I’ve been slumming it among Hollywood titles, searching (and mostly failing) to find things I can enjoy as mindless brain trash. I’m not looking for politically challenging material here or even something like intelligence. I’m not even looking for something the level of quarter-assed Urobuchi. I’m just looking for things that can entertain.
Unfortunately, most of what I found was painful or embarrassing or boring, and I don’t mean because it’s racist or whatever. It is just Not Very Good. Up on the chopping block: this thing below, the rebooted X-Men movies, and The Avengers (2012). All titles are crammed end-to-end with mandatory heterosexuality.
Pacific Rim (2013). This is a rewatch and, as it turns out, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny very well. It’s still pretty fun! I just keep wondering why the jaegers are so badly designed. I realize it’s for the ohhhh awesome factor, but in-universe it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The jaegers move unbelievably badly on land and even worse in water, where the majority of their engagements would logically take place. They’re too tall, their center of gravity is terrible, they maneuver like drunk porcupines. There isn’t even a reason for them to be bipedal. I’m biased after having watched Akito the Exiled.
There’s a lot to be said for skittering rapidly on all fours. (And as the Code Geass OVA proves, you can choreograph perfectly fun mecha battles with this design.) It’s like yeah, sure, del Toro is into big Japanese monster movies* but part of the fun in those is the combat is relatively graceful, you know? Speaking of that, if he admires his Japanese sources so much, couldn’t he squeeze in a few Japanese extras? How come all the Chinese characters – and extras – pretty much never talk? Why do the white men do all the talking and the, well, doing? And surviving – I mean, even the Russian lady doesn’t get much screen time, and she’s super white. The main white dude’s brother probably has more speaking parts than all the characters of color combined (other than Mako), and he dies a few minutes into the film.
* The Attack on Titan live action is perfectly serviceable for that, come to think, with the bonus that the titan shifters don’t move like drunken porcupines trying to brawl. Another bonus: it’s a hell of a lot less white than Pacific Rim.
Mori Mako as a ‘feminist icon’ is a total failure, by the way. The white dude constantly takes the lead (does he ever shut up? Up to the point he thinks he’s about to nobly sacrifice himself, he’s still gabbing away at maximum speed!). Her characterization begins and ends with ‘takes cue from a bunch of men’. Very feminism triumph, this. She also seems faintly embarrassed by the script; I think the only time she sounds into her role is when she yells ‘For my family!’ in Japanese. The rest of the time she’s grimacing or smiling blankly.
But hey, PR has more POC with primary speaking roles than pretty much every other title named in this post – high bars!
X-Men: First Class (2011). Hoo boy but the SFX in this are bad and I don’t think it’s just because I watched this in 720p. Emma Frost’s diamond thing looks absolutely embarrassing. Hey, is that a black guy? Oops he just got killed off off-handedly; nice. Look – the Latina mutant defected to tinfoil hat man. Ok, this leaves us with a ‘heroic’ ensemble cast of… uhm… Magneto is Jewish, I guess. What’s the plot again? I dunno: tinfoil hat ex-nazi wants to wipe the world of humans, probably. The red teleporter with the devil cosplay is hilarious, in a bad way; his horns look like the cheapest Halloween getup. Still, this is surprisingly entertaining. I like Mystique as a character, even if she’s played by the most lackluster of actors. The blue paint’s the only way to make Jennifer Lawrence tolerable, honestly.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). Holy shit, it’s Fan Bingbing! …I don’t think she gets a lot of speaking parts but listen, the bar has been set so low it’s six feet fucking under. She dies twice (time resets) but still. There are four entire actors of color playing the future mutants as far as I can tell (Fan Bingbing, Halle Berry, Omar Sy, Booboo Stewart), though they get drowned under an ensemble cast that’s like a billion characters too many, and as usual the protagonists are all the palest of pale: Magneto (ok, Jewish, but you get what I mean), Charles Xavier (played by Leto Atreides), and the white woman with the blue body paint. The ‘YOU HAVE GOOD IN YOUR HEART, ERIK!’ schtick between Magneto and Xavier is getting a bit tired at this point, though here it’s balanced out somewhat with their older selves shaking their heads and going ‘jesus we were total goddamn idiots’. Of the new X-Men movies, this is oddly the most compelling title despite being a little silly and incoherent with the time travel aspect and the frankly unnecessary addition of the hairy white Canadian guy.
Of the future mutants, coincidentally the ones who aren’t Xavier or Magneto but who get the most screentime (Iceman, Kitty Pryde, Rogue) are… well… all white. A little disturbing, if you think about it. You know, isn’t it odd that even though Mystique is a shapeshifter, she pretty much never turns into a person of color*…
* I stand corrected. She’s turned into a black woman once, a janitor, and a Vietnamese officer who is a stunningly racist caricature. YAAAAY.
‘Robots that can detect expressed genetic markers’ is some of the worst pseudo-science I’ve ever witnessed in a superhero film, and it’s part of the same movie that gives us ‘suppressing Xavier’s telepathy lets him walk’. Look, I’m sorry, but that’s not how genes work. Secondly, while you could argue that the brain’s complicated and the motor control is maybe somehow directly connected to the telepathy bit, it’s… still really stupid.
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016). Hahaha, what the hell is this. What is Psylocke even wearing and why is every woman’s energy weapons pink (see Fan Bingbing’s). Mystique finally turns into a person of color (Psylocke) who is not a racist caricature! Really briefly. The new actor for Storm looks great; shame she doesn’t get more lines. Wait, are we really doing this? The entire villainous team is stuffed with POC (including Apocalypse, who under all the blue latex is a man of color, both actor and in-universe) while the heroes are pretty much all white? Again? Seriously? Seriously???? Kill me. And the finale is hinging, again, on convincing Magneto that there is goodness in his heart… for, possibly, the thousandth time. Enough. Ok, fair dos: the other half hinges on a blank, confused white girl unleashing her powers. Literally Xavier says ‘UNLEASH YOUR POWERS’.
I’m not going to touch the Auschwitz scene with a ten-kilometer pole. Bit tasteless, huh?
Second, while you might find Apocalypse boring as a supervillain, and it is impossible to see Oscar Isaac’s actual expressions on account of the prosthetics that turn him into a grimacing, blue Paul Lynde, you can’t deny that he’s at least going for it. If you told any other actor that he had to put his hand on a TV set, pretend to soak up knowledge, and murmur “Learning,” that actor would have said the line in a “please, just call cut” deadpan. Isaac, on the other hand, stretches the word out like sinister taffy, and his “Leaaaaarning” is both the movie’s worst and best moment, which is some really impressive toggling.
And while Sophie Turner is terrific as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, as X-Men character Jean Grey, she mostly seems weighed down by an American accent that channels Mira Sorvino in Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion. In every scene, she squints and looks sort of confused, like she didn’t hear the other actor’s line correctly. I can’t wait for the outtake megamix where Jean just keeps pausing and asking, “What?”
The Avengers (2012). What the hell is this. So, you know, the X-Men movies – lots of issues! But one thing you can say for them is, Magneto has decent, coherent motivations. Loki has daddy issues and… the need to screech ‘KNEEL DOWN BEFORE ME’ at random pedestrians? I dunno. Nothing here makes sense. The dialogue isn’t clever banter; it is something that fills one with ennui and drains one’s will to live. I skipped 20-30 minutes of the movie to spare myself the patented Whedon ‘writing’.
I literally couldn’t tell Black Widow from Mystique; if you’d told me they were played by the same actress, I would’ve believed you. The similarity between them is creepy; they look alike, sound alike, and their lines even have a similar quality of faux-feminist strength or whatever it is, even though they are written presumably by different people. Do you reckon these two actors came out of an assembly line, or possibly a cloning tank?
The last 30 minutes of the movie feels like watching someone else play a (not very good) video game. Is that one guy seriously fighting insect aliens – who are armed with spaceships and laser whatever – with arrows? God, this is awful. Can someone take all of Whedon’s scripts and throw them into an incinerator?