Author Archives: Chris

Wonder Woman (2017)

I finally saw Wonder Woman on Father’s Day. Which I suppose is a little weird[1]? But we hadn’t seen it yet, and my dad was down (even though he had seen it, which is its own kind of cool), so, like that. I cannot decide if it fulfills its hype. I mean, obviously it’s very good. It’s better, probably, than its current series of DC movies deserves for it to be.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.

But like, is it uniquely good? It’s on track to have the biggest box office of the summer[2]. And it’s the first superhero movie with a female lead. Those are both big deals, although obviously the latter is the bigger. Anyway, there are these immortal Amazon women, sworn to defend mankind from the depredations of the god of war. And once they learn of a new war outside their realm, Diana goes forth to fulfill that destiny. Or, I think more accurately, she goes forth to decide whether mankind deserves her intended defense. Also, there’s a lot of cool comic book action in which a person who will one day probably be called Wonder Woman kicks some serious ass.

Is that a thing we’ve never seen before? A hero, on her journey to greatness? In a way, obviously we have. Some heroes journey from a state of selfishness, others from a state of innocence, and still others are just born that way, but they all start somewhere and face a first challenge, whether of the physical, spiritual, or moral variety. Or, let’s be honest, usually more than one of these. In another way, that’s probably me being a bit broad of scope, or just finding a way to not give any more spoilers than I already have done. But my real point is one I already made.

It literally is a thing we’ve never seen before. Although there have been female superheroes, none of them have scored a cinematic lead before, and that’s a big deal. It doesn’t make the movie uniquely good, but it makes the movie unique; the good news is, it was in fact also really good! Because what we need is a theatrical landscape in which it doesn’t strike me as weird, even for the few seconds it took me to decide to go with that instinct instead of immediately quelling it as was my initial reaction to myself, that both my father and I would want to celebrate his day by seeing a movie about a lady superhero. I mean, that’s dumb, right? It’s a comic book action movie, what about this is even the slightest bit strange?

(I still think I’d rather not have had the thought and had to figure out a different way to come at this, all things considered.)

[1] Bear with me, I’ll get back to it.
[2] Final outcome subject to change, but that’s the trend I’m seeing right now.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad was a clusterfuck.

I should clarify, lest I be misunderstood. It was a magnificent clusterfuck, exactly as it was meant to be. See, there’s this military lady, and she is trying to gather power and prestige to herself (like you do), to which end she has this idea to recruit a bunch of imprisoned supervillains to form a last line of defense team in case of unexpected threats to America and maybe the world. Especially in these uncertain times.

Which, fine, whatever, that’s just a convoluted premise. The clusterfuck comes along when the unexpected threat does, because it turns out that being a supervillain means not subsuming your needs to the needs of the many. Instead, every single person has an angle, and okay, yes, they don’t want the world to end any more than you or I or (let’s say) a Batman or a Superman would. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want something for themselves out of the deal.

The thing that makes this not a grimdark movie is that the whole thing is played for comedy (nearly for slapstick) instead of evil chess (like I imagine No Country for Old Men to have been). It was definitely better than the last two movies, which is the kind of trend line I like to see

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

If they had not made a Wonder Woman movie, I probably could have happily lived out my days not watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I mean, the name alone makes me cringe, and the turning point at the end of the second act is the kind of thing you come up with smoking weed with your friends in the basement, and then say whoa at each other a lot. (To be fair, maybe it would have played better if I hadn’t been spoiled for it? This is a thing I doubt.)

Anyway, that is an extremely poor degree of preconception, and it is my pleasure to say that, going in with that opinion, the movie was not too bad. Like, yes it was unrelentingly grim, and yes the stuff I already said above, and also Lois and Clark are goddamn terrible at “secret identity”. But there were things to like, as well.

1) I’ve heard people hating on Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex, but I had no real complaints. I haven’t seen a gleefully sociopathic version of the character that I recall, and it definitely worked. Plus, his plans were legit.
2) This is the first time I’ve ever geographically understood the relationship between Metropolis and Gotham. I would literally never have thought of it that way, yet it is 100% the best explanation I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was always like this and I just never knew?
3) Wonder Woman is a bad-ass by any measure. I am looking forward to that movie more than before.
4) The spoiler at the end of the movie, although in keeping with Snyder’s dark vision, actually earned the destination this series of movies has been aiming for, and if I believed for a second it would become the new status quo, I would grudgingly respect the film in retrospect.

But that is not how things will be by the end of the summer, and I can resume being benignly annoyed by the whole prospect.

Alien: Covenant

Got around to seeing me an Alien movie, and my short answer is this: it fell short of what it should have done in exactly the same way that Prometheus did before it, but without the benefit of my belief that if only Prometheus were the first half of a longer story, everything would come to rights again.

Here’s the thing. Alien: Covenant is exactly the movie I was looking for, a sequel in which we find out What Happens Next. …at least, it should have been. It so easily could have been. Instead, that plotline is jettisoned in favor of something that is no longer sfnal at all and back to pure horror. Which, okay, that is where this series started, and there’s nothing wrong with it, and I kind of appreciate the specific details of this horror movie, none of which I will be telling you.

But then, after failing to deliver on the possibilities of the first movie, it simultaneously fails to deliver on a bridge to the original 1979 Alien, which is the only other job it had. In point of fact, timelines being what they are, I would say it is impossible to get from this story to that one. (And if I were to ignore timelines, which is at least semi-possible, it would mean that to get from here to there, I would need Ridley Scott to make exactly the movie I wanted him to make this time, which he is clearly unwilling to do.)

Long story short once again, my advice is stick with Alien/Aliens and assume Ripley got her happy ending, as that is the best way to deal with this series.

Storm Front revisited

I probably just shouldn’t bother to review audiobooks, because of how I take so long to finish them. Anyway, Mary and I decided that a good book series to do a reread of while in the car together without a podcast backlog would be the Dresden Files.

I think what caught me off guard most about Storm Front is how icy the relationship is between Dresden and Murphy. I didn’t remember exactly what happened in the book, but hadn’t forgotten enough for a real shock at any point, except for that. It’s funny how far Harry has come, though. He really did start off as just a magical P.I. in the phone book, with no friends except Bob and… okay, most of the same magic toys throughout, but the no friends and no prospects thing is an adjustment.

Oh, and I luckily remembered I intend to estimate how much time has passed in this series, which means it behooves to me document that this episode was set in May of year zero, when Harry is… haha, like anyone mentions ages. I’m guessing late 20s to mid 30s, though?

Twilight Children

On Sunday, I read Twilight Children, completing my three-book camping weekend bender. In this one, Ryan Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, and their band of (I swear this was written in an amazon description of one of the other books, which I am not making up) warrior-survivalists go from a familiar setting gone direly wrong, to an old West tourist town inhabited by poisonous bird-bug things that I feel probably should have been more consequential than they were, and finally into the meat of the story, in which a paradisaical lakeside community is spoiled by Logan’s Run syndrome.

Later, they chill some mutants.

So, a thing I realize I’ve left out of these reviews is the side story, in which one of their old friends from before they started teleporting everywhere has been on a quest to find Ryan’s former leader, a near-mythical figure called the Trader. His rules for survival and profit in the Deathlands have informed their every decision, and the mercenary aspect of these rules is why so many of their adventures that ended in cleaning up messes created by all the power-hungry and murder-addicted regional barons have ended that way by accident, after they tried to stay out of it instead. The A-Team, they ain’t.

My point here is that even by that low standard, the Trader himself has appeared over the last couple of books to be a particularly mercenary individual, and I think that when everyone finally gets back together into one big happy, they’ll instead find that maybe they’d have been better off leaving him wandered off to die of radiation cancer like it seemed that he had done, about two thirds of the way through the first book. Which is a cool tension to have in an ongoing series like this. (Another reason I enjoy these so much, I reckon, is because of how much they remind me of Marvel comics, in their storytelling methodology.)

Cold Asylum

On Saturday I read Cold Asylum, which quickly dispenses with a set-up for several new locations and then with its title scene (a refrigerated, multi-warehouse-sized morgue inhabited by cannibalistic mutants[1]), to proceed quickly into a Most Dangerous Game pastiche in which the newest member of the band of adventurers (a young, sheltered cultist kung fu monk pulled forward through time[2] from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!

[1] I know it’s easy to see that I’m reading one of these books, roll your eyes, and move on, maybe wondering why I bother. This, right here, is why I bother. It’s just such a perfectly macabre sample of post-apocalyptica. And I know, it’s silly to imagine the refrigerators working a hundred years on, but that’s one of the premises you just have to accept. The nuclear generators are buried well, and they keep running without service. Otherwise, the whole series falls apart, because how would the teleporters work without power? Also, the part where the teleporters just never send you to an unpowered or otherwise destroyed location was a piece of genius in its own right.
[2] Also, all the time travel. Seriously, 125 book sci-fi series that is simultaneously post-apocalyptic and has good gender equity throughout? Except for the obligatory gun fetishism, what’s not to like?

Deep Empire

If you are paying a lot more attention than I would expect anyone to be paying, you would expect this review to cover the second Robin Hobb book. However, I ran into a pair of related problems. Maybe a trio of interrelated problems? You decide! See, thing one is that I’m still trying to read the series in conjunction with my wife. Thing two is that I went camping last weekend. The problem with that is that while I read a lot in the woods, she really does not. Thing three, which may or may not count as an actual thing, is that I didn’t want to deal with reading comics on my convertible laptop in the woods, because it’s quite a bit harder to handle / keep safe than a tablet in a case would have been. The relevance of this is that comics would have slowed me down quite a bit and made it at least mildly feasible that I could read the Farseer book without pulling irretrievably far ahead.

So instead, I brought five Deathlands books. The theory being that I would be out for 5 days and read about a book a day. This math was largely correct, except that I was not there for the entirety of the bookend days, and also I was building / tearing down on those days.

Enough inside baseball! You’re definitely here because you want to know how Deep Empire was. And I have good news: the title actually makes sense[1] this time. See, they come out of the teleporter into the Keys, where they encounter pirates, undersea volcanoes (because, post-apocalypse), dolphins, and rogue marine biologists.

[1] All three did, which makes me wonder if I missed something in Shockscape. I probably didn’t, but the impostor syndrome is especially strong right now, since I noticed my reviews used to be a lot funnier than they are these days. Everyone not reading this because they left me behind long ago? I forgive you.

Fables: Rose Red

The big plot of Rose Red revolves around the Fables formerly of Fabletown, now retreated to their last stronghold on earth, continuing to fight against Mister Dark (who plausibly I mentioned last time). And that plot progresses, which is all fine and good, but I’m not really here to talk about that. For one thing, spoilers.

More importantly, though, the flashback story that gives the book its name is the more interesting one. See, Snow White[1]’s sister has been a pivotal character in this series since the very beginning, and it’s about time we learned why they’ve always had such a bad relationship. Thanks, flashback! And of course, thanks Bill Willingham for making sure the story made sense from both directions. It’s a rarer talent than it should be.

[1] Originally deputy mayor of Fabletown, now retired to wedded bliss with the Big Bad Wolf

Assassin’s Apprentice

In a conclusion that will be of no surprise to anyone much, I should have read a Robin Hobb book long before now. Still, though, I’ve read Assassin’s Apprentice now; and to make up for how overdue that is, I at least had a reading companion.

To the extent that I went in with expectations, they were these: that these books are bleak and dark and full of horrible events occasionally broken up by fleeting happiness. After one such book, I have to say my expectations were largely fulfilled. It’s funny, Fitz is not a perfectly reliable narrator, but you can tell that he wants to be. His failures are not failures to see himself clearly, or unwillingness to admit to himself or his audience some dark truth or other. It’s just, his life has been so far outside the bounds of normalcy (or even the bounds of viewpoint characters in low magic fantasy realms) that he honestly cannot see just how bad he has it; and contrariwise, he cannot really tell when he is being treated badly instead of normally. It’s an impressive series of blind spots.

Nevertheless, the moments of pure happiness are there, and I had constant empathy for him, and empathy for others inhabiting his world, and interest in that world and what will happen next. It’s not just the 20+ years of bibliography that have built up. Even from this book alone, I can tell that only a very small part of what could be a very large story indeed has been told[1]. The fact that people I trust say the quality doesn’t drop off is purely icing.

[1] Or, okay, this is a trilogy. It might be more fair to say that it’s obvious there’s a lot of trilogy left to tell, with a lot of escalation between here and there. My expectations of even more than that lurking around the edges could be better described as Stockholm Syndrome from one too many doorstop series? Whatever, I like them long to the point of unending.