Review: Falcon and Winter Soldier

Heavy SPOILERS for the series

After the sublime wierdness that was WandaVision I had some mixed feelings about FnWS when it started, not that I thought it would be bad, but more just many questions about what the show would be like. Obviously it wasn’t going to be quite the head-spin and mega-twisty of the previous series, so what would FnWS be?

Then in the first scene of the show I was ultra worried: we saw Falcon zooming around off the border of Turkey engaged in physics defying battled with bouncy french dude (actual name) from Winter Soldier. And look don’t get me wrong, the action was fine the dialogue was snappy, all that, but really it just felt kinda flat, I was worried that the show was going to be a series of simliar scenes over some fairly inane something vaguely military something.

Pretty much as soon at that sequence was over the show took a sharp turn into a deep dive that I a. didn’t expect and b. was incredible happy with!

The first twist was that Sam/Falcon decides to place the shield in a museum rather than picking up the mantle of Captain America. His decision isn’t purely based on his own insecurities but his worries of being a Black Captain America. It’s pretty hilarious that pretend not-bigots were trying to get at the series for implying race issues from the first episode when the whole series was about this plot point.

This decision creates a series of tensions – Bucky is upset with the decision, ‘America’ appoints a brand new Captain and we see more of Sam’s personal life where we see his family struggling to maintain their family boat/business.

To be honest I could have watched a series based purely on those issues, but we also are given an overarching plot line of rebels with super-soldier serum (crap I hope I get this plot-point correct) who are fighting against the deportation/resettlement of people returned after the ‘Snap’ (I like the MCU’s attempt to delve into issues arising from the Snap/Blip but I did find it confusing, I think the issue is that following the return of people snapped there are any number of citizenship, ownership and much other issues and at the beginning of the show I believe the prevailing plan that the ‘flag-smashers’ are opposing is to place people returned into the equivalent of refugee camps)

The plot weaves in Wakanda, Baron Zemo, and Sharon Carter who have their own character arcs in response to the various events of the MCU and along with the rest of the fanbase I was oddly drawn and fascinated by the return of Zemo. Many thought that he would essentially be the big bad of the series, but instead he takes the role as a sort of anti-hero protagonist whose goals align with the heroes while his methods most assuredly do not.

What is particularly great about the series is rather than focussing on action pieces the story is effectively about different methods of achieving political goals. Very few of the characters are portrayed as completely evil, or completely flawless either. In fact much of the story is about Sam and Bucky healing rather than defeating the enemy (again which is why I like it so much).

The underlying thematic story of Isiah Bradley gives me goosebumps, its just so perfectly written to show both Sam and Isiah’s change and struggle!

There were a few flaws to the series – at times I think the fit between MCU shallow quippy action didn’t fit with the more complex story of the series (e.g. that first scene I mentioned) but I think in some respects that was almost intentional, showing that the world can’t be simplifed down to action sequences.

Some will also be disapointed in having very little Steve Rodgers resolution involvement – many fan theories were that the series would begin with a funeral for Steve and/or have some input. In fact other than discussion between characters about him there is very little about the previous Captain America. I didn’t really mind it fit with the story to not memorialize Steve, however I think some fans will be annoyed not to know exactly what and where Steve is at. Endgame actually left old-Steve’s fate ambiguous, did he continue on in the MCU timeline as an old dude, some have suggested he might have zipped back to his time-line to finish up his normal life there.

Ultimately my feelings about the MCU is that I am highly pleased that they apear to have utilized the format to tell stranger and deeper stories. I would have been super annoying to have formulaic and familar stories just told each week, both WandaVision and Falcon and Winter Soldier have challenged the MCU to broaden and better the stories and I confess now the question I’m wondering is will future movies have more to offer after enjoying the series so much?

What were your thoughts on FnWS?

Review/Reflection/Overanalysis Community

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR COMMUNITY ALL OVER THE SHOW

Series para ver en Netflix Latino: Community - Análisis ...

It took me a long span to work through this series – oddly not due to any problems or not liking the show or whatever, but just funny timing of its original broadcast / not having access to it / getting around to the final season on Netlix in the past few months.

In summary my viewing of the show went something like:

  1. saw the first two seasons and 1/2 season three when they first aired
  2. Somehow had access to them at some point in past 5 years (honestly can’t remember) and rewatched up to end of season 5
  3. Finally watched Season 6 a month or two ago.
  4. Promptly had to binge seasons 1-5 again to kind of re-fill in some of the gaps!

Why am I going on about this? Really just to justify my ramblings!

One of my observations about Community is it might be the perfect layered show. Its got depth to over-analyze, its still fun if you don’t, and really you can almost read into it as much as you want and have a reasonably good time!

I’m not saying the show is perfect, in some ways far from it, but I’ve enjoyed overthinking, overresearching and reviewing the series. For the rest of this post I’m going to dive into 3ish main points, my overall response to each of the seasons, Jeff’s character development and the whole Jeff and Annie thing – which it turns out is quite the discussion piece online (like wow some people have studied this subject)

Overall thoughts

Season One:

Season one of Community is a real blast to watch because it has a sense of the surreal if you’ve already watched the show before. It’s surprising how the show took its time to get into its stride, probably most notably that in the Pilot Jeff is wandering around in sweatpants which NEVER happens in the show again. Troy and Abed take a while to become inseperable and Britta is a lot more dynamic.

The thing that striked me most about Season One is that its much more of a Romcom than later seasons. Community was never particularly heavy on relationships, but its a pretty regular theme and the finale while not too typical is very much a romantic comedy finale. Strangely I actually liked this element, and I thought the writers did it well.

Season Two:

Almost immediately shifts the view away from romance – with Jeff being declared “Gross” and in an odd twist revealing a “friends with benefit” relationship with Britta which basically ends the second its revealed – the odd bit being that by playing the relationship this way it doesn’t have to be barely part of the story.

What also stands out straight away is a turn towards the fantastical and often dark ideas in Community Season two. Like everyone else that writes about it I use the term “grounded” in clear “” but generally Season One is fairly grounded, the story is very much about ridiculous antics of the group – whereas Season Two we start to get fantasical elements. The most notable in my memory is the Trampoline episode, but also Abed’s Uncontrolable Christmas. Something I love about Community is what in my opinion is a confusing but totally appropriate approach to fantasy. Technially speaking while many events are completely bizarre and crazy, nothing impossible actually happens except in character’s minds, however often the boundaries get pushed in ways that take a while to process.

Season Three.

Just in my opinion, Season three is possible the best “finale” for community as (more on this later) this was the last season before creator Dan Harmon was fired, and has a lot of character resolution, and in my opinion the absolutely craziest out there plotlines of them all. While there isn’t necessarily a natural end-point – all the characters are very much still studying etc, it does feel like a tidy moment where even Pierce has a bit of character development “booyah good person”

Season Four

There is any number of articles on this topic – not only was Season Four the only season not helmed by Dan Harmon, also the replacements did what is generally regarded as a terrible job creating Community. To be fair I think on rewatch its not completely devoid of quality, but the change is very obvious particularly in how some characters are handled and most obviously the crummy plotting (a little more on this with Jeff review)

Season Five

This season saw the return of Harmon, but also the loss of both Pierce and Troy as main charcters of the show. This is usually where you see more division in fans, many people are quite happy with the season, but others like myself feel that too much damage was done the previous season to properly repair. Although for me more specifically I think there is an obvious tonal shift towards darker more nihilistic development which I found a little depressing. There is a lot of emphasis on the character’s flaws but without happy resolutions.

Season Six

In my opinion Season Six is a bizarre experience. Carrying on the problems of 5 we lose another MC and again a couple of randoms. Similar to season five the plotlines seem much darker, a lot of the humour is harsh (community has always been pretty mean but usually with a bit of good-spirit, season 6 seems to lose that) I actually kind of liked the finale for reasons which I’ll discuss soon.

JEFF and Character

Community has a strange approach to character development – being much more sophistcaed than your usualy 20 minute commedy shows, while not always sign-posting or dramtically signposting change like a proper “Drama” also the show does not shy away from devolving a character for laughs and does have a fair share of static characters.

I find Jeff a really interesting character study because while I did just say I like the fluffier seasons 1-3 and Jeff’s relatively obvious growth from a jerk to a goody, the darker sadder changes in later seasons are also worth consideration.

To review Jeff’s character, in Season One he’s essentially a fraudulent lawyer who doesn’t think twice about lying to Britta to try and hook up, or trying to cheat to pass his courses. However throughout Seasons 1-3 we basically see gradual change towards accepting the study group, being unselfish and legitimately working hard.

Despite being a bit of a shambles Season four signposts a darker twist. At the end of Season Three we see Jeff look up his estranged father’s details and Season Four shows us their painful reunion. Unfortunately this plot isn’t well developed but unhappily we hear about Jeff’s ongoing problems with real connection with others, even through seasons 1-3 Jeff admits that he can still barely look his friends in the eye without insecurity.

Seasons 5-6 reveal a much darker and depressed Jeff, he puts himself into a delusional coma or something by drinking scotch and taking anti-aging pills, much of his ‘speeches’ are about accepting how crappy everything is. And essentialy the finale is about Jeff having to finally accet that his friends will move on, and he is (apparently) destined to teach at Greendale to rinse and repeat with whoever comes through. While its gloomy overall it is on oddly bittersweet charater arc for Jeff, bacially to have finally grown to connect with others, needing to accept those others moving on. While the series could have ended like a rom-com and more positive I do feel the impact of the finale is stronger.

THAT SAID.

I wouldn’t normally delve very deep into relationship dramas of a show, but others have and I want to as well.

Just to recap, much is made of the relationship between Jeff and Annie (or perhaps lack of) and there is an incredible amount of analysis out there – but first to summarize:

Basically while the original conceit of the show was Jeff trying to hook up with Britta but his fake study group hijacking the plans, by the end of Season One it looked like the story was leading to an actual but more genuine relationship, except that Jeff ended up kissing Annie.

From there is a not inconsiderable amount of material, toying with their attraction but nothing anything really happening. There are multiple moments throughout the show that seem to indicate that its not going to happen, only to have more moments revealing the opposite.

In the end he have a final convesation between the two where Jeff expresses his love, they share a kiss and Annie rides off into the sunest (well the airport but what evs) and Jeff returns to the remaining team at Greendale.

From there we seem to have three schools of thought and analysis, and my goodness there is analysis, people have watched these moments and tried to interpret body language to get answers.

School 1 says: basically what we see is what we get. Yes they love each other and kiss goodbye but that’s the end of that, damn you Dan Harmon for 6 seasons of teasing.

School 2 says: its a “goodbye for now” there are pretty clear indicators of openness to a potential future relationship, Annie says about Season 7 there are a lot of “Variables” while looking at Jeff and it sounds more like she is considering the practical variables in having a relationship in the future rather than the meta topic of Community Season 7

School 3 says: actually they hooked up after that event, and even though Annie does leave they’re either planning for him to go to her, or Annie to come back. The evidence for this is discussed in this link: https://mattaf30.medium.com/community-finale-was-the-jeff-and-annie-endgame-8cb1a8b51af5 but the very short summary is that they both seem happy and comfortable from the heart-to-heart which is interpretted as being they’ve started up the relationship rather than got closure on it.

Personally I’m completely open minded, Jeff does afterall fantasize about having a super-hot group of red-heads as a study group which kind of undermines the idea that he is now going to be with Annie, but over-analyzer bring up interesting points about their interactions going foward.

To be honest I’m just glad there are people out there willing to go this deep into stories that allow me to reflect on their smart observations.

Just as a final note, there is still chatter about a movie. I’m torn, while I’d defintely watch the heck out of it, I feel like there are just too many pitfalls to continuing the story, who knows though, maybe it will be everything we need in 2021.

Any other Community Fans out there? Tell me your thoughts!

Quick Reivew: Dota – Dragon’s Blood

Of all the adaptions about these days Dota could have been the most confusing, and yet somehow the creators have crafted something with standalone strength while still being satisfying to players (well at least this one)

For those unfamilar, Dota 2 is a MOBA, debatably one of the originals in fact. Its a style of game which doesn’t exactly lend itself to story plot (or does it?) basically ten players choose a character, and two teams of five duke it out until someones ancient is destroyed. The main source of story, if any, is from character’s brief lore which can range from undeniably dark to borderline comical, but usally just deals with their origin rather than any ongoing development.

But in a strange way this openness makes for good adaptation. Having so much of the plot open means its difficult to really annoy anyone with creative choices, and I suspect even if elements of Dragon’s Blood isn’t suitable people will be more comfortable with it just being an adaption.

Anywho – I was surprisingly satisfied with the series, I was a little put off at first with the tone which seemed light-hearted, although very quickly went bloody and dark. I also couldn’t help but be ‘that’ sort of viewer who sat there eagerly awaiting everything Dota character showing up but also being disapointed when they didn’t. A present ecosia Search reveales that there are 120 heroes in this game so I think keeping the cast to a handful in season 1 is sensible.

A (belated) review/reaction to X-File

Its strange to recall my own reactions to X-files. It actually debuted ‘before my time’ so I actually have little to no memeory of seeing the series originally – the weird thing is though, the show was so popular that it was everywhere, song lyrics references the lot.

X-Files Stagione 10: First look - Film 4 Life - Curiosi di ...

Also in hindsight its hard to overstate the influence X-files had on television. I’m not saying that the series invented these tropes and concepts but it very much contributed to popularizing them- things like sceptic/believer duos with romantic chemistry – monster-of-the-week versus mythology season formulas.

So even though the modern take on X-Files may be more jaded or controversial its certainly a television series worth knowing!

Anywho I first properly dove into the series in the late 00s in the hope of finally putting the overarching story to rest (LOL oh dear)!

SPOILERS AHEAD

As if anyone is unaware the mythology of the X-Files is considerably convoluted and complex which in itself isn’t a big problem however in my opinion its eventually downfalls make for quite strange picking from a story telling perspective.

You see, the original premise of X-Files is that since believing his sister was abducted by aliens in their childhood Mulder has been on a mission to find The Truth(TM). For the most part the plotlines of the early X-Files series are an interesting escalation of revealing Alien and human plots with Mulder and Scully getting increasingly involved and revealing more and more elements of the various schemes.

This is where I think the wheels start to wobble, X-Files has a hind of cosmic horror / HP Lovecraft element where the duo are often in the position of hapless mortals facing off against vast conspiracies and alien forces of unknown power. Quite often simply attempting to expose the truth and stay alive is all they can do. And this becomes a challenge for escalating the plot – there was a point during the original series where I started to wonder where on Earth the story could end up, as it seemed implausible that the pair would be able to do anything to prevent a powerful alien race taking over the Earth – Indepedence Day this series was not.

‘luckily’ something much more annoying happened. Towards the end of the original series run David Duchovony wanted to move on from the series and had a much limited part of Season 8, and was only in the finale of season 9. While this didn’t reset the mythology exactly it did prompt a sort of soft reboot of the series leading to a fizzling out of the plot rather than a determined conclusion. We were however promised an alien invastion in 2012…

Then for some reason a movie was released in 2008 bringing back the original duo. I still don’t understand the point of this movie, after an unresolved series finale why realease a random story??

Anyway the point of all this is come the end of X-Files I think many felt generally disappointed in the lack of finality with the whole thing.

woo boy SPOILERS AHEAD

Bring on the Revival Series. Basically X-Files came back. I for one was pretty excited, but didn’t get the chance to watch until the series Disney Star came out.

So watching them has been odd so say the least.

Contrary to many opinions I actually liked Season 10. There was a relatively massive retcon of the Alien plot basically completely revamping it to humans did everything with access to alien technology, the aliens themselves gave up on Earth. Now normally such a tweak to mythology of a series would be totally anathema to any credibility but hear me out – they needed a reasonable amount of explanation for why the Alien’s plan had been on hold all this time and probably needed a plot that better fitted the 2016-2018 era as well.

That said a lot in the series was a little clunky. It was implied but unclear just what had happend to the pair in the intervening time. Mulder it seems had become depressed, because his life’s work has become meaningless, Scully’s progress is even more unclear, she seems to have returned to being a sceptic. It’s confusing though because by the time the series ended there was no doubt for either of them that Aliens existed even if their schemes were unfathomable.

But in a strange way I didn’t mind the confusion because it sort of worked with a long period between stories. It makes sense that if Mulder lived reclusively for 15 years without any progress or encounters that he would begin to doubt everything. Similar if Scully had been working as a Doctor for the same time she may have started to doubt too.

What I found particularly poignant is the focus on their adopted out child William. There was a particularly somber episode where both Mulder and Scully daydream about life with their son that could have been. It was a sadder and more reflective take on the X-File than before.

People didn’t like the season finale – but I did (at the time) things really seemed to have escalated again and the world was in danger (pandemic whoops). Things were happening!

Cue the naughtiest technique in storytelling…

In the beginning of Season 11 we discover that the previous episode was simply a vision from Scully. The most annoying part being that a hilarious pair of baby Mulder and Scully agents introduced that season did not return. Season 11 is credited with some good standalone episodes but generally the mythology is panned completely – and its hard not to agree.

After years of conspiracy, threat of invasion, mystery after mystery we get yet another cliffhanger…

Although not really a cliffhanger per se.

Basically in a desperate search for their son, either Mulder or William slaughter the remaining conspiracy masterminds including the Cigarette Smoking Man (although he has come back to life several times) however believing William dead we are graced to a speach about he wasn’t really their son after all. But here we go:

Scully is pregnant.

(also William isn’t dead but w/e)

After the grandiose build-up of the series and the intense finale of Season 10, its not really fitting or interesting to fizzle out in such a way. In some respects I could understand a switch in perspective from a massive global conspiracy to a more human situation between our favourite agents and their child. But the season 11 ending literally felt like the team had run out of money or something. As a resolution, the assumption is with the mass slaughter that most of the conspiracies are now ended but it certainly doesn’t feel like anything is won.

It always sad to see a television series go out with a fizzle – however I think by 2021 the general collective is used to it. Between the Losts, and Game of Thrones, Dexters and others its seems that brilliant TV series endings are a rare thing indeed.

Has anyone else seen the recent X-File series – or fans of the older stuff? Thoughts??

WandaVison: A Review

Where to start?

New Theory Suggests Scarlet Witch Will Be The MCU's Next Big Bad Villain

SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

WandaVision is the first of the MCUs ambitious new TV Series. I know that technically Agents of Shield are part of the MCU and the ‘street level’ series (Daredevil etc) are ‘Marvel’ (AFAIK not technically in the MCU?? I could be corrected though)..

But WandaVision is the first series produced explicitly not merely tied into the MCU, but explicitly starring movie characters and continuing on storylines of the Movies.

Its worth taking a moment to consider just how mad this really is. It’s no new thing to have lengthy movie sequels and/or television series explanding on a franchise however in my experience these are typically diminishing returns money grabs with little craft in the link between materials (e.g. Transformers) or somewhat sloppy (e.g. X-men). The fact that the MCU can produce in excess of 20 movies that are set within a single ‘universe’ develop multiple characters and have a satisfying overall story arc and THEN produce multiple TV series of different genres that do the same is pretty wild.

Anyway, gushing over, its worth touching on how WandaVision sits within all of this. At one potenital ‘flaw’ WandaVision probably is one of the few MCU properties that I believe relies on prior watching – some might call me crazy for this assertion, but I belive one of the strengths of the MCU that despite all the clever cross-plotting each movie was crafted correctly to be enjoyable in its own right, obviously EndGame kinda requires at least Infinity War to inform it, but you don’t absolutley have to know prior movies to understand most MCU movies.

For multiple reasons, both factual and emotional WandaVision is best view after seeing the MCU movies with the both of them (Age of Ultron, Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame). The first issue is that WandaVision’s mysterious and quirky premise does rely on you having the momentum of knowing the characters and situation to enjoy and work through the plot (I honestly can’t fanthom how a naive viewer would manage WandaVision). Following on from this much of the emotions of the show rely on you having some connections to the characters, don’t get me wrong its brilliantly acted and portrayed but its a hard sell that Wanda loves a synthoid without having experienced the backstory.

All that covered I do find it incredibly interesting and hilarious that Disney chose to lead with this series. Its a crazy gamble (that appears to be paying off). For the unusual individual who is reading this reivew without already seeing the series, the quirky premise of Wanda and Vision living through decades of sitcoms while we try and work out what the heck is going on is truly unique.

I have to admit at first I was unsure if I liked the series. The sitcom shows were a little funny, but didn’t seem enough to sustain the show, but the writers perfectly incorporated ‘real life’ intruding into the shows to explain the situation. What the writers did an amazing job of, is balancing the mystery, silly fun and reveals. They didn’t overdo the mysteries, they didn’t reveal them that quickly, and they balanced the different aspects of the show.

It does make it hard to explain what sort of series it is, part comedy/satire part horror part action. (SPOILERS AGAIN) Ultimately its a superpower origin story for Wanda that creates a much more morally ambiguous story than ever seen before in the MCU (sure MCU movies dived briefly into moral territory but was still basically good guys versus bad guys 99% of the time).

So in conclusion WandaVision is a strange hybrid of a series, which combines and extremely emotional core for Wanda and Vision, still has any number of easter eggs and teasers for future series and movies but somehow still experiments with the style to ridiculous lengths. By rights this series could have been a huge flop, trying to incorporate sitcom satire, magic, and the relationship between a witch and a synothoid – instead its potentialy the most popular TV series since streaming began.

If anything is in doubt its a huge win for the MCU and upcoming series, I am hugely interested to see what is done with the rest of the upcoming series and future MCU movies.

What were your thoughts on WandaVision?

On Writing: Responding to those Negative Voices

We all have our doubts, about all things. But I’ve noticed writing, or rather writers sometimes seem to get them extra bad. Something perhaps about the fact their words will be on display without any buffer, or that of any artform I feel writing requires so much lonely commitment to even get considered for public consumption we have alltogether too much space to be overcome with insecurity.

I’m not claiming any sort of cure-all or really particularly whatever advice, I’m just going to share some of my worrisome thoughts and what counter-arguments I use against them:

You’re never going to be a big seller like Harry Potter, you’re not even going to get published!

When this sort of thinking invades I remind myself:

  • Publishing and success is largely out of my control, the only thing under my control is effort and perserverence. I might not find success but I can work hard and do my best
  • Success is a secondary goal to being of benefit or service to others. Rather than trying to be a successful writer I try to be a generous writer

A novel is super complex and requires lots of interlocking elements, its all too much. Even if I finish a novel there will be so much editing to do

  • I remind myself that no matter how complex the task, it will be completed in (relatively) brief small steps, steps that don’t have to encompass all the elements that will be present in the finished product

This story isn’t as cool as XXX or as intricate as YYYY, my writing is going to come across ZZZZ instead of what I want

  • Remember I want to be of service to others. My writing might not come out the way I originally wanted but I can craft it into something useful if I accept what I do produce

I don’t have anything meaningful to say

  • Just say something anything.

There is nothing new under the sun, OR so-and-so has just written a story or that TV show has just done that better than I could

  • I try and remind myself that this is evidence that people want stories about that. Writing isn’t a race, I’m not trying to ‘win’ I’m trying to create.

Not to skite (I guess It’s hardly a flex really) but 2021 has at least been a year where I’ve stuck to my writing goals and kept up a consistent word-count each day. It certainly is the best way to maintain progress and most of the success writer friends I know claim ‘writing everyday’ is the key element.

So I guess I’m feeling fairly on top of the procastination and negativiety right this second!

How about you guys – what evil voices do you ecounter against your writing. What do you do to counter them?

The Old Guard: A Case Study

So I watched Netflix’s The Old Guard the other day.

Netflix's The Old Guard Review: A Soap Opera Level B ...

And before I say anything else I’d like to highlight that I actually think it was a good film, mostly great acting, cool action and some elements played really well.

But I couldn’t help but find that underneath the movie was a bit of a case study in poor writing, the story had a number of quite striking flaws which could be useful to explore to hone one’s own craft. So without further muck about SPOILERS ahead for The Old Guard and a summary of what kinda went wrong.

In the beginning of the film we’re introduced to “Andy”. Andy’s initial character development is that she has been “out” for over a year and her allies ask her to come along for another job. Andy reluctantly agrees and we find out she is jaded because she doesn’t think their work is making the world a better place.

As a start its not a bad conceit, we’re also introdued to Copley who quickly betrays the old guard in brutal fashion (luring them with a rescue mission which is fact leads them to an underground bunker where they are shot to death in order to video them ‘healing’) The inciting incident works because it plays into Andy’s jaded attitude, proving they are indeed not helping and in fact in danger of discovery and capture.

For Andy the plot almost continues as something that works – we find out that Copley was hired by a pharmacuetical CEO who wants to research the immortals. Despite the fact the CEO is the most ridiculous 2d villain I’ve seen for a while the idea still holds because it throws an unusual spanner at the plot because it presents a question of whether a group of immortals would do better fighting to make a better world or allowing science to take over.

Here’s where the problems are though: Firstly that central question isn’t posed to Andy. Really the villain could be anyone who wants to capture and mistreat them (and let’s face it there are any number of reasons that someone might want to do that to a group of immortal adversaries right). So for our main character there isn’t really any central question or decision, they don’t want to get captured and vivisected so they are going to fight…

The character that question is given to is Copley, in possibly the most clumsy turn around I’ve ever seen, Copley who is introduced as betraying the immortals, then immediately turns around and starts questioning the obviously psychopathic villain on whether they are doing this to help people or make money. Which leads to an even more contrived push where Copley has in fact been “crazy-boarding” Andy’s movements the last 150 years and proven what a force for good she is.

In case that’s a bit blurry, basically we have a character who has studied the MC and found they are immeasurably good for the human race, but due to losing his wife to illness agrees to capture the immortals for an obviously evil character in the vague hope that the medical advances will be better than the actual good being done. The story sort of presents his evil actions as a mistake, but kind of missteps in basically introducing the character not only making that mistake, but bear in mind quite cruelly executing the immortals to video their immortality. The character was not shown to attempt to negotiate or more harmlessly capture them, or in fact show much concern that if these guys weren’t immortal he literally just tricked and murdered four people who were rumoured immortal.

Unusually we’re faced with a problem of a character not being good or bad enough, instead we either have a comically idiotic good-guy who is unable to perceive the villain is bad OR that his own actions don’t fit with the good he’s trying to do.

But the real beef with Copley versus Andy is the fact that the character development that should be Andy’s is outsourced to Copley. As mentioned Andy is jaded and wonders if their work does the world any good. By finding out that Copley has been historically stalking her for a couple of centuries we are provided with the evidence that in fact they are good. But this is essentially the opposite of every storytelling experts advice in character development. If our MC has a problem they need to take part in a plot that tests them and resolves that problem one way or the other (or gets all post-modern and leaves the problem intentionally unresolved). The point being that the plot as is renders the story uncessary, or rather literally being Andy worries that their work doesn’t help the world as some point during an adventure she discovers that someone has done their research and discovered that you are helping.

I think my frustation is that this could have been manipualted to be both more tense, controversial and interesting. Imagine if Copley proposed to a jaded Andy that she submit herself to research. This then puts Andy in the position of questioning whether medical advances would be more beneficial to the world than her fighting prowess. Rather than just being a series of gunfights with hired goons, the story could revolve around how Andy would make that decision.

Anywho that part really bugged me, but here was a lot more. For example after being betrayed by Copley we are suddenly introduced to a new immortal. Andy goes to collect her, engage in multiple bloody fights before convincing Nile to stay with them. This plot element reminded me a little of the first Hellboy movie, where a naive agent was introduced to the plot to essentially act as the audience member getting introduced to the paranormal – when really we all only cared about Hellboy and didn’t need the normie lens. The intro of Nile doesn’t really fit with any of the rest of the story, but only to provide much excuse for exposition and to have a newbie to really save the day later.

The cringe is really that again this could have tied so much better into the plot, as in a new recruit could really test Andy’s philosophy on whether they are a force for good or not. A naive character would make the perfect judge.

But no instead we essentially get ‘excuse’ storytelling (where really the plot is just the excuses for the wanton violence) I mean they even have one immortal reveal they betrayed the rest because they though the research would reveal a way for them to suicide intentionally, a rather intense and major character point which is barely explored at all beyond the the other’s rebuke for the betrayal, but never at any point to the characters really consider whether research could actually be of benefit (not it can’t because the villian is too evil)

Perhaps I better add again that there were plenty of things that were pretty good about this movie. I think they made a lot of effort to make elements of the characters immortality believable, they all had eccentric quirks and tics around their long lives and were also language experts which fits. That said at times I think the creators tried a little too hard referencing history constantly as we might forget they are immortal.

The reason I’ve felt the need to dissect The Old Guard a little more than most movies is that I think the writing and plotting is a sort of near miss, which highlights what is “good” writing and character development more than your typical bad film or book.

I don’t know if this has been useful for anyone else but I enjoyed it!

On Writing: Some lessons from The Mandolorian

I’m going to have to be honest and say I was pretty late to The Mandalorian party, but I am pretty glad that I used my TV time to binge the 2 seasons this Christmas!

The Mandalorian Poster

Rather than do a review per se, I thought I might try to steal some writely tips from the series which I think exemplify why this is a good series:

A Failable Character

Something which I think was inspirsed by Netflix’s Daredevil (I have to admit I expected DD to have some out further ago, but then 5 years is a long time I suppose) is the the titular MC of this series, while still being a total badass is plenty failable. Many of the action and fight sequences include doses of Mando failing at things, having plans go arwy and generally actually being exhausted by some of the trails he faces. That’s not to say that Mando doesn’t pull anything off with ease, has plot armour (well literally has cool armour) and had moments of completel mastery but often he finds himself outmatched and needs to rely on allies or different choices to win.

Side-cast

While I find the ensemble method of many Sci-Fi stories a bit cliche (e.g. having a cadre of allies to call on for significant episodes – but then how else can such a setting have minor characters) the enjoyable thing about Mandolorian is that the other characters were fleshed out enough to create some tension. Some side-characters were completely loyal, while others were dubious at best, but all had parts to play which made for good storytelling.

Knowing when to Close

I read somewhere that TV series have natural life-spans. Shows like Lost and GoT kind of wore out their welcome but having unresolved issues for such long spans, and what the creators of Mandalorian seem to realize is that no amount of popularity means that the same plot arc will keep people focussed over the long term, ergo don’t worry about watching this show that plot threads are going to be left untangled.

In summary The Mandalorian is a good show!

What are your guys thougthts on it?

On Writing: Thoughts on the “Hero’s Journey” or Monomyth

I’m currently watching Netflix’s Myths and Monsters, and quite enjoying the first episode which dives into Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

Monomyth

For those of you who’ve managed to avoid mention of this theory, its a hugely influential and popular literary theory that most myths and stories follow a particular pattern of character and plot – shown above.

It’s an intensely controversial theory, that on the one hand provides structure and insight into story telling, but on the other hand can be seen as a sort of Barnum Statement or Zodiac type structure (e.g. the reason that the monomyth applies is because its vague or flexible enough to apply to any story rather than genuinely being the basis of stories).

Personally my thoughts are somewhere in the middle. There are certain tautologies when it comes to storytelling that would be pretty ridiculous to oppose, for example its rarely works in a story to not have an MC learning and changing throughout and simply returning to the status quo (I believe there are some such stories out there but not many). But I’m not sure if this gives credence to the Monomyth or is just as useful as stating that time moves forward.

On the other hand the elements and stages of the Myth do capture something about human nature or psychology, and change and adventure. For example the role and position of mentors doesn’t seem rudimentary, the theory captures ideas and the position of mentor archetypes more specially than just generalities.

So in my humble opinion these are some of the strengths of the stages of the Monomyth:

Status Quo

It seems really obvious but I think something that often goes amiss in writing is failing to create a status quo. The status quo or normal setting is vital in a strong story because it creates context for everything that happens throughout AND the ultimate effects of the climax of the story. Lord of the Rings is a prime example, the Status Quo is the lazy peace of the Shire and the whole story is made all the more powerful to be contrasted with that. Harry Potter’s status quo is a little odd, as Privet Drive holds almost no direct relevance to the wizarding world, but is incredibly important for the character throughout.

Known/Unknown

This is a tricky and powerful element of the Hero’s Journey, as it can refer directly to a character literally travelling somewhere unknown, but equally to unknown territory emotionally, or figuratively. It may be a character doing something different, or interacting with someone new. This is the flipside of the status quo and by establishing the latter you create and enhance the former. Often when the tension of stories fall flat its because there was never any normality to begin with so its not interesting to dive into anything abnormal.

Death/Rebirth and Attonement

In my opinion this is where things get a little hazy and perhaps too metaphoric. In some respects change always contains some element of death in the sense of leaving behind old selves for new, but I think part of the magic of stories is the potential for more variability in the journey. In some respects the decision of an author/story telling with what the ultimate test is in the story defines the journey. For example many tales are more affirmations rather than changes – take a wide variety of superhero stories (maybe more traditional ones as modern stories perhaps have more pressure to show their characters change!).

My point is that the Monomyth is wrong just that I’m not sure exactly how the step fits with stories, does death/rebirth only really count for mythological hero stories or is their room for modification?

Unfortunately I don’t really have a grand overarching conclusion, just some rambling to get back into the blogging!

What are your thoughts on the Hero’s Journey?

Are you keeping well in the final few weeks of 2020?