Black Panther

I saw it, and I liked it.

Okay, it’s a little silly that I can write four posts on The Last Jedi and one sentence on Black Panther, but that’s because TLJ is super weird and fascinatingly broken and nobody’s (yet, or seems to be) talking publically about why that is or how it happened, and that meta-level disconnect is even weirder and more interesting. It wasn’t a success! It tried hard to be! Lots of people want it to be! They really, really, really want it to be! But it wasn’t.

But Disney can breathe a little easier now. Black Panther is everything The Last Jedi should’ve, could’ve, would’ve been, but wasn’t. It’s a functional movie! It’s a pulpy comic book movie that knows what it is but also, like Wonder Woman, has a heart and a soul, and knows it’s talking about an exceedingly touchy subject and is determined to do a good job, and then goes ahead and does that good job and does it well.

(I still remain awed by just how well Wonder Woman (2017) managed to make the very concept of Wonder Woman not-silly. That was a hard, hard movie scripting problem! And the WW team just… did it. Pulled it off without even blinking.)

It seems so simple when you say it like that – ‘just do pulp, and do it well, but also make sure to have a soul and a theme and a point, and also do those well’ – but the simplest things to pull off are also the hardest. Or seem to be, today, in this desert of modern storytelling when there’s hundred-million dollar budgets and no script.

Black Panther works. That’s it. It works. It is a functional machine. Thank God. At last. (I probably shouldn’t have worried, since the Marvel team has generally delivered, but, but, but. See: almost every other Disney movie, recently, especially ones trying to be Message Movies.)

It’s essentially just ‘Iron Man, but what if also the king of an entire lost African high-tech civilisation’, but that tiny ‘what if also’ is really the whole point.

What if Europeans hadn’t forcibly forgotten the entire history of Africa?

What if no trans-Atlantic slave trade during the rise of postfeudal Europe and capitalism in the 1400s, setting the pattern for what capitalism, exploration, technology, the Industrial Revolution would mean and to just what depths of depravity they would sink and could yet drag us all, again, in an age when the Internet is doing to small towns and middle classes everywhere exactly what ocean-going wooden ships did to the Silk Road and Africa?

What if no centuries of grinding colonialism gutting the heart of a continent and its peoples? (of multiple continents, and myriads of peoples)

What if no post-WW2 Nazi International and CIA destabilisation and Cold War and War on Terror and capitalism burning like a fever and so much war and blood and carbon dioxide dripping into the oceans that the very coral reefs turn white?

What if American politics wasn’t haunted by the spectre of Southern racism? And all that that implies?

What if we could be redeemed for our ancestors’ crimes because we didn’t yet smash and burn it all up, there was still something left, something green and good that could come back through it all?

What if there were still wonder and beauty in the world, and vast riches in every culture and jewels in the depths of every human heart, and cool costumes, and you could still walk sideways through an invisible force field somewhere and suddenly see that infinity of wonder?

What if you didn’t have to play out old oppressive tropes just to play with that sense of wonder and strangeness in 1930s pulp/noir?

That I guess was the Marvel Comics pitch back – ‘Earth, but with pulp in it, like for real’ – when it was the young upstart in the 1960s, and it’s so exciting to see a movie actually catch some of that fire in a bottle.

It just feels right, somehow, to locate blackness back in a functional Africa, a land of gleaming nanotech and amazing outfits. Maybe a few too many Downtown LA skyscraper blocks (more Buckminster Fuller architecture please!) but at least it feels inhabited, like a place that gave birth to at least one ancient-world hyperpower, maybe where the whole human race is from.

It feels like Marvel have struck a well and found water in it. And after the nth time they do it you start to think that’s just boring, it’s just an old hole in the ground, anyone could do it.

And then you watch others try, entire towns full of them, strip-mining whole deserts looking for the river, and keep missing it.

Good storytelling doesn’t just happen, I guess. But the best storytelling looks exactly as if it did.

The Last Jedi: Dawn of the Freeze Wars

(Previously: On Letting The Past Die, Or Killing It, Rise of the Flopbuster)

The Last Jedi is a weird, bad movie that might kill an entire franchise and even seriously wound Disney at the height of its power, but weirder still is how the Internet discourse around it has been managed in the last month.

TLJ itself is weird enough that I’ve coined the word ‘flopbuster’ to describe its counter-intuitive, non-Newtonian, non-Euclidean properties. The weirdness around it is even more bizarre. To describe that, I’ve coined another neologism: ‘freeze war‘.

What’s a freeze war? It’s what you get when a sufficiently big Internet comment-section flame war hits a sufficiently widely deployed based of automated algorithmic online fire-suppression systems – and when multibillion-dollar megacorporations, and nation-state level political movements, also get involved on each side. Entire comment systems just get frozen. Comments deemed insufficiently ‘civil’ are just deleted. Like a flame war, this phenomenon feeds on itself and expands. But the war is fought in silence, by silence, as silence.

And the silence is deafening.

It’s eerie as heck and it’s maybe the future of the Internet and of Western culture itself.

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The Last Jedi: Rise of the Flopbuster

The Last Jedi is a heckuva movie, to echo the famously glowing review US President George W Bush gave the FEMA manager who handled a hurricane in New Orleans. It has broken everything it touched: It broke Luke Skywalker, it broke the critics, it broke China, it broke Star Wars itself, and now it’s broken the Internet. For the last month – since the end of December – there’s been an eerie silence spreading across pop culture news websites and social media. There’s also been a loud and angry fanbase, but the professional media have been deliberately silencing and diverting attention away form this.

It’s early to call, but I think this silence will in retrospect turn out to be a very large mistake.

Of course I may be terribly mistaken when I say this movie ‘broke Star Wars itself’. The First Franchise of Blockbuster Motion Pictures is hard to kill; George Lucas gave it a darn good shot with the Prequels and yet, like Han Solo in the Special Edition, it just dodged and came back stronger. We all assume Disney will be able to crank out five, six, ten of the things, Star Wars until the world ends. They’ve only made three so far. What’s one bad film, even assuming it is bad?

It’s just that, if you’ll pardon the expression, I have a bad feeling. If you squint past the professional critics and look at the ‘underground’ review sites (a good one is Rotten Tomatoes User Reviews) you see that for some people – and we still don’t know how many, but I’m one – this is a very, very bad movie. So bad it’s killed any desire even to watch the next one for obsessive completeness (nobody does obsessive completeness like Star Wars fans; the Prequels weeded out all the weaklings).

* was just dumb, it breaks my heart at how bad this is..
* Arrgh, the more I think about this movie. The more I get disappointed. Just like Star Trek into Darkness killed the Star Trek franchise . I think this movie just killed Star War
* Such a disappointment. I think many fans who watched and idolized Luke Skywalker when they were children will be repulsed by the weak, pointless ending of their childhood hero.
* Absolutely dire. Words escape me how truly abysmal this film is. My 40 year love affair with Star Wars is finally over.
* It leaves no investment for Episode 9. None. And this is allegedly part 2 of a trilogy. But it doesn’t advance the story, apart from one character (but only just).

I suspect these feelings being expressed are real because this is how I feel. For the first time in my life I have no desire to see another Star Wars movie, ever. Worse, the movie didn’t even end on a cliffhanger. It resolved all its threads; it left its protagonists (such as they are) with neither danger nor hope. We don’t like them, any of them. We feel no impulse to care about their lives beyond this point. There’s just… nothing left. All is vanity, folly and a chasing after the wind.

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The Last Jedi: On Letting The Past Die, Or Killing It

In 1977, George Lucas, his wife Marcia, and a few close friends made something extraordinary. For 40 years we’ve been unable to stop thinking about the strange little comic book movie that could, Star Wars.

In 1999, Lucas released a new film – The Phantom Menace – that failed as spectacularly as Star Wars had succeeded. It made Star Wars fans angry. But it didn’t stop us thinking about it. We were consumed with how to fix the Prequels. How the Original Trilogy was so good when the Prequels were so bad. What bizarre kabalistic art theories might be constructed in which the storytelling of the Prequels made any kind of sense?

But in 2017, finally, Rian Johnson has achieved the feat even Lucas couldn’t: He’s managed to make me – and many others – just plain not want any Star Wars anymore.

(There are spoilers and wrong opinions beyond the jump).

Continue reading “The Last Jedi: On Letting The Past Die, Or Killing It”