Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review and Analysis

A long time ago, in a galaxy… well, this galaxy, insofar as we don’t really know anything about movies coming out in other galaxies just yet. But a long time ago in this galaxy, George Lucas put together a trilogy of two and a half pretty awesome movies. They were a throwback to another time, one when you just went with it… Neil deGrasse Tyson hadn’t been invented yet so we weren’t told about how terrible the idea of laser swords were just yet. The internet, while technically invented, existed solely to warn us all of impending nuclear disaster, so the debates over whatever the hell C3PO did were left to a small group, while the rest of us enjoyed it. 

It was a great time.

Sixteen years later George Lucas was back at it, telling us the story that we already knew - how Darth Vader became Darth Vader… and fumbled a little. On the one hand: Star Wars. On the other: Jar Jar Binks, and a slight obsession with trying to figure out just what it was that computers could do to the point that he didn’t build complete sets. Sets. Settings. He didn’t build complete sets. The locations that these places took place didn’t exist for the actors. And it showed. Essentially George Lucas took a slam dunk - three more Star Wars movies with a mix of Samuel L. Jackson - and churned out movies that weren’t great.

Which brings us to now, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The newest entry into the Star Wars universe. It took almost three times as long for us to get a seventh Star Wars than it did for us to get a seventh Fast and Furious, so how does it stack up?

It’s incredible. Here’s my look at the new movie. As I’ve said, this movie is best going into fresh, so here’s your Spoiler Warning, courtesy of the lovely River Song, because franchises be damned. 

I know I’ve gone on rants before, and I stand by my previous statement: the plot of a movie isn’t a spoiler. By that, I mean the one line of what it’s about. But somehow. J.J. Abrams, taking over for George Lucas, proved me wrong that anything about this movie is a spoiler, and I mean that in the best way possible. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is very much the story or Luke Skywalker, as his name hangs over the proceedings and he’s very much present in any of the action. Well, not figuratively. He’s actually not even glimpsed until the end. The movie itself is about the search for Luke Skywalker. After Return of the Jedi, Luke attempted to train a new generation of Jedi, but one was seduced by the power of the dark side of the Force - Kylo Ren - and a new group called The First Order arose from the remains of the Empire. There’s a group called the Resistance trying to stop the First Order from ruling the galaxy. Meanwhile, both groups are trying to find Luke Skywalker, because both believe that he will return the Jedi to their rightful place, and they either want to stop or help him.

Meanwhile, on a desert planet that’s totally not Tatooine (Jakku) a young woman named Rey waits for her family while scavenging the remains of the last war. She eventually meets a droid named BB-8 who has a message for Princess Leia the piece of a missing map to find Luke. Eventually she meets up with former Stormtrooper Finn, and they flee aboard a mysterious freighter called “The Millennium Falcon”. Eventually, yes, they meet Han Solo and Chewy, and have to stop the First Order from firing a giant space cannon that will destroy an entire galaxy while confronting Kylo Ren’s and Rey’s secret pasts.

If it sounds a lot like A New Hope, you’re right… the plot is extremely similar. Let’s get that part out of the way first. Some people have complained that this is the reason the movie worked: they just pulled the best parts from the first movie and recycled them. Some have noted the whole “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. However, while many of the beats are the same, this is the perfect explanation of why Luke is in hiding, and just what the rest of the series is about. 

On their way to find the Resistance Base, Han stops off with Rey and Finn to meet up with an old lady named Maz Kanata, who laments that history continues to repeat itself. Evil always finds a way: The Sith, The Empire, now the First order. And while the movie does repeat many of the same beats, such as an orphan on a desert planet who may be more power than we know, there’s one beat a lot of people keep forgetting, and that’s Kylo Ren. 

Kylo (spoilers) is actually Ben Solo, the son of Han and Leia. His turn to the dark side is what prompts Luke to go into hiding (again) and search for a new way to save the Force from the Dark Side and the Sith continually popping up. But what this avoids is that we have now seen the power of the Dark Side twice, each time it’s seduction of someone who seems to have good intentions, now using that power to destroy the Jedi. The Dark Side truly is the most powerful, according to these movies. And, as much as Luke hangs over the proceedings as a mythic figure, so does Darth Vader, who’s ashes and  helmet reside in Kylo’s room, a constant reminder for him not to be turned toward the light, despite his constant pull towards it. 

One of the smartest things I feel JJ did in this movie was the acknowledgement that Luke was important, but kept him a myth. In essence, he was in the entire movie - from the opening crawl to the opening scene to just about everything after that. The movie is driven by a search for Luke Skywalker while the characters are allowed to find themselves. Finn, a former stormtrooper, is now looking for himself while breaking away from his programming. What I liked about Finn was the fact that he wasn’t a perfect character: he clearly was drawn to heroism while at the same time acknowledging that he was extremely selfish, just trying to get away from the First Order. 

But enough of all of that, let’s talk about Rey. More Spoilers to follow. 

Rey is an interesting character. We actually find out little about her past in this movie, most of it dedicated to learning more about Kylo, Han, and Leia. We know she was abandoned on the planet, and by the end we also learn that she is a powerful Jedi…. more powerful than Kylo Ren, who was born to Han and Leia. His legacy essentially makes him Force Incarnate, so there’s lots of speculation that Rey is either Luke’s daughter, or perhaps Kylo’s sister, her brain wiped after her brother decided to murder everyone. (Speculation mine. There’s still like, two years before Episode VII, we’re going to see a lot of speculation on this in the meantime.)

She very much a version of Luke Skywalker, someone who longs for adventure outside of the desert planet that she currently resides, and has a mysterious past. She’s take charge and a leader. Although we don’t see her leading the charge against the Starkiller base, we see her piloting skills on hand early on, all mirroring the introductions we had to Anakin and Luke. Many people focus on the fact that she flew the Falcon in a tense action sequence, but most people tend to ignore that we’ve seen that same action sequence twice: Once with pod racing (Yippee) and once on the Death Star. Rey has a similar introduction that reminds us she’s not only a Jedi, but she’s a Skywalker-level Jedi. I’ll be interested to see where they take this character. 

The introduction of the new characters is deftly handled in connection with the old, we never feel that Han, Leia, R2, or C3PO ever overshadow them. Han works out well as the Obi-Wan figure to the cast, revealing everything that’s going on while handling a dark emotional core, and… well… my comparison to Obi-Wan should be an important one. There’s even a hilarious moment where C3P0 is introduced, once again coming between Han and Leia, where he can’t wait to explain his new red arm -  a nice moment in a movie that does want to hide a lot of what happened in the past. Here’s a character that can’t wait to tell us. It’s hilarious in it’s own way. 

I could keep going. There’s a lot ot analyze in this film: the father/son narrative continues, more speculation about Rey, and I haven’t even covered Supreme Leader Snoke, the guy who trained Kylo in the ways of the Sith and who may have been around for even longer. But this is a movie that’s best enjoyed as a throwback to that time I mentioned before, when we didn’t have internet spoilers the second a movie started filming, and complaints were kept between friends with real debates, not just people whining that the movie didn’t live up to what they wanted it to be. 

Also, be warned, it does end on a cliffhanger. But one that’s kind of brilliant, if you ask me. The movie ends with Rey literally finding Luke Skywalker… and that’s it. With that, the movie has finished it’s promised mission: We found Luke, without compromising any of the mystery that exists in the second movie. I hope they manage to play with that just as well in the second one.

JJ’s real talent came not with just capturing a new Star Wars movie that was worth of the originals, but one that captured the spirit, the “wow, look at the adventure” stories that followed, the real action and mystery that came with the first set of movies. And that’s the highest compliment I can give. 

Oh, one final word of note: a lot of people were disappointed they didn’t adapt the Expanded Universe Stories. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, relax, you’re probably better off. But they were a set of stories set after Return of the Jedi that featured Luke, Leia, and Han trying to rebuild after the Empire was crushed. For those disappointed, I offer this: 1) the stories took place literally after the last movie. And while I love Carrie Fischer, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford, they’re a little older than they were 30 years ago. 2) All of the story beats have been released, where’s the mystery or the recapturing of the spirit? 3) It looks like they did the Ben Solo thing, anyway, so let’s see what they’re doing, shall we?

Go see this movie. It is beyond incredible for not only living up to the magic, but recapturing the old feelings.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

So You've Decided to Watch 17 Hours of Space Wizards... (Force Awakens Spoiler Free)

On Thursday, December 17th, I prepared for the new Star Wars movie perhaps the only way I really knew how to prepare for it. By attending a marathon of every single Star Wars Movie there had been up until that point. Excluding the Holiday Special and the two Ewok specials. But we don’t discuss those.

It was technically Thursday, December 17th as we got to the movie theater, much in the same way a cat is technically a tiger… the first movie started at 1:00 a.m. in order to give us maximum time to watch all of them, in chronological order, and still have enough time for breaks. For a brief moment I debated skipping the Phantom Menace, if only to not hear the Dark Lord of the Sith yell “yippee” when he gets his way, but, I wanted to attend all of them.

I should also point out that this is an odd time of year for me. You see, I’m finishing up finals, which means sleep is already at a premium for me this week as I squeeze work in between school. In fact my final class was Wednesday from 7:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. For those keeping track at home, that meant I had about three hours in between marathon and wrapping up my last class. So, in the long run maybe signing up for a 17 hour Star Wars Marathon may have not been the smartest idea. This week.

I never was very smart, when it came to Star Wars.

I grew up with Star Wars. My dad introduced me to the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Han early on in my life. He did so proudly. It was a great story. A farm boy finds out he’s really the son of a powerful space wizard and he has to go fly a space fighter to destroy a planet? Incredible. Then it go better… it turns out that the farm boy is related to the bad guy? What? That blew my little mind. Then there was Han Solo. He was everything, goofy, smart, he did his own thing, he was a bad boy that flew a spaceship unlike any other space ship, ever, the Millennium Falcon. 

Everyone wanted to be Han Solo. At least I did.

My favorite Christmas Memory was when I lived in New Jersey. We lived on base housing, so I was afraid that Santa wouldn’t be able to get in since there was no chimney. On Christmas Eve there was a knock on the door. My parents told my brother and I to get it, and Santa was there. The big guy himself, in the flesh, at our door, who had to stop by early since we didn’t have a chimney. I don’t remember anything else he gave us, except one thing. A giant Millennium Falcon toy. It had the removable plates so you can hide your action figures when the storm troopers came by, it opened up so you could see inside, and the cockpit door opened just right. It was perfect. I spent hours coming up with ways Han would save everyone. 

So going to see all the movies on the big screen was exciting for me. Yes, even the prequels. I’ll be the first to tell you that the prequels aren’t very good objectively. They’re poorly written and not very planned out, despite having the hindsight of being written after that original trilogy. The acting from most is wooden. And there’s a sense of “hey, look at what we can do with CGI” for about 90% of the film. But you know what? It’s Star Wars. I loved seeing them back up on the big screen. 

It was odd watching it with a theater full of people with the same agenda as me: to marathon them all before the new one. Some people were dressed up in costume. My friend Kim and I referred to them as rookies, because you don’t dress up in costume for a movie marathon. Our comfy pants and T-Shirt ensembles were perfect for the night (and day) allowing the versatility to relax while still being able to breathe. But everyone laughed in the right… or in a few moments, the wrong but totally appropriate… spots. Despite the prequels reputations as being awful, there was still reverence for what we were watching: the story of a young wizard-knight seduced by the power of the dark side, wishing to save his love. 

I’m not sure what else to break down here. Jar-Jar was still terrible. Too much CGI. Liam Neeson was gone way too soon. And Darth Vader shows up five minutes before the end, when everyone expected him to show up. They were the prequels.

The prequels ran until about 7:30 ish, so we had time to go get breakfast. I’m fortunate that Kim is an expert at food, so we were able to bypass the eight bag of popcorn and the stale hot dogs for a nicer place that involved sitting down and having hot food provided to us as we sat in our clothes we’d been wearing for so long now. As people were getting up for work, we had downed three entire movies that comprised the Star Wars Saga.

We got back to the theater to hear the tail end of a trivia contest that there was no way we were going to win while wearing T-Shirts that said “Star Wars” our dedication to the marathon and another guy was wearing a screen accurate Boba Fett Costume. But we were ready to start the Original Trilogy. The yellow words came up that said “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” then the words “Star Wars” hit the screen. It was beautiful. We watched another three movies, the ones I grew up with. We cheered when the Death Star blew up. We laughed at Leia calling Han a nerfherder. Some nerd next to Kim complained when “A New Hope” popped up on the crawl because it meant it was the remastered versions. There was slight cringing when Luke kissed Leia. Really. We cut out Han shooting first when we re-edit these things, but you can’t cut out that kiss. now THAT’s arrogance, George Lucas.

Oh, one other thing. Anyone else notice that a LOT of astromech droids die in these things, except R2D2. He’s either very lucky, or he’s the one behind these deaths. Just throwing that out there.

It was an incredible mix of camaraderie and anticipation. Everyone wanted to watch the movies and give them respect, but we were ready. Ready for Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens.

I know a lot of people haven’t seen it yet. And you know my feelings on dubbing certain things as “spoilers.” I still don’t agree that the “plot” of the movie, insofar as it’s one line like “Rocky Balboa fights for the championship” or “A boy sees a psychiatrist because he sees dead people” is really a “spoiler”. So I was concerned when we knew of Episode VII as “the continuation of the Star Wars saga and nothing else. 

But I agree, it’s better to go in fresh and know nothing about the movie. So, no spoilers in this review. (Spoilers come Monday.)
That being said, I’m not going to ruin it here. My first, non-spoiler impressions was, (and apologies to Phineas and Ferb) “I was blown away, much like Alderaan.” It movie had time to not only meet and acknowledge all of my expectations, but it did so on the way to exceeding all of them. Simply put this is the first time I’ve felt this way since the first time I saw the original Star Wars. it was amazing. The CGI was kept to a minimum. BB-8, the soccer ball droid, was incredible. Character backstories were expertly weaved into the existing characters. There were references and acknowledgements to the characters that came before and made this galaxy what it was. The old movies are revered in a way simply not done by movies today. 

I am looking forward to sharing all my thoughts. But for now I want everyone to know about the experiences in that theater with 100 other people who loved the movie as much as I do.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Fall Movie Season: Crimson Peak

            Some would argue that it’s easier to get noticed for your art nowadays. There’s a chance that something you do will go “viral” which isn’t as bad today as it was in the 1800’s. Have a song, or a short film? Put it up on YouTube! There are YouTube “Stars” now that make a living pulling horrible pranks that would be crimes if they didn’t get views (and therefor, advertisers.) Even the groups we love, like the folks over at Wisecrack (I like saying that like I have some kind of connection with them, but they don’t know who I am. Hi, Spark Sweets and Garax!) probably couldn’t exist even 10 years ago.

            But in some ways it’s made art a little more difficult to synthesize as people become more savvy. Twists to movies get crowdsourced. Put up a trailer? The folks over at Sinema Sins will tell you everything that’s “wrong” with it in two days without the hassle of having to create art. (One of my scrapped posts during the dark time was trying to tackle what they did, but I really couldn’t bring myself to watch any of their “nitpicks” which were just mean spirited at some point.)

            What’s all this build up to? I want to discuss Guillermo del Toro’s fantastically underrated masterpiece, Crimson Peak. It’s a wonderful throwback movie that could have done well in a different age, or if audiences were willing to accept it for something different.

            Ghostly spoilers to follow. But since most of you haven’t seen the movie, I’m assuming that it’s probably cool I spoil some of it for you.

            Mia Wasikowska stars as Edith Cushing, a young woman growing up with her father (Jim Beaver, proving that once again he’s a national treasure) in America. We’re not five minutes into the movie before she’s confronted by a ghost who warns her, “beware of Crimson Peak.” Which is also the name of the movie, which means she’s probably not going to heed that warning.

            After the ghost incident, Edith is trying to get her book published, which is about ghosts, but not a ghost story. Enter the dashing Sir Thomas Sharpe (Played by the dreamy Tom Hiddleston), who’s a baronet trying to get his latest invention off the ground. He’s looking for investors, some mostly in the form of Mr. Cushing. Naturally, Mr. Cushing doesn’t trust this dashing young Englishman on the grounds that he’s “creepy” and “unprepared” and but Edith sees through his out dated but still fashionable attire (today we’d call it “vintage.”) and of course they fall in love.

            Shenanigans ensure. Mr. Cushing dies a natural death of “having his head smashed repeatedly into a sink” and Edith moves to England with Sir Thomas and his creepy sister Lucille Sharpe. (Jessica Chastain, in one of the many movies starring Jessica Chastain that came out this fall)  The house is called Allerdale Hall, but more commonly known by it’s other name. “Crimson Peak.”

            I actually enjoyed this movie, even though I walked in like everyone else, expecting a tense horror movie. There are a few minutes of jump scares, but overall it’s a great gothic movie, not necessarily a horror movie. I think that’s where a lot of the marketing for this movie went wrong, by playing up the ghost angle despite the fact that the ghosts represented a mystery and the past, but not actual ghosts.

            Hey, like that thing she was writing!

           What I like most is that this is interested in the past. It starts with a young Edith not just being haunted by the ghost of her mother, but recalling the story that she is not allowed to see her mother because of the way she died. As a result, the first appearance of the ghost is broken down and frightening. An idea that will come back later when we first see Allerdale Hall, which is broken down as Thomas and Lucille have been focusing on the future, and neglecting that past. There is a clear thread that by ignoring the past, we destroy part of ourselves, whether it be part of the house, or to invoke ghosts that are far worse than anything in our imaginations.

            This movie is a lot smarter than I think the original press for it gave it credit, a film that is rooted firmly in the past, made in an older style of directing. While the ghosts are very clearly special effects, and used to great effect but sparingly, so when one pops up it's not the seventh time we've seen a ghost in the past four minutes, the film itself seems older using irises to close out certain scenes, and even going so far as to have older fabric sewn into the costumes. So, in essence it’s a movie about exploring the past, about people rooted in the past, that was made very much for an audience in the past. It is almost as if Del Toro had secret plans to stick a flux capacitor on it and shove it back in time. I wouldn’t put it past the man; he’s quite crafty. 

I also enjoyed the fact that the movie was gothic and spooky without resorting to a lot of needless jump scares. Jump scares are overused in today’s horror films, when creating a mood is secondary to how many times we can make the music go up sharply and have a cat leap out at the protagonist is substitute for any real horror. But this film is rooted in the gothic tradition, and not one that is fascinated with scares for the sake of scares.

The mystery of this film is also enjoyable, including the twist that it turns out that Lucille and Thomas are in fact, lovers (but still brother and sister) who are murdering Thomas’s wives to bring back their riches in some way. They represent the past/future dynamic with Lucille wishing to fix up the hall and Thomas really wanting to get his machine working, even if he has to murder a few wives in order to do it.

There's really not much to nitpick on this film. del Toro does his homework, getting shots right, and even uses color to a proper effect to heighten the mood. There's a tense feeling over the proceedings, one that makes things feel like at any moment you might get that jump scare, but since it's actually a movie concerned with telling a story they manage to forgo the cheap scares.

Overall a spooky film, one you should check out. Not just for the Tom Hiddleston Eye Candy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Jack of All Trades


            I am a Graduate Student.

            That’s an odd way to identify yourself, especially the area in which I live where you are pretty much defined by your job. In the Washington, D. C. area, you identify yourself by your name and what you do. It’s like the same way some wild animals tend to identify themselves in the wild, each one kind of wondering who the Alpha actually is.

            “Hi, I’m John Smith, and I’m the Deputy Undersecretary to the Assistant Vice President of the Secretary’s Office.”

            Which means he could do anything from going to get coffee to being the only guy in the office who knows what happens when the printer jams. But not really descriptive of the alpha role.

            “Hi, I’m Jane Jones and I’m the Assistant to the Deputy President of Vice President Relations.”

            Again, impressive title, but at some point someone is just throwing out words until something sticks.

            So I don’t say that I’m a graduate student lightly, because over the past couple of years that’s been my main identity. Well, not a main identity, but the primary way I identify that nebulous question” What do you do.”

            While I was going to school while trying to get my Education Degree, I was a Senior Analyst. That was a very impressive title, despite the fact that I was not senior, nor was I much of an analyst. I did a lot of data entry. I didn’t mind the data entry, I just did a lot of it. Plus they were just on the cusp of reorganizing as I left, which means my title could have been just about anything at that point, I guess.

            Somewhere along the line, I stopped being much of anything other than a Graduate Student.  If you really want to know the number of jobs I do, I have a lot of them. I’m a part time swim coach, which mostly involves standing on the side of a pool and trying to get the one kid that doesn’t want to do the drill to actually do the drill. The 99% of other kids who just want to swim make it really worthwhile, to be honest with you. But if you asked me two years ago if I was going to be the “coach” of anything, I’d probably laugh while changing the show I was watching on Netflix. This was back before shows just automatically started. It was a dark time.

            I’m a private tutor as well. That part is really interesting, because I get to see a little bit of what life would have been like if I’d continued on the path of being a teacher, without all the extra paperwork. Also, I get to teach what I want, so when I assign my kids to watch a few episodes of Doctor Who to get a Thesis down correctly, then you’d better be sure they’re going to watch Doctor Who until they can memorize the episodes. Or at least the better ones. More Tom Baker and Peter Capaldi. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I’m still not really sure what was going on during Matt Smith’s reign as the Doctor.

            I also work at a University. The same one I’m going to, actually, advising students. I find that this is my favorite job of all of them, to be honest with you. Some one comes in with a problem, we talk, and I solve it. Or pass it on to someone who can, because, well, I’m not all knowing. I’m kind of like Lucy in the Peanuts with my little “Psychiatry – 5 cents” sign. Only they’re being charged WAY more than 5 cents for me to hang around. Also the last time I brought a beagle into work it did NOT go well.

            The truly amazing this is that I do even more that those jobs. I think I counted it out and I had six at last count, which I guess is pretty incredible. But the great news is I don’t really have to wear a tie, which is a major bonus. With the coaching one, I even get to wear flip flops, which is incredible thank you very much.

            My point for writing this? Well, to be honest with you, sometimes I write things that I want everyone to read. I want them to disseminate the information, and try to figure out what it is I’m thinking, and hopefully walk away with a better understanding of who I am, and who they are. But for today. I mentioned in my big “don’t call it a comeback I was never gone I was just resting my eyes” post that I needed a break. One of the reasons I needed a break was the fact that yes… I was working a lot of jobs. And the thing is this, it’s rough. I’m not going to lie. I go to sleep tired, and I don’t get much time for breaks. I don’t even really get much time for sick days.  

            But the thing is… I kind of love it. I love not having the exact same schedule. I love all of my co-workers. I love knowing that I’m making a difference. Plus, it cuts back on a lot of those bored times that you often have at work. Those late Friday afternoons or early Tuesday mornings when you’re having a meeting, or trying to fit in that sodoku puzzle in between checking Pintrest for healthy recipes you won’t actually make. It gives me a sense of purpose, so when I’m billing for those hours, I’m less likely to surf the internet or goof off. (Not that I don’t. I’m just LESS LIKELY to do it.)

            I just wanted to post something to remind myself that I do a lot. And that even though I'm tired, I love every minute of it. So, today's post is more for me, but thanks for reading.

            I wear it with pride. I am a Graduate Student. And I do a hell of a lot.

Monday, December 7, 2015

AKA We're Scared of Admitting We're A Superhero Television Show


            I love comic books. I’ve made that very clear in my many, many posts where I’ve stated something along the lines of “I love comic books.” I think the recent glut of comic book movies to be a good thing (although it’s not as much of a glut as people seem to think… more on that in another post. Maybe. In another day.) But you know the one thing that really got me excited about comic book movies and T.V. Shows?

            The Avengers.

            I mean the movie the Avengers. The bringing together of the biggest superhero names that starred in their recent adventures, having them all meeting up and fight in a movie, then go off on their own ways. Man, for all of Phase One, of what has become to be known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I loved this idea. I even talked about it in my review of Ant-Man, how Phase One embraced this, then managed to throw in little references, like Iron Man holding up a prototype Captain America Shield, Thor’s Hammer showing up to distract Agent Coulson, Tony Stark taking the time to recruit Thunderbolt Ross into the Avengers...

            Then Phase 2 got scared. James Gunn talking about how Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t going to work with the Avengers, going so far as to scrap planned Iron Man and Hulk Cameos. Someone saying “When are we going to talk about the Avengers” and getting waved off.  (One rumor was that they were afraid audiences would get confused as to why Thor wasn’t helping Iron Man out of his latest jam, as if they should all be hanging out in a clubhouse all the time.)
            Which brings me to the extension of the MCU, the Defenders.

            For those of you who don’t know, Netflix has decided to get into the Superhero game, taking on four of the lesser known (but still high ish profile) superheroes with the intent of bringing them into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. The idea being that these “street level” superheroes would eventually team up, taking on street crime in an Avenger-Like Fashion in a team called the Defenders. In the comics, the team was never really an official “team” like the X-Men or Justice League, but rather a random assembling of heroes who sprang into action.

            Netflix has already debuted Daredevil to some wonderful reviews, and I just finished up watching Jessica Jones, which also had some wonderful reviews. I have to agree, as a realistic television show that deals with superhumans, it’s probably one of the best television shows I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

            Unfortunately for a show set in the MCU, it’s terrible. It’s scary, even, as it’s one of the first signs that Marvel is starting to slowly abandoned their shared universe, the very thing that made them unique.

            The show is about a private investigator, named Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), with superpowers. The story as to why she received them isn’t really important, but one night while using her powers to save people, she’s discovered by a villain named Kilgrave (Played by former 10th Doctor David Tennant) who has the ability to control people into doing his will. He uses her powers as part of his criminal empire, and controls her into a relationship with him. What follows (and what the show is about) that is a strong allegory about survival, rape, and PTSD. Like I said, a heavy show, but a fantastic one. I highly recommend it for anyone that would like to watch a standalone television show that loosely follows the comic.

            The problem is the part where I say, “Loosely.”

The powers that be established JJ was going to take part in this larger MCU. That’s a lot how it was sold.  You know what they had the option to do? Not have her take part in this larger world. They could have easily made a stand alone TV show... DC comics is famous for separating out its Television and movie properties.  And had they kept her separate from the MCU, it would have been a lot stronger show. Marvel could have easily said. "Hey, we have our strong rape allegory… let’s go for it and blow some minds!” but instead, they sold this as part of the Street Level Defenders show.

I get Tony Stark, Captain America, or the Hulk not showing up - that was the POINT of Daredevil, the world that this show was supposed to share. There are bad guys that can rip apart mountains with their bare hands, and there are super powered heroes who are going to stop them, but there's always going to be that guy who steals a purse, or tries to rob a bank. Daredevil was a show that said, "hey.. I have superpowers... I'll help the little guy." This could have been an entry to further that idea, rather than Jessica Jones vs. A well known Daredevil villain, it could have shown how a severely damaged woman, one getting over her own demons having been raped, gained her footing to help the people that needed it. (it should be noted that in the comics, The Purple Man aka Kilgrave an't influence Jessica or Daredevil. In fact, it's his hatred for Daredevil that got him so riled up as to send Jessica off into the world to go kill him. Unfortunately he doesn't phrase things properly, and, let's just say Jessica can't defeat all of the Avengers at once.) Instead we got not just a cynical world, but one that openly rejected the idea that it was part of this larger world, or one that was even a superhero show.

              The show's desire to neglect the fact that it is a superhero show, much less one in a shared universe, is the most constantly frustrating thing about it. "Hey, I know a guy who can help wink wink"  says a nurse who appears in Daredevil says in one scene. But it's quickly waved away when they don't want to admit that the show dare stand alongside Daredevil.  Yes, this is supposed to be a show about Jessica Jones, one that needs to establish her. But they didn't allow a chance to draw a connection between the characters, to establish that Daredevil has powers (a major plot point in Luke and Jessica meeting) or that he was the vigilante that everyone was concerned about until the television show, Jessica Jones. It provides an odd disconnect that is jarring, having watched both shows.

            The problem is that this show actively hates the fact that it's a superhero show, and that's a problem.

             The show was a slew of missed opportunities to connect it to a larger world. Hey, how about Jessica getting a call about a vigilante roaming the streets. Hey, how about the words "Wilson Fisk" … you know that huge crime lord who's name was being whispered everywhere and then was suddenly exposed… being brought up. Daredevil didn't have to pop up every episode, but Jessica and Luke were so excited to find someone else like them that maybe - just maybe - the guy wearing the red suit running around the same 10 block radius deserved a mention. He didn't even have to show up in any episode, but the end of Daredevil made it appear as if he was watching over Hell's Kitchen… so why don't the people trying to stop the murdering rapist think to mention him? Even if it's to say, "We can't get him close to Kilgrave because we don't know what will happen?" What about the fact that several of the characters actually work in a law firm? Or that one of them was going to look for a defense attorney to protect her from the super-powered attack she suffered? "Hey look up Nelson and Murdock, they specialize in cases like this" one human being could have said. But they didn't. It was as if they went out of their way to keep from mention the "D" word. Even the Avengers get reduced to nicknames that display sheer disgust at the idea that they may actually exist. The problem is that the show's need to avoid mentioning or establishing that this character is out there hurts it.

To put it in perspective: Did you ever watch Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and it’s spinoff Angel? These were separate shows. They didn't spend a lot of time saying "Wow, Buffy would…" or "Wow, where's Angel." They death with heavy issues… growing up, rape, PTSD. But they acknowledged that they shared a world. There's an episode where Buffy dies in season 5. (Well… "dies" as much as anyone does on that show not named "Tara") during that time Angel was in another dimension. When he got back, he's talking with his buddies, opens a door, and Willow is sitting there. Fade to black before she says anything. Watch Buffy? Great you know why she was there. Don't watch Buffy? You don't know, but it took up literally one minute of the episode. Affects nothing for the casual viewer, adds something cool to remind everyone that it's a shared world. Particularly for a show that was concerned with justice, maybe two lawyers, one of whom with superpowers, could have walked behind someone in a scene. Or a reference to the law firm.

The reason Jessica Jones scares me as a continuation of Marvel's grand vision is it's blatant rejection of superheroes. What happened to her was tragic but the show took someone who was damaged then made her more damaged. The comic took someone who was happy, someone who was a hero. She wore that costume, fought crime, and could fly… and showed what that damage could do. She was raped by Kilgrave for MONTHS in the comic. Her will as a person was broken and her will as a hero was broken. A large section of her recovery was a realization that she didn’t know what was Kilgrave’s will and what was her will, and this scared it. It was a deep look into not just PTSD, but the deconstruction of a superhero. The show skips over that. She's already too cool for tights the second the show gives her superpowers. They openly mock the idea of Jessica becoming a superhero. Not just a superhero, that specific superhero that she was in the comic. The smiling, pink-haired woman who could fly. And this happened before Kilgrave set foot on the screen. The two friends are sitting around, drinking wine, and discussing superheroics. All this as the costume she would wear lays on the couch, being mocked, destroyed, disrespected.  It's not a problem that she doesn't want to fight crime in a suit. It is a problem that her character is rejected for the sake of creating one that is disgusted by the idea of being a hero. Part of the point of Jessica Jones is the shocking change in character after spending 8 months being raped. Not just 8 months of being raped, but by having her will broken down. It's supposed to send a more powerful message. But here's a character that was already pretty much the way she is when we first see her, even in flashback. It takes away from the core of the character. 

The fact is, deep allegories or not, this takes place in a world of superheroes. At the time that she was rejecting all of these things in the show, their was already a very public battle that involved costumed heroes – she could have joined them. But she didn’t have to. They didn’t have to establish a superheroic past, the show works without it. But the inclusion of this into the show is almost hateful to the source material. It’s saying “we’re better than this.” It’s mocking the very reason these shows exist. And as a fan of comic books, it kind of scares me. I’m not saying that superhero shows/comics can’t be dark. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that the removal of what made the character unique in the first place, you’re weakening the case for the character. They didn’t take a happy character and break her, then tell a story of redemption. They told a story where a deep, dark character was hurt, and then… what? Got darker? You remove the superhero aspect of the show. And this gets to a larger problem at the heart of every time a superhero tries to cover anything important: you can either have the colorful costumes, or you can have the serious discussion. If you have the serious discussion, it seems you have to mock the idea of being a superhero.

Maybe we’ll see more. There are still three more series to see before we get to the next show: Luke Cage (we probably won’t hear the phrase “Powerman” unless it’s ironic, I’m guessing). There’s Iron Fist, which is held up as it deals with more fantastical elements. And another season of Daredevil, which had it’s own issues of being afraid to acknowledge it’s legacy as a Superhero Show. and is currently filming with the addition of two other characters deeply entrenched in comic book lore.  But we’ll have to see. I certainly hope they aren't treated with the same disgust as Jessica Jones treats her comic book connections.

            Like I said, I don’t want to rain on how great Jessica Jones is as a standalone television series. It is fantastic. You should watch it. You should stop reading this and watch it now in fact. But it’s embarrassed to be one based on a superhero comic, and that oozes from the screen. And that part… that’s a little scary for the future of the MCU.