06 April 2021

First Impressions: Zack Snyder's Justice League

We are fast arriving at an era where we sorta need to move on from reserving our Impressions reviews only for movies seen in the theater. The last movie I saw in the theater is still Rise of Skywalker (2019). Ugh, kill me. Thanks to HBOMax, which I am 100% on board with right now, we are getting a steady stream of dumb action comic book movies, so I'm game. Let's start this party with Zack Snyder's Justice League (2021), which is in a world all on its own and perhaps becoming one of the more famous "re-dos" in cinema history. SPOILERS I guess, kind of for this movie that's like four years old but also brand new?

Chill, man! It's not that artistic!

Re-reading my initial impressions of Justice League (2017), it's amazing how much a few things stick out. First is just how snarky I was. Maybe I still am? But that movie just had so, so, so much baggage. The news at the time was more about Snyder leaving due to an imaginable family tragedy, Joss Whedon entering to lighten everything up, and Henry Cavill's CGI de-moustaching. With four years of hindsight it's clear that Snyder was very much forced off the project, Whedon was a horribly misguided choice, and the moustache thing wasn't all that big of a deal.

Let's just dive into this, which is what everyone wants to hear - how did this thing come about, was it worth it, and what is really different? I will reiterate that it is a true miracle that Snyder got the opportunity to get back in there and indulge everything he wanted to ever do, but it's also very much a product of a different world. As I mentioned in 2017, Justice League was just chasing Marvel. Amidst a great year for superhero movies, the biggest DCEU team-up event was an afterthought. In the years since, they've somewhat righted the ship with Aquaman (2018) and SHAZAM (2019) being pretty good and Bird of Prey (2020) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) being pretty okay. They're all better than Snyder's early efforts, which are truly, truly awful.

With this big negative wave it wasn't that crazy to bring Whedon on to the project. At the time Snyder was seen as this dour, pretentious, and self-serious auteur, which is all the more insane because his movies are completely bonkers and could be successful if they took themselves less seriously. Whedon was coming off of The Avengers (2012) and appeared as this superhero wunderkind, but really we should have been wise to the cracks in his armor. In the past four years his career has fallen hard, mostly because the man who we all thought could write strong female characters hasn't held up under scrutiny. The jokes that worked in Avengers also feel so cringey in Justice League. There are plenty of possible reasons why - they didn't mesh with Snyder's script, they're forced in general, the cast wasn't on board, or maybe Whedon was never really that great to begin with.

I will gladly hop on the "never liked Whedon" train. I never watched Buffy or Firefly. I don't know why neither of those shows ever really appealed to me. I was probably too young to buy into Buffy initially and now I'm too old. I did watch a little Firefly, but I can't remember a thing beyond Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk being in it. He was always praised for his writing, but nothing ever stood out to me as that clever or ground-breaking. I really liked Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012), both of which I DO think are clever and ground-breaking, though.

All this set up The Avengers, which looking back on it, was such the most mass-marketed appealing and safest movie ever. That's not totally a criticism, I mean, it's literally the point of these movies. But the jokes are broad, the action is broad, the themes are broad, and it's shot like a TV show. When these elements were brought to Justice League and mixed in with a very distinct vision, which we see now, it's no wonder this movie was really really bad when it came out. There just isn't clarity of purpose or motivation, shots are compromised or flat due to lighting changes that don't match set and costume design, and there's a general lighter tone that dilutes the stakes. The Avengers still had an epic feel, Justice League just feels like warm mush.

So, that movie came out, it was a mess, people forgot about it, and we moved on with our lives. But thank you Internet Trolls for screaming for the fabled "Snyder Cut" for years. There is a lot of nasty context here, Snyder appeals to that Internet Bro crowd that likes carrying tiki torches and has nothing better to do on January 6th. It's all kind of Fountainhead, superheroes are inherent gods and better people kind of stuff. Yeah, he made Watchmen (2009) but without a ton of Alan Moore's self awareness about these topics. Whedon isn't quite there but he does exhibit the other side of the coin with male gaze, playful sexual harassment jokes, and that kind of "I'm an ally, why won't you sleep with me!?" type of male thinking. I know this is a really hot take, folks - all of Hollywood might be sexist.

There is a degree of problematic thinking then, went Internet bros complain and then get what they want. But IS it that bad when the Snyder Cut is actually this good. That's right. I really actually enjoyed the hell out of this movie. After years of whining, a pandemic where we had nothing else to do but watch directors re-edit old movies and launch fledgling streaming services like HBOMax, the Snyder Cut was the perfect big blockbuster, new but sort of also old, a sure novelty to peak interest, but also a tremendous showcase for think pieces like this to get the Internet buzz in full swing in a world still taking a big breath after a dearth of Marvel films. Everything just aligned with this one.

This film is undeniably better than Justice League. It has far more context, a more coherent, unrushed story, an epic scope, and actually a whole ton of fun. I don't know what would have happened if this had come out in 2017, all four hours of it. I watched it, but I will admit that my joy was fueled in part by my ability to take bathroom breaks, make dinner halfway through, pause to watch some NCAA March Madness, and then finish it up. I will say that somehow it is actually one of the fastest four hours I've spent watching a movie.

It's helped by breaking up the film into many smaller character moments and origins, and this is a good and bad thing. Newly introduced characters like Flash and Cyborg could have used their own lead-up films, but quite honestly, we know enough about Flash from the CW show, and this movie serves as a pretty good Cyborg origin. We're probably okay. Aquaman has the deepest, wettest backstory, and it's fairly incomprehensible in Whedon's cut. His own solo adventure as well as more context here is very helpful. It's important to remember that people will sit through four hours of movie, they just won't sit through four hours of bad movie. I made a note of the time stamp - Batman shows up in costume for teh first time around two hours in, which is about the time that Justice League ended.

This all helps it just become epic. No one would pay attention to the Lord of the Rings if it were a crisp 90 minutes. It's supposed to be an investment. Now, that investment only works when the story isn't stretched thin (sorry, Hobbit movies), but a film like this, that was supposed to stand against Avengers movies, needs to feel a little more substantial.

The other benefits of more time to breathe and more context include the villain, Steppenwolf, who is more suitably treated as the middle-management tool that he is. He's not a very good villain, but that's the point. He's a groveling sycophant, and how he cowers to Darkseid is supposed to indicate how badass the REAL villain actually is. It was great actually understanding his motivation as atonement for some blunder in the past. Now, Darkseid's general "conquering worlds" is as cliche as they come - getting into the Anti-Life Equation is a little it more nuanced, but it's basically the same thing. It's not quite as catchy as an Infinity Stone, is it?

Ohhhh, you know I've got to compare this to Marvel, I mean, that's the whole point, right? I mean, this isn't new. Steppenwolf is still a villain without much connection to the main heroes, at least until he kills Cyborg's dad, but that's also sort of the point. He just exists until Wonder Woman cuts his head off, and then no one cares that he's dead. However, he's still a huge threat that no one can beat.

Except Superman! And I will tell you, we all thought Whedon's interpretation via Cavill in Justice League was the one great thing about that movie, but he's actually just so fantastic here. Justice League was all about, "Well, we formed this team but we suck, so we need to bring Superman back." The Snyder Cut is still about that, but it's subtler and forming the team is still the first priority. Bringing Superman back is more an organic development as they explore the possibilities of the Mother Box.

Now, the core conceit is still shaky, but that's not this movie's fault. That would be the fault of Snyder's other two movies. First, Pa Kent's whole "Don't save people" schtick, which makes no sense any way we've thought about it in the past eight years now, then the fact that Superman was a huge jerk, and then they made a whole movie called Batman v. Superman (2016) which was ABOUT how no one is really into Superman. Now we regret him when he's dead. He just wasn't around enough to be honored by the world the way this film honors him. Also, all tension is removed both from the first few scenes here and retroactively BVS because you just know he's coming back. Like, Death is usually a joke in comics, but it's egregious here. It's tough to get past this, because it's literally what is kicking off this movie, but once you start rolling it's fun.

Everyone else gets a little moment. Aquaman has Norwegian people sing about him, which is the most cuttable scene in cinema history. Go Zack, go! The Flash saves a girl and hotdogs from a car crash. It is a little creepy, but I didn't think it was horribly so. Cyborg gets a ton to do, from manipulating the global economy through digging holes via punches, which is also so Snyder. No, the most Snyder thing is literally playing "Hallelujah" over the credits. I can't believe he did that again. Actually I mostly can't believe that it works and was an emotionally apt choice in that moment. I still laughed out loud.

But I will give this guy some credit! The Wonder Woman bank robbery scene I expected to be in slow motion but there was actually a lot of fast motion! They really showed off her strength and speed, which we hardly ever get to see. She also definitely destroyed that whole room unnecessarily, but whatever. It was a lot of fun, and maybe the best action scene of the movie as she deflects a whole automatic rifle's magazine from killing innocent bank people.

I love that J.K. Simmons got jacked for this role. Do you remember that? Or maybe he's just a gym rat actually. But he's in this for a split second and does not need to be. This movie is full of that. Willem Dafoe! Billy Crudup! Robin Wright! Zeus! I mean, cool I guess. Ben Affleck is fine, again, his character arc is just in a weird place because of how insane he was in BVS. We never knew what we were missing with consistent characterization, though. I forgot just how bad and out of place some of these Whedon jokes were. It is true that he doesn't have a ton to do besides be rich. Other stories tend to find a way for him to do something cool. He could surely do something here besides fire laser guns.

Anyway, the ending is a whole lot better. The heroes actually have a plan, each has a role and gets a cool set piece. And then they actually lose! I wonder if that was before or after Infinity War (2018). I guess it had to be before, right? I don't think Snyder actually wrote or filmed too many new scenes (oh, but we'll get to THOSE in a second). But surely the heroes losing and then going back in time is a little too coincidental to do twice, right? The Flash does this a whole lot easier than Ant-Man, though. He just kind of runs. It is a really cool scene, not trying to hate, and there is a ton of precedent in comics. For the record, when watching it, it didn't feel like a rip-off.

So let's get into this desert crap. I don't think it works at all. End the damn movie with the team on top of Chernobyl or whatever. Beyond the awkwardness of Jared Leto in general, his Joker really just doesn't work. I don't know why his vulgarity is so off-putting. It shouldn't be, it's the Joker. Maybe it's just the delivery, which is devoid of nuance, implication, or comic timing. The Joker is best when he's actually witty. It's also really hard to believe that Batman and Joker would ever team up for any reason. This might be more on the Joker's side - he's not working with anyone. The whole thing is also a shitty tease for something we're never going to see. I don't quite understand why it's in here.

Mroe like DORKseid LOL

Snyder's future plans seem pretty out there. I'm not sure Batman and Lois would have worked, but someone like the Joker killing Lois to send Superman over the edge makes sense. Hmmm... Evil Superman is fun, but it's also something that's been done a lot before. Including like...in this movie. Also in The Boys. And Brightburn (2019). We can't really complain about something that we haven't seen yet and also never will, but I'm maybe grateful we missed out. I'd still like to see the League go up against Darkseid. We've gotten so many good animated stories at this point, including the recently great Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020). I don't know why "What if Superman but Evil" feels played out but "Fight Darkseid Planet" doesn't, as I am realizing I can't logic my way out of this. Literally the point of oversaturation feeds one idea and drowns the other. I want Darkseid, get Michael Ironside to play him and be done with it.

Martian Manhunter has no role in this movie. Him impersonating Martha Kent has all sorts of horrible fridge logic and looking back, if he was the General this whole time, that doesn't really add anything because we don't know what he's working towards. Maybe if he actually showed up and fought somebody. Morphed into a dragon or something. He's so weird. Also, his codename is so awkward, there is a reason why even Justice League Unlimited always called him J'onn J'onzz instead.

Wrapping up, there is a lot of slow mo and epic treatment of innocuous scenes, most notably Aquaman walking into the ocean, but this is Snyder we're talking about. That's going to happen. There is a little more blood and two fun fuck words to give us an R-rating for some reason. The plot still pretty much doesn't make sense, but it's fine when it gets rolling. Most of all, this is a really enjoyable movie. Motivations are more clear, characters have more weight, and despite telling like five stories at once, it actually does all feel pretty balanced and never bloated. It's indulgent as all hell, but never bloated. Except for that Norwegian Song. They need a little morning wood! I really liked this, I would watch it again, and that's so much more than I can say for a lot of other movies these days.

I hate what this implies. No, we should not get the Ayer cut of Suicide Squad (2017). It's already weird enough we're getting another redo chance there this year. I don't think it's very fair that studios can screw up big time and then just make another movie. But it's also like, ugh, these films are so clearly better. Just get it right the first time! This isn't totally without precedent. Just look at the hundred versions of Blade Runner (1982) or Apocalypse Now (1979) or every single Terry Gilliam movie ever made. It's weird that nothing will really come of this and the DCEU is largely moving on from its key components and just doing whatever it wants. I suppose that's fine, but Joker (2019) was still not very good.

Now for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)...

15 March 2021

493rd Annual Oscar Nominations and Predictions!

Okay! This has been up for a while. Now we'll have some actual predictions. This year has been trying. Did you know we were having a tough year? Normally I do try to anticipate predictions a little bit. I didn't get much of a chance to watch any NCAA Basketball to anticipate making a bracket in 2021 nor have I really tuned in to much movie hype.

Who am I kidding, I never prepare. This is a long way of saying it's time to shed our pretensions. I haven't read a single article before or since seeing these nominations. So, this is totally going off our gut. I actually watched most of the shorts last year and amazingly...did well! Crazy how actually watching these helps with predictions. So, without any concept of accuracy, confidence, or trust, here we go.

BEST PICTURE
 
The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Mank
Minari
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
 
Predicted Winner: Nomadland

This was an early favourite for best of the year, and might be the best of the year of this list from what I've seen, which is admittedly only three. Oof. This is a rough year - none of these are especially culturally or commercially successful, but then again, everything has been dispersed in the Age of Streaming, and that was before COVID-19 obliterated any remaining sense of shared culture. I liked Nomadland a lot more than I thought I would, it's timely without being redundant, well directed and acted, and has certainly stuck in my brain as THE movie of the year.

DIRECTOR
 
Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round
David Fincher, Mank
Lee Isaac Chung, Minari
Chloe Zhao, Nomadland
Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Woman
 
Predicted Winner: Zhao

So, if we were to pay attention to the Academy's track record at all, they would never hand this to an Asian Woman. But Zhao was great, there is buzz for her, and it's a great opportunity to correct a sincere gap in their on-going diversity issue. And if you ignore all that, it can be a great token win for closet racists to use to point to the false fact that the Academy isn't racist! I could see this going to Fincher, he's the kind of director who has had enough high profile projects to never win, but this actually isn't much the case. They've never awarded Tarantino this honor, who is in a similar position.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
 
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman
 
Predicted Winner: McDormand

Listen, I know I'm picking a lot of Nomadland, but it's also where a lot of the buzz is. Okay, I already admitted I know no buzz - do you see through the veil of this blog from the past twelve years? Carey Mulligan is there and a favourite, and McDormand also just won, but that has never stopped the Academy before from awarding someone again. This would mean McDormand joins some pretty rarefied company, but that's the way it will go.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
 
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Youn Yuh-jung, Minari
 
Predicted Winner: Seyfried

I don't think Seyfried does all that great of a job in Mank, but she got early buzz, and oof, as long as nothing from Hillbilly Elegy wins. Bakalova is certainly deserving, but I'm really hard pressed to believe that the Academy takes Borat that seriously. Comedic actors, especially ones in reality or mockumentary movies rarely win, despite this being an obviously much more difficult and impressive acting job. I don't think The Father is well known enough and I don't know a thing about Minari besides Steven Yeun, so there.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
 
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari
 
Predicted Winner: Boseman

This is probably just collective grief, I'm not sure what Boseman even does with this role, but losing him in 2020 still really hurts. Riz Ahmed could be a great upset, but this feels like the award that no one would be upset about. Boseman, despite being in a handful of great roles, doesn't really have a long Oscar history, but this feels right.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
 
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom Jr., One Night in Miami
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
Lakeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah
 
Predicted winner: Kaluuya

It's fun that Get Out (2017) alumni Kaluuya and Stanfield are both here (and both in that movie together). Also, they're both Supporting Actors? Like, Academy, this is what we're talking about when we call you racist. I'd love to see Lakeith win this one day, but Kaluuya is a little higher profile. Wouldn't it be fun if two Black Panther (2017) actors won! I was thinking Leslie Odom Jr had some buzz, but this is where we're at.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
 
Borat Subsequent MovieFilm
The Father
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
The White Tiger
 
Predicted Winner: Nomadland

Borat feels weird here - is it even a screenplay? I mean, kudos for their COVID improvisation but awarding it here feels weird. What is it adapted from? Reality? One Night in Miami is just like, exactly the stage play, which is good but not really winning worthy. The only one left is Nomadland again, honestly who has ever heard of these other random films.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
 
Judas and the Black Messiah
Minari
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
 
Predicted Winner: Promising Young Woman

So, does this go to Sorkin again? It's the only movie here that I watched and thought, "Man this screenplay is great," at which point I didn't even know Sorkin wrote it, to which I thought, "Oh, that makes sense." I don't want it to always go to him. And the Academy won't, either! Promising Young Woman is really the second best film nominated and won't win much else. So, here you go.

ORIGINAL SONG
 
"Fight For You" from Judas and the Black Messiah
"Hear My Voice" from The Trial of the Chicago 7
"Husavik" from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
"lo Sì (Seen)" from The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Se)
"Speak Now" from One Night in Miami...
 
Predicted Winner: "Speak Now"

Wait wait wait....are Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams singing Eurovision at this ceremony? Or better yet.....over zoom?! I know it wasn't really Rachel McAdams in that movie. That's still great. "Speak Now" is legit, though - especially because they somehow made it seem like a genuine Sam Cooke song. Also, read about Sam Cooke, mostly how his widow married Bobby Womack, and then their daughter married Womack's brother. Anyway, I watched that movie and actually listened to the whole song during the credits. It's great, give it a statue.

PRODUCTION DESIGN
 
The Father
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Mank
News of the World
Tenet
 
Predicted Winner: Mank

Ugh, I hate to say it - this category should always go to a big lavish blockbuster like TENET where the production design is really creative, ground-breaking, complex, and integral to the story, but it almost always goes to some random period drama in recent years. Mank fits that bill, and there are enough fogies that reminisce about old Hollywood. It IS good. I guess.

CINEMATOGRAPHY
 
Sean Bobbitt, Judas and the Black Messiah
Erik Messerschmidt, Mank
Dariusz Wolski, News of the World
Joshua James Richards, Nomadland
Phedon Papamichael, The Trial of the Chicago 7
 
Predicted Winner: Nomadland

It deserves this, there's not really a ton of other competition unless shit gets real random. It really does an amazing job with a distinct variety of locations, temperatures, seasons, and times of day that all looks coherent and awe-inspiring, contrasted with the difficulty of the kind of life the nomads have chosen (or not chosen). This will probably go to Mank or something stupid.

COSTUME DESIGN
 
Emma
Ma Rainey's Blackbottom
Mank
Mulan
Pinocchio
 
Predicted Winner: Emma

C'mon, this is such an Emma category. It's just so random and frustrating. Ma Rainey would be fun, would the Academy give this to the Black Period Piece? I mean, why trust them now? Also, there was a Pinocchio movie this year?!

ACHIEVEMENT IN SOUND
 
Greyhound
Mank
News of the World
Soul
Sound of Metal
 
Predicted Winner: Sound of Metal

They finally combined the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing categories, which doesn't seem fair to mixers and editors, especially because there hasn't actually been a ton of overlap recently. Will this actually go to the movie where sound is critical? This is far from a guarantee, but should be the no brainer, so here we go.

ORIGINAL SCORE
 
Da 5 Bloods
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Soul
 
Predicted Winner: Soul

Yeah. It should probably be Soul. The fun jazzy soundtrack fits the theme, narrative, and characters, and it's engaging enough without being overbearing. I've seen Da 5 Bloods and Mank from this list, and neither really stands out. This is again the no brainer choice, but that's not always clear cut.

VISUAL EFFECTS
 
Love and Monsters
The Midnight Sky
Mulan
The One and Only Ivan
Tenet
 
Predicted Winner: TENET

I hate the visual effects category so much. Never once going to a Star Wars, Marvel, or Transformers film (Spider-Man 2 [2004] doesn't count). Anyway, this all means it's not going to Mulan. Any of these could actually pull an upset, but considering Inception and Interstellar both won, TENET has some clear precedent. It's also truly deserving and crafted with unique practical effects.

FILM EDITING
 
The Father
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7
 
Predicted Winner: Chicago 7

Sound of Metal or Nomadland could get this, but in our fractured cultural landscape right now I don't think any film is dominating. The editing of Chicago 7 drives the story forward and reveals more as it goes. Some of that may be the screenplay, but it feels engaging and crisp. I dunno, this could go to anyone. This is more a way for more films to win something, which I think will happen.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
 
Emma
Hillbilly Elegy
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Mank
Pinocchio
 
Predicted Winner: Hillbilly Elegy

This is purely on the fact that some truly, truly terrible films have won this award in recent years. Most of those films are more about how that film's whole deal was the make-up. Obviously, this means it should go to Borat. But yeah, making Glenn Close and Amy Adams look like weird gross Ohio people will probably take the cake and everyone will be like WHAAAA?! Everyone but me! Go Buckeyes!

INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
 
Another Round - Denmark
Better Days - Hong Kong
Collective - Romania
The Man Who Sold His Skin - Tunisia
Qu Vadis, Aida? - Bosnia and Herzegovina
 
Predicted Winner: Another Round

This is that weird situation that Parasite (2019) had, where, okay, isn't the only film nominated in another category (Best Director) clearly going to already be the best Foreign Film? This is also the most notable foreign film of the year, with a weird and compelling premise that has tended to elevate it above whatever other random collection of international movies here. Also, note the category change, so no Minari or Lord of the Rings I guess.

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
 
"Feeling Through"
"The Letter Room"
"The Present"
"Two Distant Strangers"
"White Eye"
 
Predicted Winner: "Two Distant Strangers"

Time loops and cops killing black people are in right now and "Two Distant Strangers" has both! Might we be fatigued of both? I mean, I know we are, but that doesn't stop anyone. 

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
 
Onward
Over the Moon
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Soul
Wolfwalkers
 
Predicted Winner: Soul

Pixar has doubled its chances to win this year. Seriously, Pixar vs. Pixar - what the hell? Soul is more recent in memory, and probably the better film. It certainly has the edge. Shaun the Sheep isn't an unfamiliar franchise, but if you were a betting person, Pixar is the animated film to go with. Obviously, the true great film here is Wolfwalkers, but that would be a sincere longshot that goes against the populous grain that his category has long settled into.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM
 
"Burrow"
"Genius Loci"
"If Anything Happens I Love You"
"Opera"
"Yes-People"
 
Predicted Winner: "Opera"

I'll give "Genius Loci" credit for being a living Picasso film, but it's too weird. "Burrow" is too lame, "If Anything Happens" too traumatic, "Opera" to vague to Google, and "Yes-People" way too pointy noses. "Opera" actually seems okay, let's go with that one.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
 
Collective
Crip Camp
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher
Time
 
Predicted Winner: Collective

You know, there were some really compelling docs this year. None I guess are good enough! As much as I want a cripple camp film to win, Collective had some good end of year buzz for general greatness. I was disappointed to see that My Octopus Teacher was not about some half-man / half-octopus hybrid, or at least some kind of Octo-dad posing as my dad. I feel like every documentary is good. We can't watch all these documentaries. Also, name your documentary something better, you know how hard it is to just search Google for Time? At least now I know what time it is.

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT)
 
"Colette"
"A Concerto Is a Conversation"
"Do Not Split"
"Hunger Ward"
"A Love Song For Latasha"

Predicted Winner: "Do Not Split"

I don't know. I mean, whatever. This is probably the most relevant, and liberals love voting for things that make them feel like they're making an effort to protest without actually protesting. That fits that bill! Everything else just looks the same.

So there you have it, people. Our iron-clad, 100% accurate Oscar Predictions. There is no way we will have upsets this year because our normal yearly routine has been interrupted, right?! We will be in perfect shape and nothing will go wrong. Hopefully people liked Nomadland.

07 February 2021

Was Star Wars: The Clone Wars a Satire?

 Good evening, folks! Are you watching the Super Bowl right now? I've gotten so angry at Tom Brady that I'm instead diving into a topic that has been on mind for literally days. Despite my long history with Star Wars, I have had a significant gap in my knowledge in that I have never gotten into The Clone Wars animated series. Oh, I watched all of Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars back in the day, but I never quite dipped into Dave Filoni's work.


In what I'm sure is perfectly targeted corporate synergy, my mind was changed after watching The Mandalorian on Disney+. There are a handful of characters and events that directly reference The Clone Wars, and obviously with the series conveniently located on the same streaming platform, I decided to check it out. I have always heard good things about the show, but had been turned off for years mostly for two big reasons:

First, the Clone Wars movie from 2008 was terrible. All of it felt like the death knell for Star Wars - instead of an epic, only nine-times in a lifetime event, it just seemed like a glorified made for TV movie. It just wasn't a very high quality experience. I may have just been aging out of it, as well. By this point I was 22 years old, and this movie was clearly made for children. I don't know, I was watching a lot of Ben 10, Generator Rex, and Total Drama Island in this era. Shit, also a lot of Flapjack and Adventure Time. Okay, I have no excuse because I was watching a lot of children's shows. Or maybe that is enough of an indictment - I watched all this crap around the turn of the decade and The Clone Wars STILL felt like a children's show to me.

Second, the very idea seemed flawed. Not only did it seem superfluous since the movies released years prior showed us both the beginning and end of the Clone Wars, seemingly robbing the show of its narrative potential, but the entire in-universe point of the war seemed to give the show cringey connotations. This was a show designed to market Clonetrooper toys and cheer on their exploits - how was that possible when we knew that in the end they would be programmed to execute Order 66 and slaughter all the Jedi? It always felt very naive to center a show about these armies, when the entire point was that these were Clones vs. Droids in the biggest fake-out war of all time. Again, it seemed to rob the story of any weight.

But, Mandalorian, so I watched a few episodes. I specifically checked out the episodes centered around Mandalore. These spread out over both early and later seasons, and culminated in the final couple stories that tied in directly to the events of Revenge of the Sith (2005). There is a marked difference between the first few season and their later efforts.

The early episodes are nigh unwatchable for all the reasons I feared. Characters blatantly lay out their emotions, lack coherent motivation, and it feels generally designed to pander to a more child-like audience. It falls very heavily on the side of cheering on the Clonetroopers, which while that is technically cheering the Republic and perseverance of democracy, we also know that Sidious is behind everything. They present no qualms with this juxtaposition and play it straight. Clonetroopers are heroes, saving the day!

As the series progresses, though, the possible satire becomes more evident. The way I have always interpreted Star Wars is that Anakin is basically right in Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi have become corrupt and too involved in Galactic politics. They are so far removed from the order of peaceful monks established in the Original Trilogy. This is all over the films. Instead of a peaceful hermit, Yoda is a huge power player, spinning lightsabres and pushing agendas. Instead of being one with nature, the Force is commodified, quantified, and analyzed through midichlorians. This seems purposeful - the institution had to be destroyed in order to be rebuilt. The Prequels seem to demonstrate this intelligently but always muddled their message by framing the corrupted Jedi as the ostensible heroes in the story. Their actions are glorified in a pretty straight way, not in say, a Starship Troopers (1997) way. It makes me think that George Lucas genuinely had something interesting to say about how powerful institutions lose their way and become corrupted but he also really wanted to sell a lot of toys and not stray all thaaaat far from a successful blockbuster hero formula.

It makes a lot of sense - why were the Jedis generals? This doesn't vibe at all with the peaceful hermits in the original trilogy. The Clone Wars finally actually hones in on this, mainly through Ahsoka. She's really a brilliant character that they can use to point out the Jedi's hypocrisy - she's not a main character from the movies that would require some heavy explaining, or more importantly, would actively be criticising the Galactic institution they are working for. Anakin is an admittedly weird example, but his fall does have a tremendous amount to do with the realization that the Jedi are not serving their original purpose. Sure, the reaction probably shouldn't be to kill all the younglings, but he's still right.

The Clone Wars begins to hone in on this, especially in the last few episodes. The cracks in the war start to show, though the unlikely sources of Darth Maul, Ahsoka, and a Clonetrooper Commander named Rex whose Order 66 brain chip Ahsoka disables. The thing is, though, it's not necessarily blatant. There is still room to take everything that happens straight. It really depends on your perception. There is a lot of hokey elements, though. The opening 1940s serial narration you could interpret as genuine or as over-the-top propaganda. Again, the ascension of Palpatine is obvious, it's the whole point. So that shadow looms over the entire series - which makes treating everything at face value feel very awkward.

There is also the simple fact that the CIS' reason for seceding from the Galactic Republic are never really explained well. Did they just...not want their corporations to be taxed? They really are Trade Federations, Intergalactic Banking Clans, and of course the Techno Union. It's really like they all just didn't want to be regulated so they went to war with the government. That sounds like such a farce, but the added layer is that no one really questions the reasons for war. Even the Jedi are like, "Whelp, time to fight droids I guess. Choppy choppy!" There is a lot of "Fighting to preserve Democracy!" which sounds insane coming from a series and films that premiered during the Bush years.

We also don't talk enough about how this war featured mass-produced droids fighting mass-produced clones. It just all feels like bullshit produced by higher powers who didn't want to get their hands dirty. This is built into the premise, of course, but where it gets weird is when they demonstrate these clones fighting with real valor and droids with real personalities. Is it truly postmodern? Or does it exist in a space where genuine emotion can exist despite its superfluous and hollow origins?

So, to level with everyone, this show is a money-making machine designed for children without much room for nuance. It's not a dirty, underground satire designed to upset the natural order. At the same time, though, it totally is. We don't give Lucas and Filoni enough credit for pulling this off - or maybe they deserve derision for sincerely bunging and muddying a clear message of parody. All the glory of war, patriotism, and celebration of heroics rings so false in this world, but you need a top-down view to understand that.

In the end, I'm torn of whether or not this was all on purpose. There is other supporting nonsense. Obi-Wan is a total dick and borderline fascist. Anakin is cocky, arrogant, and above it all. The show does a nice job of highlighting a lot of other weird side characters and shows their story, but it all feels very off.

So, I'm pretty torn on this - what do you think? Is The Clone Wars the most brilliant satire of both its own universe and war in general or is it just nonsense?

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