Boba Fett and the Thundercat-Installed Stomach Mod

Random thoughts after Episode 4 of The Book of Boba Fett

It has come to my attention that the street gang in last week’s episode of The Book of Boba Fett were directly (and blatantly!) patterned on Mods, not just “vaguely European” as I’d thought. I regret the oversight. I do love that Fennec Shand explicitly calls them “the Mods” in this episode, presumably from “modified.”

(I’m also embarrassed that I didn’t come up with with calling them “Mos Vespas.” I mean it was right there and I didn’t see it).

I was also aiming low last episode, apparently, since I was delightfully surprised to see Stephen Root show up in a Star Wars franchise. In retrospect, he was bound to show up eventually, considering the demand for character actors for all the new movies and series. The bigger surprise was this week, when Thundercat showed up as a rad black market cybernetic-modification installer. Complete with a rad soundtrack during the A-Team-inspired montage where he wheels out a special cart holding his robot arm replacement. It was one of those cases where I could tell he was having a blast to be in Star Wars, and I was so happy for a complete stranger. I’m sure the make-up crew was also happy that they didn’t have to do a whole lot to make Thundercat fit into Star Wars.

Even though episode 2 is still by far my favorite, I’ve liked all the episodes so far, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. On the surface, episode 4 just seems like wrapping up act two and heading into the climax — the flashback part of the episode detailing how Boba Fett found and saved Fennec Shand didn’t seem to be reinforcing or building on ideas in the “main” story, but simply connecting the dots. It was full of great, satisfying moments, but I didn’t immediately pick up on any “thematic resonance” that the other episodes had.

But after thinking about it some more, I think it just makes explicit the themes that have been going through the rest of the series. This one is about loyalty through respect, explaining exactly why Boba Fett has been doing what he’s doing. It’s important to see him continuing to build alliances and add characters to his gang. Even past adversaries, like Black Krrsantan and that rabbit droid. I’d been wondering how they’d make a story about an anti-hero feel compelling, and they’ve done it by showing he’s got his own code of honor.

And I’ve got to admit it’s fun to have a series where the characters aren’t constantly struggling to stay true to the light side. Watching Boba Fett mow down a murderous biking gang was oddly satisfying, as was watching him and Fennec Shand take on the Sarlaac with the coolest weapon in Star Wars.

I also loved the Bantha. Through all of these episodes, I’ve been wondering how things are “supposed” to look, and how much is a limitation of practical effects, shooting scenes in studios instead of on location, or using TV-budget CGI. But the Bantha was so much more expressive and detailed than they’ve ever been shown before, and it never didn’t feel real to me. I don’t want to watch a making-of, because I don’t want to know exactly how it was done.

One thing that occurred to me during this episode is that it feels like they’re finally achieving what Star Wars has been wanting to do in live action for a long time. The train heist from episode 2 was a perfect rendition of late 70s/early 80s Star Wars action and comedy, and I think the scene in the kitchen from this episode nailed the tone that much of the prequels were trying to achieve. Hitting the right combination of goofy slapstick and action violence.

I don’t know how to write fan letters in the Modern Era, but if I did I’d want to thank Jon Favreau for delivering, over and over again, the fun and expansive version of Star Wars that I’ve been wanting to see ever since I was little.

Boba Fett and the Eurovision Street Gang

The third episode of The Book of Boba Fett was gloriously corny, and I loved it

Considering that I’m enough of a nerd to write a whole treatise about what “feels like Star Wars,” I guess it could be surprising that I loved just about every second of the third episode of The Book of Boba Fett.

It introduces a gang of young toughs who look less suited to the streets of Mos Espa than to a Shadowrun-themed Eurovision act. With their suits and accents and brightly-colored speeder Vespas, they looked more like citizens of Paris than citizens of Tatooine. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d abandoned any pretense of being in Star Wars and just started blasting Prototypes on their speeder speakers.

The sedate car chase through the city had already won me over by the time a car actually crashed through concept art of Jabba’s palace being carried, inexplicably, across the street. That moment just sealed the deal for me. After the first episode, I’d said that I couldn’t figure out whether the hints of cheesiness were intentional; this episode felt kind of like Robert Rodriguez saying, “Bitch, I made Spy Kids!

I’d be lying if I said that no part of my enjoyment of the episode, and the car chase in particular, was imagining how angry it was going to make other Star Wars nerds. I’ve already watched a couple of nerd reviews on YouTube, and I admit it makes me low-key gleeful to see them complaining about the corniness. I’m realizing that one of the many things I don’t like about Rogue One is that it takes itself so seriously; I can’t remember any moments of comedy (or even levity) in it, and it just seemed to need the audience to think it was bad-ass.

There was a guest appearance by Danny Trejo, which honestly was inevitable as soon as they announced Robert Rodriguez was an executive producer. I was more surprised to see Stephen Root show up, because he’s just awesome and because I never would’ve expected to see him in a Star Wars project. There was also a character in the background in a flashback to Mos Eisley that clearly seemed to be Amy Sedaris’s character from The Mandalorian, which was a nice callback.

I’m enjoying all the machinations and misdirections and happily avoiding making assumptions or predictions (although come on, the main bad guy has to be Jennifer Beals’s character, right?). Instead I’m just enjoying watching Boba Fett going out and collecting friends to bring back to his castle. It’s like a Star Wars version of Suikoden.

Boba Fett and the Nasal-Induced Vision Quest

I can remember seeing Return of the Jedi for the first time1At the Northlake theater, and my dad checked me out of school early to go see it, and being so disappointed that they not only introduced another Death Star, but immediately went back to Tatooine. It was deliberately supposed to be a lifeless backwater where nothing happens! That was the whole point!

Obviously, Star Wars went back to that moisture evaporator many, many more times over the years, turning it from the planet farthest away from the bright center of the universe, into the place where just about everything happens. It’s been one of my biggest annoyances in a franchise that includes Dexter Jettster and Caravan of Courage. But after seeing the second episode of The Book of Boba Fett, I’m finding myself thinking, “No, Tatooine is good actually.”

The Mandalorian already often felt like a Lucasfilm-sanctioned fan film, finally making live-action versions of exactly the things that Star Wars-obsessed nerds have been wanting to see for decades. The Book of Boba Fett is that, doubled. When the subtitles identified a character as “Camie,” I had a momentary nerd freakout when I realized that we were seeing Luke Skywalker’s friends at Toshi Station. (Or maybe Anchorhead?) Including characters from deleted scenes and the novelization was a masterfully-executed deep cut — if you’re a nerd of a certain persuasion, you appreciate the reference, but the story doesn’t depend on your getting the reference at all. The moment earlier in the episode, with the Rancor pit, works similarly: another bit of interesting dramatic irony as the audience is wondering what’s changed since we last saw it.

It’s not just “fan service”2Although people are always going to complain about “fan service” whenever they see creators working within franchises they love because it doesn’t stop the action for the sake of a nerd reference. It’s also not fan service because it’s awesome. The train sequence in this episode is one of the best sequences in any Star Wars thing ever. It was a perfect blend of action and comedy, old west and sci-fi, with all the elements working perfectly with each other. Even if this had been the one notable scene in the episode, it would’ve made this episode a stand-out.

But all the other details were so well-done, too. The sequence with the mayor, menacingly speaking through a calm translator device. The showdown with the Hutt twins, with one of them wiping the sweat off of himself with some kind of rat creature. Boba Fett realizing he was more effective with a practice gaffi stick than with his rifle. The Tuskens immediately trying to scavenge the speeder bikes instead of riding them. The whole speeder bike training sequence. And Boba Fett’s whole vision and the following ceremony. It was all filled with concepts that were more interesting, more clever, and more original than they needed to be.

Two ideas stood out to me: one was how interesting it was to see a more expansive — not “inclusive” — take on Star Wars. The Tuskens are shown here to have a society more inspired by native American, aboriginal, and at the end Maori cultures. In just about every other depiction, they’ve just been the Star Wars equivalent of “The Injuns,” backwards, violent, dangerous savages. It could’ve been handled so much more clumsily, but here they’re given a more interesting depiction that makes them sympathetic without losing any of their weirdness, or denying the fact that life in this type of environment would be really brutal.

Which fits with the second idea: seeing the depiction of crime syndicates and gangs on Tatooine gives an idea of how the Empire could’ve been appealing to people if Star Wars planets were real places. To be clear, I am 100% a believer in the idea that Star Wars is about good guys and bad guys, and it’s actually worse for the stories when they try to make the villains nuanced or relatable. Whenever they’ve had villains trying to justify mass genocide and slavery and all of the other stuff the Empire does, by insisting that there needs to be order, it’s come across as unnecessary at best, or clumsily tone-deaf at worst. But showing it from the perspective of regular people trying to go about their day-to-day lives and having to deal not just with monsters everywhere, but gangs and crime syndicates, you can kind of see why they’d be in favor of a Law and Order platform. Plus, all their stuff is newer and shinier.

I liked the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett, but I didn’t love it. Even if I end up being ambivalent about the rest of the series, I loved the second episode. It alone justifies the existence of the whole series, as far as I’m concerned. I want to see an entire spin-off series about the sweat rats.

  • 1
    At the Northlake theater, and my dad checked me out of school early to go see it
  • 2
    Although people are always going to complain about “fan service” whenever they see creators working within franchises they love

Literacy 2022: Book 1: Moonflower Murders

Anthony Horowitz’s sequel to Magpie Murders extends the premise of a murder mystery within a murder mystery

Book
Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Series
Book 2 in the Magpie Murders/Susan Ryeland series

Synopsis
Susan Ryeland has left her job as editor of the best-selling Atticus Pünd detective novels, settling into her new life running a hotel on Crete with her fiance. She’s pulled into another adventure when a wealthy couple from England hire her to help investigate the disappearance of their daughter. They believe that clues to her disappearance — and a murder that happened eight years earlier — are hidden in one of the mysteries that Susan edited.

Pros
Cleverly extends the premise of the series, as two separate but inter-related murder mysteries.
The Atticus Pünd story embedded in the book (Atticus Pünd Takes the Case) is a good, well-constructed, and satisfying “old-fashioned” detective novel on its own.
Good at subtly changing voice between the two books, making the “real” characters feel more complex and nuanced, without taking too much away from the characters in the book-within-a-book.
Expands on Susan’s personality as an actual character, instead of just the protagonist of the mystery.
Once again, makes the key break in the case something that Susan as an editor and devotee of murder mysteries was uniquely suited to find.
Avoids many of the elements that were starting to feel a bit formulaic and over-used — especially “hapless amateur detective gets in over their head” — after Magpie Murders and two of the Hawthorne & Horowitz mysteries.

Cons
The Atticus Pünd story is inserted into the middle of the book, after we’ve been introduced to all the players in the framing mystery. It feels like the intent was to invite the reader to draw comparisons between the two, but in practice it just meant returning to a murder mystery after forgetting all of the character names and clues.
Horowitz lampshades the absurdity of detectives in books gathering all of the suspects in one room to recount the events of the murder… but then does it anyway, without doing much to make it seem less absurd.
The denouement recaps everything as a multi-page information dump, when it seems like it would’ve been more satisfying to have Susan piece together most of these details earlier.
Even after that, the book goes on for most of another chapter to point out all of the clues embedded in the novel, which feel less like satisfying a-ha moments, and more like Horowitz wanting to make sure the reader appreciated how clever he’d been.

Verdict
Anthony Horowitz’s mysteries have all been extremely readable and cleverly constructed, even when the pieces don’t all fit together in a completely satisfying way. Like Magpie Murders, Moonflower Murders is another three-books-in-one: an old-fashioned detective story, a modern murder mystery, and a meta-commentary on detective mysteries themselves. It comments on the somewhat ghoulish dichotomy in trying to write “modern” murder mysteries, attempting to create more realistic, complex, and believable characters in stories that demand the reader to treat those characters’ lives and tragedies as nothing more than clues in a fun crossword puzzle. I hope the series continues, since they’re clever, fun takes on the Agatha Christie-style detective story.

Literacy 2021: Recap

Assessing my attempt to rekindle (see what I did there?) my reading habits

My experiment to read more in 2021 was a success, I think. According to this blog, I read 24 books, which is better than my average over the last few years, which was none books.

The idea was both to get into a cadence of reading again, since I’d mostly fallen out of the habit, and to help organize my thoughts after finishing a book. Core to the blog series was stealing my former co-worker Joe Maris’s concise book review format, so I could still have an outlet for my thoughts about what I’d read, without falling into my usual trap of spending hours writing meandering essays as if I were still in school.

Goal
15 books in 2021

Final
24 finished. (Goodreads has a different count since it counted all the Sex Criminals volumes as separate books, and I didn’t include the Eternals collections I read).

Comics
3 of the 24 books were comics collections. I made the self-imposed rule that I’d only include comics if they were collected as a complete volume or storyline. And also if I got something “literary feeling” out of it. I read 2 volumes of a Doctor Strange comic by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo, for instance, and they were excellent, but gave no sense of being self-contained works.

Favorite Book of Literacy 2021
Probably Fahrenheit 451. It was so much more insightful and sophisticated than I’d expected from a work I’d assumed was just a dated, dusty classic.

Best Book of Literacy 2021
Probably Slaughterhouse Five, followed by The Lathe of Heaven. Reading each one felt like my brain was being slightly expanded in different ways.

MVP of Literacy 2021
The Kindle Oasis. My dislike of Amazon as a company is starting to rival Bo Burnham’s, so I hate to come across as a shill. But obviously, getting something that removes the “friction” of reading was key to making me read more. I was actually looking forward to being able to get back into a book, which was a feeling unfamiliar to me since around college. In addition to being overpriced for what it is, though — even at the refurbished cost mine was — I’m annoyed that the Kindle Paperwhite would be perfect for what I need, and at half the cost, if they’d just add physical page turning buttons to it.

Runner-Up MVP of Literacy 2021
The Libby App. It let me get a library card and start checking out books to my Kindle, without ever having to set foot in the Oakland library. That’s helped me be a lot less hung up on the “literary value” of what I read, so not everything has to feel like this epic investment of my time and brain power. Reading “trash” is A-OK!

Goal for Literacy 2022
I’m bumping up my modest goal to 20 books in 2022. Spoiler: the first book is a murder mystery that I’m currently about halfway through. Recommendations are still welcome, even though I haven’t gone through all the ones from my last call for recommendations!

Jawas are A-holes

Random thoughts about the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett

I don’t honestly have a lot to say about The Book of Boba Fett yet, since the first episode was mostly just laying the foundation for the series. But it’s a new Star Wars TV series about Boba Fett, so I mean it’s not like I can not force my opinions onto the internet.

I really like both Ming-na Wen and Temura Morrison, so I like seeing them be able to take the lead in a series. Especially an action series highlighting lead actors in their late 50s and early 60s — although I hate even mentioning their ages as if it were some kind of novelty, since they’ve made it more or less irrelevant. Before checking IMDB, I would’ve assumed they were at least a decade younger, and obviously, they can both still, as they say on Tattooine, “get it.”

The first episode seemed to be doing everything it could to restore Boba Fett to his 1980 bad-ass status, since the franchise has been piling indignities onto him ever since Return of the Jedi. He didn’t just jetpack out of the Sarlaac, he punched his way out! Granted, the entire episode was basically him getting his ass kicked, but the key was getting his ass kicked and coming out on top. And with his sense of honor-among-thieves-and-murderers intact.

Although I liked it quite a bit, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the budget for this series was cut relative to The Mandalorian. In that series, I can’t remember a single moment where I was taken out of the story by effects or costumes, even when they were paddling down a lava river. In The Book of Boba Fett, though, I kept noticing that they were on a set, or the costumes looked like costumes and the make-up like make-up, or the CGI was noticeably CGI.

One scene in the city had droids that were clearly Boston Dynamics robots in the foreground, which seemed mid-way between a cop-out and a commitment to practical effects. The Gamorrean Guards looked like they found a couple of guys from the Folsom Street Fair and gave them a light coat of green body paint. Speaking of green body paint, one of the Sexy Twilek Servants from the casino looked like they’d brought him in without doing a camera test to make sure the paint worked.

I was wondering whether it was an aesthetic choice, especially when Boba Fett was fighting a monster that looked like an homage to Ray Harryhausen. Some of the animation looked almost like stop motion. To be clear, I’d absolutely 100% respect it as a commitment to practical effects, I just wish I could be more confident that it was. There was a lot of ambition elsewhere in the episode, with perfect costumes for extras only on-screen for seconds.

In any case: I was surprised to see Jon Favreau so heavily involved in the series, just because I’d thought this was more of an independent spin-off with Robert Rodriguez as show-runner. It’s a good sign even though the projects have so much in common, that this already feels distinct from The Mandalorian, with its own tone and a scope that feels just right for a seven-episode series. It’s not exactly what I expected it’d be, but I’m already on board and looking forward to the rest.

Rumors of the Author’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The state of lazy media analysis in the age of Twitter

As I’ve been trying (with varying success) to ween myself off of social media, it’s been a little easier to recognize that the internet discourse has probably been a net positive. For as awful as it often is, it has changed the way I think about a lot of things. I tend to think about diversity and representation with more empathy instead of just sympathy, and I’m better at being mindful of my implicit biases and my own tendency to assume white, middle-class male by default.

I have to keep reminding myself of that, because so often I’ll read something that triggers my reactionary The Internet Is Irredeemably Broken, Shut it All Down Now response. The most recent trigger has been the corruption of the idea of “the death of the author,” turning it from something potentially expansive and democratic, into a regressive, lazy, arrogant, and willfully incurious way to approach art.

It’s been annoying me for a couple of years, as I’ve seen the regressive version gain traction and eventually become just taken for granted. When I first encountered the assertion “intent doesn’t matter,” I’d assumed that it was just a typical case of over-simplified hyperbole. Of course they realize that intent matters, I thought. They’re just being provocative, to make the point that a negative or stereotypical depiction can still be harmful, even if it isn’t intended as such.

As I’ve been seeing increasingly literal and shallow interpretations of art and entertainment, I’m not so sure. Especially since it’s so often used in conjunction with my other most hated, regressive trend in popular media analysis, the bullshit idea of “punching up” vs “punching down.” It perpetuates this idea that art and entertainment isn’t actually a dialogue between authors and audiences, but an environment in which powerful creators make products for people to consume or reject.

If you take “intent doesn’t matter” to its extreme, you make it impossible for camp, black comedy, and satire to exist. Or at least, if it still exists, it’s been rendered so toothless as to be inert.

(I should probably mention that I’m talking about actual satire, and not the version in which anybody who’s been called out for being an asshole immediately and invariably shouts “it was satire!” as their first line of defense. Because come on, nobody actually believes it).

Even if that’s an over-exaggeration of “intent doesn’t matter,” the idea is arrogant and reductive at its core. It assumes that an audience’s interpretation — or more often, a hypothetical audience’s interpretation, since it too often looks for potential offense instead of responding to actual offense — takes precedence over the author’s, instead of being on equal footing with it.

That reduces your media analysis to be based on your own assumptions and your own experience, without needing to challenge those assumptions. If you assume that a negative or stereotypical depiction is negative or stereotypical regardless of intent, you ignore the potential for an artist to use that depiction to say something that’s not completely literal. Literal in the same sense as putting disclaimers before cartoons that have racist caricatures, for instance. Having to explicitly acknowledge “this is bad and we, the artists who created this material or the publishers responsible for releasing it, know that it is bad” in a way that can’t possibly be misinterpreted by even the most stubborn person in the audience.

Even if it’s being used to establish a time or place, to consider themes of racial or cultural identity, or to comment on the stereotypical depiction itself. Or all three, like for instance, all of the anti-semitic (and anti-Italian, and anti-Irish, and misogynist, and homophobic) material in Miller’s Crossing. Removing any of that from the movie would cheapen it irreparably. It’s as impassive as its protagonist when it comes to questions of loyalty and morality, and it defiantly resists a literal interpretation, a declaration of who’s good and who’s bad and what it all means.

If you’ve only got the one hammer and approach every piece of art looking for nails, you’re shutting out the potential for art to change how you think. Treating every negative depiction as interchangeable imposes a new sort of Hays Code on art: context is irrelevant, only the depiction matters. Eventually, you end up with a cargo cult going through the motions of progressive representation instead of making actual progress. It becomes a list of approved and taboo depictions, instead of more thoughtful consideration of what makes a depiction negative or how it actually affects people.

And even if you don’t believe in — or don’t care about — the potential chilling effect, it’s still just an extremely shallow and ignorant way to approach art. I don’t understand watching something with such a lack of humility that you refuse to consider that it’s challenging your assumptions instead of just reinforcing them. If you genuinely believe in diversity of representation, then excluding anyone’s voice from the conversation goes against that.

One Thing I Like About Hawkeye

The Hawkeye series is a reminder that “super-hero” isn’t really a genre all on its own. (Spoilers for the entire series and maybe Daredevil)

One thing I like about the Hawkeye series is that they committed to making it an action comedy. Sure, it’s got themes of trust and betrayal, and dealing with loss, and they’re given enough weight that they rarely feel like it’s just going through the motions. And the overall theme — that being a hero is about responsibility and sacrifice more than super-powers — is both stated explicitly and also carried more subtly through the entire series.

But more than that, it’s just unapologetically silly. What I’d initially thought was a vague undercurrent of “arrogance” turned out to be a quiet confidence that they were telling a lighter story, and they didn’t have anything to prove. It’s Christmas! It’s supposed to be fun!

Ultimately, it’s more like the buddy comedy that I’d been afraid The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was going to be. That series wisely veered into more serious questions of race and privilege. It definitely had its moments of humor, but it was really more about expanding on the MCU post-Endgame, re-contextualizing the past four-plus hours of cosmic-scale action into the effects it’d have on actual human beings.

Hawkeye has more the spirit of the Ant-Man movies, confidently transitioning between comedy and action and getting laughs out of both. The trick arrows are just fun. I appreciated that they spun Hawkeye’s ostensible status as “the least lethal Avenger” into a positive, using it for some hyper-violent slapstick they’d normally have to steer clear of. Lots and lots and lots of guys get impaled, poisoned, frozen, stabbed, or even devoured by an owl, but the series never feels obligated to undermine it with a token acknowledgement of either “no really they’re all fine,” or a moment in which the characters have to consider the Serious Human Costs of the Battle for Justice.

I was surprised, though, to find myself taken out of my detached “Yes, this is all quite charming” state and genuinely laughing out loud at the scenes with Kate and Yelena. It’s easy to think of the MCU’s 900-pound-gorilla-scale budget going into CGI, stunts, and pyrotechnics, and forget that it also extends to casting. Finding one actor who is good at drama and comedy and action is rare; finding two and being able to play them off of each other is unheard of. Not to mention finding actors who understand the tone down to the atomic level, recognizing all of the shifts required for something that’s supposed to be grounded and relatable and shamelessly nerdy at the same time. Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh are both astounding.

It’s also easy to forget that this confidence in and commitment to tone is a huge part of what got me into the MCU in the first place. Infinity War, and Endgame are very much “super-hero movies,” and they loom so large that it’s easy to assume that’s what the entire MCU is. But the best entries in the franchise have all tried to add something to make them distinct. I’ve always thought of Iron Man as a romantic comedy that is also about a super-hero, The First Avenger as The Rocketeer-style WWII nostalgia, Captain Marvel as 1990s period piece, The Winter Soldier and Black Widow as two tonally different spy movies, Black Panther as bringing Afrofuturism to mainstream (i.e, white) audiences, etc. WandaVision was a showcase for genre-hopping, being the MCU’s first TV series that was also a meta-commentary on both TV and comic books.

A while ago I saw a tweet from somebody forgettable, responding to a photo of the upcoming slate of Marvel movies with something like “This makes me weep for the homogenization of cinema.” And I mean, it was deeply ironic, seeing someone complain about homogeneity with a comment that was completely indistinguishable from hundreds of other pretentious nerds who’ve been making the exact same complaint for a decade or longer. (Before it was the MCU, it was Harry Potter that was “killing cinema,” and before that it was Star Wars. I wonder if there were d-bags complaining about the preponderance of trains-coming-at-the-audience movies destroying the potential of the medium).

It annoys me not just because I’ve appointed myself defender of the multi-billion dollar media conglomerate, but because it’s just such a lazy and shallow way of approaching any piece of art or entertainment. For one thing, for all the whining people have been doing about how the MCU is destroying cinema, it didn’t seem to stop anyone from releasing The Green Knight1I still haven’t seen it, but even if it turns out not to be great, it’s visually amazing, or a movie about a couple who have a kid with the head of a lamb for some reason. But more than that, the MCU has rarely been content to just make another super-hero adaptation. The reason it’s resonated with audiences enough to become so dominant isn’t just that they’ve got a ton of marketing money behind them; it’s because they keep experimenting with the formula, incorporating more of pop culture — and culture in general — than just comic books. Nobody’s obligated to like super-hero stories, but to go pfft and declare that that’s all they are, is just stubbornly incurious.

It’s also dumb because it assumes a hypothetical audience of comic book movie fans that doesn’t actually exist. If there is a “typical” comic book movie fan, they’re a lot more likely to be alienated by Marvel’s experiments in tone and genre, instead of attracted by it. The perfect example is Hawkeye‘s version of Kingpin.

I really liked Netflix’s Daredevil series2At least, what I saw of it. I fell off around the time they started focusing on The Punisher., but it undeniably catered to an audience of comic book fans. Of course, it went beyond that, to attract people like me who’d never been a fan of Daredevil before, but it had everything that most comics readers wanted out of an adaption in live action: a mature story with real characters in a realistic-feeling world, with a villain brought to life with every single bit of his outsized sinister intensity in place.

Hawkeye has the same character, performed by the same actor, but played with a markedly different tone. He’s not a real-world version of a comic book character; he’s a comic book character brought into the real world. His size is exaggerated, his twitchy menace is no longer doom-filled suspense but outright villainy. He’s taking arrows to the chest without a second thought. He’s ripping the doors off of cars. He’s getting hit by a car and still overpowered next to our hero. Most of the comic book fans that I know would scoff at such a comic book character as being too over-the-top and unrealistic. The MCU’s approach requires the filmmakers and the audience both to understand the differences in tone and appreciate how they’re both valid. It’d be just plain inaccurate to declare they’re both the same, though.

I’m glad to see the MCU not just leaning into comedy, but staying broad enough to encompass multiple types of comedy: Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, WandaVision, and now Hawkeye. It doesn’t always work in Hawkeye; I still don’t like the LARPers, and I feel like their version of Rogers: The Musical wasn’t nearly as delightful as they seemed to think it was. But even that had a great line, when the singers are praising all of the super-heroes and the best they came up with for Clint Barton was “Hawkeye seems cool, like a really nice guy.”

  • 1
    I still haven’t seen it, but even if it turns out not to be great, it’s visually amazing
  • 2
    At least, what I saw of it. I fell off around the time they started focusing on The Punisher.

One Thing I Love About Spider-Man: No Way Home

One scene in No Way Home articulates what I love about the MCU, and also the One Thing I Hate about the movie. Lots of spoilers!

Pretty much everything that happens in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a spoiler, so I recommend avoiding reading anything like this until after you’ve seen it!

There’s one scene midway through No Way Home where I was taken out of the action for a second, and I had a minor epiphany, recognizing a huge part of what’s made me become such a shameless fan of the MCU, and why I think the formula works so well with this incarnation of Spider-Man in particular.

The set-up: Spider-Man has gone into a wooded area, tracking down a villain who’d been teased in an earlier fight scene. (And in the trailer). Because I can recognize the pumpkin bombs from the Sam Raimi movies, I know better than Peter Parker does what is about to go down. He’s got his friends talking to him and watching what’s going on via a cell phone duck-taped to his chest (a brilliant touch), and they have even less of an idea what’s about to happen. It’s a nice twist on dramatic irony, since it’s based not only on stuff that’s happened in the movie so far, but on the audience’s general pop cultural knowledge.

But then the scene subverts those expectations. And then keeps reinforcing and then subverting them, pulling in stuff we’ve seen from the trailers, previous movies, ideas foreshadowed by Doctor Strange, a general idea of how movies work, and so on. The whole sequence works a little like a horror or suspense movie, with that call-and-response of expectation and subversion. It ends up feeling like a dialogue between the filmmakers and the audience, relying not just on the story so far, but everything the audience knows.

Entries in the MCU are rarely just a live-action interpretation of a comics story, and rarely an entirely new story based on familiar characters. Instead, they’re more like remixes, taking multiple aspects of existing characters and existing storylines, and then recombining and rearranging them, to keep giving the audience that flash of recognition before turning it into a flash of discovery.

Even with characters that aren’t as universally known as Spider-Man, like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Shang-Chi, it still works, because it’s never drawing only from the comic books. It assumes that in addition to comics, the audience is also familiar with science fiction, martial arts movies, other entries in the MCU, and pop culture in general. In fact, it doesn’t assume that; it depends on it. A side effect of that is that the storytelling can’t be condescending, or too smug about its secrets and reveals. It always has to assume that the audience understands this stuff, and we’re on board with seeing it expanded and reinvented.

Explaining more of how that relates to No Way Home requires explicit spoilers, so I’ll put my short review here: it’s extremely well-done and surprising, and it’s a solid finale to the three standalone Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. I’m not as happy about what it means for the future of the character and the MCU in general, but even the parts I hated were well-written, performed, and perfectly integrated into the story. In other words: I hate what it did, but I like the way it did it. Now stop reading unless you’ve seen it.

Spoilers Below!

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Kutiman Mash-ups

Today’s episode of Tuesday Tune Two-fer is unique, and requires a special introduction.

Kutiman, master of the video-remix, embraced the spirit of Tuesday Tune Two-fer by posting a ton of short mash-ups using video clips of famous musicians jamming.

My favorites are “Herbie Collins” with Herbie Hancock on organ and Phil Collins on drums, and “Sabbath Boys” mashing up “Intergalactic” and “War Pigs.”

YouTube isn’t letting me embed the latter one, though, so instead I’ll include this short, pleasant combination of two eras of Eurovision.