‘The Fate of the Furious’ Review: An Aging But Efficient Machine

Fate The Fast and Furious films are much like the cars they’re about. The series is a machine that’s had parts interchanged and souped up over the years. The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the most improbable saga in blockbuster cinema, shows the first signs of wear and tear. Despite bigger-than-ever scope (prevent World War III!) and stunts (a nuclear submarine chase!), Fate shows the signs of the franchise foundation cracking under its own weight.

Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) is honeymooning in Cuba with his wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when he’s approached by the Machiavellian hacker Cipher (Charlize Theron), revealed to be the mastermind behind the villains in the previous two movies, and blackmailed into helping her achieve nothing less than world domination. His betrayal forces Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom’s makeshift family (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel) to enlist their former enemy Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), with the help of government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and his new protege (Scott Eastwood), to stop him and Cipher. Vehicular antics ensue.

Eight films in, you’d be in the right to expect a little efficiency. The Fate of the Furious is yet another ridiculous blockbuster about cars and the indestructible men and women who drive them. The franchise, to its credit, has its strengths down to a science. But its reliance on its signature moves yields blind spots that rob this movie of impact. The film could never replicate the emotional resonance of Furious 7, but it drops the ball in a few key areas.

F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Italian Job) delivers another stylish entry, continuing a tradition of hiring people of color behind the camera, from John Singleton to Justin Lin to James Wan. Gray keeps the action zippy enough to sustain the 136-minute runtime, adding a James Bond flair to the globe-trotting adventure.

There’s plenty of gossip about what went on behind-the-scenes of this film, from the Rock’s firing off a cryptic Instagram decrying “Candy asses” and the news Diesel killed a post-credits tag showing stars Johnson and Statham, but not him. It’s here the loss of co-lead Paul Walker to a car accident in November 2013, halfway through filming Furious 7, is felt acutely. As Vulture explains, it’s tough to replace the brotherly bond at the center of his testosterone fest with one of mutual hatred, especially when it doesn’t even yield dividends on screen because Johnson and Diesel refuse to share the set and especially when they’re characters are supposed to not just friends, but family.

Speaking of family, I love that this is the franchise where Michelle Rodriguez is the female lead and Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris seem just happy to be along for the ride. Theron never leaves her trailer, it seems. They cast Furiosa herself but somehow didn’t put her behind the wheel. That’s not the kind of thing you save for the sequel. Russell, for all his charm, needs more to do. And Scott Eastwood is here basically as the new white guy, subbing in for Walker’s intended arc as Russell’s protege.

It was natural the first film in the post-Walker era would be Diesel-heavy, given the focus on his turn to the dark side. He’s fine, even good, but Dom’s betrayal, played up in the marketing material, has less impact than it should. For example, there’s no mistaking the editing and body doubles that neuters his on-screen relationship with Johnson’s Hobbs, rendering any hope that his and Diesel’s beef was a wrestling-esque rivalry stunt. This leads to Johnson growing chemistry with the series’ newest bald action star, Statham, and Diesel’s aforementioned squashing of the duo’s post-credits tag.

There’s always so much going on in these movies that it’s easy to overlook the flaws. The chases are filmed well and the action is sutibly extravagant. For all my criticism of the interchangeable nature of the series robbing it of what worked in the first place, the series is extraordinary for adding elements seamlessly. Helen Mirren mentioned off-handedly in an interview she’d love to be in a Fast & Furious movie and suddenly she pops up for a couple scenes as the Shaw matriarch, which dovetails nicely with Deckard’s redemption

It leads to problems, like with Statham’s character. Look, morality or anything like it doesn’t have much to do with the series; the “fah-muly” slogan is more of a libertarian honor-among-thieves bonding than anything else. But it is vacuous when a character kills an alleged main character (#JusticeforHan) and bygones-are-bygones a film later. There’s dramatic potential left hanging that is instead glossed over. Sure, it makes sense why the producers want to keep Statham’s ex-assassin around but does it make sense for our heroes? (I’m partly playing devil’s advocate here. Growing up on Dragon Ball Z taught me the trope of “villain’s defeat means friendship” young). Action movies are often indiscriminate with their body counts but there are levels and the audience can’t feel like there aren’t consequences to the characters’ actions.

The biggest takeaway from Fate may be that the series, without Walker, is missing an essential element. In the truest sense of “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone,” what I thought was the milquetoast boring Paul Walker turned out to be the emotional center of the franchise the whole time, without me realizing it. Now, with his farewell an emotional and financial highpoint of the series, what we’re left with is just shy of Bond-level camp. I’d like to avoid the lame pun that the series is “running out of gas,” but it certainly feels like Furious 9 needs to bring the family back together behind-the-scenes before we can get a truly satisfying Fast & Furious movie again.

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‘Kong: Skull Island’ Review: Glorious Monster Movie Fan Fiction

Movie
Kong: Skull Island is a movie for the child and inner geek inside us all. Rife with giant monster fights and classic movie references, this King Kong-by-way-of-Apocalypse-Now reboot has more on its mind than just spectacle but not quite the bandwidth to handle it. Though it’s hampered by its own preoccupations and weak characters from transcending as a B-movie tribute, it’s nonetheless the definition (well, my definition) of a good time at the movies.

The movie begins in 1973, at the end of the Vietnam War, with the discovery of Skull Island by MONARCH, the secret government organization first seen in 2014’s Godzilla. An eclectic group of scientists, soldiers, and other experts are assembled to investigate the island, before the Russians do (one of many unintentionally-timely political moments in the film) . Predictably, upon arrival, they find they’re not nearly as welcome as they thought as they encounter Kong and have to survive all manner of giant beasties.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ sophomore effort following his 2013 indie hit The Kings of Summer, he wears his influences on his sleeves. Skull Island has all the trappings of a gleeful kid in the most epic toy box imaginable and the film radiates that child-like joy, treating its characters more as action figures than actual characters. While they all (for the most part) get a moment or two beyond their introductions, it’s inevitably a joke or their death scene (sometimes both).

The film is a film lover’s pastiche, with Apocalypse Now in both story and visuals, with bits of Cannibal Holocaust and every previous film of King Kong of course. Roberts and writers Max Borenstein, Dan Gilroy, and Derek Connolly (with a story credit by  John Gatins) get a ton of mileage out of the Vietnam War metaphor but for all their cleverness, it lacks subtlety and occasionally gives way to some head-smacking moments. It takes spiritual cues from Jurassic Park but doesn’t quite reach Spielberg’s mastery of both story and character. The thin characterization and episodic narrative lead to some emotional investment and momentum problems, though never enough to sink or ruin the movie.

The cast is absolutely stacked, though most have simply archetypal roles to work with. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are mostly stand-ins as leads, with only a couple moments to work through their emotions and only then, they’re reflective of one or two things about them; he’s a a tracker, she’s a photographer (ahem, “antiwar” photographer) etc. Thankfully, the movie is self-aware enough to spare us any romantic plot tumors.

Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman are great, as usual, particularly the former as the soldiers’ commanding officer who develops a Captain Ahab-like obsession with killing Kong. 24: Legacy‘s Corey Hawkins acquits himself well as Randa’s number two, but John Ortiz and Jing Tian have thankless roles as a MONARCH scientists along for the ride. The soldiers played by Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Toby Kebbell, and Thomas Mann all make the most of their parts, with Whigham as the shell-shocked stand-out.

The real protagonist of the movie is Hank Marlow, a fighter pilot stranded on the island since World War II, played with humor and heart by John C. Reilly. He, along to a lesser-degree Jackson, act as nexus points for that coveted story-character convergence that Spielberg masters, making a character’s arc not only present, but the thrust of the story.

Jackson, the human villain, embodies the corrupting nature of war but he is contrasted, not with the nominal leads Hiddleston or Larson, but with Reilly’s character, who against all odds maintained his sanity (mostly) amidst the craziness of Skull Island. Marlow wants something more than just survival; to see his wife again, meet his son for the first time, and watch the Cubs with a Budweiser and a hot dog. Incidentally, it’s with Marlow whom we start the movie and with Marlow that it ends.

The film’s Kong is a straight-up hero, a noble creature who protects all creatures from those who seek to cause malicious or gross harm on his home. Terry Notary comes straight from the previous Kong Andy Serkis’ (currently aping it up in the Planet of the Apes movies, which Notary also stars in) school of motion capture. The various monsters, fights, and monster fights tick off the boxes of what you want from monsters, fights, and monster fights.

In Legendary’s nascent MonsterVerse, it’s all about pitting them against each other. Like Godzilla, Kong is now a “protector,” one side of nature’s balance and the unabashedly good one at that. That leaves the human characters stuck in the middle, their efforts overshadowed literally and figuratively by the enormous monsters duking it out around them. It’s a lovely (and expensive) creature feature who’s main goal is entertain above all, making the movie with child-like imagination. John Hammond would be proud; they “spared no expense.”

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‘Logan’ Review: A Superhero Movie With Soul

Logan
How many times are the third installments of trilogies the best? Going by the X-Men franchise at this point, which yielded X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: Apocalypse as abysmal trilogy cappers, never. But Wolverine, embodied by Hugh Jackman now in nine films since his 1999 casting in X-Men  has always walked his own path. His spinoff series started with its worst film, progressing slowly from the travesty of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (the worst superhero movie title until Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) to director James Magnold’s previous entry, the 2/3 good, 1/3 awful The Wolverine, and, now, to Mangold’s Logan, a Western masquerading as a superhero movie. Make no mistake, this is the best X-Men movie to date, a pastiche of True Grit, Unforgiven, The Professional, and even Little Miss Sunshine, all rolled up in superhero wrapping paper.

Set in 2029, five years after the epilogue of X-Men: Days of Future Past, mutants have all-but-disappeared for reasons unknown. James “Logan” Howlett aka Wolverine is in hiding on the Mexican border, caring for a mentally-ailing Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) with the help of fellow mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant). When a nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) with a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen) arrive on their doorstep, it forces Logan to confront his demons if he’s to protect Laura from Transigen, the evil corporation behind experiments to replicate the Weapon X program that created Wolverine, led by Dr. Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant) and his enforcer Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

It could not be a more perfect send-off for the 18 years Jackman spent playing the character. A theater actor with a love of musicals, he is not who you would expect would have owned the primal rage, morose melancholy, and cynical meanness that defines the character. The actor himself cannot stop smiling outside the role, but you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a smirk throughout his time as Wolverine. The dichotomy between actor and character is like a reminder of the task Jackman accomplished here: making Wolverine not only believable, but human. Someone who is invulnerable to harm and a dick to most everyone should not be sympathetic. In Jackman’s hands, his invulnerability is a curse and his dickishness a clear mask for pain.

Logan

It’s this part of Wolverine Mangold intuitively understands. He takes the core themes of The Wolverine – of the character’s exhausting immortality and fear of intimacy – and applies them here again, liberated from the third-act nonsense of that film and emboldened by the R-rating. The rating allows for more than just blood, language, and nudity. The tone itself is so dark it borders nihilistic, a direct reflection of the hero’s mindset. The fatalism is amplified for fans of the whole franchise, as the film effectively erases the “happy” ending of Days of Future Past, after all the timey-wimey shenanigans to save mutants in that movie.

Dafne Keen is a force to be reckoned with as Laura aka X-23, a young mutant imbued with Wolverine’s powers. She plays the near-mute character with effortless gravitas and truly amazing facial acting for the English-Spanish actress’s feature film debut. Patrick Stewart also gets to give his seventh and best performance as Charles Xavier aka Professor X. The bleakness reaches even the serene leader of the X-Men, now suffering from dementia that makes him dependent on medication and dangerous for anyone but Caliban or Wolverine. The former, an albino mutant played by British actor Stephen Merchant, completes the makeshift family, offering a softer side to the jaded ex-X-Men.

With such a seminal moment for these long-running superheroes, it makes sense the villains would generally take a backseat to the movie’s focus. Model-turned-actor Boyd Holbrook (of Netflix’s Narcos) is like a mix of young Brad Pitt circa True Romance and Kalifornia and Jeremy Renner circa Dahmer, a low-key Midwesterner that mixes leading man looks with real acting chops. He plays the cybernetically-enhanced leader of the mercenary Reavers with appropriate amounts of slime and cunning. His boss Dr. Rice is played by British stage actor Richard E. Grant (seen on the last season of Game of Thrones) who actually underplays his role as the mad scientist behind all of Transigen’s mutant experiments, including Laura’s “creation.”

Logan

Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine in LOGAN. Photo Credit: Ben Rothstein.

Logan proves once again “comic book” or “superhero” are insufficient descriptors of these adaptations. For true success involves marrying the ideas of the source material with a tried-and-true genre of film. The Dark Knight is a Michael Mann crime drama. X-Men: First Class is a period Bond film. Guardians of the Galaxy is Marvel’s Star Wars, Ant-Man its heist movie. Logan wears its influence on its sleeve even more overtly; it’s the 1953 Western Shane, a film which is watched by the characters in Logan.

Actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, writer of such modern Westerns as Sicario (and its upcoming sequel Soldado) and recent Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water, said in a THR writers’ roundtable that he liked simple plots so he could focus entirely on the characters. It’s a lesson Mangold and his fellow screenwriters Scott Frank, and Michael Green take to heart, making essentially an Australian chase movie in the vein of George Miller’s Mad Max series. Mangold deftly navigates genre by managing the tone, as he did when he lent the tropes of samurai movies to The Wolverine. He evokes classical cinema such as noir (his underrated sophomore effort Cop Land) and Westerns (his excellent 3:10 to Yuma remake).

(For more on my thoughts on how Logan achieved such critical success, check out my recent column over at Heroic Hollywood).

Realism pervades the picture. Like all good themes, it seeps into all facets, big and small. This is a film that takes place in diners, motels, abandoned areas and forgotten places. It’s about taking care of your old, sickly father figure and caring for a rebellious, angry child. It resonates when these characters forget to take their medicine, or get enough sleep, or fail to start a car. Logan wipes the blockbuster shine away to get at the mundane humblings underneath. The dystopia of the film – one where mutants are gone and humans are more vapid and mindless than ever, where a wall separates countries, where the powerless are ruthlessly exploited – couldn’t be more timely given the dismal state of American politics.

Logan

My issues with Logan are quibbles of my own more than any fault of the filmmakers. For example, just a ray or two more of sunshine to make the whole exercise more punctuated would have been nice. At different points, I yearned for more revelation or catharsis, a little more sweetness to balance out the bitter. For all the dividends paid from the darkness and grit, I would have liked a couple more “epic” moments, separated from the pervading bleakness elsewhere. Some revelations could have carried more importance.

Nevertheless, this is a great movie through and through. Whatever plot holes or weak elements exist are no different than those in fellow superhero epic The Dark Knight. This is a movie where the alchemy of the mixture produces something entirely new. It’s a rare treat to see a film series evolve steadily over the course of three films. Indeed, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Logan are almost diametrically-opposed from the titles down to the hero’s claws yet exist on the same continuum.

Efforts like Deadpool and Logan establish a space for risky, even R-rated, films based on lesser-known or niche adaptations. While the former succeeds as a live-action cartoon with no-holds-barred comedy, the latter is a real-world drama, where even the superpowers are more curse than gift. The movie doesn’t outright reject its pulpy origins either, incorporating X-Men comics into the story itself as a way of commenting on the fiction of superheroism vs. the world-weary facts. Plus, there’s a distinctly comic book-y nemesis for Wolvie to fight that takes symbolism to a whole ‘nother (literal) level. For genre fans like me, it worked, but it might not for everyone.

But whatever a person’s storytelling preferences, there is no denying Logan is an achievement in blockbuster cinema, an auteur’s vision on the level of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. It stands out as distinctive in an entertainment industry where movies are becoming more codified. Increasingly, interesting, challenging stories in popular entertainment are funneled into TV due to the dearth of mid-range films between blockbusters and indies. Like the central father/daughter relationship at the center of the movie, I hope Logan‘s success critically (and commercially now) and the end of Jackman’s tenure open up for a new generation of superhero movies in its image.

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‘Get Out’ Review: An Instant Horror Classic

Get Out
From the mind of writer/director Jordan Peele, best known as part of the Key & Peele sketch comedy show that wrapped up its five season run on Comedy Central last year, comes Get Out, a horror movie sucks you in with its simple story laced with genre awareness and reverence. The film feels both familiar and new, formally earning it, in my book, the instant classic status. You can see the all the strains of influence on Peele’s movie, as well as his clear intent and vision for the film. It’s an impressive directorial debut.

He uses the techniques of the likes of Hitchcock and Carpenter to tell the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American man who meets his white girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) family over a weekend. Of course, not all is what it seems and the good-natured ignorance of Rose’s family gives way to far more sinister stuff.

Given it’s no-frills set-up about a get-together gone awry, it recalls last year’s horror sleeper hit The Invitation from director Karyn Kusama. Bot she and Peele elevate a fairly-standard horror movie premise, of a trip or get-together gone awry, by infusing it with layers of meaning and depth of imagination. Like all good films – and, indeed, all good stories – the magic of Get Out is not in what it’s about, but in how it’s told and why it’s important to the storyteller.

Peele offers a clear vision: a darkly comic horror movie that analyzes and deconstructs racism in its Hydra-like form. There’s plenty of social commentary, a byproduct of Peele’s keen comedic talent, much recalling the themes of The Stepford Wives, another example of allegorical horror.

The genre trappings are dressing for the message. Peele wants to impart, which is that benevolent racism is still racism and often merely a symptom of deeper resentment and hate. The fantastical happenings are a metaphor for positive discrimination, institutional racism, and cultural appropriation.

Kaluuya is an excellent audience surrogate, his highly-expressive face dominating many of the movie’s moments, grounding them with a touch of side eye or an uncomfortable smile. Befitting a story with something on its mind, the family is made of excellent character actors like Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, and Stephen Root. Peele’s comic talent isn’t wasted either, making its way in mostly via Chris’ best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery).

There’s a keen understanding of narrative at work. The pacing is brisk but deliberate and, along with Kaluuya, does wonders for disarming both the character and the viewer. The dark comedy of Chris’ awkward interactions and ignorant, casual racism is steadily ramped up until the inevitable third act explosion of violence. When it does come, I gotta say, it’s been a while since I’ve been in a theater where people were clapping and rooting for the protagonist as actively as the audience in my theater was.

It has the concise communication of comedy melded with the highly-effective language of cinematic horror. Peele builds his tension from everyday interactions, taking “normal” racism and microaggressions and casting them in the light of genre. The shadows that dance from this method are both truthful and uncomfortable, both pre-requisites for accomplished satire and horror.

Get Out is already a huge success, with over $30 million on opening weekend against a $4 million budget and overwhelming positive reviews (holding 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes initially). The lightning strike of success is a result of a confluence and multiple factors. Blumhouse, the horror-centric outlet behind the film, continues its domination on the heels Split and after spending almost a decade building a catalog of cheap-but-effective horror franchises, like Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, and The Purge. The Donald Trump presidency has cast a political shadow on everything.

Our beloved “melting pot” is boiling. Art has always been political. It’s simply peoples’ awareness of it that is different now. And Get Out is art for the ages.

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‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Review: Ballet with Bullets and Blood

John Wick
Sequel escalation never felt so good as it does in John Wick: Chapter 2. It elevates everything that made the 2014 original so great: the worldbuilding, the fight choreography, the lighting and imagery, the genre throwbacks, and Keanu Reeves’ character tailor-made for the actor’s skills.

After taking his revenge for the death of his dog in the first film, John Wick thinks he can return to his quiet retirement (with a a new hound in tow). However, the sins of his past won’t let him go so easily, when an old associate Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calls in a blood debt, it forces Wick to fight once again for his freedom and grapple with his inner demons.

Watching John Wick: Chapter 2 is a little like watching ballet for dudes. The movie drips in neon lighting and religious imagery, from the Greek pantheon to Buddha, with a dose of doves as well. It highlights the reverence for the story they’re telling, as well as reinforces the heightened reality we, the audience, are entering, a place where archetypes and ideas dwell, reigning over oblivious humans. The international and underground order of the Continental has a lot in common with the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

Chapter 2‘s motto is doubling down. From the body count to the locations to the glorious flourishes, this sequel has all the original had, dialed up. It’s more confrontational and in-your-face than the quieter, understated, and altogether simpler original, but for those who dug the mythology of a shadowy (and very polite) assassins’ guild and Wick’s inherent invincibility, it can only be a good thing.

Reeves is a bishonen, seemingly walked off the manga page. He fits gracefully in these roles, like Neo in The Matrix trilogy, where he uses his fists and guns, and does it in style. The training and discipline the actor shows in performing his own stunts, even in his 50s, is admirable. Reeves’ acting can easily be dismissed as monotone. Indeed, it took me a while to appreciate his ability. The subtlety in his quieter moments make his explosions of emotion that much more interesting to watch. That talent is perfect for a film that relies less on dialogue and more on faces, particularly the eyes.

The film continues to stack its supporting cast with able character actors, some who seemingly pop by just for the hell of it, like John Leguizamo. Common and Ruby Rose join as a couple nemeses Wick faces. Both are quite good, with my doubts about the former particularly put to rest by his performance, while Rose continues to impress in her third action role this year (after Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and xXx: Return of Xander Cage). The filmmakers wisely gave Ian McShane more dialogue to chew here while Laurence Fishburne gets an ENORMOUSLY hammy role as the Bowery King, a homeless cult leader (one thing this movie makes clear: everyone in New York, up to and including the street beggars, are assassins).

Stunt coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski returns from the first film, sans co-director David Leitch, who instead directed the August spy thriller The Coldest City starring Charlize Theron and James McAvoy before getting hired to direct the superhero sequel Deadpool 2. While Leitch appears to have moved on to greener pastures, Stahelski is sticking with Wick, and this entry has a hook for an inevitable third chapter.

If there is a moral to the John Wick franchise, it is: never harm an animal. If there is a second, it is: respect your stunt coordinators, because, with the right story, they can deliver some of the best action movies of the last decade. And if there’s a third, it’s that I will never tire of Keanu Reeves’ one-man army headshotting his way through Earth’s population.

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Hate Trumped Love: Why, How, And What Now?

Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States

That vomit-inducing sentence is particularly awful for me to write, because of the crow I’ve had to eat recently (from myself mostly, because I punish myself more than anyone else can for failure). I wrote in December 2015, in the days when Trump announced his horrific Muslim ban policy, that he would lose in a landslide to Hillary Clinton. Not only did I feel confident predicting the two major party nominees, I was even more confident projecting the failure of one.

But I was wrong about which candidate.

It’s taken me a while to gather my thoughts here. These last two weeks after the election has been the repetition of the stages of grief, the growing realizations of what is to come, and the growing distress as those awful realizations slowly come true. I wrote almost two weeks ago today that I would sleep safe if Hillary Clinton was president.

I have not slept well or felt safe since America went the other way. Why did Trump win? Here’s what I missed:

  • Clinton was a worse candidate than I thought who ran a campaign with faulty assumptions

Like me, the Clinton campaign thought they knew better. I knew Hillary Clinton didn’t generate great enthusiasm personally and historically. I was aware of a deep distrust and dislike of her. I did not think these factors were greater than the monstrosity of Trump. But enough people did.

I underestimated how much antipathy for Hillary Clinton existed and how much was manufactured like a goddamn growth industry. Did Clinton do herself favors her? No, she didn’t; setting up the private email server was like cutting off her own nose to spite her face. But the sins did not justify the response, while Trump set about threatening the safety and lives of people across the globe.

Nonetheless, Clinton’s trust gap, magnified by the right-wing echo chamber, might have been mitigated if she a ran a campaign that reached out to these voters or broke through the Trump noise. But Clinton’s campaign didn’t visit Wisconsin, dashed to Michigan too late, and ended up losing white women to the avowed pussy-grabber.

  • “Missing white voters”

This leads to the second point. To defeat the diverse Obama coalition, the Republicans had two options: appeal  to minorities or go after “missing white voters.” While their autopsy post-2012 indicated the former, Trump almost literally pissed on the idea, beginning his campaign calling Mexicans “rapists” and ticking off minority group after minority group with insults and bullying. Ultimately, there were more angry white people than angry minorities and those who would stand up for them.

One reason I missed this was because the election and re-election of Barack Obama blinded me to how many of his white supporters would vote for Trump. The Democrats’ fabled “blue wall” in the Midwest proved nonexistent and Trump’s raw white supremacy powered the white voters, particularly in the Rust Belt – before a cornerstone of the Democratic coalition – to the voting booth.

These voters, incited further than ever against a toxic opponent who didn’t cater to their needs, were left with Trump. This FiveThirtyEight report about potential white voters was eye-opening about prior to the election and its more relevant than ever now. Another report from the polling analysis website showed education, not income, determined Trump support. That is, if people were uneducated, they were more likely to vote for the orange blob. Nate Silver posits several hypotheses for this evidence: uneducated voters are more likely to be racist, ignorant, or distrustful and more likely to be swayed by Trump’s raw, emotional appeal than Clinton’s thoughtful, logical one.

  • Turnout

All of this comes back to the fact that Trump got more voters where it mattered, in swing states like Florida and North Carolina, and across the Rust Belt, despite Clinton winning the popular vote by around 750,000. I thought the backlash to Trump’s insane bigotry would be substantial enough to stop him, that he would be too unacceptable to win. But the Clinton campaign did not or could not turn out the Obama coalition in any way that reflected this.

Beyond the previously-discussed failure of the blue wall, this was the first election after the Voting Rights Act was gutted in 2013. In places like Wisconsin and North Carolina, the GOP precisely disenfranchised people of color and young people, both demographics that typically vote Democratic.

There were also the third party candidates, which siphoned more from Clinton than from Trump. People who presumably hated Trump but disliked Clinton too much to vote for her. I won’t pretend to understand this mindset, as I look at my vote as a strategic rather than a perfect representation of my political beliefs. This wasn’t an election for splitting hairs since the divide between Clinton and Trump was so vast. Add to it my personal opinion that Johnson and Stein also suck.

There was also the matter of FBI Director James Comey’s intervention int the campaign with a poorly-worded, poorly-timed letter to Congress essentially bringing the emails back after they’d been put to bed. It measurably hurt her.

But make no mistake, FBI letter or no, the election loss is on Clinton and her campaign team.

Now, here’s reality: things are going to get really bad. 

Last Tuesday night was like a death in the family, the following days a wake for America. Beyond the affirmation of America’s racism, there was a spate of hate crimes across the countries in the days along with news of celebrations and praise by Nazis and the KKK. The nuclear arsenal is now in the hands of a vindictive, grievance-filled, fight-loving, dictatorial man-child.

Here’s what I wasn’t wrong about in my Trump diatribes: the core of his candidacy – and now administration – is white supremacy. White nationalists, Nazis and the Klu Klux Klan are rejoicing. Trump even put the aforementioned Bannon, head of the right-wing anti-information service Breitbart and a virulent racist, misogynist, and anti-Semite, in the White House! I refrained many times to many people this sentence during the campaign “If you support Trump, you support white supremacy.” More than ever, it is true.

The GOP is not only bringing the alt-right, long relegated to uncensored Internet message boards and anonymous accounts, out into the open but empowering them, giving them the permission and means to commit hate crimes with or without the backing the U.S. federal government.

It’s not just the federal government. The GOP has everything: the statehouses, the governorships, Congress and now the White House. The Supreme Court, with its ability to shape entire generations with its lifetime appointments, is within their grasps. Trump has not only run as a traditional Republican, which means tax cuts for the wealthy and elimination of the social safety net for the middle-class and poor, he ran as the most exaggerated, uninhibited Republican in decades.

He proudly boasted that he would force U.S. soldiers to torture and commit war crimes, that he would deport MILLIONS of people (which would tank the economy even if he didn’t have a Republican Congress to pass regressive tax cuts), that he would support the elimination of abortion rights and gay marriage, that he would threaten and attack First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly, that he would unravel the likes of NATO and the Paris climate agreement.

He may brag that he hires “the best people” but a Trump administration will be a corrupt kleptocracy. The saying goes “Personnel are policy?” Well, Trump hired lickspittle “normalizer” Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, Breitbart propagandist and avowed white supremacist Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and noted lover of both Vladimir Putin and gross falsehoods Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser. Racism and authoritarianism are the policies, people.

He may have campaigned on the promise to “drain the swamp” but the next four years will be a bonanza for lobbyists and their ilk, from the very worst industries: military contractors, oil & gas, private prisons etc.  He is already using the presidency to enrich himself and works closely with his children and family, flouting nepotism laws. He openly praises amoral, anti-American dictators who kill their own citizens, like Vladimir Putin, Kim-Jong Un, and Bashar al-Assad. And, as the moral cowardice of the vast majority elected Republicans has shown, there is nothing but complicity for Trump’s insanity.

The power of the presidency has never been greater and, through executive orders, Trump can and will erase the Obama presidency, from immigrant protections like DACA and DAPA to LGBT anti–discrimination practices to gun control measures.

His economic and foreign policy combined, if implemented, will tank the economy, whether it is the sudden absence of labor because of deportations, the grossly-disproportionate tax cuts for the rich, or the insane level of spending President-elect Trump intends for defense and/or infrastructure. Remember when Republicans hawked on the deficit? Yeah, don’t expect much of that for the next four years.

That’s the lay of the land and, it goes without saying, it ain’t good. So, what now? 

In order to win in the future, it is clear that the Democrats need a fresh start. Demographics alone won’t save them. Liberals and progressives in general need to find new ways of communicating with white voters. Some of it may involve swallowing pride, moving past identity politics, and attempting real persuasion. Whereas Trump preyed upon human fears and flaws, Democrats can and should look past the president-elect’s bluster and communicate ideas instead of reprimands. How Italy dealt with its own corrupt businessman-turned-leader Silvio Berlusconi can provide a useful roadmap.

Fighting the fascist alt-right white supremacists while connecting with the white voters they seek to court is difficult but it must be done, because while these voters’ political party have sold them on a corrupt billionaire and his cavalcade of racist supporters, demeaning wholesale demonstrably plays into the hands of said racists (the honesty of the “basket of deplorables” assessment didn’t stop it from becoming a rallying call for Trump and against Clinton). As Ana Marie Cox writes, the question now is “how to do you appeal to non-college-educated white people without being an explicit bigot?”

Liberals and progressives have to be careful with this issue, because we are the scapegoats. Even if all the terrible potential about a Trump presidency come to fruition, his voters will find a way to blame the opposition, egged on by Trump’s new GOP. It’s far easier than recognizing they were conned or that they were wrong or that maybe, just maybe, they didn’t think this Trump thing through.

Despite how disgusted the nation became with the 2016 election, the 2020 one will be even worse. Why? Because a bunch of white nationalists will have been entrenched in power for four years and they will not give it up lightly. Expect several stories to emerge before, during, and after the Trump administration about how the president-elect and his cronies abused power for personal or monetary gains. Oh, and the ethics investigations and indictments the supposedly straight-laced Republicans threatened Clinton with? They aren’t going to do that with Trump, even as he profits from his presidential position. The hypocrisy is galling.

Two contradictory things have become clear to me in the days after.

First is that, despite my social media radio silence in much of the time since Nov. 9, such a catastrophe, slow-moving as it is, requires more engagement, not less. Journalism and the news media are in the weakest state they’ve been in my lifetime, with diffusion among outlets, declining profits and abounding layoffs and newspaper closures. Factual newsgathering requires our support. Please donate or subscribe to a news service.

Second is that it is more important than ever do what we love with the ones we love as long as we can, because that time suddenly feels much less certain than it did two weeks ago. The fact that the future is uncertain and anything can happen is perhaps a trite thing to realize upon an annual election, but nothing draws life into perspective like erratic sociopath at the the helm of our nation’s proverbial ship, directing it through the an iceberg-strewn ocean.

Therapy sessions such as this post will no doubt continue unabated as long as this new awful reality does. I have no ending for this post, other than the terrible news that things will get worse before they get better. The best we can hope for is Trump is a pragmatic president who backs off his numerous immoral and illegal campaign promises, such as deporting 11 million people including children born here, cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of the poor’s safety net, taking aware healthcare from millions of people, and violating countless international agreements.

Prepare for the worst.

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Election Day 2016 Final Thoughts

It’s (almost) over.

While the earthquake of the 2008 election of Barack Obama, America’s first black president, was synonymous with “hope & change,” the aftershock of the 2016 election between the first female presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the anti-Obama Donald Trump is more likely to have words associated with it like “nasty,” “pussy,” and “hate.” (I want to keep this relatively short, so I won’t spend 10 paragraphs delving into the disgusting irony that the word “pussy” was such a huge part of the election of the first Madam President).

I’m a political junkie. That this election has me even sickened by the fear and ugliness so pervasive in our country makes me sympathize with those who would be happy to never hear from a politician again, let alone the two candidates leading our political parties. We’re all at our breaking points. And I hate to be the pessimist, but it won’t end tomorrow. Even if Clinton wins, as I predicted last year, the Republican Party is forever changed and the USA, at home and aboard, is forever different.

For an election this insane, that has consumed this much of my attention, that has me attached to the Twitter feeds of my favorite journalists for the latest update, I can’t throw myself into the arms of my fellow citizens, hoping they catch me with by electing Clinton, without making my last thoughts known.

It is impossible to count the ways Trump is unsuited for Commander-in-Chief. Others have tried better than I ever could. It is not hyperbole to say his elevation would cause cause crises at home and abroad not seen in decades. Trump is kinda right what he says the world is laughing at us. But it’s the most nervous laughter imaginable, as the most powerful nation on the planet seemingly descends into self-destruction. They’re not laughing because of Clinton’s emails. They’re laughing at Trump and what he says about us.

White supremacy is at the core of the Trump candidacy and the GOP rot. The rising Obama coalition is a threat to that, as Fox News, talk radio, and Breitbart have dutifully fearmongered for the last eight years (and many before). And, thus into this grievance is born a creature seemingly made to be the apotheosis of it.

Trump may not win tonight but he has empowered a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic underbelly of American life, particularly among white men without college degrees. He has accelerated the Republican Party’s moral decay, ripping away the dog whistles and replacing them with bullhorns. He has degraded and insulted literally millions of people to earn the support of a dying cohort of the American electorate, people who just so happen to have been used as a source of power for the GOP since the 1970s. His endorsers and backers buy into, even embrace, his self-made alternate reality even as he shows no loyalty but to anyone but himself and his selfish needs.

White supremacy is dangerous because, well, Nazis. But going deeper than that, it is dangerous for the people with the most privilege and power in society – white people – to become incited against minorities. White people are not used to being inconvenienced or in the minority; it scares them. Whereas before the GOP offered in exchange for tax cuts for their wealthy donors,

Donald Trump may not call himself a white supremacist but that is because his ego is so incomprehensibly huge, his self-awareness so nonexistent, that he cannot imagine himself as anything other than the greatest ever. He’s too stupid to see the reasons he acts how he acts or says what he says, like his white skin, his Y chromosome, or his rich inheritance. He lacks empathy and is unable to walk in another’s shoes. He simply lacks the imagination to relate to other human beings. He only cares about things he views as extensions of himself, like his career and his family and, even then, he requires them to view him as infallible in exchange for affection.

Our vote is strategic. It’s pragmatic. It is about where we fall in the annals of history. I won’t resign those I love who are of different colors, creeds, or orientations to their fates so I can have a protest vote. Voting is about more than the candidate. It is about directing the current of history.

Did you vote for Trump? Whether you accept it or not, that is an endorsement of racism. Every vote Trump gets will empower not his suffering voters looking for change (who will remain blissfully ignorant that they were taken in by a con artist) but the cavalcade of carnival barkers he’s assembled like an island of misfit toys. They are already enriching themselves, setting themselves up for future opportunities, and claiming “victory” for white nationalism.

Smart and morally-astute Republicans have refused to support Trump and, like Max Boot and Ana Navarro voted for Clinton. Paul Ryan may fruitlessly pine about his “Better Way” agenda and claim the GOP is not Trump’s party, but he has proven time and time again to be stubborn, stupid, and morally myopic, high on some imagined Randian bullshit that his party’s voters stopped giving a shit about years ago. Add to it his knowing capitulation to a man who excoriates him regularly all while holding to the absolutely-absurd belief that Trump will magically transform into a pliable and flexible guy once granted the most powerful office in the world.

America needs a functioning two-party system. Despite the constant demands for third parties, the binary is practically written into the Constitution. The Democrats cannot represent everyone, because of the aforementioned white supremacy of the GOP is kinda incompatible the Obama coalition of Hispanics, blacks, women, and Millennials, not to mention the education gap (as Trump said, he “loves the poorly educated,” GOP subtext=text).

Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate, but not more than any other male candidate in history. Despite the right-wing media’s criminalization of her (echoing the Othering of Obama by claiming he wasn’t an American citizen), her mistakes, while mistakes certainly of arrogance and bad judgment, were no different than many other politicians.

The email server scandal, glued to her from the very beginning of her campaign, was entirely her fault but what did we learn from the various leaks? We learned journalists and campaign partisans are people and interact as such. There was moments of regrettable indiscretion, but nothing so egregious as to make the whole enterprise criminal, as FBI Director James Comey has said (then didn’t, then said again, but whatever).

While others bathe with the word “emails” I look at Clinton’s victory like Obama’s, altering the psychography of our nation in a positive but not unimpeded way. Progress is always fought tooth-and-nail, as we’ve seen all too well in this nostalgia-evoking election. Whatever Clinton’s personal flaws, the fact that we will follow the first black president with the first woman president speaks to me a hell of a lot more than any of the incoherent nonsense Trump has spewed.

I don’t view my vote as representation of myself ideologically. The world will never conform to my ideology or anyone else’s. When I walk into the voting booth, I know I’m only one rower in a ship of millions. To get somewhere specific, everyone has to row together. If everyone rowed their own way and didn’t pay attention to others, the ship may very well drift into an iceberg (an racist orange iceberg).

The story of America will be different, no matter who is in office. But, while I don’t imagine Trump will allow himself to fall gracefully in the next week or so, I do imagine what it will be like knowing the American Dream, that “anybody can be president” will be truer, our country a little more affirmed because we defeated, if only temporarily, the madman at the door.

Today is a battle. The war of ideas will continue. And we must be vigilant. But I sincerely hope I will sleep safe tonight knowing Hillary Clinton is the 45th President of the United States. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can sleep safe again.

Source: ABC

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State of the Slog

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Hey guys,

It’s been a quiet few months here at The Slog, indeed, a quiet year after launching this site in January 2015. While I was still in school and working less, the Slog was more or less my main focus as far as writing, helping me do so consistently and freely. It’s a tool I took way too long to embrace and I look back on the 100+ posts here on the site with degrees of fondness and pride.

Writing (and I think many writers relate to this) is a potent combination of perfectionism and procrastination. As long as it is in your head and imagined, it is protected and safe. And as long as you don’t, you know, write it, the idea can remain such, unsullied by reality.

I discovered as college went on that, outside of my academics, I wrote little and read even less. What I did write was perfunctory. What I read was what I needed to read to move on to something else. I don’t know if this is common experience for those in college or pursuing writing as a vocation, but as life filled with a number of other opportunities and distractions, writing and reading for pleasure fell by the wayside. The Slog was the antidote to that, giving me a platform, however small, to be the writer I wanted to be.

I spent a lot of my time away the last few months from The Slog writing elsewhere. As is my lifelong endeavor, I worked on my book The Darkest Fate, the first volume in a fantasy series. I reconnected with my dear friend and artist John Vitale to collaborate on an untitled comic pitch that I will hopefully tell you more about soon (gotta actually write and pitch it first. You may sense a theme here).

Another project that fell by the wayside was going to be a Slog original, a reason why I created the site in the first place: my serial. I’ve long-loved episodic storytelling and wanted to bring that to short-form fiction. I even did a poll to see what I would write. The winner was Caged, a crime drama that is essentially my take on the Sherlock Holmes/Gregory House/Robert Goren archetype.

I am getting back into these projects, but slowly. Slowly is probably for the best, lest I overwhelm myself and claim defeat early in some sort of self-destructive defense stance. As of this moment, as is typical, I am way overdue on pages for my comic with John but I feel buoyed, from his encouragement and from finding my own again.

I was fortunate enough to get hired in February at Heroic Hollywood, a burgeoning site founded by noted fanboy journalist Umberto Gonzalez, who now works at The Wrap, one of the four big Hollywood trades. The site has been a boon and replaced the Slog as my primary vehicle for writing.

My passion for storytelling growing up led me to inhale film & TV like a hyperventilating hobbit and to, in turn, inhale the work of the pop culture journalists like Umberto who chronicled it. I followed the field as the blogosphere exploded in the early aughts, taking fans from message boards all the way to the sets of their favorite films. Being one of those journalists seems like a fun way to use my writing and love of storytelling.

In between, I’ve worked several jobs in and around Athens, most good experiences. Rapping, always a passion of mine, is on the backburner (which is probably in everyone’s best interests). Hip hop will always be my jam and inspiration but, as the son of paramedics, “triage” is a useful and necessary tool when it comes to goals. Perhaps there is a future for SPF, but first things first, I would like to work on my creative writing pursuits, Heroic Hollywood and posting weekly here. Once I get that down, we’ll talk blessing/cursing the Earth with my music.

The site will be updated weekly but the features will be more intermittent due to my role as a writer & editor at Heroic. I can’t, for example, review The Walking Dead season 7 regularly like I did season 6 due to reviewing Westworld at the same time. But there will be more one-off reviews of film & TV as well as columns on politics or writing and whatever else interests me.

The Slog has been my ever-present, slightly-neglected home, complete with a doorway made for confronting my fears. Obviously, it’s a doorway I don’t use enough. Too much of my time is spent confusing success with effortlessness, comfort with distraction, fear with authenticity. Combined, it’s a cocktail for self-sabotage.

Routines like that become the narratives we live, the filters for our world, the stories we repeat to ourselves. What I want now, I suppose as a consequence of writing this note, is both an outlet and liberation. To chase feelings faint as wisps of smoke without expectation. This lone post is just a start, of course, the first brick in a foundation. In the eternal quest for truth, it’s worth remembering an uncomfortable one: anything worth doing takes effort and focus.

Thanks for reading,

Sam

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‘Suicide Squad’ Review: Assembly Required

So you ordered a chair. It’s a beautiful chair, best chair you’ve ever seen, will show up all the other lame chairs in your apartment. It will really tie the room together, is what I’m saying. So you order the chair from IKEA, that’s a trusted retailer right? Awesome, your chair is on the way and best yet, you get free shipping within two days. What could possibly be better?

Well, when the chair arrives, not only is assembly required, but the pieces that did come with it are broken and, worse, others were lost on the way to your house. Turns out the two-day shipping was because IKEA needed to sell chairs and it needed them sold and shipped stat. Which is a shame, because all these broken pieces look like they would have made a nice chair. Then Jared Leto shows up out of nowhere to slap used condoms and dead rats in your face. Worst of all, the Joker doesn’t even do anything!

If the ambiguous title of “Suicide Squad review,” didn’t prime you, I am indeed talking about Suicide Squad. Someday, master classes will be done on the massive fuckups Warner Bros. made on both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, marketing hybrids masquerading as filmmaking, because woo boy. I went in expecting bad, primed by Batman v Superman, the notorious production tumult and subsequent poor reviews. I was not prepared for what I would see next.

After Superman’s death in BvS, tough-as-nails government agent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has the genius idea to replace one metahuman with a bunch: Task Force X comprised of the most dangerous inmates of the Louisiana prison Belle Reve. There’s the perfect hitman Deadshot (Will Smith), the psychotic Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), the alcoholic Australian thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), human crocodile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and the flammable former gangbanger Diablo (Jay Hernandez). The “suicide squad” operates under Col. Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) and his samurai bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukhura).

That leads us to our villain, the Enchantress (Cara Delevigne), a 6,000 year-old entity possessing Dr. June Moone, who is in a relationship with Flagg. Everything about this character is atrocious, most of all her computer-generated “plan” (this all-powerful witch, who effortlessly conquers an entire American city, resorts to nonlethal combat against the squad at the climax. How nice of her).

Meanwhile, arguably the greatest comic book villain of all time, The Joker (Jared Leto) is poorly introduced and flits around in the background pining for Harley like a barely-intelligible hyena. Why the hell wasn’t he the villain? Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood and Common are also in the film for no discernible reason. Oh yeah, and Slipknot (Adam Beach), but me and the film agree on one point: fuck Slipknot.

The moment the film begins, it’s apparent something is wrong as music video vignettes introduce characters that are reintroduced in the immediate next scene. The movie has little to no idea what to do with its moving pieces. So much bad editing and pacing are papered over by so, so, so many songs.

There’s a ridiculous number of characters in this film. but honestly that’s the least of its problems, because Suicide Squad isn’t actually a movie. This is not a problem unique to this film, especially this summer movie season, but it is the most blatant I have seen yet. Squad doesn’t actually tell a story but cobbles together ideas. Saying this film has a “plot” is a disgrace to the word “plot.” There’s little-to-no concern for storytelling economy or payoffs. The only characters who have something resembling an arc are Deadshot, Quinn, Diablo and Flagg.

Quinn’s infamous relationship with Joker is an excellent example of the film’s arrogance. There is absolutely no set up and no reason for audiences to believe in Quinn’s transformation because at no point do we see a charismatic Joker on-screen. The film banks entirely on audiences’ already knowing and accepting Harley Quinn and her abusive relationship with a clown psychopath. Speaking of which, remember how The Dark Knight spent 6 minutes brilliantly setting up Heath Ledger in the role for the payoff at the end? Here, Leto is shoved in the audiences’ face, constantly leering and being a general creep. His Joker is uninteresting, either because his scenes were cut or his take on the character is just fundamentally annoying and stupid.

On the flip side, there is an absurd amount of talent on display here and not even the butchered story and pacing can prevent stars like Smith and Robbie from shining. It’s refreshing to see Smith having so much fun again and while he doesn’t go as dark as I hoped, he straddles the line between villain and antihero admirably. Robbie is an excellent Quinn, understanding the subtly of her psychosis even though the film presents an unnecessarily violent version of her origin story in flashbacks. Hernandez is the standout among the supporting cast while Kinnaman and Courtney acquit themselves well despite boring characters. Davis is fine and Delevigne is wasted.

More surprising than the film being bad is it having virtually the same problems every DCEU film has up until this point – nothing is planned, everything is reactive and nobody has any hands on the steering wheel. This one is even more “moments over scenes” than Batman v Superman, if that’s possible. I’d feel bad for Ayer and Zack Snyder for getting skull-fucked by corporate, but these are two of the bro-iest directors in Hollywood, churning out macho entertainment such as 300 or Fury. We (and WB execs) really should have known they’d turn the DCEU into a broad examination of toxic masculinity (I plan on writing a column on this).

After Suicide Squad, all I have is questions, namely how did something with so much potential end up so awful? Why did this movie need all of these characters? Why did it need the umpteenth “death by CGI” plot? The film is the equivalent a plate piled with food from a buffet line, the pile so high it devolves into a morass of conflicting flavors. There is no care for what goes together or what works; it’s all about packing in as much as possible, as quickly as possible. What a waste.

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Review

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The rise of a mutant god means the stakes have never been higher for the X-Men and yet, this sixth entry in the series is the most vacuous and without consequence of the franchise. As Marvel innovates within its model and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice tried (and failed, admittedly) to claim its own unique tone, X-Men: Apocalypse only stands out as a rote and repetitious. After 16 years of watching these films, audiences expect better.

Apocalypse is not as unrelentingly dark and deary as Batman v Superman but neither does it have the sharp character moments and interactions that made Civil War so joyous. While the former and latter veered in opposite directions with failure and success respectively, this entry in superhero canon accomplishes nothing of note. Say what you will about Batman v Superman (and I have) but you will not forget Granny’s Peach Tea after watching that movie.

It’s 1983 and a new day for mutants. In the decade since their reveal, they have earned a begrudging acceptance in wider society, allowing Charles Xavier’s School for the Gifted to flourish with young, familiar faces like Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Abroad, Raven aka Mystique works alone rescuing mutants from exploitation and Erik aka Magneto has started anew with a wife and daughter. Enter Apocalypse, a 2,000 year-old Egyptian mutant purported to be the world’s first, whose worshippers have awakened from hibernation.

A lot of the film’s choppy pacing can be attributed to the script from Simon Kinberg (based on a story by director Bryan Singer – back for his fourth go-around – and his X2 cohorts). It is exacerbated by surprisingly-sloppy editing, something unexpected coming from a director who pulled off the time travel juggling act with aplomb in Days of Future Past. There’s little sense of narrative arc or cohesiveness. When turns or payoffs are clearly meant to happen, they have diminished weight and feel more perfunctory than earned.

What does stand out are sequences, like whenever Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is showing off his powers or Wolverine’s extended cameo. Notably, both are echoes or revisions of previous popular parts of X-Men canon, as if reiterating how little this film has to offer the series

While getting a ton of marketing attention, the subtitular villain and his Four Horsemen are generic and their plot for world dominion is really stupid and, worse, a copy of a X2. The fact that Singer rounded up that films writers just to essentially remake it speaks volumes about the wheel-spinning neutrality he’s stuck the franchise in. There’s little sense of why they join Apocalypse, since he isn’t particularly charismatic or compelling.

Isaac is not as bad as I feared but that’s only because my expectations were so low that I expected a character assassination. Instead, we get two or three moments of Oscar Isaac straining to act through the makeup and the rest of the film he’s indistinguishable from the other doomsday villains who lack the resonance to make us fear them. For a film titled after him, he’s is its biggest disappointment.

Fassbender is outstanding but isn’t he always? His Magneto is a tortured Byronic hero of the tallest order but that the film just gives him absolution for his crimes (he commits genocide in this film, make no mistake) is laughable. McAvoy’s Professor X acts a fine counterpoint but, whether it’s his boyish looks or what, he still lacks the gravitas to believe in his naive wisdom. Lawrence is fine; there are hints of a story arc of her accepting her new role as hero but it’s pretty obviously an excuse to keep her happy and out of the makeup chair. Hoult is good as well, but underutilized again.

The young cast is good and the little glimmers of them just being teenagers was enough to get me to care about characters like Cyclops, mostly thanks to good work from Tye Sheridan. Sophie Turner also does the best with what she has, with the promise of a larger role to come. Shipp is good but largely wasted as an Apocalypse lackey for most of the film. Kodi Smit-McPhee is the standout as the adorable Nightcrawler. Poor Rose Byrne gets the shortest of the short sticks, basically acting as an exposition sex doll for Professor X.

Even writing this review, I struggle to remember what this movie was. It attempts to balance emotional devastation with snarky quips, to give two sides coherent development but both are half-hearted. Its cardinal sin is forgetting to be about something. This is a film with all the ingredients to a successful X-Men flick but none of the heart or depth.

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