måndag 5 november 2018

Films I'm glad I saw in-flight

Yes, I know - it's been ages since I blogged. In my defence, I just spent two weeks on the other side of the world, in sunny Sydney, Australia, no less, and the week before that I had to prepare for my journey. Anyway, as I'm still jet-lagged - always a good excuse - an ambitious book-related post which I know is overdue will have to wait a little longer. Instead, a lighter subject (which I might spin out to more than one post): films with which I whiled aways the time during the long flights from Copenhagen to Singapore and from Singapore to Sydney and back. Well, some of them. All in all, I'm pretty pleased with the selection I made. These are films I'm glad I've seen, but which would probably have disappointed me had I gone to the trouble of going to the cinema to watch them.

The Incredibles (rewatch) and Incredibles 2 As I've mentioned before, The Incredibles is one of my least favourite Pixar film. I rewatched it on the way back to Scandinavia after having watched the sequel on the Copenhagen-Singapore flight, and I still have problems with it. Mind you, the "supers are incredible, and you have to be born one to be one" message - which is both irritating, as it devalues merit and hard work, and confusing, as there aren't any supers - isn't hammered home as much as I remember. Nevertheless, if you're not a superhero fan, there's not a lot you can take away from this film. The Parrs are a nice family, with just the right amount of squabbling going on to make them believable, but I don't really feel that spending time with them is enough for me to want to see the first Incredibles film again. Fanboy-gone-bad Syndrome is a great villain, though - a well-realised mix of intelligence and basic immaturity.

Incredibles 2 has smoother animation than the first film (as you'd expect - it has been fourteen years), and the supers-as-aristos message is thankfully absent. The Parrs are still charming, and even more likeable than in the first film (Violet is a bit of a pain, but she has a just grievance). I was doubtful when so much of the pre-marketing centered around Jack-Jack, the baby in the family, as I usually don't enjoy baby antics in films, but his scenes worked well and were funny and sweet. All in all, I would probably have enjoyed the sequel more than the original film if the villain hadn't been so weak. In the film, Helen Parr aka Elastigirl becomes the poster girl for superheroes in a bid to make them legal again, and quickly comes up against the threat of a villain called Screenslaver, who has a grudge against modern technology. Specifically, the villain monologues, people spend more time before their screens seeking vicarious thrills rather than doing things for themselves. Yes, it's that old chestnut, and there lies the first problem. The Incredibles films are supposed to be set in the late Fifties and early Sixties, when the only screen-enslavement going on was a bit of telly-watching. Even if we allow the Screenslaver an uncanny ability to guess the future, when screens become more of a thing, the very alias the villain uses is an anachronism - it's a play on "screen saver", a phenomenon which wasn't around in the Fifties-Sixties because hey, no home computers.

I wouldn't have minded the clichéd motivation of the villain, though, if the Screenslaver's identity hadn't been so insultingly easy to guess. The villain reveal is set up as a twist, which is now standard in Pixar and Disney films, but it really isn't - it's obvious from the start who the Screenslaver will turn out to be, and the as-per-usual red herring is introduced very half-heartedly. This, I hope, will be the end of the twist-villain trope, which has become increasingly tiresome and predictable of late. We need a Scar/Jafar-style villain-in-front-and-centre-of-the-plot again (and no, the solution is not to bring these fine specimens back in lame, live-action copies of the original films).

Solo All right, I'm going to have to be spoilery, as one of the things that really bugged me about this film - apart from it being completely superfluous - is a reveal that comes at the end of it. Solo and his mates have been up against a gang of pirates led by the promisingly named Enfys Nest. In a late showdown, Enfys takes off his helmet, and it turns out that he is... a she, specifically a freckled girl who looks like Anne of Green Gables. And the "pirates" aren't merciless fortune hunters at all, oh no, they're conducting a righteous fight against evil crime corporations like Crimson Dawn, for whom Solo has been working in order to pay off a debt and get a bit of cash, and would Solo like to join the good fight and...

... whoa, stop right there. First, how many freedom fight fantasies can you fit into a franchise? It's bad enough that we have a resistance movement so generic it's simply called the Resistance (or was it the Rebellion in the first films?), which fights the Empire/First Order because... they're bad. Now we have even more shining freedom fighters, whose virtue is apparent as they have a girl leader - not just a woman, but a girl. With the original Resistance, we didn't get a lot of analysing of what it actually entails to fight in a rebellion - it means killing people and getting your hands dirty (and bloody). They did start to address these themes in Rogue One, though. But here, we are back to the old black-and-white crusading spirit - plucky girl vs scarred Paul Bettany on shady luxury space yacht.

Second, we get one of my least favourite scenarios - when a hero/anti-hero decides not to pay back a debt to a villain, because doing so would give the villain too much power or some such guff, and consequently the protagonist ends up being a wanted man. Honestly, hero away if you must, but could you please pay off your debts first? It's only gentlemanly. And third, the Han Solo we encountered in A New Hope was a hard-bitten cynic. Even if he doesn't join the girl guide pirates at the end of this film, he is far closer to being a classic hero here than the original Han was in the original films. We are in a way cheated of the romp with a non-squeaky-clean protagonist we had reason to expect from a film about Han Solo's early career.

Solo is an OK action flick full of action flick clichés, which doesn't tell you anything new about Han's character. As in-flight entertainment, though, it's ideal.