Don’t Call it King Arthur

So, Guy Ritchie’s take on the myth/legend of Arthur is out in theaters.

I posted about it few weeks ago on #Facebook… here’s that post:

“King Arthur is primarily a medieval gangster film, and that’s when the movie is at its best.”
And thus the author invalidates the articles title right out of the gate.
**warning – gripe post about something I already griped about. Sue me.**
I’m gonna have see this, the same way I had to see the last Tarzan movie. These are the heroes I spent my childhood with. And these are the heroes that never (almost never) get represented the way I would like them too… I’m not very subjective when it comes to them. So forgive my teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling.
Will this be a well-crafted film? Probably. Will it be King Arthur? No. No it won’t.
Fantasy-based street orphan bests corrupt ruler with the aid of a ‘magic’ sword and prophecies about destiny? Yeah.
But don’t f***ing call it King Arthur.

I also linked to an article from which the quote was taken from, you can read that here: Turns Out King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Is a Lot Better Than Anyone Expected

Having seen the film, I stand by that assessment.

Don’t ****ing call this film King Arthur. As a matter of fact, keep it as far away from the source material as possible. Call it whatever you want, rename the characters to whatever you want, just ****ing remove any reference to the myths and legends of Arthur and his Knights.

The rest of this post is more of the same, so if you are one of those TL/DR types – news flash, I didn’t like it.

Like Zack Snyder, (of 300, Watchmen and BvS fame) Mr. Ritchie is able to paint scenes well. Both men are good, competent directors – and I really kinda wish that it had been Zack Snyder that had been behind the helm of this, rather than Guy Ritchie. I think it would’ve fit better with Mr. Snyder’s style and tone – i mean that as a compliment.

The art direction and cinematography and effects for this film are top notch. In fact they are really well done and consistent… As for the costumes, I have a mixed reaction on those. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Really, looking back on it, having just sat through it… I couldn’t tell if they were going for a Hugo Boss-meets-REI medieval look or for a post-apocalyptic REI-meets-Hugo Boss kind of look. For the most part the costuming worked, it was medieval/ren-faire chic… all leather and sheepskin and woolen cloaks. Oh, and molded plastic armor plating that didn’t really pass for steel or iron or any kind of metal really.

I honestly couldn’t tell you where or when this story was supposed to be taking place – if it was on the continent of Great Britain or on some world a thousand light years away or in some alternate dimension of Earth. The very opening shot of the move has what looks to be a Mayan pyramid in it… or at least a structure that looks an awful lot like a Mayan pyramid. The only time I heard them mention “England” was at the very end. I guess because they had to include that so – once again – they could remind everyone that this was a King Arthur movie.

The performances from the actors were all adequate. It’s an action/adventure/fantasy flick, so there is a lot of scenery chewing but for the most part, the performances rang true. I didn’t really have a fault with any of them… given that they were all kind of stock and recognizable. Again, all the more reason to disavow itself from the legend of Arthur and just give them other names… Just call it The Legend of the Sword, throw in some nods and hints at the source material, and leave it at that… We could’ve relaxed into it, got caught up in the heroic struggle. But nope. Instead the film has to try and make these folks fit into the molds of characters and therefore are stilted and trapped by the parts they are supposed to play in this “legend”.

But I understand why the name of Arthur was tacked on to this film. I understand its probably a rights issue, that the studio(s) probably own said rights and therefore needs to contractually fulfill a ‘once every decade’ resurrection of the King Arthur tale to maintain the rights to the characters… otherwise, some other studio might steal them away and make their own “alternate take” on the legend and so on and so on.

It’s a fairly decent D&D movie actually. It really is. It’s so much better than any D&D film that’s been produced and it maybe should’ve been marketed as such. It’s a above average fantasy film.

It’s just not ****ing King Arthur.

Names we are familiar with are tacked onto side characters and then dismissed because – I don’t know? Pacing maybe? Merlin and Mordred are part of some “race” called Mages that Uther and his brother Vortigern (even though in history and legend they don’t have this relationship) at war with at the start of the film… Merlin is absent from the film and Modred is not Arthur’s progeny as it is stated in the legend… all liberties taken because, well, why not…

Once again – it’s ****ing King Arthur.

Guy Ritchie has made some really good English gangster/street wise criminal movies. As the i09 article points out, that’s when this movie really works (not really, but we’ll let that go). The snappy dialogue and intercut scenes within scenes that both show and tell to accent the snappy dialogue is something he’s done before in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and RocknRolla. It’s his use of language and slang in those movies that makes them great, that really endears the characters to you and puts you on the streets with them.

It doesn’t really fly in a medieval setting. Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, looks the part… and when he’s not trying to play the whip-smart English street punk – he actually cuts a heroic figure as the ‘born king’.

But did I believe for a second that he was as witty, scheme-oriented, sharp as a tack criminal gang boss? Not for a second. If the film had been primarily about that … it might have made for an interesting period film… In fact, I’d actually really want to see that… but trying to mash in the street-wise stuff in among the quasi-magic, medieval swords and sorcery stuff, just muddied it. The movie doesn’t really know where or when it is… And again, its a D&D game brought to life on the screen.

All of the characters talk as though they are living in the here and now. I can just see a bunch of D&D players sitting around a table and speaking the lines – it’s how we all did when we would play through an adventure or a campaign… snappy, witty off the cuff but not really investing fully into the characters… all of our 21st century knowledge and mannerisms and inside jokes found their way into the mouths of the characters. And the dialogue in this film has that feel and sound. I’m not saying the film needed to be in iambic pentameter, but it gets tiresome to see ‘period’ films tainted with modern speech.

I found myself in a a row with two gentlemen who felt it necessary to whisper and joke throughout the movie. They probably thought the movie was the shit. they laughed at all the right lines, ooooh-ed and ahhh-ed at all the fights, and munched and slurped their popcorn and drinks during the other parts. I wanted to lean over at some point and tell them to keep it down, but as I wasn’t having a good time during the film, I figured, why ruin theirs? They were the target audience for the film – the guys that just wanted to see some dude with a sword fuck shit up.

They could care less about the legend or how it was being portrayed on the screen – and good for them. I wish I could’ve been that entertained. (They were still rude and idiots for jabbering through the movie – and hopefully karma will smack both of them in the head for that at some point down the road.)

The world of the film – as a said – looked very good. The color palette is your standard fantasy/action tint (that orange-blue tint you see all the time) the shot composition, the special effects – really nice… but the “world” they created was unclear and kinda all over the place. They never really nailed for me the ‘how and why’ of the magic elements. The ‘dark lands’ section was such a muddle of quick cuts and transitions that it wasn’t until it was over did the film make it plain that Arthur hadn’t journeyed there except in his head.

The biggest sin for though was the fact that they used the words “myth” and “legend” when referring to Arthur. This meta-fiction type of stuff in films like this irks me a lot because it doesn’t ring true. Arthur only has mythic and legendary status because of the hundreds of years we’ve been telling those stories. The Arthur in this film has not earned that status. 20-25 years of being in hiding is not mythic or legendary.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is, aside from the look and effects, by far the best thing about the film. It crosses several genres, and has a sort of alt-rock meets new age medieval raga flavor. The mouth harp/rough violin/heavy breathing sections are effective in the quick cut frenetic montages of Arthur’s rough childhood and the run through the streets sections. Its percussive, a-tonal kind of exotic and sometimes works and other times it doesn’t. It sounds exactly like the kind of stuff one would want to underscore your D&D game: quasi-modern and trying to sound medieval and kinda succeeding at both… again, just highlighting how muddy the attempt is at retelling this story we’ve all heard or seen before.

I’ve said this before… making films is an amazingly rough, time consuming and soul-crushing business. The people that work on these types of projects deserve all kinds of praise and kudos for creating these wonderful pieces of art and entertainment that get savaged by critics and others. The film is an achievement in the power of cinematic storytelling in that it made it through the system, was written, shot, edited and released into the wild. I give the filmmakers, the actors the producers, the set builders, the costumers, the artists, the extras and everyone involved in it a round of applause – you got work and you did the best with it hat you could.

It just didn’t work for me.

I’m pretty sure that some ten or eleven year old will see it and think its the best thing they’ve ever seen. They will grow up thinking that King Arthur is a superhero and that Excalibur has the power to slow time (yeah, that happens) so that the ten or eleven year old can swing it to cut down his enemies and stand triumphant once all the carnage is done with.

I’m pretty sure at ten or eleven, I would’ve been wowed by that.

But it’s not ****ing King Arthur.

It’s not.

Advertisements

I am a Murderer

[…] went back and forth on actually killing him in this story, saying “I think that it was a tough decision. I really like […] as a character, I’ve had a lot of fun writing him. He’s been big part of my run and I didn’t know that I was going to do that when the run started. It was heartbreaking to do that to […].”

The above quote was taken from an interview about a certain comic that has just been released, one that is courting a lot of controversy and backlash.

I’m not going to go into great detail about that particular comic, one because I disagree with the arc and two because this isn’t really about whether or not a cultural icon is or really isn’t a Nazi. (that should give it away… if it doesn’t, well good. Stay ignorant. You’ll be happier believe me.)

What this is really about is what a writer is and what he/she is capable of.

Writers are heinous criminals. We lie, cheat, steal; we commit adultery, we blow up buildings, send cars careening off cliffs and yes… we kill.

What prompted me to write this… (and what I’m writing about isn’t new, other authors have addressed the subject of the ‘amorality’ of writers) is the sort of nonchalance that the quote giver expresses his ‘heartbreak’ over killing off a character. Now, the author who is quoted may very well have been sincere and choked up when making that statement, I can’t really say for sure. I’m guessing it was just said in a matter-of-fact tone. It was just one of those ‘no big thing’ type statements, one that every writer makes when discussing death in their work. And for all I know, the writer did think long and hard and went back and forth about it, but in the end — went ahead and did it anyway. What troubles me about the this particular “killing” is that, it’s not really their character. The character in question belongs to a comic publishing company and other writers (including the one who invented the character for said comic book company) have spent time, energy and creative talent to bring the character to life.

In one sense, you might ask… ‘what right do you have to kill off another writer’s character?’ And on the heels of that, you might ask – hold up, ‘why are you killing them at all?’

Writer’s kill for one reason. To illicit a response from the reader. That response can vary of course, dependent on the character, their importance, the reader’s emotional connection or indifference to said character and so on and so forth.

But the goal is to get the reader to feel.

Admittedly, Death is the easiest button to push in order to get a response from a reader. A lot of that has to do with how we view death in real life… how much of our lives is spent trying to avoid it, how many of our fellows are scared of it, how much of it takes place around us… and how many times how unexpected it is.

A writer kills because it serves the story.

Of course I had to have Sean Bean die in this post – ’cause reasons

Sometimes this is done with great skill and attention to detail, the writer has skillfully drawn the character so that the reader is affected long after the story is over and done with. The impact resonates.

Other times its ham-handed and ineffective, the reader can see it coming or isn’t invested enough in the character to care one way or the other about the event. It’s treated with a sigh and a shrug and quickly forgotten.

Writers kill because we are human. Death and killing is a part of who we are as a species. Every great story has death in it. A death. Or more than one death. It’s necessary, to be honest, in order to make the stories come to life, to be real. Which is kind of ironic in a way.

There’s that armchair-philosopher maxim that states: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. You could extrapolate that to creative mediums and say that every character in every book or comic or TV show or movie exists in some alt-universe out there, somewhere in the vast unknowable vastness of existence.

Which begs the question… am I pretending to kill a character off? Or am I causing the death of someone, somewhere… out there?

And that for me is a very interesting rabbit hole to jump down into and explore. It brings up question about morality and existence – the should I or shouldn’t I? aspect of just about every decision you make in your life.

In all of literature, how many “lives” have been extinguished in the name of entertaining those of us in the real world? How many have been snuffed out to enrich the life experience of us here in this one who consume the pages their brief time is opened to us?

Writing a death shouldn’t be just some small thing. It’s something that should be given thought too… even the small, nameless and faceless ones that happen to bystanders and those “people” that get caught in a building fire, that are no way involved in the main thread of your story or narrative.

Everyone of those ‘characters’ has a life don’t they?

And that’s something that, in these politically volatile and fractious times, we all forget in heated moments. Everyone has a story, everyone is the lead in their own narrative.

Comb through any thread or topic on your favorite book or comic or film and inevitably you will find statements that causally comment on or dissect the death of a character, and no doubt you will find ones that discuss them in terms that range from dismissive to derision. We treat literary deaths as though they rank on a scale – probably because they do.

What is meaningful in a story is only rated in terms of how it affects the main characters. All others are chaff on the wind. And how does that apply to our real lives?

Do you feel the same about the death of Robin Williams as you do about the death of a relative, or Umberto Eco?

As a writer, I’ve killed a great many characters. And to tell you the truth, some I didn’t even think about. They were side-line entities, there only necessary as a minor moment in a greater scene.

I think that speaks volumes about how we look at life. ‘If it isn’t happening to me, then how important is it really?’

I can’t really say if that’s healthy or not. Life is complicated and filled with so much information and a constant stream of events that we can’t give equal weight to them all. And it’s the same with death I think. Some times its too much to deal with. The weight of it is too much to take. And other times its a simple as turning a page or closing a door.

The Trouble with Giant Monsters

Let them fight.”

Probably the one line in a giant monster movie that sums up what they are all about. And at the same time, it highlights the gigantic flaw with them as a genre.

And even though I’m going to do my best to refrain from revealing anything pertinent about the plot or specific moments about the film Kong: Skull Island, just in case: *SPOILERS* if you have not seen it yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I love giant monsters. I sat wide-eyed with wonder in my formative years, devouring each and every one that was shown on Saturday afternoon TV or on Sci-Fi extravaganzas or Chiller Thriller Theater shows on late late night TV. I begged and pleaded for as many issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland as I could. I’d gleefully stare at the images of King Ghidorah or Rhodan or Gamera or the King of All Monsters – Godzilla.

I sat through the latest giant monster movie to grace U.S. screens today: – Kong: Skull Island.

I saw the original King Kong (1933) some long ago Saturday afternoon in the early 70’s. I sat in the living room in front of our TV and watched the black & white stop motion classic with a mix of horror and fascination. Looking at the film now, you may ask, what on earth did you find about it that evoked horror? It’s a tame film compared to the spectacles we have today. But something about that log rolling scene (when my child-like mind didn’t see stiff dolls falling to their doom but real people) stuck with me. I actually got a sick feeling in my stomach seeing those “bodies” strike the earth. Kong was a force of nature, a killer beast and men were insects he would crush underfoot.

And I’m sure that’s the reaction the filmmakers were hoping for when audiences saw it 40 years earlier. Its the same reaction that modern films aim for as well – the thrilling, voyeuristic depiction of death by monster.

There are a number of similar sequences in Kong: Skull Island, but they didn’t impact me as profoundly as did that log scene from the original. Of course it can’t – I’m much older and much more jaded than when I was nine.

Skull Island takes the premise of the original Kong movie and takes it out of the 30’s and puts it right smack dab in the 70’s. The synchronicity of my exposure to the giant gorilla and the setting for this latest incarnation is not lost on me, but its simply an interesting coincidence. Placing it in the Vietnam era and using the burgeoning reliance on satellites to uncover a ‘mythic’ island in the South Pacific is a twist that isn’t quite new, but the presentation of it is handled well.

The music used to hammer the time period home just seemed cliche and almost cringe-worthy to hear. Its like the producers needed to hammer everyone over the head with ‘its not 2017! It’s 1973! Can’t you tell? That’s Airplane’s “White Rabbit” for crying out loud!’ Give me subtle rather than in my face anytime.

Skull Island suffers not from a lack of amazing looking set pieces – but rather from a tired plot of ‘humans treading into spaces that should best left alone’. Much like the ’33 Kong, the film is about trekking through lethal jungle terrain to reach a point of safety and rescue. Along the way – the filmmakers showcase a number of giant monsters and deadly threats… which are really nothing more than filler to eat up time getting to the showdown between Kong and Man and the other reptilian threat that inhabits the island.

The one plot device I did find very intriguing was the whole “Hollow Earth” angle that the Monarch Organization was hoping to prove or exploit or whatever it is that their end goal is – it’s left vague or unanswered – that contrived end title scene notwithstanding. And by contrived I mean it felt forced and tacked on.

The geek in me likes the shared universe aspect of this. It sets up the inevitable showdown between Kong and Godzilla (a re-match of the 1962 version we all know and love). I would love a found footage type docu-film about Monarch, showing how they tie-in all the monster myths in this cinematic universe. The tag scene at the end implies they got a butt load of info and that the real villain of King Kong vs. Godzilla won’t be either of our two favorite giant monsters… which I look forward too 🙂

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is fairly simple – secret Organization piggybacks on a government funded expedition to an uncharted island to uh… find stuff before the Russians do.

All of the characters are pretty stock and it falls into the same safe pitfalls as any monster movie that deals with a ‘hidden land’ or ‘undiscovered island’.

Right from the start, we are told by one character (Tom Hiddleston as an ex-SAS tracker) that they are all going to die in horrible nasty ways. And then the film proceeds to march to that tune right up until the climax.

None of the characters are either likable (except for maybe John C. Reilly – he’s always a joy to watch) or despicable. John Goodman’s character is just obsessed and Sam L. Jackson isn’t so much a villain as a man who doesn’t know anything other than fighting and has a over-developed American self-righteous ego. He’s not a villain, just an angry military man who can’t believe that an indigenous life-form would dare kill those who intruded on its territory.

There are natives in this film – there always are – and like so many films of this type – they are reduced to mute savages – a wasted plot device there to simply give the main characters a place to discuss exposition before continuing the inevitable death-at-the-hands-of-giant-things mission they are on.

I think there was some confusion on the writing/casting part of the film – the “hero” is split for the most part between the Hiddleston character and another American soldier played with understated ‘aw-shucks’ Alabama goodness by Toby Kebbell. Personally I think they missed the boat and should’ve put Kebbell’s character more at the forefront and ditched the SAS tracker character altogether – but as Hiddleston has more star power, Kebbell’s Sgt. Chapman doesn’t fair well. I will note that the audience gasped at his fate – because the set up for him was handled in a way that made you root for him once things go sideways… but its a cliche cheesy tug at the heart strings kind of character to begin with.

As far as the Monsters… Kong is awesome, if a little bit cardboard. He suffers the same presentation as the human actors in the film – he’s one note and cliche. Now, don’t angry because I’m dissing on the big ape. It’s more about presentation than a comment on the King.

As an American, and growing up in the US watching the kaiju films and identifying them with certain geographic locations – Kong has always been presented as (and is in my mind) an “American” monster. He is associated with the US the same way that baseball and apple pie are… I remember having debates in grade school about who was cooler – Kong or Godzilla, and inevitably someone would always blurt out that “…Kong’s an American that’s why!” Kong is warm-blooded savagery. Godzilla is dragon-like and foreign. But if you want my true feeling – Godzilla is the better kaiju. he is the king in my book, and Kong is simply an over-sized rendition of the Beast from the fairytale – heck they even quote it in the original.

For most of Skull Island they didn’t touch on the human female / giant ape quasi-romance issue – but yet it got shoe-horned into it anyway. And it wasn’t handled in a way that made any real sense – it was just in there because the studios insisted upon it because otherwise audiences would’ve freaked out. Which isn’t true, but try telling that to them.

I liked this Kong better than Peter Jackson’s take. I remember watching it thinking I should be having more fun – and I simply wasn’t. It seemed to over the top and the actress (played by Naomi Watts) just wasn’t likable at all. Her sense of self importance was pretty off putting. And don’t get me started on that ridiculous bug valley scene… sheesh.

I guess I was sitting there watching Kong: Skull Island and wondering – what’s the point of all this? Maybe there doesn’t need to be – I mean, looking back at the first line of this post… its simply that: “Let them fight.”

I mean – what else do you really expect from a giant monster movie? Its an extrapolation of us in the sandbox with our monster toys – there are no deep and meaningful plots. Its simply an excuse to see monsters/animals battle for our amusement.

But as anyone who knows me or who has read other entries I’ve posted on this blog – fighting just to fight is boring to me. I found the reptilian beasts that were Kong’s enemies on the island to be unbelievable. Everything about them screamed “illogical” and I’m sure they were created with a “cool factor” in mind and also because audiences have had their fill of dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts – so Kong has to fight something giant and terrifying and new! They just seemed like some dumb creature form a D&D Monster Manual. Two legged lizard things with a outer protective skull. Why? Simply to show Kong as a protector, not a savage. It just seemed convenient and forced.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Skull Island. Maybe more of a back story on Kong. Why is he so big? Why does he exist?

Instead what I saw was just groundwork for the films that will supposedly follow up on the Monarch theory that these creatures owned the Earth before us and are going to attempt to take it back.

Skull Island wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. It was just a prequel.

Let’s hope what follows has more to it – but I’m sure what we’ll get is just more fighting.

We the Devouring and Insatiable

So, as a creator (not that I’m great at it, but I try) I keep up with those things that influence my writing and storytelling. I read, watch films and a few non-network TV shows and I spend far too much time reading articles on the web.

There’s been a lot of ink and time spent picking apart/discussing/analyzing various popular shows or entertainment properties, especially since the ascension of geek and nerd culture as the top source for those items that a great many people obsess over – from comics to video games, to superheroes and shows about sentient robots (Westworld), a fantasy world with dragons (GoT) and humans doing despicable things to one another during a world ending event (TWD).

To be honest, there’s so much content being produced its really kind of overwhelming. But I guess that’s the result of years of advertisers and media moguls chasing after the next billion-dollar profit maker – because in the end, profit is all that matters.

anger

But, maybe that’s not the whole issue.

We’ve reached a point in our civilization where we have a great deal of free time due to industrialization and automation and surplus, we are – a lot of the time – bored with life.

I happen to think that the vast majority of us are insatiable when it comes to content and entertainment. We demand it at an insane rate, and devour it so quickly that we feel unsatisfied and letdown or immediately hungry as soon as we finish a book or a show.

Ask yourself how many times you been on your computer, surfing Netflix or clicking through the media guide on your TV or browsing a book shelf or scanning the comic book wall and seeing nothing that interests you… Maybe its not that way for you – maybe you easily hop from one thing to the next and aren’t bored… but have you ever felt overwhelm by the choices presented to you?

Either way, boredom or the feeling that there’s just too much, leads to a sort whining childishness – a pouting demanding sense of privilege entitlement.

Entertainment must and should be provided to us whenever and however we want. One of my favorite comics, Dana Gould, had a great bit where he stops in the middle of his act and kind of deconstructs it – he turns a chair around and with his back to the audience rants and vents about what they (we the audience) EXPECT from a show.

Do a dance, sing a song, smash some fruit! ENTERTAIN ME!”

We are constantly faulting films and shows and comics or *insert product here* for being either bad or unfulfilling. Because our expectations are not met. Advertisers and film studios and publishers tease and promote these products to an absurd degree — to the point where by the time they are released, we expect them to be the NEXT BIG THING – only to walk away from them let down or bummed out.

People will find fault with anything. Its not just the teasing and the ads and the promos that are the problem… If I had to put a finger on it, I’d say that its just simply our demand that we have more that’s the problem.

In this day of instant gratification, content streaming, on-demand programming and one-click purchasing options… we’ve become monsters that consume and devour at a frightening pace.

I just read an article [Comics Should Be Published Weekly]that “demands” the comics industry immediately switch its distribution model from once a month to weekly – simply because asking a reader to follow a story parceled out in increments every month isn’t reasonable. The author cites the example that comics should be created the way TV shows are created, and gives examples of how this has worked in the comics industry… And perhaps he/she has a point.

But what galls me about this is the assertion that entertainment should be shoveled into our hands at an accelerated rate… because WE WANT IT NOW.

Information and content is fed to us, thrown at us, pushed at us at such a speed that we don’t take to digest or appreciate it. We gobble it up, toss it aside and are immediately looking for the next thing.

We don’t appreciate waiting periods of any kind. Ignoring the benefits of pause, of taking time to relish what we have just seen or heard or tasted.

It’s already soured in our mouths and we need something else to wash it away.

More, More, More!

The long, prolonged derangement of the senses that Morrison spoke of , the thirteen channels of shit on the TV to chose from that Floyd sang about — they have become an avalanche – a tidal wave of consumerism that mires us in a swamp of content overload.

I don’t think comics need to be provided to us on a weekly basis.

Rather than demanding that outside forces need to change and alter to fit our will, it’s our expectations that should change.

We need to re-discover our sense of wonder and fun – instead of expecting it to be spoon-fed to us every second of every hour of every day.

The Myth of the Magician

When I was a young boy and well into my young adulthood, I viewed the world through a distorted lens. That lens was fixated on the idea that the mystical and the magical that I read about in books – stories that ranged from the myths of Ancient Greece, endless versions of the Arthurian legends, Charles de Lint’s urban shamanism, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft’s antediluvian and Stygian practices of mad wizards and priestesses, Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan cycle, Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Walker’s Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, and any number of books that purported to be about piercing the veil between this mundane world and the world of “the other side”.

The typical stuff a white nerdy guy in middle America assumed was the right kind of material to gain hidden or secret knowledge.

I wanted to be something other than what I was. I wanted the things I read about, and the characters I portrayed on the stage (Merlin in Camelot, for example) to be accessible; to be actual. I wanted them to be what was real, not the dull and dreary plodding normalness of what I was experiencing as the “real world.”

I was guilty of wanting. I was guilty of a White/Western way of thinking that the simple desire or yearning for a thing granted me the right or ‘specialness‘ required to gain access to or ownership of a secret or hidden knowledge.

whiteshaman

I wanted the world and I wanted it now.

I want to talk about apprenticeship.

If you read the article in the link above you’ll find a particular passage and message that resonates with me and which I’ve talked with a few friends about before and that is the lack of and almost non-existent practice of apprenticeship in the Western world.

“In Western culture, most people will never know a shaman, let alone train with one. Yet since ours is a literate culture, you do not have to be in an apprenticeship situation to learn; a written guide can provide the essential methodological information.”

Now, before someone jumps on me about that statement, let me go on record and say that this is just my perception – this is just my viewpoint. Whether or not it is actual fact or true is quite debatable. I’m sure some will say that Medical School for example, or four years of undergraduate and four years + of graduate school in order to get a degree or another four if you want a PhD, is “apprenticeship” and get steamed because my statement seems to dismiss that… which it doesn’t.

What I’m saying is that it isn’t the same thing.

Education is a good thing. Books are a good thing. Learning of any kind is a good thing.

But what I’m talking about is the practical application of that knowledge. A work-a-day practice, a years-long study alongside a higher level teacher or leader. Clothing, shoes, art, painting, sculpting, carpentry, stone masons, any and every profession had a set number of years where you were known as an apprentice.

Being an apprentice was a good thing. It notified others that you were attempting a craft, you were learning. You had prospects.

To illustrate how we think about apprenticeship these days – we turned it into a reality TV show. The Apprentice. Which really wasn’t about apprenticeship so much as a mad scramble for dollars and a “get the job” prize at the end. It highlighted everything that’s Western and privileged about how we view things.

In my chosen profession of acting, there used to be (and yes I realize there still are) troupes that would traverse a country or countries performing plays and characters for audiences. These troupes were the ‘schools’ of their time. They were the standard of how to learn the craft of performance. Because it wasn’t just putting on a costume and walking out on the boards to say lines.

That doesn’t make you an actor. No more than putting on scrubs and walking into a hospital makes you a surgeon. Or putting on a suit, and walking into the stock exchange makes you a broker.

It’s the time spent in honing your craft that leads to profession. And I think its a lot longer than four years.

I wish I had taken part in a program or opportunity like a troupe – I think I would’ve had a better work ethic, more appreciation for the reward and a greater understanding of how to shoulder the wait that is necessary in order to reach some goals.

It used to be that a man or woman could not lay claim to the title of professional until a higher up had either retired or passed on. That the ranks and rungs of the ladder were climbed slowly and steadily and that “success” was something that was the culmination of a lifetime of experience, learning and honorable practice of one’s chosen craft.

But here in the West, here in the modern world of books and graded courses, of online diplomas and standardized testing – practice and practical knowledge is dispensed with and a certificate or a award is the marker for moving up in a profession – in fact, in a real sense – that award is seen as the be all and end all of a profession. And its celebrated as such.

In my late twenties and early thirties I became very disenchanted with my pursuit or my hope of ‘breaking through’, of finding the hidden world behind the veil of this very dull and burdensome real one. But the real truth is that I was disenchanted with reading and reading and reading about this elusive thing I thought existed. I didn’t practice it, I didn’t seek out a teacher… I blindly followed the tradition I was taught in my Western schools – I stuck to the written guides that were supposed to open the door and grant me access to the other side.

And so, like so many before me, I quit. I quit seeking the mystic and the magical.

I think this also led to my disenchantment with my chosen professional path. I stopped auditioning, I stopped acting in or going to plays, I turned away from reading about acting or theater.

As a matter of fact, I stopped reading altogether, for the most part. And for almost a decade or more, didn’t have anything to do with either acting or books. I felt very disappointed in them both, one because it was too easy for me (and by easy meaning I found myself in a position of being cast often, in a community that knew what I could do and how reliable I was) and the other because they just seem to repeat themselves over and over. I wasn’t learning anything new, I didn’t feel challenged.

And I had a great feeling of dissatisfaction in my life – not just professionally, but in pretty much all aspects of my day to day experience.

themagician

In the mid-90’s I was cast in The Grand Tarot by Charles Ludlam, written for the Theater of the Ridiculous and probably the last time I participated in something that was even closely tied with anything esoteric or mysterious. I played the Magician and if I remember correctly (memories are tricky things), he was seeking a divine union with the High Priestess. In the play its expressed as a physical union as well as a union of the senses or spirit. It was a fun play, lots of comedic moments and overall a great time.

The magician in the play is pretty much like a lot of people, and like myself as well. Misguided, seeking answers in places where they aren’t and hoping that life can be summed up in a single moment, or a simple set of magic words – utter a spell and the world will be healed. He wants a quick answer, he rushes about sure that if he can just do this one thing – everything will be open and explained.

And that’s the myth of the magician – that there is an easy way to get what you want.

We humans seek answers. Aside from the basic necessities of sustaining ourselves, that’s what we do… We live for puzzles and challenges, to expand our world.

There used to be a period of apprenticeship that served not only as guide to make a living or to create things that a community needed, it was a way to know more about one’s place in the fabric of this reality. It wasn’t a method for keeping people in their place or establishing class distinctions (at least in my perception – I could be very wrong about that). Apprenticeships fell into decline and disappeared as the Industrial Revolution progressed and machines took over menial labor and lesser jobs that had once been performed by human apprentices.

And this seeped into the pursuit of the esoteric, the pursuit of the spiritual and mystical. Traditional means of achieving enlightenment or hidden knowledge was no longer about sitting at the feet of a Master, but rather doled out in pamphlets and placed on book shelves in stores and libraries.

Can I say that this has truly been harmful to us as a society? I don’t know. There are examples of individuals who either bucked the system or dropped out of school or simply worked out their own method to produce works of art or to make a discovery or climb a corporate or business ladder that didn’t rely on years of study or practice. Their natural or innate talent and ability allowed them to circumvent the traditional mode of tradecraft. Films and movies too are filled with this type of “success” story, which furthers the notion that you don’t have to follow the beaten path.

We celebrate those that skirt past everyone else, who break the rules and do it their way, who disdain tradition and triumph over the odds. Winning is everything.

Nerd portion of the post: I guess that’s why I have such a hard time with BvS: Dawn of Justice and the portrayal of both Batman and Superman in that film. The assertion that “this is anew Superman” rubs me the wrong way because its this whole ‘let’s ignore the history of the character and let’s skip his apprenticeship – he makes mistakes, and that’s ok. But he’s still the pinnicle of what a meta-human should be’.

Only, for me – he isn’t. He hasn’t earned it.

He simply tells people “I’m going to do things on my terms. Trust me.”

Which is everything great about America (since that is what Superman represents after all “I grew up in Kansas… I’m about as American as you can get.”) and everything awful all in the same sentence.

We don’t need apprenticeships because we are just that good.

Only we’re not.

And we have a country full of dissatisfied and despondent people who were sold on the idea that you can be the best. That you deserve to be the best – simply because you want it. There aren’t any apprenticeships anymore because what we are told is – all you have to do is cross the finish line ahead of the others. It’s only when you cross the finish line do you realize that there are a thousand thousand that have crossed ahead of you. And a thousand thousand coming up behind.

The end is what’s important. Not the journey.

The simple path, the easy answer. That’s the lie.

I still want there to be mystical and magical things in the world. I still want to break through and reach beyond this one. But I won’t find it in books or by simply wanting it. And at this stage, I’m a bit tired and a bit old to go looking for it.

Maybe in a few years, I’ll get to a point where I’ll be ready to start my apprenticeship. I’ll be ready to get my head out of the dirt and set my feet on a path, I’ll find a teacher. And I’ll starting learning.

the-dreamcatcher-by-cocorrina

So much rage, so much hate

I get angry at times. I think we all do.

Life is frustrating, complicated, annoying and at times infuriating. Too many cars on the road, long lines in the grocery store. Make a list of all the things that get under your skin and you’ll probably find at least one or more of them really sets you off. You know, the one thing that as soon as its mentioned or as soon as it happens you just get angry – really angry.

It could be something someone said to you, or it could be getting cut off in traffic or whatever – take your pick.

I-AM-IN-A-RAGE

In any case, the level of response is disproportionate to the offense, usually. Are there cases where the response is justified? Of course. But so many times the anger that erupts, the rage that spews forth isn’t just because of one thing.

It’s been building, for a long time, and is tied to other things in your life or others lives.

I read an article today about gamer rage that resulted in an arrest and is just one example of thousands of instances that happen daily (the rage, not the arrest) – because there are a lot of angry, rage-filled people out there.

Pick your poison – politics, film, TV, comic books, a female opinion – they are all triggers for people to suddenly go off in a fit of apoplectic hate and derision. The interwebs are filled with so much vitriolic, racist, sexist and just plain angry comments, screeds and book-length diatribes about any given topic that it is soul-crushing and mind-numbing.

Why?

I’m sure some of these rants healthy ways to purge the anger one feels about a Ghostbusters movie or to just get it out of your system that this or that really bothers you.

But it seems that most are just put out in the world to cause misery. “I’m upset, so others need to be too.” “You said something I think is stupid or something I disagree with so *insert insult* and *insert insult* and *insert slur* … ad infinitum until a desired outcome is achieved – that outcome either reducing someone to tears, quitting twitter or – in the worst of cases – taking their own lives.

The article I mentioned earlier that landed the angry gamer in jail details a new policy that Blizzard Entertainment has instituted to deal with those people who play their games that harass or insult other players in game, through chat messages or private messages – usually offensive or threatening messages – aimed at making other players angry or miserable, ruining the experience or just for simple dickery.

The solution Blizzard implemented, to deal with problem players, I felt was exactly the right one – they would “silence” the offenders account, basically preventing said player from sending messages for a set period of time.

The most effective thing you can do to someone who is clamoring for attention is to take away the ability for them to do so – trolls cannot live in a vacuum – if their bile is spewed out and the only ones that hear it are themselves, it loses any potency.

And so, after being ‘silenced’ the troll, whose anger was so consuming they felt it necessary to message the company directly – and to use threats of a violent and destructive nature, going so far as to tell them he would show up at their offices “with an AK47 amongst some other ‘fun’ tools”.

Sitting far away, in the relative safety of my room, its easy to shake my head and wonder: Why?

Why on earth is this person so angry? What is it about life that has caused this level of anger or hate or rage?

In my limited view and opinion, this isn’t abnormal. Sadly, its actually pretty normal behavior.

The social nature of the internet has – and I’m not saying anything new – pulled back the thin veneer of social graces and niceties we supposedly taught growing up and allowed for the dislike that we generally have for our fellow human beings to come spilling out. In great waves. But what do you expect people’s behavior to be like when they are fed a steady diet of dissatisfaction, bad news, high prices and any number of other little things that make living a chore?

On a tribal level, we have a natural human instinct to choose someone around us and attack them – most often this presents its self in the form of bullying or harassment. There is a pecking order among us, those on top, those beneath and bullying and harassment is the most basic way to establish your place in that pecking order … shit flows down hill, so better to be higher up than down below.

Ten thousand people maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

In one sense I really don’t think we were meant to live in groups this large. We are able to do so because we have mastered our environment – through tools and intellect we have bent rivers to our will, grown more food than we know what to do with and subjugated, controlled or  destroyed every other species on the planet – including our friends and neighbors.

But is it really in our self-interest as a species to continue growing and expanding? Bumping up against one another is greater numbers generating even more pecking orders and hierarchies to fight through in order to be seen, to be heard, to live in relative safely and security?

I’m not sure. I’m not an expert, I’m not qualified to really speak on the issue – I haven’t researched the social, environmental or geographic data to support or to refute the idea I have about there being too many of us.

It does however seem connected to the issue of the anger in us.

So many opinions, so many critiques and so many people who simply play games and get lucky or who are better and so forth become targets for vicious, ugly and violent messages and posts designed to hurt and belittle. And why? Just because they can. The need or impulse to vent, rant or otherwise puke out one’s thoughts and opinions is part of the internet’s beauty and appeal – the sense of freedom and that someone, somewhere will agree or support your view is quite appealing.

Unfortunately, the downside is there is a lot ugly out there.

The best tool in my arsenal to fight against such ugliness is to ignore it. To silence it in my sphere of influence – meaning in my limited reach, in the fifty or so feet around me personally or by monitoring my social media – I can feed the trolls a steady diet of the one thing that will starve them.

Silence.

“Hello darkness, my old friend…”

“…a little human compassion…”

Bob Hauk: Plissken, if you get back in that glider and fly back here without the tape or the President, I’ll shoot you down myself! You try to climb out, I’ll burn you off the wall! Do you understand that, Plissken?
Snake Plissken: [beat] A little human compassion.

Probably my favorite moment of Snake’s.

The exchange above, is of course, taken from John Carpenter’s dystopian cult hit Escape from New York, which celebrates it’s 35th Anniversary today, July 10 (it was released on the same date back in 1981.)

Backed by Carpenter’s simple but effective score, one of the top ten anti-heroes in cinematic history took over the imagination mid-summer the year I graduated high school. I remember going to see at the Grand Theater in downtown Paris, Tx. Probably on a Friday or Saturday night, with my friends if I recall correctly. It wasn’t a date movie – it was a guy flick. A good ol’ testosterone neo-noir sci-fi western of sorts… a lone ex-military convict, forced to save the President from Manhattan Prison.

In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don't come out.

“In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don’t come out.”

A lot of my fellow geeks and nerds would no doubt attest to wanting to be Snake, and might even had affected his tone and mannerisms (which Kurt Russell patterned after Clint Eastwood) in the privacy of their own homes. I myself remember mimicking his voice, trying to match the gruff, whispered tones, trying (and failing) to grow the right scruffy beard and maybe even sliding an patch over one eye.

What really struck me about the film is it’s bleak outlook about the human condition – and it’s assertion that we will, left to our own devices, bring about our own doom.

It’s a stylish, low budget sci-fi pop-corn muncher and it’s also a social commentary – maybe a lot closer about society today than when it came out thirty-five years ago. Back then, it was just a fantasy… today, looking at the mass incarcerations here in the USA and the fascist political rantings happening daily on TV and the internet – not so much.

And in the middle of it there’s this wonderful little human moment – with Snake, alone in a city of criminals and psychos and cannibals, listening as Hauk growls and threatens . And Russel’s response, his line reading isn’t what you’d expect. He doesn’t growl back, he doesn’t spit out a witty one-liner.

He sees the futility of it all. He sees the death of empathy and hope. The cost of one human life – his life – doesn’t stack up against another’s. Compassion is dead.

If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. Find a friend who has a copy – I know you have one who does. Get it, watch it.

Happy 35th, #EscapeFromNewYork

Bob Hauk: You going to kill me, Snake?
Snake Plissken: Not now, I’m too tired.
[pause]
Snake Plissken: Maybe later.

Snake

When Pulp is Plop

I really have high hopes anytime a film or movie is announced that involves characters found in novels and books from the Pulp Era – be it The Shadow, or The Phantom, or Flash Gordon, or Doc Savage – or Tarzan of the Apes.

Tarzan by Frazetta

Tarzan by Frazetta

I cut my teeth reading that particular type of fiction – or to be more accurate the latest reprint of that type of fiction. They were readily available on the shelf in my local bookstore or in the library and had eye-catching covers that promised thrills, adventure and cliffhangers. I gobbled them up like Skittles.

They may not be the best stories, or even contain the best story-telling. The plots are fantastical, they ignore logic and physics and common sense, they are filled with outrageous stereotypes, blatant racism and sexism. They are, in short, windows into a world we’ve tried to grow away from – as this article in the Guardian (Why the White-Man-in-the-Jungle film won’t die)  does a much better job of illustrating than I am.

In light of the recent shooting deaths of more Black Men by White Cops, the ugly undertones of the Pulp genre seem even more outdated and something to shy away from, something to put behind glass in a museum to look at and wonder… why would anyone act or think that way?

I went to see the latest pulp offering on the silver screen last week, the disappointing The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz.

I’m not going to go into the uncomfortable feelings that you really can’t ignore during certain sequences – the sad thing is, as great of a pulp character as he is, Tarzan just doesn’t work in the modern world. He is a product of his time and sadly, should be left there.

I say that for several reasons.

One being the “White Man Conquers the Jungle” point made in the Guardian article above. It’s not even handled well in this film – it’s almost blotted out under the “Tarzan is the Lord of Animals” theme that is thrust to the front instead.

And I really have to take issue with this aspect that’s pointed up in at least three or four sequences as to be almost laughable. Tarzan was many things in the books, but he was no Animal Man. He didn’t speak with the animals or command them. At least not in my recollection. Perhaps he did, but in my mind – in the version I hold dear – he was as much at odds with the wild beast of the stories as the other humans in the stories.

The continent of Africa was very much a character in the books as the main protagonist was – Africa was a vast undiscovered world, filled with mystery and forgotten things. And the trailers for the film highlight that – which gave me hope going in. Even the opening sequence, the title of which on the film’s soundtrack/score is called “Opar” had me waiting eagerly for the lost kingdom to be a central plot point, to see La, High Priestess of the Lost City of Opar and her brutish Man-Ape consorts… only to be sorely disappointed by the mish-mash that appears on screen. Listen to the track, close your eyes and imagine – thick mists, a high escarpment, thick jungle, an ancient and crumbling city fading into view… only to be shown something that doesn’t even come close.

It has to be a copyright or rights issue that either prevents or is ignored by the studios that pump out these new Tarzan projects every decade or so – make a film or lose the rights, perhaps. That has to be the reason why they just don’t use the damn books to make a film.

Instead they take bits and pieces from the 24 novels and just smash them together into something that kinda looks like Tarzan, kinda feels like Tarzan but in the end… just ain’t Tarzan.

Back to that opening sequence — Belgian troops led by Christoph Waltz as they find the Lost City of Opar (really kind of easily) and then kill a few of the city’s guardians (painted white for some reason) only to then be slaughtered themselves by the ‘superior’ savages led by King Mbonga (the grossly misused Djimon Hounsou) who appears, not as he does in the original Tarzan of the Apes novel, but more like Gato Mgungu one of the Leopard Men from the 18th book in the series.

Hopes dashed in the first five minutes. The rest was just watching other moments from the books played out in ham-handed, seen-this-before manner – so by the end, after the ridiculous stampede and the oh-so-convenient use of a crocodile’s mating call to dispatch Waltz and then have the riverboat explode in a fireball – I just sat there, wondering why I spent money to see this movie.

There were good moments, don’t get me wrong – I really liked the focus on Tarzan’s hands in the early part of the film, how misshapen or malformed they were because of how he was raised – how they gave (either with prosthetic or GGI) his hands this ugly, ape-like shape and power.

The jungle is dark and foreboding.

The music is decent.

But the animals. I don’t think a single one of them was real.

I’m not going to trash the rest of it. It was serviceable. But at the end of the day… It just wasn’t Tarzan.

Reconciling the Inescapable

For the last twenty years or so, I’ve been wrestling with an increasingly hard-line stance, one that proves to be an personal volatile moral quandary. That quandary being of course – the issue of gun violence in America.

I’ve made my stance clear in several other posts – but I’m also an actor and writer and one high profile project I’m involved with deals with some very violent and action-packed sequences that involve guns, gun use and the consequences of that particular type of violence.

redwhitebluegun

How do I reconcile my stance on the gun issue, when I am actively involved in projects that have them as part of the action and story?

I guess the simple answer is – its just entertainment. I try to look at it the way I look at plays I’ve been involved with… the same way that Shakespeare has weapons and violence as part and parcel of almost all his plays – weapons and the use of them in media is inescapable.

They are constant and ever-present in our lives.

And being an American male, a great part of my childhood and formative years I was presented and instructed – through visual media, playground shenanigans, history lessons, film, TV, books and advertisements that weapons and guns were normal, expected and manly.

If I didn’t like them – then something was wrong.

As a child, it’s easy to be swayed by the allure of weapons and violence. Especially when it comes to play and entertainment. There are no real consequences in those examples. You leave the playground and nothing much has changed — except for maybe feeling tired or worn out from the game… or maybe with a bruise or scrape – the coveted “war wound” you could brag about at school.

You leave the movie theater or turn the TV program off and you go about the rest of your day/night. The gunfights you witness come with a small thrill or rush of excitement – but it’s all just make believe. There aren’t any bloodstains or bodies to sidestep on your way to the lobby or on your way to the kitchen for a snack.

And so, on one hand, when I see the images for the project plastered on my social media, I get excited thinking about the project and the work it will take to bring it to the screen and to our viewing public. I can see that its just entertainment – its not real.

And in the same instant I look at those images and think: am I complicit in the promotion of guns as a solution – complicit in the propaganda that guns are necessary and a good thing?  That line of thinking — as always — is inflamed by the tragic news of yet another mass killing in this country.

orlando

Orlando – 2016 – Pulse Nightclub Massacre

How can I maintain a stance against the use of guns and high-powered military grade weapons – when at the same time I am writing and acting in and promoting a project that involves the same type of violence and gun use?

It’s a very difficult question for me.

Because on one hand, I want to work and I want my work to be seen by fans and the public and hopefully to see it generate more work. On the other it involves something I make an active choice to avoid in my real life.

I went through Army basic and AIT training at Ft. Leonard Woods in Missouri in the 80’s. I learned to disassemble, clean and fire my M-16, as well as several other weapons. I learned how to operate and fire a LAW rocket, how to hold and throw a grenade, even how to load, aim and fire shells from a tank.

When I was working in the game industry I got the chance to get instruction from a retired police officer (who had been involved in the Hollywood Shootout incident) about how to breach and clear rooms for a SWAT game we were working on.

I’ve seen countless movies and TV shows where guns and shootouts occur with such regularity that they are boring – they’ve become something I can walk out of room during because I can already predict how they are going to turn out.

We see, time and again, characters involved in amazingly intense and graphic gun battles emerge no worse for wear… and perhaps that’s the aspect I really get nervous about. Because, as we’ve seen, in reality… things are not so entertaining.

In the end, I can only live my real life the best way I know possible and live my truth and maintain my stance as far as it applies to me.

When it comes to entertainment work – I’ll have to take things on a case by case basis – and wrestle with the notion of possibly turning down a role or a part if it truly seems to go against my personal convictions.

I really do long for that time in my youth when this kind of issue was one I wouldn’t think twice about, one I could easily ignore or dismiss.

When playing the hero or soldier was fun.

Sgt._Rock_Vol_1_367

Superhero Overload? #CivilWar

Have we reached the height of the superhero property zeitgeist? Will we see a decline or backlash? The jury’s out and others have already been weighing in on this issue for a while now… but after the last two big superheroes movies, I’m starting to wonder.

It’s possible. The prevalence of the superhero genre film/TV series seems to be taking up a fairly decent sized slice of the entertainment pie. And though some think that these types of properties will be around for some time, others have already begun to claim that they will go the way of the western, a genre that once dominated the box office and the TV screen, but which we see only sparingly these days.

Add to this the big divide between those who loved BvS: Dawn of Justice and those who didn’t, plus the now lukewarm early reviews of X-Men: Age of Apocalypse… maybe we are cresting over the edge with the superhero genre films.

I was thinking about this concept – even before  I read news of the Inhumans being removed from Marvel’s film slate, and when I watched BvS; DoJ and also – more recently – while watching Captain America: Civil War.

inuhmans-daisy

The news that The Inhumans film has been removed from the Marvel/Disney film docket may not be an indicator of a ‘audiences getting tired of superheroes’ — and Marvel is perhaps not averting a decline or backlash – but attempting something more akin to lightening the load — but that’s just my faint impression. The way that films get greenlit and released is a process I have little knowledge of, and I can’t even imagine the conversations and headaches that occur in the Marvel movie bullpen when it comes to the schedule that keeps the machine rolling along as it does. It’s no surprise the Inhumans have been removed from the list, as they’ve been dominating the story arc in Marvels Agent’s of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.

The Inhumans – at least for me – were always a bit of an strange mix. I knew of the X-men first, and to me at least, the Inhumans just seemed to be a a ‘weird tales’ version of the mutant team. They were the cast offs, the circus freaks and bizarro oddballs. The way they gained their powers, exposure to the Terrigen Mists, always smacked of eccelerated mutation to me – and so, they were mutants. But, we already had the X-Men… so why confuse everyone with this new type of mutant? And they also seemed to have a lot in common with Kirby’s New Gods… but maybe that’s because they were drawn in the same distinctive Kirby style.

Of course, part of me understood it was the comics creators trying to create something new to bolster sales, but already I had my favorites = Captain America, the Avengers, Power-Man and Black Panther, Werewolf-by-Night… and so never really got into the Inhumans.

Plus, at that time, I wasn’t a fan of Kirby’s art… the wide eyes and flat fingers just seemed odd to me, though Kirby drew fantastic landscapes and energy beams galore! As I got older, I grew to appreciate and love his stuff. It’s dynamic and enthralling and even today his panels have a life to them that makes everything seem to leap off the page.

jackkirbypencilsbyinkist

But I just wasn’t thrilled by the Inhumans. And I haven’t really been able to get into the story line that involves them in the AoS series. Still, they are part of the Marvel canon and I do think – if Inhumans has/have been removed form Marvel’s slate of MCU films, will we see them in the two Infinity War movies? I’m sure we will have an answer soon enough… and if the internet buzz is true, the cast for the Infinity Wars movies is huge, so I think we might… but will we care by then?

But getting back on point, to the question of – ‘are we getting tired of superheroes?’

As Retired General Thaddeua “Thunderbolt” Ross says is the new Captain America: Civil War film –  the world is dealing with (paraphrasing here) “enhanced individuals who routinely ignore sovereign borders and inflict their will wherever they choose and who, frankly, seem unconcerned with what they leave behind.”

It’s kind of like that with these films, characters and so forth – we’re getting so many heroes, who run riot across the screen… are getting so many properties that were once just comics or graphic novels that are being turned into big screen entertainment packages. There’s almost too much to keep up with.

I saw Captain America: Civil War the night before it officially opened. And I got that feeling sitting in the dark watching the film – should we be getting two or more of these films a year?

What did I think of Civil War?

I liked it, but I kept finding myself thinking more about it then actually enjoying it – not that that is a bad thing… but I kept getting that feeling in my stomach that something had shifted.

I’ve been looking forward to it, as Marvel has done a prodigious job as far as creating a cinematic version of the comic books and characters – they’ve been building these story lines and giving us audiences and fans a chance to get to know and love them. So, when the first teaser dropped and we saw Bucky/The Winter Soldier and Cap ganging up on Tony/Iron Man – it was a bit of a sinking feeling in the gut – what?! Cap’s not a bully!

I enjoyed the film, yet I did get that sinking gut feeling a few times and really big near the end.

The only thing I felt should’ve been changed (other than the young RDJ /Tony Stark little bit of creepiness) about the movie was a speech given by Sharon Carter. The words she speaks are words that Cap himself utters in the comics – and I feel he should’ve been the one to speak them – but that’s just my opinion.

noyoumove

In the end, I guess it’s that hard-headed conviction and code of honor that Cap has that fuels the conflict in the movie, and escalates the issues to the point of physical violence.

Or perhaps its just us as consumers and audience members that fuels it because we just have to have someone fighting someone else – over whatever personal beliefs or tragedies that demand justice/vengeance/retribution whatever label you want to give it. We are conditioned to see conflict and fighting as the  penultimate entertainment. I’m guilty of this as much as anyone. I’ve written stories, been involved in projects were the main thrust of the story involves fighting and violence and all the stuff that goes along with it.

We admire strength and power. It’s hard coded in our DNA – and every story we tell is about struggle or conflict of some sort. But after thousands and thousands of years – what have learned? It seems we’ve only learned to tell the same tale to ourselves over and over and over. Because its fun or because its exciting, or because, we’re bored.

That and we don’t really live long lives, so tales are told for each new generation that say the same things the generation before them learned and that pattern will repeat itself ad infinitum until we do finally reach a stage where human lifespans exceed a hundred and fifty years or so.

When you break down the story of the film, its pretty basic.

To paraphrase the Vision: “Strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict… breeds catastrophe.”

It’s not good enough to see these people rescuing people from a burning building. Or helping evacuate a flooded town, or aiding the relief effort after an avalanche… yeah, that’s just not exciting enough.

That sinking gut feeling I got when watching this movie bothers me – because I’m supposed to like it. Cap’s a favorite hero/character of mine – I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that was a great film (again, just my opinion).

And I did enjoy the movie – the Spider-Man stuff was amazing – Tom Holland is perfect as Peter Parker. And for the first time, on screen, he really really “feels” like a teenager. The scene between him and RDJ during his “recruitment” was so well done. We should get a Tony and Peter walking around Queens movie.

I loved the banter, I loved Giant Man.

But that final sequence? I was wincing the whole time. I felt dirty and bothered and I guess that’s what I should be feeling. Why didn’t I feel that during BvS? Why didn’t I feel that during any other MCU property, including Daredevil and Jessica Jones – granted JJ made me wince but for other reasons during that final episode.

There’s an odd shift that occurs when you watch a certain type of battle or fight.

If it’s against a true evil villain, or a faceless enemy – you root for the good guys. You cheer for victory. You watch it excited and thrilled.

But here – this was like watching a fight at the family dinner table at Thanksgiving.

The ultimate goal of any film is to illicit an emotional response – to generate thoughts, questions. BvS generated a response, divided people. I’m sure others will feel the same about Civil War – heck the marketing campaign has been built around the question – whose side are you on?

In the end, what I got from the film was that – no one won – everyone lost. #ThereAreNoTeams

I disagreed with a few choices at the end of the movie – but I’ll talk about those in another forum.

I’m still trying to wrestle with my thoughts about the idea – are we getting tired of superheroes?

I don’t know… but I don’t like how my thoughts are leaning.