Why Demolition Man is the Best Batman Film

The number and variety of Batman films in existence mean that there’s something for everyone to favour: you can like the Tim Burton ones if you prefer it gothy; you can like the Christopher Nolan ones if you go in for things gritty and slightly overblown; and you can like the Joel Schumacher ones if you’ve recently suffered a severely traumatic head injury. For my money, though, the best Batman film of all time is none of these – it’s the 1993 classic Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone as Batman and Wesley Snipes as the Joker. OK, they actually have different names (I assume there were licensing issues), but this film is not only clearly a Batman film; it is clearly the best Batman film. Let’s review.

The Joker
My problem with the Joker has always been that he’s never come across to me as a credible threat. His superpower is… he’s crazy? That’s it? Yeah, it means he’s unpredictable and unencumbered by conscience, but seriously, that’s more of a liability than an advantage. He’s only able to succeed at anything because of the army of hired goons who are inexplicably willing to work for him, despite the certainty that their employment will end with Batman beating the shit out of them or the Joker killing them on a whim. His most remarkable trait is his uncanny knack for completely renovating locations in his trademark “twisted fairground” style in no time at all – that seems to be his real superpower: interior decoration.

Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight was the first time I saw a version of the Joker who I thought was a genuine threat to Batman – he was cunning and ruthless, he planned ahead, and it was clear that his only goal was to fuck shit up for the sake of it. Only of course it wasn’t the first time, because 25 years before Ledger’s Joker, there was Simon Phoenix.

Do I even have to establish that Simon Phoenix is the Joker? He’s got the look – discoloured hair and outlandish costumes (even by the standards of the mid-90s).

He has 100% of the attitude – playful psychosis, manic laughter, casual violence, non-stop quipping and on top of all of that he says “motherfucker” and can kick the shit out of anyone.

Remember the bit in The Dark Knight when the Joker stabs a guy in the eye with a pencil? Phoenix was stabbing out guys’ eyes with stationery before it was cool. Best Joker Ever.

Batman
If Simon Phoenix is the Joker, then John Spartan has to be Batman. He’s fearless, single-minded in pursuit of justice and doesn’t let little things like property destruction get between him and his quarry. He’s also a much less interesting character than the villain – another clear sign this is a Batman film. And he runs around with a shotgun and freeze-kicks the Joker’s head entirely the fuck off. Best Batman Ever.

(OK, first of all, if you’re enough of a pedant to get in a huff over Batman shooting people, you’re enough of a pedant to know that in his original comic book incarnation he did use guns and shoot mobsters, so there’s precedent. And if you’re talking about more recent continuity, you still can’t pull that “Batman never kills” bullshit – even assuming that his martial arts proficiency is such that he never accidentally inflicts fatal injuries when he’s pounding people’s organs and kicking them unconscious, with the sheer number of criminals he’s put in hospital, statistically at least some of them must have contracted a secondary infection and died there thanks to him.)

Supporting Cast
So far my children have been of the penised variety, which means I’ve never been in a position to make good on my documented threat to name any daughter I have Lenina Huxley:

Lenina Huxley, apart from being Sandra Bullock’s first and finest major role, is clearly Robin to John Spartan’s Batman. She’s a devoted follower of Spartan’s ethos, kicks bad guys in the face, looks great in tight pants and for once the sexual tension between her and Batman is explicitly followed up on. If they truly had the courage of their convictions, every Batman film would end with the Dynamic Duo transferring fluids.

(Minor digression: I have to admit that my biggest problem with Demolition Man is Spartan’s coupling with Lenina. He comes out of deep freeze asking for his wife, gets told she’s dead by Huxley and by the end of the film – which takes place over a few days at most – he’s hooking up with her. Call me a prude, but that’s not much of a mourning period.)

Dr Cocteau’s utopian tendencies and ends-justifies-the-means morality basically make him Ra’s al Ghul minus the immortality (Phoenix calls him “an evil Mr. Rogers” – same difference). I’m not well-versed enough in Batman lore to know if Ra’s ever tried to get the Joker to work for him – I do recall times when other big villains tried to manipulate the Joker, and it never worked out that well for them either.

And Denis Leary’s Edgar Friendly is… Anarky? Sort of? Look it doesn’t fucking matter who every single cast member maps on to – the point is that we’ve got a Batman, a Joker and a Robin and that’s all we need. The old black cop is probably Alfred.

The Defence Rests
I don’t think there can be any argument that Demolition Man is a Batman film – you could no more deny that than you could deny that White House Down is a Die Hard sequel (and a better one than 2, 4 or 5). More than that, it’s a Batman film with gunplay, swearing, crotch kicking and eyeball trauma, clearly making it the Best Batman Movie Ever. Possibly the Best Movie Ever, purely because of this shot:

The old man thought it was pretty important… Dick.

I’m quite a fan of both Sherlock and Elementary, to the point that I’ve just had to stop trying to compare them to decide which is the “better” take on Holmes – they’re really apples and oranges, each doing something completely different with the same source material*. I decided early on that I’d have to do the same thing with the Robocop remake – it didn’t seem like it was even trying to be the same kind of thing as the original. That was a subversive masterpiece – this one’s just a standard sci-fi action film. I figured if I went in assuming it was just a film in its own right, I’d avoid any comparisons with the original, which would almost certainly be unfavourable. I managed it with the recent prequel/remake to The Thing; surely I could do it for this one?

No, I couldn’t.

…more arsecheeks for us!

There’s a bit in the 2000 Charlie’s Angels film where Drew Barrymore’s angel is trying to tell her boyfriend that the person they’re talking to is actually a bad guy – she does this by surreptitiously spelling out the word “ENEMY” using Scrabble tiles on the table in front of them. Once she’s done, the camera zooms in as she points to the word, and then we hear her say “enemy!” out loud, completely destroying the point of silently spelling it out. The director’s commentary points out that they added her line in voiceover afterwards, on the assumption that people couldn’t handle reading a five letter word in block capitals. This was the clearest example of naked contempt for an audience I’d ever seen, until I watched the Robocop remake.

Everything about this film says “We, the filmmakers, do not give the tiniest fuck about you, the audience – all you are to us is a pair of arsecheeks on a seat in a cinema. Yeah, we’ve pruned away anything controversial to guarantee the PG-13 rating we wanted – that just means more arsecheeks for us!” Christ, I expected them to have sanded the edges off the original, but they’ve buffed it down to a perfect sphere. The one genuinely effective – genuinely shocking – scene in the whole film comes near the beginning when they show Murphy exactly how much of him is left under the Robocop suit (spoiler: not much). If you were of a mind to be the kind of wanker I like to pretend I’m not, you could take it as emblematic of the film as a whole – the façade of Robocop is dismantled, leaving behind fuck all of substance.

The first thing you notice about the film’s PG-13-ification is the near complete absence of blood – people are blown up in bloodless explosions, shot with incapacitating taser bullets or blown away in computer graphic night vision. When an ED-209 drone machineguns a knife-wielding teenager in a Middle Eastern warzone, he just disappears in a cloud of dust. Even the main bad guys, such as they are, are practically dispatched off camera, lest any sort of actual violence appear on the screen.

I say “such as they are”, because there aren’t any decent bad guys to speak of. Where the original had Ronny Cox’s snarling executive and Kurtwood Smith’s grinning psychopath, this film just has a bunch of corporate pricks being corporate pricks, and a bunch of criminals being criminals. There’s no evil plan or anything motivating them – they just want to make money and influence the government so they can make more money, which is something no mundane real life corporation has ever done ever. (According to the plot synopsis on Wikipedia, it was revealed that the corporation’s CEO was working with the criminals – I can honestly say I missed that fact entirely.)**

The film likes to think it’s cerebral and thought-provoking, but it has no decent philosophy beyond fragments of “what makes a man a man?” pontificating that get dropped as soon as it’s inconvenient:

“People don’t like machines – we need to put a man in a machine!”
“Right, the man in a machine’s not as good as an actual machine – make him more like a machine!”
“OK, now he’s a machine in a man in a machine who acts just like the machines that we were trying move away from in the first place!”
“Aaand now he’s overridden his programming – let’s say by magic – and he’s back to being a man in a machine. Let’s speak no more of this.”

It doesn’t help that they never really establish what’s so wrong with machines in the first place – there’s no equivalent of the scene in the original where the dumb robot ED-209 turns an unlucky executive into soup to prove how inferior machines are; it’s just taken on faith that robots that can do a good job without putting human lives at risk must be bad, presumably because the filmmakers know that modern audiences don’t like drone strikes. Indeed, the one attempt at aping the social satire of the original comes at the very end when Samuel L. Jackson’s superfluous Bill O’Reilly rip-off character says something along the lines of “What’s next? Are people going to start saying that maybe we shouldn’t be using drones in overseas conflicts *wink wink*?”

Speaking of aping, I can’t go past the fact that they force in the two biggest catchphrases from the original in ways that don’t fit the context at all – you can practically hear a producer leaning over some writer’s shoulder and saying “Shit, it’s nearly the end of the film and he hasn’t said ‘dead or alive, you’re coming with me’ yet – put that in now! I don’t care – anywhere, just do it!”. Even worse is the bit where a character, unimpressed by Robocop’s early performance, remarks “I wouldn’t buy that for a dollar” – but HE USES THE WRONG FUCKING DELIVERY! He says “I wouldn’t buy THAT for a dollar”, matching the intonation of the line from the original, but it doesn’t work the way the line is used – in that context, you’d expect a person to say it “I wouldn’t buy that for a DOLLAR”. I’m not sure why that bothered me as much as it did.

And yet, despite having none of the satire or ultra-violence of the original, it somehow seems more callous. The bloodless videogame deaths mean people just die anonymously as pixels on a screen – they’re not even treated as human beings. Where the original gives him a more-or-less clean break with his family, this one constantly dangles the possibility of a return to happy domestic life, which is never going to be possible – he’s a fucking robot who needs daily transfusions in a high-tech laboratory. By trying to be nicer, it just comes off as cruel. Similarly, while the reveal of Murphy’s remains did come as a genuine surprise, it too felt cruel – even though there’s slightly more of a man there than in the original (I’m pretty sure they establish it’s just his brain in that one – the sequel mentions that even his face is fake), it feels like a particularly low blow to actually throw it in his face (and ours).

That was a horribly mixed metaphor (a low blow to the face?) but frankly, this film deserves no better.

*I enjoyed season three of Sherlock as much as the first two – those complaining about it might be interested in this interview with Steven Moffat. Money quote:

“It’s interesting, when were we that mystery-driven?” Moffat said when asked if he felt that the series had changed its direction this season. “The only totally mystery-driven story I can think of is “The Blind Banker.” I mean, “A Scandal in Belgravia,” which is outrageous from that point of view, has a crime story going for about, what, 25 minutes? Then it’s about a boy and a girl missing each other … As we keep proclaiming to anyone who’s not completely bored of it by now, it’s not a detective show; it’s a show about a detective.”;

**UPDATE: OK, it doesn’t say that anymore – presumably some editor was trying to inject more coherence into the plot than was actually there, which is telling in itself.

The Further Adventures of Ted “Theodore” Logan

Come with me now on a journey back through the churning mists of time… It is the year 2000, and I am – holy shit, am I actually doing a misty flashback to the year 2000? Living in the future is weird. Anyway, it’s January 2000 and I’m turning 24. My preferred birthday celebration is going to the movies with a bunch of friends, but the problem with a birthday in January is that all the good films came out a couple of months earlier in time for the Christmas break – by mid-January, you’re left with the stuff that’s either too obscure or just too crap to be allowed to clutter the holiday schedule. What’s around this year that we haven’t already watched? Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Skipping ahead through the years, my birthday hijinks would end up exposing me to a fairly even mixture of hidden gems (Enemy at the Gates, A Very Long Engagement) and banal shit (Battlefield Earth, The Spirit). This year, having let the tradition slide somewhat, I decided to give it a go – with 47 Ronin.

there’s nothing more evil than a sexually confident woman.

Come with me now on another journey back through the churning mists of time… It is now feudal Japan with samurai and honour and massive shoulder pads but also witches and demons and shit. Let me say at the start that I’m not sure how I feel about an action movie that doesn’t have Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham in it. How do we even know it’s an action film? On the other hand, there are 47 of the buggers – one of them’s bound to be Statham in a wig. Probably two or three. Headlining the film is Keanu Reeves as Kai, a half-Japanese outcast with magical powers taught to him by demons that he almost never uses for fear of blowing the FX budget. Kaianu is pretty much Japanese Neo, which is to say he’s pretty much any Keanu Reeves character who isn’t Ted “Theodore” Logan*. It’s debatable whether or not he’s the main character – equal weight is given to Oishi, the leader of the eponymous Ronin, who is actually central to the story, as opposed to being bolted on to provide a white face and a supernatural angle.

The plot is based on the classic tale: A bunch of samurai are made ronin and exiled after the death of their lord. Their leader is thrown in a hole for a year, gets out and after a brief detour to swipe Kaianu off the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, he assembles the rest of the crew and they organise an assault on the bad guys to avenge their master. The bad guys in this case are a rival lord, whose face appears to have been welded into a permanent evil sneer, and a powerful witch, who we can tell is evil because she acts kind of slutty and shows a lot of leg and we all know there’s nothing more evil than a sexually confident woman. As well as enemy soldiers, the ronin have to contend with demons, both CGI and half-CGI. (I get that Tengu are supposed to be bird-like, but why do they have four nostrils? Seriously, their beak/nose combo gives them bird nostrils at the top and human nostrils at the bottom – I’m not lying when I say that bothered me the entire time they were on screen.)

And, yeah, the good guys win, but then of course they all have to commit ritual suicide because honour, so Kaianu can never be with the woman he loves. With the amount of “I’ll find you in another life” pining, I was 95% sure that the movie was going to manufacture a happy ending with a flash forward showing the reincarnated lovebirds being reunited in the present day – instead it ends on a silhouetted fist-pumping ronin on horseback, which was one freeze frame and the opening bars of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” short of a Breakfast Club remake**. As a film, it’s not good enough to gush over, nor is it bad enough to mock satisfyingly – there was only one thing that really stuck out to me, but to explain it, you’ll have to…

Come with me now on a journey back through the churning mists of time, not as far as the last journey but a bit further back than the one before it… It’s 1991 and I’m playing the game Magic Pockets on my Amiga 500. I almost included this game on my list of life-defining gaming experiences, but its significance to me doesn’t really relate to gaming per se. See, when you complete a level, all of the goodies you collected spray out across the screen, and when I saw that my reaction was “wow, that’s an impressive number of objects on screen at once – that would have been hard to do on an Amiga,” which was the first time I noticed myself paying attention to the behind-the-scenes technical details of a piece of entertainment at the same time as I was supposed to be sitting back and enjoying it.

The more I learn about how movies are made, the more I find myself doing this. I’ve mentioned before not being able to unsee Teal and Orange or badly written action scenes once I knew how they work; more recently, Cracked.com’s podcast “Why Every Movie Plot Follows Weirdly Specific Rules” saw me analysing the timing of every film I saw after it. Back on topic, while watching 47 Ronin, I found myself thinking “hmm, that CGI’s OK; that CGI’s a bit dodgy; I’m assuming that background is CGI; good integration of CGI and real life in that bit” and so on. I don’t know why CGI sticks out more than, say, stop animation or miniature work – maybe it’s because it’s used to achieve things that you know can’t be real. On the other hand, maybe I just didn’t pay as much attention to how things worked back before CGI became commonplace – I do watch older films now and think “ooh, that’s a nice model.” Am I just going to destroy more and more of my movie watching experience the more I know about how movies work? Should I be actively avoiding any more discussions of film-making? Should I be scientifically hitting myself in the head with a flatiron to dislodge what knowledge I already have?

I could come to some sort of conclusion here, but I know that most of you stopped reading after “flatiron” to jump to the comments section and say “yes you should” so I’m just going to stop typing now.

* Of course, since he has access to a time machine, you can make the case that any time Keanu Reeves appears as a character in a period piece, he’s actually an older Ted taking a breather from being a rock god. Hell, he’s even got the beard in this one.

** Needless to say, that would have been awesome.

Movie Review: Catching Fire

In which Josh’s attention wanders.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big reader – I gather this isn’t generally considered something to be proud of, but it does provide a good level of inoculation against whatever teen-lit craze is currently blighting the imaginations of the world’s youth. Frankly, if a series is good enough, it’ll get a movie adaptation* and I can watch that. So, The Hunger Games – I once heard that the series’ author named the two leads Katniss and Peeta so that if fans tried to manufacture one of those annoying “Brangelina”-style name combinations, they’d have to go with “Peeniss”. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but even the possibility is enough to dispose me favourably towards the series. Besides, the wife’s a fan and the first film was a larf, so off to Catching Fire we went.

punch feminism right in the dick.

As far as films go, it was one. Not even a bad one – my biggest worry with it was that fact that, when they get attacked by killer baboons (they get attacked by killer baboons) and the film does a big jump scare by having one leap out and roar in Josh Hutcherson’s face and everyone else in the theatre craps themselves, I didn’t fucking blink. And that’s weird – normally I’m a jumper. Have I finally watched enough movies to become completely desensitised to their tropes? Am I so goddamn tired that I’m no longer capable of extreme reactions? Do I not have a soul? Probably the soul one.

Anyway, I honestly can’t think of much to write about the film itself, especially since The Onion’s review has already said all that needs to be said:

(I do have to take issue with it on one point, though: Josh Hutcherson is worthy of much higher consideration since he starred in Detention, the Best Movie Ever Made.)

More interesting were the ads we were subjected to beforehand. First there were trailers for all the upcoming teen-lit adaptations – the “autistic kid learns to play Starcraft” one, the “teenagers are colour coded for the good of everyone” one, and the VAMPIRES MORE VAMPIRES FUCKING FUCKING VAMPIRES one. And then we got to watch the Nerf Rebelle ad punch feminism right in the dick:

Good news, ladies! Because the girl in the Hunger Games uses a bow, bows are acceptable girl toys now! Nerf bows in vagina-friendly shades of purple and near-pink that coordinate with your lifestyle while you exercise your “stylish skills” and be fierce and independent and whatever else you skirts are into! You can’t have Nerf guns, obviously – we all know your ovaries would detonate if you actually touched one of those – but now you can run through the woods, playing at being powerful, feisty action heroines:

“I’m Katniss Everdeen!”
“I’m also Katniss!”
“Me too! There’s literally no other role model available to me in this context!”

Nerf Rebelle! We spell “rebel” differently, because females are inherently other!

Maybe if Catching Fire does well, the popularity of Johanna the Hot Psycho Axe Chick will make axes heteronormatively kosher, too. So that’s progress.

*Counterpoint: Twilight and everything to do with it.

The Worst Thing You’ll See All Day

Here’s how it went: First I started playing The Last of Us. Then I kept playing it to the exclusion of all other activities because how can you fucking not? “This’ll make for a good review once I’m done,” I thought to myself, followed shortly by “FUCK, IT’S GOT ME! SHIV IT! SHIV IT RIGHT IN ITS FUCKING NECK!!”. Then I finished The Last of Us, and now I think I have PTSD. A long in-drawn breath will be required before I start writing about it in earnest – what I need right now is a distraction. And the universe provides.

…apocalyptically wrong…

I was browsing through cheap DVDs today and read, on the back of one of them, this (those of a nervous disposition may want to look away):

Rocketman_back

“Blast off for outrageously funny space travel in this screwball comedy that spins wildly out of control all the way to Mars. Though he’s a whiz with computers, accident-prone astro-nut Fred Randall (comedian Harland Williams – Dumb and Dumber) is the last guy on Earth you’d want on the first manned mission to Mars. But as bad luck and poor timing would have it, that’s exactly what happens, and Fred undergoes rigorous, if not hilarious, training at NASA. After that it’s t-minus a reality check as Fred blasts off with the rest of the Space Shuttle crew: a cocky, no-nonsense commander, a sexy Mission Specialist and a mischievous space chimp named Ulysses. From the dizzying pre-flight foolishness to the even loonier landing, ROCKETMAN is the out-of-this-world hit comedy that’s more than good for launch…it’s go for laughs!”

The only thing not apocalyptically wrong with that is the phrase “mischievous space chimp” (and, if you read the credits below, the presence of William Sadler). I can only assume it doubled as the suicide note of whoever wrote it, presumably with “astro-nut” underlined in his or her own blood.

As you were.

Updatery!

I’ve noticed two interesting trends regarding this blog. One is that whenever I put up a column here, within days I’ll come across an article or a cartoon or an opinion that would have been an ideal thing to reference, if they hadn’t come to my attention just too late. The other trend is that I’m incredibly tired and lazy.

I’m incredibly tired and lazy.

With these in mind, now seems like a good time to stop and revisit some of the things I’ve written recently, as a way of shoehorning in the more recent material I’ve encountered.

Much like my Viking forebears*, I’ll begin with rape. Not long after I wrote about humourlessly dissecting humour, Cracked.com published their 4 Questions People Debating Rape Jokes Should Ask Themselves. Some good points made there, including one of the things that bothers me when people talk about rape-based humour, which is the idea that rape is off the comedy menu on account of it happens a lot, as though it’s just a numbers game as to whether or not something is an acceptable object of humour. Have a read and see what you think.

If I were less convinced of my towering insignificance, I’d wonder at the number of times a Cracked article has related to something I wrote a few days before. It was not long after I suggested that the Toy Story toys were forced to listen to Andy masturbating for years that the exact same point showed up in one of their Photoplasty contests. Obviously, I’m not such a searing genius that this point can’t have occurred to other, like-minded people; similarly, there are plenty of introverts out there, so it’s no surprise that after I wrote about the foolishness of telling people to be more confident, I almost immediately stumbled over this cartoon, which hits the nail on the head with the conviction of a toolbox serial murderer. And it was scant days after that when those wacky bastards at Cracked.com listed the 4 Things Movies Always Get Wrong About Awkward People. The money quote for that one would have to be:

I know this is going to be hard for dynamic and interesting extroverts to believe, but some people are happy being introverts. Shy people don’t stay in on a Friday night because they’re broken, they stay in because they get more enjoyment out of reading at home than they do out of going to a sweaty bar or crowded party or loud concert or violent, I don’t know, quinceanera. Quiet people avoid talking in large crowds not because they don’t know how to talk, but because they prefer listening. Shy and awkward people are not looking for you to save them because they don’t need to be saved. Why do we throw around the phrase “She really helped him break out of his shell” as if that’s a good thing? If a turtle breaks out of his shell, he will die.

Yep.

The next one is entirely self-inflicted. It wasn’t long after I indulged my pet hate of made up swear words that my search engine referrals started filling up with the likes of this:

Screenshot_2013-06-30-15-36-49

To anyone who’s arrived here wondering what the made up swear words on Defiance are: FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU AND ALL THAT YOU REPRESENT ON THIS MORTAL PLANE – THOSE WORDS WILL NEVER BE SPOKEN HERE.

And finally, last night I saw Pacific Rim, which gives me the chance to throw back to my Iron Man 3 review, where I said “if Pacific Rim isn’t wall-to-wall robot punching none of you will ever hear the end of it.” Well, I don’t know about “wall-to-wall”, but there was certainly no shortage of robot punching there – there pretty much had to be, considering the plot, characters and dialogue were nothing to write home about.

Some of the fights are over too quickly (some of the giant robots are barely seen in action before they get stomped on), and they tease us in the opening sequence by saying “yeah, so those Jaeger robots spent years beating the shit out of giant monsters, but we’re not going to show you any of that – we’ll just skip to the point where the programme’s being shut down and there are hardly any left.” Nevertheless, there was much gorgeously rendered metal-fisted mayhem as the mighty bots pound on, stab, shoot at and incinerate an array of increasingly freaky monsters. I don’t think there were any moments that topped the “hitting in the face with a ship” bit that was spoiled by the trailers, but there were plenty that came close. And the human stick-fighting sequence, while coming worrying close to the “you do not know someone until you fight them” bollocks from Matrix Reloaded, was a lovely bit of fight choreography.

So yes, no need for “none of you will ever hear the end of it”. The Internet breathes a sigh of relief.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATES: I almost forgot to write about Pacific Rim without mentioning the fact that it’s called “Pacific Rim”. Best I can come up with so far is “Pacific Rim? Sounds like something you have to pay extra for at a Tongan brothel! Am I right? Heyooooo! And so forth!” Yeah, I should have put more thought into it, but see above re: tired and so, so lazy.

*I have a ginger beard, so I’m assuming there must be some Viking somewhere in my genes.

All Holes Filled with Hot Subjectivity

Wow, that’s a terrible title. Wow. Anyway, I started writing a post in advance of the new Superman film and got about halfway into it before I could no longer ignore the nagging conviction that no-one gives a shit about how much I dislike the Christopher Reeve series of Superman films and the 2006 reboot that was reconstituted from a bucket of its stem cells*. It did get me thinking on the reasons people give for hating movies, though.

All movies have plot holes.

One of the (many) things that irritated me about Superman Returns was how Lex Luthor’s evil plan makes absolutely no sense. He’s going to kill millions of people creating a new continent and then get rich because he’ll own all this new land? Who says he owns it? What’s going to stop every army in the world invading and taking it off him, apart from the fact that the supposedly valuable landmass is a grey, lifeless, inhospitable lump of rock that no-one in their right mind would want to live on?

The question is: did that plot hole make me hate the film, or did I already hate the film, which is why I noticed the plot hole?

All movies have plot holes. Die Hard, as I’ve mentioned before, is an excellent, excellent film with at least one gaping plot hole. But, you know, it had never even occurred to me through multiple viewings until someone it pointed it out to me. (Patton Oswalt wasn’t the first to comment on it, but he sums it up well.)

On the other hand, there’s Prometheus – a lot of people went berserk over all of the holes in it, but I had trouble buying many of their complaints. Sure the film has no shortage of flaws – even while I was watching it I found myself saying “hang on – how did those two guys get lost when one of them is the guy who controls the mapping drones?” Some of the supposed plot holes can be explained away, though – many of the things people question about the film assume that the main characters’ theories are right, when the point is that they’ve actually got it all wrong**. In a lot of cases it sounded more like people, having decided they didn’t like the film for more visceral reasons, looking for post-facto justifications of their emotional reactions.

At around the time Prometheus came out, I noticed a discussion on plot holes among a few screenwriters on Twitter:

This sounds right to me – Die Hard is great entertainment that lets you overlook the holes; Prometheus just wasn’t that great (and had the added handicap of stomping over the much-loved Alien franchise).

Of course, enjoyment of films is subjective and it all gets murky – some holes are so glaring that you can’t ignore them, no matter how much you may be enjoying the film. In the better-than-I-expected Man on a Ledge, two characters breaking into a building come across a security sensor they weren’t expecting, and have to enlist the main character’s help to identify it as a heat sensor, then improvise a way around it. Later on, their plan calls for them to deliberately set the alarms off, which they do by placing a bunch of heat packs under the sensor. At that point, even though I was fully enjoying the film, I had to sit up and ask why, if they had no idea that there was going to be a heat sensor there, they purposely brought along gear to set one off?

So if a film’s good, you won’t notice its flaws, unless you do? Or does the fact that you notice flaws show that the film isn’t that good? Unless you enjoy it anyway? I guess it just annoys me when I read or hear people wanking on about the mass of plot holes in a film they hated, pretending like it objectively proves their opinion.

Hmm, that’s a suitable conclusion, but it’s not much of a punchline. Um. Penis?

*Is mentioning Christopher Reeve and stem cells in the same sentence in poor taste? It feels like it could be in poor taste.

**I also don’t see anything wrong with the Charlize Theron’s notorious “half a billion miles from Earth” line – it was an interesting illustration of how the vastness of space dwarfs even the human capacity for hyperbole (though not, apparently, the human capacity for pedantry). No-one would have complained if she’d said “a jillion gazillion miles from Earth” in the same spirit. And seriously, who would ever have cared – or even noticed – if Neil deGrasse Tyson hadn’t used it as a punchline?

2013 Dwayne Johnson Action Movie. No, The Other One.

Based on the reviews I’ve put up so far, it’d be a fair assumption that my movie tastes skew towards “dumb actioner”. Certainly, if I’m paying to see a film, I’d prefer it’s one that needs to be seen on a big screen. This week it was the latest in the Fast and the Furious franchise, which calls itself Furious 6, in the manner of a teenage boy calling himself Razor or Death Machine because he thinks chick’s’ll dig it.

Given that this movie is basically just a random assortment of ludicrous action scenes bolted together however they’ll fit, this review will be a collection of random observations in no particular order.

I was genuinely worried that just watching this film would generate a wormhole in the cinema.

Well, no, OK we have to start with the name first. If I’ve got this right, it went The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast and Furious, Fast 5 and now Furious 6. They’re painting themselves into a corner with the naming a bit – having experimented with dropping out key words in the name of a catchy moniker, all they have left to try is And 7. I guess they’ll have to go in a different direction for the next one – my money’s on SeFFen. Or they could call it FFVII and piss off Final Fantasy enthusiasts the world over. That’s justification enough for a sequel as far as I’m concerned.

Anyone who doubts the Theory of Evolution, or the idea that humans are still evolving, should be made to watch this film, where we can witness first hand the bifurcation of the human race into two sub-species: Actors and Everyone Else. Not only does Dwayne Johnson look like a smaller man wearing an inflatable The Rock costume that’s been pumped up too hard (with most of the male cast not far behind), most of the female stars have been slimmed, sculpted and botoxed to the point where they’ve passed from “ethnically non-specific” to “not fully human”.

As with other long-running franchises (looking at you, Saw), the Fast & Furious chain has reached the point where it’s starting to disappear up its own arsehole. See, it turns out that the bad guy from 6 was behind the stuff that happened in 4, and then it turns out that the death of a character that happened in 3 (which is actually set after 4, 5 and 6) was done in revenge for what happened in 6 and then it turns out that my ears are bleeding. I’ve actually only seen bits of 3 and none of 4, and I was about to claim that as a result I don’t understand what happened in 5 and 6, but then I remembered that they crashed a car out of the front of a cargo plane after being chased by a tank, so I figure “understanding” isn’t really at issue here.

I’m entirely in favour of the idea of Dwayne Johnson sporulating like a fungus and settling over the entire action genre – he’s breathed life into GI Joe and done the same here. However, once (spoiler?) Jason Statham showed up in this film, I began to worry that it’s the other way around – is the Fast & Furious franchise spreading out to colonise the rest of the action world? The fact that we’re six installments in, with a seventh announced by the post-credits scene, shows that the series clearly cannot be stopped – it will outlive us all, locked in furious battle with The Expendables for all eternity. Quite an encouraging thought, actually.

As for the action scenes themselves, “physics-defying” doesn’t begin to describe them – I was genuinely worried that just watching this film would generate a wormhole in the cinema. Cars fly though the air, people fly through the air, faces get punched, guns go bang, things explode, but (like with GI Joe) I don’t think I saw a single drop of blood actually leave a person’s body. Oh, and the bit where the baddies are driving a tank down the motorway and indiscriminately crushing any vehicle in front of them? Are we to assume that, except for the few cases where a person is shown leaping out of their car, that all of those commuters were ground into paste? There’s no way there wouldn’t have been a few families out driving – that sequence was remarkably callous, given the tone of the rest of the film, which is big on honour and family and “having a code”.

At one point, Dwayne Johnson is obliquely referred to as “Samoan Thor”. This alone makes the film worth it.

I, Ron Man

Here’s what I wrote the day before I saw Iron Man 3:

Iron Man was the first of the current crop of Marvel films, and the first really successful comic film since the X-Men franchise (which at that stage had sputtered out with the third installment and was yet to be revitalised by First Class). And it had good cause to be – it featured a well-executed origin story, awesome robot effects and perfect casting in Robert Downey Jr*.

…AND HE’S ALL ‘PEW PEW PEW’ AND THEN A TANK EXPLODES!

It petered out towards the end, though – you get the cool origin/escape sequence, then a developing-the-Iron-Man-suit-for-reals montage, and then some action, which I was only ever able to describe to others as “AND THEN IRON MAN’S LIKE ‘WHOOSH’ AND THIS GUY RUNS UP AND IRON MAN GOES ‘ZARK’ AND BLASTS HIM AND THEN SOME OTHER GUYS ARE THERE AND HE’S ALL ‘PEW PEW PEW’ AND THEN A TANK EXPLODES!” Given that that bit happened two thirds of the way through, I was expecting something even better for the climax, and I was disappointed – two guys in robot suits beating on each other sounds awesome on paper, but there just weren’t any of the cool moments of the kind that we’d seen earlier.

Then Iron Man 2 came along and was an unfortunate step backwards. No character-defining origin material, just some angst over whether or not his suit is killing him (which gets resolved by a bit of physics-defying hand waving, as he invents a new power source that runs on MacGuffinonium or something). And again, the action scenes let me down. I remember that there was a confrontation with Whiplash at the start – something to do with chopping up race cars – but I’m buggered if it made any impression on me. What I do remember is the final sequence, where we have Iron Man and War Machine facing off against a small army of robot drones, which was very cool for about two minutes, until the effects budget visibly ran out and Iron Man zaps all of the bad robots at once with a single shot. And then there’s another fight with a guy in a big robot suit, just like the end of the first film – again, I can remember almost nothing about it, apart from a misplaced gag where the foreshadowed super awesome mini missile that War Machine launches at the bad guy turns out to be rubbish because ha ha, Sam Rockwell’s character is a dick and his tech is shit!

The stakes were raised by the Avengers film coming out in between 2 and 3. That film showed that you can do it right – at no point in that one did I ever feel let down by the action. So I’m going into Iron Man 3 wondering which way will it go – will it underwhelm again, or will it deliver on all that it promises?

And here’s what I wrote the day after:

OK, first of all: fuck 3D. Fuck it selfishly, ignoring its physical and emotional needs. Fuck it in a non-sex-positive manner. I’ve never seen a film that was made better by the addition of a third dimension – half an hour in and I don’t even notice any 3D effects, just the eye-strain and distracting reflections off the glasses. Until such time as cinema is reinvented to make 3D an integral part of the experience (and I have no idea how that might be done, if it’s even possible) it will remain nothing more than a gimmick designed to make us shell out a few extra bucks for our movie ticket. Anyway.

Does Iron Man 3 deliver? Weeeelllll… no. Look, it’s a good film – possibly the best of the three. The characters are believable, the dialog is excellent**, the plot is not overly silly for a comic book film, but where the fuck are my awesome fucking robot fights?!

This film goes the The Suit Isn’t What Makes You a Hero, Tony Stark route (with a detour through The Man Is More Important Than The Iron, Tony Stark), which means he spends most of the film not even in the Iron Man suit, dealing with guilt and processing issues and so on. And sure, he’s witty and clever and gets into and out of a few scrapes using his wits and his cleverness, but when it comes down to kick-ass, power-suited action, it’s still a bit lacking.

I don’t want to be too spoilery, but if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ll know that a whole squadron of Iron Man suits eventually comes into play. This is the climactic action sequence of the film, with Iron Men of all descriptions zooming around and battling the bad guys, but it all takes place in the background – it’s just the backdrop to Tony Stark having it out with the final boss. There are some great action moments, but that’s all they are: isolated moments – things that, thinking back on them, were really clever and/or awesome, but at the time they go by so fast they barely register.

So, just, fuck, I dunno. Maybe it’s me? Maybe my expectations are just out of whack with what the series has been trying to do all along? Maybe I need to get over my need for hot bot-on-bot action and just accept what is otherwise a very worthwhile franchise as it is?

I tell you, though: if Pacific Rim isn’t wall-to-wall robot punching none of you will ever hear the end of it.

*Apparently, when Stan Lee created Iron Man, he was setting himself a challenge: this was the 70s, during the Vietnam War and counter cultural protests, so he wanted to see if he could get comic book fans to like a filthy rich weapons dealer who fights in Vietnam. Even though the films were moved forwards to the current era, they still had the problem of how to make this smarmy rich prick likeable – and they succeeded, largely due to Robert Downey Jr’s acting.

**Almost to a fault – coming from the director of The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you’d expect the dialogue to be cracking, but with every single bit part character and henchman throwing out one-liners and rapid-fire quips, the film starts to feel like an episode of Gilmore Girls at times.

2013 Dwayne Johnson Action Movie

I never played with GI Joes as a boy – Mum thought they were too violent and I was more of a Transformers kid anyway. The recent films seemed like a bit of dumb fun though, so the other day I went off to GI Joe: Retaliation (a much snappier subtitle than the original one they had for it, which I understand was GI Joe: This Franchise is a Dwayne Johnson Vehicle Now And If You Don’t Like That Tough Shit You Had Your Chance With The Last One And You Fucked It Up).

Roland Emmerich’s semen stains

The first film, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was a masterclass in how to violate John Rogers’ guidelines on writing action scenes. That article is something every fan of action films should read – the main lesson is, as he puts it: “Don’t write action scenes. Write suspense scenes that require action to resolve.” After I first read it, I found myself seeing the lesson in every movie I watched (like when I first heard about teal and orange). And I saw it plenty in The Rise of Cobra – pretty much every action scene in that film just went until it stopped without serving any real purpose. I have to say though, when watching Retaliation, this sort of stuff didn’t stick out to me – basically because nothing about the film really stuck out.

I’d hoped this one might be an improvement on the former – it shows promise when they start by ditching all the dead weight from the first film. Some characters get blown up and others just never appear, such as the Superfluous Wayans and the Hot Redhead. (Bit of a pity, that – one of the best things about the first film was being able to shout “ha ha – looks like this time the fire is on the other crotch!” whenever she appeared.*) One of the villains basically gets told to his face “sorry, you’re not in this one” and is never seen again.

Having done that, they’re free to bring in an entirely new team, consisting of The Rock, Parkour Guy and Corporal Tits’n’Ass** and play them up as an improvement on the last lot. This wasn’t a problem for me at all – since I was never a GI Joe fan, I had no attachment to any of the characters who were jettisoned. I wonder how actual fans would have reacted, especially since the film shovels in lots of other stuff that I’m assuming were fan-pleasing references to GI Joe things I’ve never heard of – cool gadgets that are used once and then forgotten, characters that hang around in the background and barely get a mention.

Compared to the first film, this one spends less time setting up the characters, but more time setting up the story (or at least it felt that way). Even with all the setting up, though, the plot was still all over the place. Some of this was down to the Snake Eyes Problem – Snake Eyes is the Wolverine of the GI Joe franchise; not a central character in the overall scheme of things, but the number one fan favourite, which means he needs to be included in whatever’s going on. While I haven’t seen or read too much GI Joe material, everything I have experienced has had the plot “the Joes go and blow up Cobra and also Snake Eyes is off somewhere doing awesome ninja stuff.” Sure enough, while everyone else is trying to foil Cobra’s evil scheme to hold the Earth’s nuclear powers to ransom, Snake Eyes is jumping around mountains and hanging out with RZA (here playing the role of Ninja Master With a Ridiculous Beard).

There’s also a fair bit of tension generated by the film’s attempts to be modern and realistic while also remaining true to the silly 80s toy line it’s based on (and while keeping to an M rating – I’m pretty sure there was not a single drop of blood visibly spilt throughout the whole film). This was also true of the first film, which took pains to set up the Joes as a modern fighting force and introduce everyone’s detailed back story, and then casually introduced a character called Dr. Mindbender without anyone blinking. So here we get tense, personal drama and intimate action, in the middle of which there’s the following sequence, which occupies no more than 30 seconds of the film and is never brought up again:

COBRA: Yeah, so we just destroyed London.

[CGI shot of a kinetic harpoon devastating central London, Roland Emmerich’s semen stains still drying on it.]

EVERYONE ELSE: Sucks to be London. Anyway…

There were definitely multiple writers working on this one – not only does the plot jump around, but the dialogue does too. At the very least there was Witty Dialogue Guy, who supplies some genuinely funny quip-laden banter and one-liners, which The Rock in particular delivers well; and Clunky Exposition Guy, who throws in leaden prose whenever things are in danger of displaying subtlety or requiring a few seconds’ thought. Cobra Commander in particular seems to have been the object of a tussle between the two – one minute he’s throwing out pop culture references, and the next he’s a walking thesaurus of movie villain clichés.

So not the best film I’ve ever seen. Ah well. And I haven’t even mentioned how part way through Bruce Willis shows up, behaving as he always does in films like this – the cocky smirk, the presumed invulnerability – oh shit, was this actually a Die Hard sequel all along?! Mind. Blown.

*Because, see, she was in The Woods as a blond bully who was always teasing the ginger protagonist and calling her “fire crotch” and then she was the one playing a redhead don’t fucking judge me.

**If you think that’s sexist, you should see how the film treats her – despite setting her up as a highly trained killing machine, at two separate points in the film her role is to wear something cartoonishly revealing and distract a horny bad guy. After the second such sequence it cuts to a scene of her teammate surreptitiously ogling her as she changes outfits while discussing her daddy issues.