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I mean, it’s still kind of miraculous that this movie even happened.

Let’s get something out of the way first: Glass is bad. This isn’t going to be one of those apologia type reviews where I try to justify a poorly-executed, messy movie on behalf of its noble ideas, creative ambition, or whatever. Glass has some really solid moments and I’d even say the first half feels like it’s leading to a satisfying conclusion to what must be one of the most unlikely trilogies in cinematic history. Logistically, this movie is a complete anomaly since two studios had to share IP for it to even happen. Individual moments and scenes work well, and there’s a lot of fascinating junk hidden in the mess of it. Thing is, I don’t think it’s the stuff we are supposed to be interested in. So as usual, Shyamalan has made a fascinatingly bad movie. That’s not the worst thing that can happen. However, he also continues his long streak of not playing to his strengths and refusing to leave well enough alone. And I don’t mean that to say that this movie should never have been made. I mean letting a movie be a story strong enough to stand on its own and deliver themes and subtext by its own lights. Watching Glass is almost like dealing with a backseat driver, Shyamalan is always there over your shoulder or behind the screen to grab at that steering wheel. It’s like the guy can’t help himself.

Some context. I love Unbreakable and I did so from day one. That movie was under-seen when it was released but quickly found appreciation among its (possibly unintentional) target audience, if not mainstream moviegoers. It was a different time. Something as meta, deconstructive, and referential as Unbreakable probably seemed strange in an era before the tropes and textures of comic book superhero movies became commonplace. And like all good deconstruction, Unbreakable was able to make a case for the stuff in comic book superhero movies that is valuable in a more realistic context. Back then, 19 whole fucking years ago, comic books were still pretty fringe. 2000 was the same year that the so-so X-Men arrived as a new attempt to make comic book superhero movies palatable. While that one hasn’t aged well, it did launch an ensuing 19 years worth of X-Men and related movies that have a continuity, series of switch-backs, and retcons that are definitely worthy of their comic book origins on a structural level — if not exactly ever as high quality (with the notable exceptions of Logan and Deadpool) as anyone hoped for.

As for M. Night Shyamalan, it’s pretty much impossible for me to talk about this movie without spending about as much time talking about the dude who made it. It’s too personal a work to do otherwise. I consider myself a fan of his earlier work. That excludes his first two movies, Wide Awake and Praying with Anger as I’ve never seen them. When he broke out into Hollywood and mainstream success with Sixth Sense, I was too young to really see that movie or its maker in the grander context of cinema, but I knew it was special. Everybody did. Nowadays I tend to think it’s a bit overrated but that Unbreakable has definitely stood the test of time. I was a defender of Signs and The Village but really got off the train when Lady in the Water collided with it. Things were never really the same after that. I think a lot of us could relate to David Dunn, bewildered and disoriented like we’d alone survived the derailment that just kept going. For just about ten years now. A lot of people were hoping that Glass would be some kind of return to form. I even know a few people who totally believe it is. I disagree. I think it’s plagued by the same issues that were on display as early as Lady in the Water but in a slightly more cohesive and slightly less narcissistic package. But even that movie can stand alone as a story, I think. Shyamalan has always been overly engaged with his own celebrity, high on his own supply you might say. And starting with Lady in the Water there’s been a reflexive self-consciousness in his work that seems to keep manifesting as a plaintive cry to be taken seriously, to be some kind of game-changer, and for the meanie critics to just leave him alone. At least he had the good sense to make a character he doesn’t play the messiah this time around. Still found a way to stick himself in the movie, though, in a scene that everybody seems to agree is an indulgent waste of time.

This intro is running long but I’ll offer some more summary of my thoughts since that’s what I usually do. I think that Glass is a movie that says what it is all the way through, contriving and hand-holding and info-dumping its way to some semblance of meaning. There’s a long standing idea that art isn’t supposed to tell you how to think and feel about it, that real engagement relies on a less transmissive delivery mechanism. You’ll see people defending Glass from a literal position, with not much subtlety of thought, with direct quotes from it as a text, explaining away its narrative shortcomings by taking it all completely at face value. While this kind of literalism is actually pretty common in nerdy circles, it actively prevents or discourages a more sophisticated critical evaluation of a story. As poorly executed as this story is, it’s still fascinating enough to merit a better class of discourse then the same vapid repetition of its ideas that plague the movie’s dialogue.

At the risk of throwing too much shade on people who earnestly enjoyed Glass, I can’t help but fail to imagine the person who walks away from it satisfied. I’ve heard a few pretty good defenses of the movie by now, but I suspect that for most there’s a sunken cost issue here. Some maybe want to like Glass more than they actually do. Or maybe it’s just the current fixation on callback culture. If Glass is taken as roguish, it becomes a symbolic artifact for people who like just about anything that goes against “the grain”, even if “the grain” is wholly a product of their imagination. If you liked the movie and this doesn’t sound like you, fair enough. Take the above with a grain of salt. Still, I think it’s likely that many will revisit the movie and find themselves bored as they try to plumb its nonexistent depths, just as I think that I’ll revisit it and feel the same but only because the shock value of its twists can only work once and I will already know that the other shoe is about to drop.

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Is she with you?

Wonder Woman is good. Like, Marvel Phase 1 good. In fact, it owes such a massive debt to both Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor that the weird and often toxic fandom around DCEU and their obsession with being “better than the MCU” is even more ironic than usual. However, forgetting about those kinds of people as they so richly deserve leaves the question as to whether it should count against this movie that its creative team bothered to finally learn something from their wildly more consistent and successful counterparts at Marvel. I don’t think so. I think good superhero movies with actual shit to say is a tide that raises all the ships. I have given this current generation of DC superhero movies a lot of shit, we all have, but most of us still want them to be good.

And with Wonder Woman, there’s a glimmer of hope that they can be. People are looking for a fluke reason why Wonder Woman is good, like this success couldn’t be replicated without secret handshakes and spinning around in place an arbitrary number of times before sitting down to write the script or pick up a camera or whatever. It’s nonsense. This movie is good because it gives a shit and the people who made it give a shit. They aren’t embarrassed or cynical about this being a sincere story about heroism. They lean into it. On top of that, it’s probably one of the most, if not the most, culturally significant superhero movies there is. It’s embarrassing at this point, 10 years into the era of shared superhero universes, that we’re only now getting Wonder Woman. I will talk about Wonder Woman‘s feminism and its impact (including some similar ideas), but I also want to point my readers to a great piece by BMD’s Meredith Borders, who offers a nerdy woman’s perspective on the significance of this movie.

That all said, there are definite imbalances and flaws in the movie. I’ll talk about them below, but by and large this movie stands up well against the MCU, or I should probably say alongside it? Honestly, I don’t think many people would be able to make a meaningful distinction between MCU and DCEU properties using Wonder Woman as a basis. And I think that’s okay, but it may disappoint DCEU fans who are looking for something more distinguishing besides just beating Marvel to the punch on having a movie focused on a woman. After all, Wonder Woman also focuses on what works best for these kinds of movies: character, humor, symbolism, and heroism.

SPOILERS AHEAD Read the rest of this entry »

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Believe it or not, this bit works a lot better in context than it did in the trailers.

The Wolverine isn’t just the best X-Men movie (First Class has not aged well), it is also nuanced and focused in a way that most comic book superhero movies just aren’t. This makes it feel more like a “real movie” than Origins or even First Class ever did. This is because pandering is kept lower key, characters don’t get thrown in for no reason or just to be cute, and most everything is foreshadowed, setup, justified, and paid off. There is way less “and then” storytelling going on in The Wolverine than has become typical for superhero movies, let alone Hollywood’s foundering big budget output.

Though the third act is clunky and full of bad contrivances that threaten to derail the movie, it’s also the only part where The Wolverine fully indulges its comic book origin. This is going to work for some and be a dealbreaker for others. For me it was a mild mess. I’ll go into more detail later, but for now be satisfied that it’s the third act problems that keep The Wolverine from being legitimately great. It seems like we have to wait a bit longer for a superhero solo outing to be truly awe-inspiring (Man of Steel comes so close), but in the broader context of these types of movies it is hard to be cynical about the satisfaction level that The Wolverine reaches rather handily. Read the rest of this entry »

Batman and Bane are BFFs. Spoiler!

NO SERIOUSLY. I AM GOING TO SPOIL THIS MOVIE. IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET (WHICH, WTF?) THEN STOP READING THIS NOW. Read the rest of this entry »

And then this happened.

Warning: There will be spoilers

My version of what everyone is saying about The Avengers is that we’re now living in the post-Avengers world. For over 3 years, everyone knew this was coming. The Avengers is a huger part of the public consciousness than it ever was as a comic and now that the movie has finally arrived, and the big ballsy gamble paid off, it’s going to get even bigger. No joke, The Avengers is hands-down the best Marvel movie yet made and is almost hilariously easily the best superhero movie yet made. This is because Joss Whedon was the right guy, with the right cast, and the right amount of money to create a big blockbuster movie that is a total treat, presenting set-ups and pay-offs not only within its own confines, but dependent on 4 years of Marvel movies and 40 years of Marvel comics.

Just how right is Whedon? It won’t even surprise anybody who’s watched shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and especially Angel that the guy is the world’s leading expert on juggling superhuman egos and powers with humanizing vulnerabilities, attachments, and aspirations. While able to juggle the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, Whedon shows the potentially unique ability to let each character weave their way in and out of the core narrative, making sure that everyone has their moment in the spot light. And yes, this extends to Black Widow, Hawkeye, and especially the Hulk. Not only is Whedon the first filmmaker to give us a Hulk we can stand up and cheer for, he also manages to take an eye-candy non-character like Black Widow (as far as Iron Man 2 had it anyway) and turn her into someone far richer. If you’re well-versed in Joss Whedon’s work, his ability to capture depth in character and theme with a deft and effortless hand isn’t going to surprise you. All I can do is tell you that he pulls it off here, and then some, and for everyone else: this stuff is what makes this movie so very exceptional. Read the rest of this entry »

This movie is full of iconic shots. The more understated ones are the best.

Captain America (which I will refuse to refer to by its unnecessary long-form title) is the best Marvel movie since Iron Man and it’s not even a close race. Whether or not you’ll think it’s the best of them all is really going to come down on your specific taste in tone, character, and what you think makes for a good hero in our cynical, post-modern times. To be honest, I probably prefer a character like Tony Stark to a character like Steve Rogers though it helps that Chris Evans (who is amazing, the end) does his best work yet in the role bringing authenticity to even the gee whiz brand of altruism that Cap has always personified. There’s also that Captain America is just such a good fucking movie.

It’s funny because I was very kind to Thor and it took seeing this entry into Marvel’s shared universe experiment (it’s an experiment until The Avengers hits, after that I might have to call it something else) to force me to reassess that kindness. Thor is a movie that is full of situations, plot points, characterization, etc that could have been better. Watching it, you know that, but you give it a pass because hey they made a fucking Thor movie. There’s Anthony Hopkins. Chris Hemsworth is the real deal! Idris Elba! And so on. But you don’t need to give Captain America a pass. You don’t need to be kind to it. It is confident even brazen at times and it earns that sure-footedness that every other Marvel movie has lacked (to varying degrees) every step of the way. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t let cool images like this fool you. The crazy space opera stuff is just so much window dressing.

I pride myself on trying to find cool quotes, or at least apt ones, to fit my reviews. The quote I chose this time is a chastisement against what I view to be the thing Green Lantern is the shortest on. There is some sense of scope, and there’s certainly imagination involved in creating the planet Oa or the creature Parralax, but most of this is owed to the comics. I’m hard pressed to give the filmmakers much credit for translating the work of others and doing such a piss-poor job of making even that work, let alone adding anything to the proceedings.

Green Lantern is a by-the-numbers movie. Yes, superhero movies have progressed to the point where there’s a template of bland genericness which seems to be a combination of samey origin stories, daddy issues, and what worked in Iron Man. We get it already, Hollywood, these movies are hip to the fact that they are about ridiculous guys in tights with unlikely names. At the same time, a movie that was much more earnest than Green Lantern yet had many similarities in apparent scope and context is Thor, which is by far the better movie. Read the rest of this entry »

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