Believe it or not, it’s an actual ‘step forward’ that Black Panther, with a largely black cast, a black director and black screenwriter, has been a proper financial success at the box office (it’s made all its money back in its first weekend on release). If only Halle Berry in 2004’s Catwoman could have achieved something like that! Okay, there’s a disconcerting moment in Black Panther when the white creator (Stan Lee) has a cameo and says something like ‘I’ll take the money and keep it over here’, but this movie is an overdue Hollywood celebration of black talent in popularist, superhero, big-budget movies. It has to be Marvel’s most ‘woke’ movie to date.
Other than Stan’s cameo, there are only really two white supporting actors in the film – the wonderful Andy Serkis as the baddie and the inevitable Martin Freeman as the goodie CIA guy. In truth, we don’t really need Freeman at all, but I guess we need to show that white people aren’t always that bad, don’t we? There are numerous female roles with well-rounded characters and plenty of attitude and dialogue (the film nearly passes the Bechdel test, of all things!), albeit that they ultimately serve kings and male tribal leaders. The ‘vision’ of the advanced society of Wakanda is an impressive and sometimes persuasive one (thanks to stunning visuals), prompting us to wonder how different the world might be today if African nations had not been plundered of their wealth by colonialist powers. There are provocative and compelling statements about the power politics of our world today (the film’s final line from the Austrian Prime Minister is a killer) and there is entertaining humour in abundance.
In fact, Black Panther’s positive, self-aware, smart and generous tone throughout means that it’s almost impossible to dislike it as a movie. It also means we tend to forgive it for its shortcomings. No movie is perfect, of course, but with Black Panther it feels wrong or mean-spirited to dwell overly long on the plot being a bit incidental (repetitive and symbolically inconsistent too), on the surprisingly thin characterisation of the Panther himself (meaning it’s hard to care about him too much in his fight scenes), on the fairly routine fight scenes or on some pretty clumsy/cliched depictions of ‘Africa’. At the end of the day, a movie that gives me armoured rhinos, car surfing, kickass female warriors and laugh-out-loud jokes aplenty is always going to be recommended by this movie-goer.
Black Panther is definitely recommended. It’s some sort of cultural moment that it isn’t easy to quantify. Certainly, it has a particular resonance in this Trumpian era. Go see it. Be a part of it.
The running time of the Blade Runner 2049 movie is 2hrs37mins. Arguably, it’s a daunting commitment for any potential viewer. You might go thinking: ‘Ah, that means the tempo’s slow and it’s overly-long or self-indulgent.’ Rest assured, however, that when you are occupied watching awe-inspiring visuals and listening to an intriguing soundscape, you simply don’t notice the time passing. And there’s a decent detective story with tantalising clues, a multi-layered plot and exciting conflicts thrown in as well. This film truly has the lot.
The director is Denis Villeneuve, who also made the award-winning SF flick Arrival. He recaptures the vision of the future we see in the original Blade Runner and then builds upon it, with fine world-building (enough for a third movie, without doubt) and his own original ideas. He is also a skilled, light-touch story-teller. There is nothing clumsy or clunky in Blade Runner 2049. It is all subtlety, allusion and some playful confusion. Such an approach would make for a frustrating watch with certain directors, but Villeneuve makes sure to deliver on revelations and to resolve every aspect of what is going on. It’s masterfully done.
The story? Well, the cyborgs/androids of the first movie have been replaced by a new series of much-more-obedient AIs. These AIs each has an artificial ‘childhood memory’ implanted into them so that they can react in a more human way to day-to-day life, and so that they can react with a certain personality. We follow one AI detective (played skillfully by Ryan Gosling) who comes to suspect that his memory is real and holds clues to the mystery with which he has been tasked by his boss (the ever-wonderful Robin Wright). Chuck in an evil tech corporation (with a sick boss and terrifying henchwoman) and we have everything we need for a dark and glorious tale. And it’s no secret that Harrison Ford is in the movie: he’s not wasted either; his ‘own’ story is really moved on by 2049… In fact, 2049 sorts out all the plot holes of the original film, which I would never have thought possible.
And here’s the kicker. I was never the biggest fan of the original Blade Runner, either when I saw it as a 15yrold at the cinema, or as a 40-year-old who assumed that all the ‘fuss’ about this ‘cult’ movie meant his youthful self must have missed something. I just thought of the original as a fairly predictable, clumsy and derivative SF flop (it wasn’t any Star Wars!). Yet Blade Runner 2049 has stood everything on its head. It’s almost as if my childhood memory is an artificial one, one that had been implanted to give me character. It’s as if my program has now been rewritten and I am born again. And that’s my last point about the movie: it has an eerie familiarity to it that makes it truly prescient and uncanny. It is a vision of what is most assuredly going to happen to our species. It has the power of prophecy. And so… I can only score this movie 10 out of 10 (a first for me).
Soooo… I’m happy to say I’ve just signed a contract with Luna Press to write a book called ‘The Satanic in Science Fiction and Fantasy’. It’ll be released in early 2019, all being well. The blurb for the book is as follows:
“As long as literature has existed, so has the motif of ‘the dark lord’. However, it was not until the emergence of fantasy and science fiction as distinct literary genres that the dark lord truly became enshrined in popular works. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to Tolkien’s Sauron, to Donaldson’s Lord Foul, to Lucas’s Darth Vader, the dark lord was ever present in SFF. Sometimes he was a mad god, evil emperor or evil corporation, but always there was that malign intelligence seeking to thwart the goody-goody Chosen One of the 1980s and 90s. And he had servants in the form of demon armies, alien invaders or intelligent machines, seeking to drag the unwary into the underworld, to conquer us or to make humanity entirely extinct.
Come the new millennium, and the emergence of sub-genres like ‘grimdark fantasy’ and ‘dystopian YA’, we tend to see everything in shades of grey far more. We still have invading hordes, be they zombies or Dothraki, but they are mindless disease-carriers and immigrants-with-a-cause rather than out-and-out followers of Satan. Our sense of evil has perhaps changed. We seem to understand that ‘evil’ is really a matter of perspective. And what has become of ‘the dark lord’ himself? Well, he is now the star of tv series such as ‘Lucifer’ or ‘Dracula’. Has he actually changed from anti-hero into hero? Has he won in some way? Or do we now recognise ourselves in him? Were we really fighting against ourselves all along?
This book considers the early literary origins of the character of Satan and his embodiment within SFF, in order to show how our idea of evil has changed over time, to identify how SFF has shifted since its early days, to suggest the trends which are yet to emerge and, perhaps, to help us better understand ourselves.”
You can see more on the Luna Press site: https://www.lunapresspublishing.com/single-post/2018/02/01/A-J-Dalton-On-His-Latest-Project-for-Academia-Lunare
Fans of Keanu Reeves and the first John Wick movie will enjoy this sequel. In the first movie, John (a Russian hitman known as the Boogeyman) takes on the Russian mafia and kills the lot of them singlehandedly (no, that’s not a spoiler). The premise for doing so is that they killed his dog and stole his car. Strangely, that premise made the first movie so emotionally compelling that most viewers could ignore the movie’s minor shortcomings (apparently, it was something of a surprise commercial success).
In the second movie, Keanu takes on the Italian mafia and kills the lot of them singlehandedly (come on, that really isn’t a spoiler). His premise for doing so is that they blew up his house. Hmm. Not quite as compelling a reason as the first movie – indeed, this second chapter lacks the ‘heart’ of the first chapter. But you know what you’ve signed up to when you’re watching a sequel. This second movie is a visual and stylish delight (like the first), with very Matrix-like retro-phones and steampunk touches in the Edwardian hotels, etc. And then Laurence Fishburne turns up (aka Morpheus in the Matrix), making the referencing, vibe and styling complete. Yet it seems so much style over content. The fighting style (‘Gun Fu’) is fascinating to watch, but when the body count gets near the two hundred mark it really is more than a tad repetitive. And Keanu himself looks great – but is still as wooden an actor as ever he was.
This second chapter DOES move the franchise on, however, with some decent world-building, an interesting use of homeless people, a homocidal deaf girl, several cryptic references to ‘the high table’, increased use of the Boogeyman mythos and the effective use of social paranoia. It is worth the watch for fans of the series. And good news: The Third Chapter is due out in 2019. Hurrah!
Quite unexpectedly, The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature has just been listed for the BSFA award, in the non-fiction category. Maybe I will now become rich and famous!
Marvel’s new series on Netflix has an 18 certificate, and with good reason. There is plenty of brutal violence in The Punisher, violence that is occasionally gratuitous and stretches credibility. For all that, it is a compelling watch and actually has… heart (a bloody and eratically beating one, but one that just about keeps going) . You see, the writers have made it all character-driven and there are no throw-away characters. Each protagonist and antagonist has a moral dilemma and a rationale for how they behave. We pity Frank Castle (the war vet whose family have been murdered) as much as we root for him as he seeks a vigilante’s vengeance. There are bigger themes explored too, including how far two human beings should risk trusting each other, how society uncaringly uses people, how lying can protect others, and so on. All in all, then, it’s well worth the viewer’s time.
It isn’t perfect, of course. In addition to the graphic and voyeuristic violence (no, it isn’t doing something clever with this), the plot tempo suffers in individual episodes and there is a lot of annoying repetition (presumably to remind dumber viewers of what’s going on). Yet such things are entirely forgivable when there are genuinely moving scenes, neat plot twists and great acting from Jon Bernthal in the lead (you might know him as the Deputy Sheriff in The Walking Dead), from Ebon Moss-Bachrach (a humorous techno-geek side-kick who keeps Frank Castle in touch with his humanity) and from Ben Barnes as the baddie.
Those who are coming to The Punisher just because they’re Marvel fans won’t be disappointed either. There is crossover with Daredevil via the Karen Page character and with Luke Cage via The Turk (a fave petty criminal of mine). Certain plot moments figure significantly in the Daredevil series, but they are told from a different perspective in The Punisher series.
The ‘mood’ of The Punisher series is far closer to the gritty and realistic Jessica Jones series than it is to anything like the hammy/cheesy Iron Fist or The Defenders. (That’s a good thing, believe me.) And the plotting is far, far better than in Luke Cage. And the issues explored are smarter than in Daredevil. So… The Punisher is a definite step forward in many ways. Check it out.
So, in the Netflix movie Bright, we follow a human cop (Will Smith) who is partnered with an orc cop. Orcs are generally despised, and the film starts out as some sort of allegory concerning modern race relations. Then everything swerves off into a thriller movie about corrupt cops wanting magic for themselves. They all die and then the movie becomes a chase action movie of sorts. You see, there are renegade elves who have a magic wand with which they could have raised the Dark Lord (who died two thousand years ago), but didn’t because the wand was stolen by another elf. The wand and pretty elf then have to be protected by Will and the orc. Will, fortunately enough, turns out to be the Chosen One of prophecy (NOT actually a spoiler because we are told at the beginning by a crazy naked man that Will is blessed) and pretty much the only human capable of wielding the wand. The pretty elf can also use the wand, but only knows one or two magic words, so is therefore limited. Happily, Will doesn’t need to know any magic words to use the wand, so uses the wand to kill the evil elf who wants the wand to raise the Dark Lord, but didn’t choose to when she’d had the wand before. What a brilliant plot! Utterly superb. A work of genius. Such clever twists. No cliches at all. Not a waste of Will Smith (who does his very best) or Noomi Rapace (the evil elf who gets about five lines in the whole film).
Sheesh. What a load of old toss. It’s even worse than the derivative book called Elven Sacrifice that I wrote when I was 14. Bright’s plot doesn’t even have a basic logic. The whole thing is bogged down with exposition, exposition that actually undoes any basic logic or continuity (the Dark Lord was defeated by a human army two thousand years ago? but that means we’re not in the real world? why then attempt to set it in our real world?) There is no characterisation to speak of, except for Will and his partner. The wand is a terrible ‘mcguffin’, which Will uses and then ‘drops’ and forgets about at the end. Kill me now. Has fantasy really come to this? Netflix, what have you done? After all your fine work with Star Trek Discovery, Mindhunter and The Good Place! Argh. Want my advice? Go watch the old sci-fi TV series Alien Nation. Far, far better.