This weekend I watched The Last Jedi for only the second time – and the first since I originally saw it opening weekend in theaters. I’d stayed away from it because, well let’s face it, Star Wars discourse has gotten heavy over the last two years. I’d enjoyed the movie and for a bit was a hell-or-high water defender against the trolls. But eventually it wears you down and my enthusiasm for everything Star Wars diminished. I wrote posts on my initial feelings on The Last Jedi and about some of the harassment that Kelly Marie Tran faced last year.
But between The Mandalorian and Jedi: Fallen Order this year I’ve gotten the Star Wars bug again. So going into episode 9 I thought I’d refresh myself and rewatch The Last Jedi to see how I felt about it two years later. And I’m pleased to report that it’s still a good movie. In fact, it’s a great movie.
Let’s dig in, shall we? (Spoilers for The Last Jedi, obviously.)
So last year I wrote up the 2017 T-Man Movie Awards and talked about some of my favorite movies of the year in a wide variety of categories. This year I ended up naming my gaming superlatives the Manatees (see here and here, with special thanks to my good friend HarveyZ) and it seemed a shame to not also do awards for 2018 movies as well. Since I was struggling with a name for them last year, I might as well adopt my gaming name for movies as well. I will mostly be using the same categories as last year, with a few changes here and there. Some categories will have runners-up if I felt like there were multiple movies that were worth mentioning – others will only have one if they were particular standouts or if nothing else really impressed me enough to be mentioned.
Without further ado, I present to you TMan’s Movie Manatees for 2018!
I’m not a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve read all the books and seen a few of the movies, mostly through the influence of multiple women throughout my life. I like the universe in general but I’ve never been super obsessed with which house I belong to or wishing I got an owl mail sending me to the American equivalent of Hogwarts. (Ilvermorny, right?)
As such, I didn’t come into the Fantastic Beasts movie franchise with too much excitement or baggage. I was interested but not enthusiastic. When I saw the first one in theaters I liked it but came out of the movie theater feeling like something was off. It bothered me because I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong or express what was bothering me about the movie. When I watched it again this weekend before seeing Crimes of Grindelwald, I still enjoyed it but also still felt the same sense of “something isn’t quite right.”
I saw Crimes of Grindelwald and actually didn’t like it. But on top of not liking it, I felt the same unexplainable nagging in the back of my head and it began to frustrate me because I wanted to be able to vocalize what was bugging me. So I thought about both movies together to try and figure out what it was – and I finally got my Eureka moment.
It was the narrative structure that was bothering me.
I’m not going to talk about canon or retcons or universe-related problems in this critique- instead I’m going to focus on the narrative and overall plotlines of both movies. There will be major spoilers of both Crimes of Grindelwald and Fantastic Beasts, so if you haven’t seen them both and want to remain unspoiled, read no further.
I saw Ant-Man and The Wasp this weekend and while I thoroughly enjoyed the movie there was something that bugged me about it. Both of Ant-Man’s movies have been devoid of a particular trait. The first Ant-Man was an origin story combined with a heist movie, and this one was a comedy wrapped in an “on-the-run” scenario. Both stories were great for the character but because of the set-up Ant-Man (and Wasp as well) didn’t ever interact with the general public. As such neither of the main superheroes in these movies ever got a “hero moment.”
So what do I mean by hero moment? Well, one of the reasons that people love superheroes is that they are people who can do what normal people can’t: they use their superpowers to do good and save people that need to be saved. Unfortunately, as superhero blockbusters have gotten more and more commonplace the focus has been on impressive CGI battles with supervillains and a certain amount of power creep (aka the next threat always has to be stronger than the last) ends up affecting all the new heroes and their sequels.
Because of the visual nature of movies and the blockbuster frenzy of Hollywood, directors and writers have tended to drift away from part of what draws me (and others) to superheroes in the first place. They rely on spectacle over substance. When the heroes are “saving” people it’s often en masse from a world-ending threat instead of a smaller, more intimate display of heroics. In both the first Avengers and Age of Ultron, we get to see all the heroes team up and save a city (New York and Sokovia respectively) and we see them rescuing civilians, but it’s a part of a larger climax that dulls our perception of the heroism in favor of flashy battles and witty one-liners. We’re even briefly given a death toll in Captain America: Civil War for both battles to try and add more gravitas to the situations, but a number as a statistic on the screen does little to evoke any sort of emotional impact on the viewer.
I’m going to go over a few of my favorite hero moments from some recent superhero movies and try to explain why I consider them emotionally impactful (and usually my favorite scene from the movie they’re from) as compared to their respective climaxes. Minor spoilers will follow, obviously. All scenes will be linked to on YouTube for your viewing pleasure in case you haven’t seen them or forgotten them.
So if you hadn’t heard in the news today, Kelly Marie Tran deleted her Instagram account because of months of targeted harassment due to her playing Rose in The Last Jedi. The main rage impetus behind her harassment was the fact that Rose as a character was viewed as awful and in general many people didn’t like her plotline or her existence in the movie. Of course, rabid jerks continued the harassment well after all The Last Jedi hot takes were over for a multitude of reasons – she was Asian, she wasn’t the usual Hollywood conventionally attractive female, she was in a movie they disliked. You know, all very normal things to harass somebody for months on end about.
This isn’t the first time that Star Wars fans have made a person’s life miserable after the movie came out. Jake Lloyd was harassed after he played a ten-year old Anakin Skywalker and shattered high brow nerd’s views on Darth Vader. Hayden Christensen has been mocked eternally for his role as Anakin as well. The actor who played Jar Jar received a ton of backlash from fans despite the character intending to appeal to children. In 2016 Daisy Ridley also deleted her Instagram account – while this wasn’t specifically about Star Wars, but rather her anti-gun violence stance, she was still harassed online for it. Rian Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi, has gotten tons of vitriol over Twitter. I’ve seen tweets of people threatening to kill Kathleen Kennedy – the current president of Lucasfilm. Alden Ehrenreich doesn’t even have a social media presence so we don’t really know how people would have directly treated him for being cast as Han Solo, but considering the lead-up to the release of the movie there’s a good chance he might have been targeted as well.
While a lot of people get very animated about things that they love, fans of Star Wars sometimes feel like they are on another level. The reactions to all of the recent Star Wars movies have been divisive at best and outright lunacy at worst. The Last Jedi, months after release, still gets people angry if it’s mentioned as a good movie. Discussion about Kelly Marie Tran’s harassment today was often prefaced by “Well, I hated her character, but-” as if disliking her character was an important point to add to the discussion of her targeted online abuse.
So what is it about Star Wars in particular that drives fans to total insanity when new stuff comes out for it? Why is it that nobody appreciates new Star Wars and the original trilogy has to be preserved as some holy relic of cinema?
In 1995, Paul W.S. Anderson directed Mortal Kombat, a movie based on the popular video game. In the 23 years since the CGI has become dated and none of the fight scenes have aged particularly well – the choreography isn’t bad but isn’t anything to write home about either. Its most high profile actors – Christopher Lambert and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa – both have very hammy performances and none of the other principal actors really had breakout careers. Since then, technology for both video games and movies have improved and video games have more and more interesting stories to tell. And yet, despite all that, Mortal Kombat is still generally regarded as one of the best video game movies ever made and possibly the best of them all – by video game players at least.
These past two days I saw both Rampage and the new Tomb Raider, and I can tell you that neither of them will come close to the best video game movie ever made. Neither of them were the worst video game movie ever made either – I’ll get to what holds that title later on – but they were sufficiently bland enough to knock themselves out of the running to be a favorite.
So why is it that video game movies have such a bad rap? Movies that are based on books, or comics, or TV shows, or pretty much any other form of entertainment – they can turn out well. But when you add “based on a video game” to a movie there’s going to be a loud groan and a fierce rolling of the eyes. It’s almost expected for video game movies to be bad, and people are “pleasantly surprised” when they’re “not awful.” But why? Well, I’m going to dissect Rampage and Tomb Raider and hopefully provide a little insight as to how Hollywood keeps making clunkers out of possible interesting storylines.
Today I had the day off from work due to an unexpected springtime snowstorm. With several inches of snow on the ground and nowhere to be for the day, I turned my focus inward to think about the really important things in life. Namely the order in which I would rank all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. It’s very, very important work. So I’ll start off with my ranking of movies, but after the ranking (and a little bit of explanation behind why certain movies are my favorites) I’m also going to talk about the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole and how it’s affected the entire movie ecosystem with its popularity.
I’ve been putting off putting my thoughts on The Last Jedi into words for a while. I was initially going to do a review of the movie soon after it was released, but the internet almost immediately filled up with “hot takes” where everyone was trying to shout out their opinion louder than anyone else’s. There was a lot of “Yes, The Last Jedi IS the best Star Wars movie ever” vs. “No, The Last Jedi IS the worst Star Was movie ever.” Everyone wanted to point out how Rian Johnson was either a genius or a hack. In the age of the internet and social media, speed is key you see. A nuanced, thought about opinion is not desired because what’s hot and relevant can change in the blink of an eye. So I decided to holster my opinion until after the madness of the initial release died down. And now with the trailer for the Solo movie being released along with the announcement that Disney is giving the Game of Thrones guys their own trilogy to write, I figure now is a good a time as any to go back and talk about Episode VIII.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of it, I will say that there will be open spoilers to the movie in the following review. I’m not going to police my words or jump around the big spoilers if I’m talking about them, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and that’s an issue to you I’d recommend bailing out now and coming back later when you’ve seen it. I’ll also be openly talking about stuff from other Star Wars movies too, obviously. But if you’ve already seen everything or just don’t care about spoilers then come on in, the water’s fine.
My brain is running on empty again today and I have a few things I’d like to talk about in the video game sphere, but I don’t have my thoughts organized on any one particular thing yet. So instead of writing up a half-baked review or writing an opinion piece that bobs and weaves until it goes off the rails, I’ve decided to dip into the movie pool again. The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday and since I haven’t really done a best of 2017 for movies (or anything really) I decided I’d put together the TMan Movie Awards. It’s a bunch of random categories I made up so I can talk a little bit about my favorite movies of the last year. Here we go.