Blood is Thicker than Water (and as Thick as Two Short Planks)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)

I confess I had a sneaking liking for Guardians of the Galaxy, in part because I went in with no baggage and low expectations — although clearly that’s a contradiction. I quite liked the ironising, which under cut the macho posturing, but I was left with the sense of the displacement of ethnicity onto different coloured aliens and a near absence of women (a green heroine and her blue sister, who apparently was Amy Pond).

Vol. 2 comes with the baggage of the original and the risk of a joke being dragged too thin. It begins mid-caper, with the Guardians protecting batteries for a alien species called the Sovereigns in return for the return of Amy Pond who had previously tried to steal them. Unfortunately Rocket Racoon steals some himself, and they are chased across the galaxy by the Sovereigns, who seem rather weaponised for people who employ mercenaries. The Sovereigns then employ Yondu Udonta, who brought Peter Quill up, to go after them. Quill, meanwhile, is rescued by his father Ego, who turns out to be somewhat of a God and who has created a paradise. Perhaps.

By now, the pattern is established — witty banter between the central heroes punctuated by fights and capers, synchronised to a seventies soundtrack. We reach the diminishing returns pretty early on with the fights, but be reassured that no one will really die that you care for. There is the Unspoken Sexual Tension between Peter and Gamora, and Drax gets a few more lines, and Groot is cute, as baby Groot. A new character is brought in — Mantis, an empath with feelers, oddly Sino-French, but apparently German-Vietnamese in the original comic appearance — and adds a little to the cringe factor.

The casting of as Kurt Russell as Ego is genius — bringing with him the baggage of cult director John Carpenter such as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York and Escape from L.A., The Thing from Another World and Big Trouble in Little China, heroic but seedy, not entirely trustworthy. If you can’t afford Jeff Bridges, Russell’s your man. I could totally believe in him as love ’em and leave ’em immortal, but I definitely didn’t buy the plot gimmick as to why he needed his son. Ah well.

But it is, to some extent, a film about family and the coming together of estranged families, whether or not there is a blood tie. Yondu and Amy, recurring villains from the first film, are, after all, family, and family is family. They can be forgiven remarkably quickly and given a shot of redemption. Perhaps that’s what makes it comedy.

Meanwhile, as the Marvel Universe expands, the cameos and the injokes expand, with seemingly never ending closing credits, more Howard the Duck, too much Stan Lee — who has hardly improved as an actor since Mallrats — and Easter Eggs for future movies.

I can see how if you like this kind of thing you’d love it. I’d even go back for a third dose, but Ego is not the only thing to be indulged.

Start Here:

I intended to write up the episodes of the new series of Doctor Who — and I have finally started doing so, have seen “The Lie of the Land”. There will be plot spoilers, but in this entry I’m trying to avoid bringing stuff I know from later episodes in. This may change. And I may give up.

Doctor Who: “The Pilot”

“The Pilot” is the name given to the first episode of a TV series, a testing ground to see if it works, and sometimes it is remade before the series is actually transmitted — this happened with Doctor Who in 1963. Steptoe and Son had its origins in a series of Comedy Playhouse with one called “The Proposal”, a neat establishment of the two central characters who were to be trapped together.
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Or, the Modern Frankenstein

Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)

By design or accident, the Alien Tetralogy became interesting because each film had its own auteur or its own genre — Alien offered haunted house in space (and an uncanny double of the slasher), Aliens was a ‘Nam movie, Alien3 was a prison movie and Alien: Resurrection was. It simply was. So Ridley Scott decides he wants to go back and produce a new film in the Alien universe and make it a prequel — except for some reason it leaves the A-word off the title.

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How to Suppress #94

Back in the day I wrote a chapter on postmodernism and science fiction for The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction. Space, as always, was tight, and as I recall, my focus was on the three key thinkers who characterise postmodern theory — for better or worse Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson and Jean-François Lyotard. I certainly knew about Meaghan Morris’s The Pirate’s Fiancée: Feminism, Reading, Postmodernism (1988) and Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985) but it looks like neither get a mention. It might have been I assume one or other would be in a chapter on gender or feminism, but that’s no excuse.

More problematic — and I’m not going to go and check — is that all my fictional examples were by male authors.

The editors did not notice, but someone did:

Butler fails to mention even one science fiction text author by a woman or even one female literary theorist. How to suppress women’s writing? Butler’s article supplies an egregious answer. (Barr 153)

Yes, bang to rights.

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Tintin and the Tintinnabulating Tinternet

Blackhat (Michael Mann, 2015)

  1. No coloured hats were worn during the making of this film.
  2. This film had four editors — one more than Fifty Shades of Grey.

The best part of the film is a pan across a cell wall of the lead character, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth), who has two books on his shelf: The Postmodern Condition and The Animal that Therefore I Am. Hathaway is a hacker, imprisoned for getting caught, who is briefly released to help good coder Chen Dawai (Leehom Wang) track down the Evil Coder who has sent a Chinese nuclear power station into meltdown and stolen money on manipulated soy bean futures . Along for the ride, seemingly, is Dawai’s sister, Lien (Tang Wei), whom Dawai had been all-but-pimping to Nick. (When they get together, Dawai is all older borther possessive of her.) She does have computer expertise, but her job is look pretty and to be the reward for the hero.

For all its next three months futurism, this is old school, it’s Heat (1996) but less cool — and I still say L.A. Takedown (1989) was the better movie. We have phone calls arranging meets, we have corpses showing up when we go in search of suspects (and no one gives a fig about forensics), we have hails of bullets making holes in walls but fairly rarely the whitehats, we have devices placed on the bottom of cars, we have helicopter shots of men standing in half completed tower blocks. We have — dear Cthulhu no — the zoom-in on the pixels that takes us into the screen and along wires and down into the mean streets of the circuit board.

None of it makes any sense — this is a film that begins with a volcano but fails to work up to a crisis. The set piece finale felt more early seventies Bond, but with poorer acting. Our computer genius had to go to the spot in Malaysia to work out what the cunning evil plan was rather than using Googlemaps. We have no motivation for the Big Bad — I’m not even convinced we have more than a username. And he isn’t — spoiler — wearing a hat.

Deus-ed Up, Or: All the Deus-Bros.

Ex Machina (Alex Garland, 2015)

Here be spoilers, although not really until paragraph eight onwards (nine if this is one). I’ve tried not to give the ending away. 

There’s a reading of Harrison Ford’s rather plank-like performance in Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982 etc) as Rick Deckard that suggests it is in fact a rather nuanced representation of a replicant. It doesn’t make sense as a reading, but there you go (he can’t be one of the six escapees because…).

I got the same feeling about Domhnall Gleeson about ten minutes into Ex Machina. It doesn’t make sense as a reading, but then again, what does? I was also reaching for Bluebeard and Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), neither of which end well.

Bluebeard is the one when a duke invites his bride to stay in his castle whilst he goes off on a jolly, leaving her with the keys to all the rooms but instructions not to unlock the seventh door. Obviously she does, just as Eve ate the fruit and Pandora opened the box. It’s Story.

So Caleb (Caleb Williams, son of Jephunneh or son of Hezron, a villain in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a computer game character who is a gunslinger) is a computer jockey who wins the golden ticket and gets to go to the chocolate factory the CEO of Bluebeard Bluebook’s secret lair. Before you it, know he’s flying across a landscape straight out of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) to the secret lair. If Gleeson has a look of both Nathan/Justin from Queer as Folk, Oscar Isaac’s Nathan is more bearish, pummeling a punchbag, swigging a beer from a bottle and being furry under a vest. Apparently he is a genius. (Nathan — son of David, Nathan Fillion played Caleb…)

Caleb, before he goes any further in his bonding over beer, vodka and sushi with Nathan, has to sign all kind of non-disclosure agreements to make sure we feel uneasy.

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