Monday, November 18, 2019

Four Short Reviews

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019, Columbia Pictures/Marvel Studios) 
This film is a transitional narrative that acts as an extended epilogue to the Infinity War storyline, while pointing the direction that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will take over the next decade. The audience is shown a world irrevocably altered by the events of the last two Avengers films, where eulogizing the recently deceased Tony Stark has become popular obsession. In the midst of this milieu, a narrative unfolds; a parable about climate change and the nature of reality in a post-truth era. Elementals, raging behemoths that appear as giants comprised of water and fire, are revealed to be special effects created by an illusionist, which mask a swarm of destructive human-made drones. Even the public revelation of our hero’s secret identity in the final scenes of the film can be perceived as a commentary on the click-bait culture of ‘gotcha’ moments and online shaming, although editorial bias is far, far older than the Internet.

The Boys (2019, Amazon)
A world without moral absolutes is a world of shifting power dynamics, where hierarchical structures jockey to maintain an unnatural asymmetry between have and have-nots. In The Boys, we see these power dynamics play out in a setting where super-humans are tools of corporations, and marketed to the public like pop stars and sports idols. In so many ways, this series is antithesis to idea of the super-hero presented in the MCU; these characters are emotionally stunted, ignorant and self-absorbed to the point of narcissism. The most celebrated collection of these so-called heroes – a group known as The Seven - are a law unto themselves, and yet they are beholden to their corporate masters, who are - in turn – held in thrall by the prospect of state-level influence (ie, government defense contracts). Each episode of this series can be considered an extended meditation on the misapplication and misuse of power in all arenas of human existence, from the biological to the political to the metaphysical.

Legion (2017-2019, FX Productions/Marvel Television)
There can be little doubt that this three-season series is the most aesthetically nuanced, surreal and challenging of any Marvel onscreen property to date. Viewers are initiated into the labyrinthine psyche of a gifted yet psychologically-wounded telepath whose personal journey goes from incarcerated mental patient to cult leader, while transcending the bounds of time and space. This psychedelic hero’s journey is truly a trip down the rabbit hole, and probably as close to pixelated LSD as television is likely to get. Psychic conflict on the etheric plane envisioned as a rap battle or a dance-off would never have been considered by most viewers prior to seeing this series; now, popular representations of super-mental abilities – telekinesis, for example – seem archaic next to the consciousness-changing power of shaping reality itself, as imagined on this program. Visionary and provocative, Legion is the most demanding of Marvel Television productions, but it’s also the most rewarding.

Watchmen (2019, HBO)
Perhaps the most relevant to North America’s current political climate, Watchmen revisits many of the perennial themes that made the original graphic novel seem prescient, even though it was published in mid '80s. This updating of the story introduces a new cast of characters in a world that’s like ours, but just a little bit different. Vietnam is a state of the U.S., for example, there’s no Internet, tobacco is a controlled substance, and everybody drives electric cars. Viewers who have read the book (or seen Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation) know why this is so; newbies get to play catch-up as the murder of a police chief in Tulsa, Oklahoma takes center stage. This series is still unfolding at the time of this writing but holds great promise as a worthy successor to one of the 20th century’s great fictions.