’ll be embarrassed by THAT. Then it will just sit in the private archive to feed my neuroses.

Anyway, I’m thinking of a new direction to take the Professor. Hopefully, this new direction will be something that people will like and will get me excited to write about media again. Maybe it will be something that will help me reconcile my love of grindhouse, exploitation and genre media in a world where it’s not cool to be exploitative. You know, how do you enjoy a movie like Last House On The Left (really, you don’t “enjoy” it) or Friday The 13th and still be a “woke dude”?

Hey, I’m not a monster, but I sure do like watching monsters of all types.

See you all real soon.