Boba Fett and the No For Real, Though, Did Temuera Morrison Get Laryngitis or Something?

Thoughts about episode 6 of The Book That Used To Be About Boba Fett

Things are heating up with chapter 6 of The Book of Boba Fett, with a guest appearance that must’ve gotten a lot of fans excited. There’s one scene with a fan-favorite character, a mysterious and notoriously deadly bounty hunter who hasn’t made a lot of appearances in the Star Wars universe lately. His name is Boba Fett.

I gave a pretty charitable interpretation of the last episode, figuring that it fit into the story because it showed how Boba Fett’s story and the Mandalorian’s were thematically similar. This one, though, just had a pretty cool showdown in a desert town that was at least tangentially building on the season storyline, and then a ton of stuff that should’ve been in season 3 of The Mandalorian.

It bugs me because I would’ve liked almost all of it, had it been presented as part of that series instead of interrupting the story I’ve gotten invested in. It actually retroactively makes me like the series so far a little less, because the stuff that’s been introduced — like the Rancor, and the Sanctuary club, and the Mods — no longer feel like parts of a building story, but just seeds for images that’ll appear in the final showdown with the bad guys. There was so much room that could’ve been used for telling an intriguing story of crime bosses and double-crosses and revenge plots, but they chose instead to just use it as a vehicle to squeeze more comics and animation characters into live action.

(I say “almost all of it” because the choice at the end seemed like a completely false one that never should’ve been presented in the first place. It seemed like something meant to play on the audience’s emotions instead of something that would’ve been genuinely motivated by any of the characters involved).

I hate to say it, but I was pretty disappointed and even annoyed by this episode. I’ve seen quite a few disgruntled types bad-mouthing the series around the internet, and I don’t want to add to that — even the episodes I’m not crazy about still seem to have stuff I like a lot. I just feel like the storytelling has been frustratingly disjointed, from a team that in the past has been able to give the audience everything what they want to see but make it feel resonant as well.

Top 10 TV

My 10 favorite episodes of TV ever, because why not

I can tell I’ve been watching too many YouTube videos and listening to too many podcasts lately, since I was inexplicably compelled to compile/update my list of Top 10 Favorite Episodes of TV Ever. (Actually, it was prompted by the sudden thought, “Damn I loved WandaVision,” which is something that I think about almost daily).

These aren’t necessarily all of my favorite TV series (but most of them are), and many of them are here because of one scene instead of the entire episode, and also I obviously went over 10 because none of this is at all important. Also I loved series like Alias, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, 30 Rock, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, but couldn’t think of any one particular moment or episode that stood out in my memory. Also I guess I should mention that I’ve never seen more than one episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, True Detective, or Fargo, and I got so annoyed with The Sopranos that I had to stop watching and it drove out any memories of how much I was enjoying the first part of the first season.

16. True Blood, “Plaisir D’Amour”
This one starts with showing what happens in the True Blood universe when a vampire gets staked, and that scene alone was my favorite in the entire silly series. This is where the series hooked me, and I was low-key obsessed for a while there. The show is so horny and so over-the-top, that I’d spent a lot of time wondering whether they were in on the joke. The start of this episode made it clear: oh yeah, they get it.

15. The Book of Boba Fett, “The Tribes of Tatooine”
Still early in a series that I haven’t liked quite as much as The Mandalorian, but damn if that train sequence wasn’t one of the best Star Wars moments I’ve ever seen. It also had Boba Fett’s vision quest at the end of the episode, a perfect example of how these series can best spin off into weirdness while still feeling like Star Wars.

14. Battlestar Galactica, “Sometimes a Great Notion”
This might be the bleakest episode of a very bleak series, and at the time I thought it was one of my least favorite. But one character’s suicide is the one scene that I remember the most vividly from the series, all these years later. I’m sure it was done mainly for shock value, but it felt like a flash of maturity in a series that was otherwise designed just to heap trauma on its characters. It’s an intriguing idea that if someone’s been suffering under years of stress and horror that an ongoing series demands to keep things exciting, they’d choose to go out with a pleasant memory instead of a brutal one.

13. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Hush”
One of the best of the gimmick episodes (another of my favorites was called “Doppelgangland”), this one worked for me because it went back to the formula of combining gags based on the supernatural premise with the theme of a Teen Girl Drama; Buffy and her boyfriend were having trouble communicating.

12. Arrested Development, “Mr. F”
I’m not going to suggest that this episode was ever in good taste, but it still feels like it’s aged poorly enough that I feel a little weird calling it out as a favorite. The whole storyline with Charlize Theron’s character was what hooked me on the series (I didn’t see the first season until later). This episode in particular is where the whole shaggy-dog-story format of Arrested Development finally “clicked” for me: the ingenious way it piled set-ups on top of each other across an episode or multiple episodes, finally letting them all pay off in an interconnected punchline.

11. How I Met Your Mother, “Three Days of Snow”
This is the one where Marshall shows up to meet Lily at the airport with a marching band (spoiler), and that moment makes me cry every damn time. This is still one of my favorite sitcoms, because it had no hesitation being maudlin and romantic. And by the way, I still say the series ended perfectly, and anyone who says otherwise just didn’t get it.

10. Futurama, “The Sting”
This is the one where Leela is mourning Fry after he’s killed by a giant bee. The episode of Futurama that first springs to mind as a favorite is “Jurassic Bark,” and I’ve got a soft spot for “Teenage Mutant Leela’s Hurdles” because it’s where I got the name for my cat Pazuzu. But “The Sting” is the one that surprised me for being so surprisingly sweet and romantic.

9. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Inner Light”
This is the one where Picard is hit by a probe that causes him to experience the entire life of an alien on a doomed planet. It shows off the best potential of Star Trek: not being obsessed with continuity or grand story arcs, but taking a single sci-fi premise and spending an hour elaborating on it and its repercussions. My second favorite episode of the series was called “Remember Me,” the one where Dr. Crusher realized, “If there’s nothing wrong with me, there must be something wrong with the universe.”

8. Cowboy Bebop, “Speak Like a Child”
This is the one where Faye Valentine receives a Betamax tape in the mail, and Spike and Jet have to go pick through the ruins of Earth to find a machine that can play it. The last scene gets me every single time I see it, and Faye’s “I don’t remember” is what does it.

7. The Mandalorian, “The Sin”
This is the one where Mando returns to collect the bounty on the foundling and then regrets it. It’s hard to pick a single favorite episode of the series so far, but I think this is the one that really started to deliver on the premise. Not just the premise of a bounty hunter finding redemption and re-inventing himself, but the premise of Star Wars on TV means you get to see a whole covert of Mandalorians flying jetpacks and shooting lasers at aliens and because it’s all in a series you get to see more of it next week.

6. Lost, “Man of Science, Man of Faith”
The introduction of Desmond and the code he has to keep typing in to keep the world from ending. At the time, the cold open of this episode just blew my mind, and I’ve always liked the song “Make Your Own Kind of Music” because of it.

5. Twin Peaks, “Coma”
This is the one where Maddy sees killer Bob menacingly crawling towards her in the Palmer living room, which still might be the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on television. As a bonus, it’s got the song James, Maddy, and Donna sing together, without a trace of self-consciousness.

4. The Good Place, “Dance Dance Resolution”
This is the one where Eleanor (and one time, Jason) figures it out over and over and over again. After the season one finale, I thought I knew where the series was going to go, but they crammed every one of my short-sighted predictions into a single episode, and then went off in new directions.

3. WandaVision, “Breaking the Fourth Wall”
Once again: damn, I loved WandaVision. This is the one with “Agatha All Along,” and while the reveal itself wasn’t that surprising, every element of the reveal and the end of the episode was pulled off flawlessly. It was so satisfying to see everything that the series had been building for weeks culminating in one extended sequence. There are so many great details in it, one of my favorites being how the aspect ratio quietly and near-invisibly changes as Wanda moves from a 2000s sitcom back into the “real world” of the MCU.

2. Doctor Who, “Blink”
The series overall kind of crawled up its own butt, and they overused the Weeping Angels to a ridiculous degree, and I’m still even more annoyed by “wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey” as I was by “the cake is a lie.” But this episode is still a masterpiece, full of genuinely scary moments and monsters that are terrifying because of the implications of their attacks, not just the attacks themselves. Plus Carey Mulligan is so charismatic that she overshadows the leads; at the time I was convinced this had to be a back-door pilot for her own series.

1. The X-Files, “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space
Always my favorite episode of television ever, even if the rest of The X-Files has mostly lost the magic it had over me in the 1990s. The series tried this kind of meta-storytelling multiple times, but it never worked as well as here because it wasn’t just parodying The X-Files, but spinning the parody into a larger idea about the nature of faith and belief. Highlights are Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as Men in Black, the D&D player who knows a little something about courage, and the fairly savage parody of the ridiculousness of Fox’s Alien Autopsy specials of the time.

Boba Fett and the Mystery of the Disappearing Boba Fett

My thoughts on Episode 5 of The Book of Mostly Boba Fett

When the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett showed him punching and flamethrower-ing his way out of a sarlaac, I thought that clearly the series was trying to make up for all the indignities the Star Wars franchise has piled on the character over the decades. But I can’t think of much that’s more disrespectful than getting Cousin Olivered out of your own series!

Obviously, I love The Mandalorian, and I’ve been eager to see how the story progressed after the finale of season 2. The last episode all but explicitly said that he’d be coming back in this one, and I was really looking forward to seeing what had changed. And it would’ve been awkward to just say, “Hey look, Mando’s back!” without addressing any of that. And this was, by any standard, an excellent episode, full of cool stuff. But it was an episode of The Mandalorian.

I wish that they’d managed to bring him back in a story that kept Boba Fett’s moving forward, and saved all the best moments of this one for an episode of the next season of The Mandalorian. They could’ve teased the intrigue in this appearance — Where did he get that new ship? What did he get for Grogu? — and then gone into all of this detail in a flashback.

One of the reasons I’ve loved these series is because they don’t just show me what I want to see, even as they’re showing me exactly the version of Star Wars I’ve been wanting to see since the early 1980s. There’s always a real effort to make stories that have thematic resonance and show a real arc for the characters, even for those of us in the audience more preoccupied with seeing space battles and jetpacks. This episode just left Boba Fett’s arc hanging.

I do appreciate that it sets up Din Djarin to be a kind of analogue of Boba Fett. They’ve both lost their tribe, and they’re reinventing themselves on their own terms instead of what other people have told them they have to be. That’s been the ongoing theme of this series so far. It would’ve been stronger if both characters had been there to play off of each other.

But apart from that, I really liked everything in this episode. The new ship is, indeed, wizard, even though I wonder how a bounty hunter can work with a starfighter that only has enough extra space for a baby Yoda. I loved seeing the BD droid from Jedi Outcast, Amy Sedaris speaking the Jawa language, the Rodian kid staring at the Mandalorian like on every commercial flight, the arches in Mos Eisley taken from Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art that I had hanging in my bedroom. I even gave a genuine gasp of emotion at The Armorer’s final dismissal, which surprised me as I hadn’t thought I had any emotional attachment to any of these characters apart from Grogu.

I just wish they’d figured out how to work Boba Fett into an episode of The Book of Boba Fett.

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

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.

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.

Hawkeye: My Life as a Franchise

I’m gradually warming up to a Disney+ series that seems like it should’ve been a slam dunk

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve only seen the first three episodes of the Hawkeye series. The third episode was a relief, because that’s where it all starts to come together. For the first two, I spent most of the running time wondering why I wasn’t enjoying it more.

In theory, this should totally be my thing. It’s the Disney/MCU behemoth pouring its resources into a light-hearted comedy/action series, largely based on a beloved comics storyline1Which I haven’t read yet but has been on my to-read list for years, starring one of the most charismatic actors working today — who totally should’ve won the Oscar for True Grit, because her performance in that role is still astounding. For someone like me, who’s a fan of almost everything the MCU has put out on Disney+ so far, it seems like the only thing working against it is that it features the Least Interesting Avenger. But not only do they work that idea into the storyline and the gags, but they already set a precedent with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I had less than zero interest in that series, but it ended up winning me over.

But so much of it feels like it should be charming and exciting to me, but it just keeps bouncing off. I’m also getting this weird, vague undercurrent throughout that it’s somehow already taken for granted that people are going to love it. Look at this, beautiful people and intrigue and fight scenes and the occasional explosion, it seems to say, of course you like it. What’s wrong with you? We even put in a bit of self-deprecating musical theater to show how much we’re in on the joke.

I’m not sure how much I was pre-disposed to dislike it after getting the impression that the creators of the My Life as a Weapon comic weren’t compensated or sufficiently credited by Disney, even though the entire graphic design and many of the characters come straight from that comic. But I saw that Matt Fraction is credited as a “consulting producer,” and he and David Aja are in the credits under “special thanks,” and I don’t know enough about the business to know whether any of that has financial compensation. Not knowing the business, I’ll try to keep from forming an opinion on topics where I’m completely ignorant. But on the whole, it does seem like Disney tries awful hard to hold onto money that would be insignificant to the company but huge to the artists helping them build a library of stuff to sell.

To its credit, it’s made Clint Barton’s Hawkeye the most interesting version he’s ever been. It’s tough to build a series around a character whose whole thing is that he doesn’t want to be there, especially when the character is supposed to be more world-weary and less yipee-ki-yay than John McLain in Die Hard.

And I don’t think that’s a knock on Jeremy Renner, who probably doesn’t get enough credit for making a thankless role feel like a real person. Because this series gives him more to do and say — and in the proper scale, instead of burying it in the midst of the destruction of the universe — it makes his understated (and frankly, often energy-draining) performance make sense. He’s got much of Black Widow’s baggage but has even less desire to be a “poser.” It’s more an obligation than a call to glory. Plus, here he’s given more of a chance to be dryly funny and flippant.

Which is a good example of how I’ve been weirdly frustrated by the series. In one episode, he has to go to a LARPing event, and he ends up having to participate against his will. The premise itself is just, honestly, lazy writing: based on the tired old haha lookit the funny nerds who take it too far unlike our perfectly mature and healthy decades-long devotion to super heroes. (It’s the attitude of the first X-Men movie, and its pointed sneer at yellow spandex costumes instead of the obviously much more mature and realistic adults walking around in full-body skin-tight black costumes). But to the show’s credit, it takes the lame premise and turns it into a believably endearing moment. Clint isn’t won over by the experience or anything — which would be unrealistic — but he ends up being pretty good-natured and patient about the whole thing. It feels like an action-comedy setup that is being played not as an action-comedy, but as the character would genuinely react to it. That makes it more believable and a lot more endearing, but also kind of inert.

(Also at the beginning of the scene, one of the LARPers offers him a helmet with attached wig to wear, but he refuses. As if he’s too cool for that, although come on. Everybody in the world saw you with that haircut).

It seems like this version of Clint Barton is just doomed to be kind of dull, because of a decade-long series of choices that were probably the right ones at the time. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the Hawkeye-just-wants-to-get-home-for-Christmas storyline isn’t really the focus of the series; it’s just a framing device for Kate Bishop’s insertion into the next phase of the MCU.

Often it feels like the show is just coasting on Hailee Steinfeld’s charisma, but that’s not so bad since she’s got tons to spare. It’s interesting seeing her and Renner play off of each other, since they seem to be coming from the same place but with different priorities. Both actors get the whole MCU concept, which is “realistic,” relatable characters grounding fantastic situations and acting as both super-heroes and audience surrogates. But I get a sense that Renner is playing it in terms of “who is Clint Barton in this situation?” while Steinfeld is more focused on “who is the protagonist of this MCU action comedy?” I don’t think either approach is wrong, and it actually helps their dynamic, in that she’s eager to break into the super-hero world, while he’s hoping to be free of it.

I also like this version of the Kate Bishop character, even though she’s frequently in circular conversations with her mother and with Clint, sometimes feeling like she’s going from scene to scene because the plot demands it. It’s great that they’ve established that she’s rich and essentially good at everything, but is far from flawless. It feels like a rejection of the Strong Female Character trap that the comics and movies too often fall into.

I think Robert Downey Jr’s performance as Tony Stark helped hide the fact that the character was pretty two-dimensional: his arrogance and over-confidence was the one note played over and over again in the stories, but his performance showed how someone that obnoxious could still be endearing and relatable. I think this version of Kate Bishop could be a more nuanced take on a similar idea: her over-confidence comes not just from arrogance, but from feeling invulnerable. This is the source of some of the best-written scenes in the series so far, with her mother saying pretty much this explicitly, and later with Barton and Bishop on a subway train talking over each other, since he can’t hear her.

So far, it seems like a character-driven series in the guise of a plot-driven one, with talented actors doing their best to make their characters seem real and believable. I do often feel like it’s aiming for 80% while I want it to be at 100%, but then it has a chase scene with all kinds of trick arrows (including the USB arrow!) culminating in a double-shot that creates a giant arrow that impales a truck. Which, I mean, is objectively rad, even if a bunch of Eastern European gangsters all calling each other “bro” isn’t quite as charming as it might’ve been several years ago.

  • 1
    Which I haven’t read yet but has been on my to-read list for years

Bandersnatch and Possibility Spaces

More like an extended-length episode of Black Mirror than an interactive movie, Bandersnatch reveals (probably intentionally?) most of the problems with interactive fiction.

I finally was able to watch Black Mirror: Bandersnatch last night, after years of the Apple TV Netflix app telling me it wasn’t supported.1As far as I know, it’s still not. I ended up watching it on the built-in app on my “smart” TV. Technological dystopia indeed! I can’t talk about it in any detail without spoiling it, which would be a shame because its best moments are when it does something surprising with the format.

My short “review” is that it’s absolutely worth watching. As an episode of Black Mirror, it’s pretty strong. As a 1984 period piece — specifically to being a young tech nerd in 1984 — it’s really fun. And as an examination and indictment of all the implications that come from interactive fiction, it’s interesting. My major criticisms are that it doesn’t do much that’s actually groundbreaking with interactive fiction, apart from delivering it to a wide audience in a different context. And ultimately, it doesn’t work that well as a coherent narrative.

I think the most remarkable thing about Bandersnatch is that it seems like Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror and writer of this movie/episode) genuinely understands all of the implications of interactive fiction. Which is remarkable because I think a lot of people working in video games and interactive fiction full time still don’t get it.

That’s not to say that it’s a super-accurate depiction of video game development, even in 1984. There are several scenes where a programmer furiously types a few lines of BASIC code and hits the RUN button (?) to see semi-3D graphics or a perfectly-rendered high-resolution title screen, which I don’t think is all that accurate. But that’s creative license, and complaining about it is as pedantic as faulting a car chase for going through the most scenic parts of a city instead of a real-world route.

What Bandersnatch does get right are the fundamentals: the quickly-expanding complexity of branching narratives, the lack of genuine agency on the part of the player, and the lack of stakes in the player’s story.

Continue reading “Bandersnatch and Possibility Spaces”
  • 1
    As far as I know, it’s still not. I ended up watching it on the built-in app on my “smart” TV. Technological dystopia indeed!