Thanos: History of a Mad Titan

Disclaimer: This post contains mild spoilers. However, I have attempted not to reveal story conclusions so that these tales may be sought out and enjoyed by readers picking them up for the first time.  

Probably best know from an Avengers post-credits cameo that sent nerds into overdrive, while leaving casual viewers scratching their heads, Thanos made his second appearance in this summer’s smash hit The Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s obvious from his looming presence, that Marvel films has big things in store for this character, but who is Thanos and why is he such a big deal?

Marvel films

Marvel films

Thanos is one of the more unique villains in the marvel comics stable. Unlike similar characters, he isn’t tied to any particular book or even to a particular hero. He isn’t even always cast in the role of villain. His only real constant is that he’s almost always presented as an A-level presence with close ties to a rotating cast of space-themed characters.

The character’s unusual nature is largely down to his creator, comic book writer and artist Jim Starlin, who has chronicled his adventures on and off again for the past 40 years. More than anyone, Starlin is the one who has shaped the character into the incredible powerhouse he is today.

His story begins in 1973, with Starlin using a long gestating idea for a villain in the pages of a fill-in job in Iron Man #55. Riffing on designs of the character Metron featured in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World saga (likely the subject of a future post), Starlin concocted Thanos as kind of cosmic wanderer.

Metron - DC comics

Metron – DC comics

After looking over the character designs, his editor Roy Thomas told him point blank, “If you’re going to steal one of the New Gods, at least rip off Darkseid, the really good one.”

So, Thanos was beefed up from a frail seeker of knowledge to a more powerful physical presence.

Darkseid - DC comics

Darkseid – DC comics

Thanos - Marvel comics

Thanos – Marvel comics

Stacking them side by side like this, it’s obvious the two characters look a lot alike, but those similarities begin to disappear when you look at them closer. Darkseid was portrayed by his creator Jack Kirby as the ultimate tyrant, a fascist god with an entire planet under his sway.

Thanos is much more of a schemer. Born on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, Thanos hails from a race of highly-evolved demi-gods known as Titans, ruled by his father Mentor. Having embarked on a failed campaign to usurp his father, Thanos was banished from his home world and wandered the universe, gathering a group of henchmen in an attempt to take the moon by force.

There’s also the matter of his romantic desires, which, shall we see, run toward the unique, but we’ll get into that a bit later.

In this first appearance, Thanos plays the part of puppet master to a group of alien brawlers known as the Blood Brothers.

The story is also significant for introducing Drax the Destroyer. Well known to fans of Guardians of the Galaxy as the gruff warrior who doesn’t grasp metaphors, Drax’s comic book origin differs greatly.

Created by Titan’s chief god Kronos as a means of countering Thanos’ threat, Drax is an interesting variation on the myth of the Jewish golem, raised from the soil of Titan and charged with ending the titan’s life.

 

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

In this earlier incarnation, Drax was much more powerful than the simple brawler viewers saw onscreen, commanding such diverse talents as flight, enhanced strength, energy projection, and powerful psychic abilities.

He also sported a much different look, consisting of a cape and headpiece, along with this fantastic championship belt.

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

After suffering an early defeat, Drax helps Iron Man defeat the blood brothers, with Thanos revealed at story’s end to be a robot stand-in.

That might have been the end of things. Fortunately, Starlin took over as both writer and penciler of Captain Marvel that same year, bringing with him the groundwork he had laid in this initial story.

Created by Stan Lee and artist Gene Colan at the end of Marvel comics’ first wave, Captain Marvel was something of a failed property. He never caught fire like the rest of his superhero contemporaries and for two years he simply coasted along, before finally landing in Starlin’s hands.

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

Starlin was a perfect fit for the floundering title and set about slowly edging away from traditional super hero tropes, as the book adopted an increasingly cosmic tone.

Thanos was a big part of this, unfurling an elaborate plan to secure the cosmic cube, a small crystalline object possessing near-limitless, godlike power.

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

In the ensuing story, the Captain fights his way through a variety of colorful henchmen, struggles with his role as a warrior, and eventually attains the status of cosmic awareness.

Thanos remains a strong presence throughout, continuing his role as a shadowy mastermind, unleashing a full-scale beatdown on the Avengers and engaging in a bizarre psychic duel with Drax before finally throwing down with the good Captain.

The story also reveals his unholy obsession with death, not the phenomenon, but the literal incarnation of this force with whom he is in love.

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

This brought another interesting facet to the character, imbuing him with frightening motivation, while simultaneously making him slightly more human.

In many ways, these read like typical comics of the time, full of never-ending fistfights and overwrought dialogue. Look beneath the surface though and you’ll notice something else going on too, a growing reflection of counter culture ideas.

Starlin’s writing played with vast themes such as eternity and death, while his artwork took on a decidedly psychedelic tone.

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

Then there was the character’s quest for cosmic awareness, mirroring the new age philosophies becoming popular in counter cultural circles.

These innovations became a part of the industry as a whole, pushing comics into what is often referred to as the medium’s bronze age. It’s something Starlin would expand upon even further in his follow up series Warlock, where Thanos would put in his next appearance.

A quick note if you’re interested in reading these stories, they can all be found in a trade paperback called, The Life and Death of Captain Marvel, which compiles Iron Man #55 together with Captain Marvel 25-34 , and a Captain Marvel-centered Graphic Novel.

Marvel comics

Marvel comics

It’s a few years out of print, but a likely find on the secondary market. You can also find all of these issues electronically on the marvel app.

A brief disclaimer, if you do go the trade paperback route, save the last chapter for later. It takes place at a much later time and spoils a lot of what happens in the second big Thanos arc.

Next time, the Thanos saga continues in Warlock

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3 Reasons Why Guardians of the Galaxy Works

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Marvel Entertainment

My Guardians of the Galaxy experience on Friday was made complete with lemonade and grilled chicken caesar salad (thanks Marcus Cinemas). Eating salad in a movie theater is a supremely odd experience which everyone should do at least once in life. Top that by crashing a family for 3 hours at the same time. It makes for a rip-roaring good time.

Guardians didn’t even need any salad-eating, family-crashing shenanigans because it was perfectly zany on its own. From the bad dancing, to one-liners, to an EPIC soundtrack, I couldn’t stop laughing. Finally, a comedy. I need the DVD stat. Yesterday.

I am not familiar with the Guardians comic book run at all. In fact, I’m not really familiar with any comic book runs so I can’t even be upset if Marvel deviates or completely changes things. I guess I’m also barred from getting into arguments with devout Comic-Con attendees who have all the issues on instant perusal in their mind palaces.

Yet I react like this every time a Marvel movie comes out:

(Except for Daredevil. And the most recent Captain America movies. Ok, let’s throw in the Punisher movies as well. Plus, I have to admit I wasn’t jumping up and down to see The Amazing Spider-Man movies.)

So when Guardians was announced, I wasn’t sure how to feel. We were getting a dynamic duo consisting of a talking raccoon, referred to as a genetic experiment gone wrong and a human-like tree who had three words to his vocabulary. Then the trailer came out and my skepticism bloomed into cautious excitement. And when the end credits started rolling, I had the hugest grin on my face. Marvel had done it again. Although, the after-credits scene puts me back at square one with not knowing how they are going to pull it off and not knowing how to feel.

Here’s why it worked:

1. THAT SOUNDTRACK: I appreciate the fact that there was no crappy music, and by crappy music I mean 85% of what is currently passing for music on the radio. It just made me want to dance and upgrade my life by going back to the 70’s and 80’s to pounce on some good tunes. When the trailer came out, I turned right around and got “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede. I played it over and over and over and I’m still not tired of it yet. That is fantastic stuff.

2. That humor: Guardians was ridiculously funny on multiple levels. It had events playing out in the background with completely oblivious characters, missed metaphors, awkward and carefree dancing, singing for comedic relief at high tension moments, stellar confused looks, human vs. alien perceptions. Since I’m into writing and words, the metaphor jokes slayed me.

3. That Glenn Close. Just kidding, although she was a boss in the scenes she was in. The characters and their journey from strangers to the Guardians of the Galaxy was awesome to watch. The tone of the movie was zany, but this is juxtaposed next to some seriously emotional scenes. Selfish motivations next to vengeful motivations next to a motivation to prove myself with a side of a heroine complex. I enjoyed the way the characters weren’t perfect and they wrestled with doing the right thing.

My tiny hang up is that I wish Nebula and Gamora were more fleshed out. Gamora’s backstory worked to a certain extent, but the writers plopped just enough into the movie to get us to care. I needed more insight into the rivalry. I also wish that villains actually had reasons for destroying entire planets, solar systems, and the universe, but I guess that’s part of what makes them fun. Also, the drama surrounding the main object is a lot more fun when we don’t know what that object is. After we find out, I feel like the movie loses a little steam because everyone is hung up on it.

I definitely won’t be cautiously excited for the sequel.

2017, hurry up already.

Edge of Tomorrow, Edge of My Seat

Edge-of-Tomorrow-Poster1

As always, slight spoilers ahead…

Body parts exploding on-screen in epic battles is usually my scene, but I almost passed up Edge of Tomorrow. I’m glad that I didn’t, although I have to say that living through a repeat loop of Tom Cruise’s life wasn’t exactly what I felt like doing for the afternoon. Luckily, by a half hour into the movie, I was able to get the abbreviated and condensed version of his monotonous horror of reliving every day after dying.

There are a few breaking points in the first hour. One is when Cruise as Major William Cage realizes what’s happening to himself and plays along with it to the best of his ability because he can’t find a solution. Then he meets Emily Blunt’s Sergeant Rita Vrataski and she says the infamous trailer line of “Find me when you wake up.” Of course, she has no recollection of this when he actually does find her, but that is finally when our story starts and we understand what we’re dealing with in the movie.

At first, I’m pretty sure the audience doesn’t understand much more than Cruise himself and we’re only allowed to deal with the same confusion that he’s dealing with. Within that, we’re also allowed to experience the new knowledge he gets each time he dies. The poor, sniveling man who, in his own words, “fainted at the sight of blood,” a neophyte who had never seen combat and who never wanted to see combat, was transformed into a pretty capable soldier. The new soldier was one formed by a sense of survival and trying to figure out if the next time he died might be the last time he woke up.

You would think in a movie that repeats a day three hundred times that there really wouldn’t be any forward moving plot, but the writers manage to squeeze it in with humor. Action, sci-fi, humor…checklist complete. I felt like I was right in the war with Cage and Vrataski. The training sets the tone and pacing of the film. I also appreciated how the aliens were winning the war. Sometimes in alien movies, there is a sense that mankind is going to win even though we’re coming up against alien technology we’ve never seen before–it can somehow be dismantled with a rocket launcher or atomic bomb.

I liked that the pace picked up after the first hour, however it seemed to get more clear and jumbled at the same time. For example, when Cage was in different situations with Vrataski and tell her that “this always happens here” or “I know this because you told me before,” it was hard to figure out how many times they had been in the situation before because the viewer is just seeing it for the first time.

The movie is delicious–it’s a mix of genetics with alien fare sci-fi, time bending, and changing the future. Perspective changes all the time. The mission of “win the war” turned into “kill the alien source that we’ve never heard of.” It almost turned into a quest of sorts, with the military back up to prove it.

Of course, the movie did have the trope of “person who really isn’t equipped for task at hand gets trained and becomes the only one capable to finish the job,” but no one ever said you couldn’t teach the alien genre new tricks. As a whole, the movie was a fresh twist on what is usually seen.

I really enjoyed watching it. I enjoyed that it didn’t give a crap about what aliens looked like (or how they were named) and just portrayed them as a hot black mess of speed and agility. I really, really, REALLY  enjoyed that it didn’t try to make the two leads into a romantic couple. That slight hint got completely thrown out of the helicopter window by the end of the movie.

And ah, Emily Blunt. I appreciated her work from The Young Victoria all the way to Looper and she does not disappoint in this. She is one bad boss. They almost messed her up with the almost hint of romance, but they redeemed it in the end and she turned out fine. As a woman lead, she was portrayed with a real sense of agency.

I actually wouldn’t mind living and repeating this one.

The Colorful Aliens of Zoe Saldana

My creative neurons froze up as the season of sickness and allergies assaulted my senses this past week with a deadly force. So apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused. Also, these words are (supposedly and hopefully) one year wiser than the words in the previous year.

But anyway, to business.

Netflix, o how I love thee, for bringing StarTrek Into Darkness and finally the new series of Sherlock into my life this week. It’s been ages. And while I enjoyed both (Sherlock Series 3 was delightful and waiting a year for Series 4 will be torture) we are not going to talk about StarTrek Into Darkness, even though the binding factor between these two is the awesomeness that is Benedict Cumberbatch.

No, this is about Zoe Saldana–and how many aliens she’ll need to play before we’re serious about her fantasy movie career. Let’s go down her colorful memory lane, back and then into the future….

Zoe-Saldana-as-Neytiri-in-001

First, there was Neytiri of the Na’vi in Avatar. I wasn’t as in love with her as the main character, but that is beside the point. That blue paint is on point. Even though the movie was basically Pocahontas with blue aliens instead of Native Americans, it was a one-time watch for me. Visually stunning, plot-empty awful.

Next….

zoe_saldana_in_star_trek_2009_wallpaper_-_1440x900

Uhura. Color me purist, but I believe the subtext romance from Capt. Kirk and Uhura having the first onscreen interracial kiss should have been a go for these movies, but the masses patently wanted to have their alien and smooch him too. Originally, yes, it was supposed to be Uhura and Spock, but J.J. Abrams had to flip the Enterprise and shake it down from top to bottom. I would have appreciated the romance more if Uhura was involved in a major plot-point besides being able to read the Klingon transmission and she seemed a little clingy. But when you put human emotion next to half-Vulcan repressed emotions, clingy is probably an understatement. Thankfully, in the second movie Uhura gets to be way more epic.

Finally…

guardians-of-the-galaxy-gamora5

Photo Credit: Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy. Zoe Saldana is playing Gamora, a green alien who is trained by Thanos to be his personal assassin. I am to excited for this to come out on August first, and to see Karen Gillan from Doctor Who as a villain in it. Saldana has signed on for sequels for Avatar, Star Trek, and I wouldn’t put it past her for Guardians of the Galaxy, so we can expect to see a lot more blue and green.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy seeing Zoe Saldana as these various aliens and I really hope she takes off like a supernova with Gamora in August.

 

 

5 Thoughts on X-Men Days of Future Past

x_men_days_of_future_past_banner-wide

I saw this on Friday with the siblings and loved it. The plot didn’t feel rushed, it had a wealth of things to say and the humor was spot on. Of course there were some inconsistencies, but for the most part, I appreciated how Singer and the screenwriters left room for more in the future.

At first, I was a little worried. The opening scene seemed like a mix of The Matrix Revolutions and Terminator Salvation with the dystopian plot of mutant destruction set in the future and how the Sentinels functioned. Although it brings us into the action immediately with just enough of an explanation to keep us from scratching our heads in confusion. The characters we know and swoon for do the job of getting us over the  “unnecessary information that would bore us anyway” hump.

To save humanity and mutants, Wolverine is sent back in time to the 197o’s to unite Charles and Erik at a time when they couldn’t be more divided. And then everyone in the 1970’s has to unite to take care of a much bigger problem. When you consider that Wolverine was physically perfect to send back in time, the ramifications of him not being emotionally perfect to send back are what make this moving amazing.

Probably the biggest aspect that I appreciated was the crash course on greatness that Singer decided to give us. I’m sure at some time in everyone’s life, they feel the weight of their past, present, and future all pressing down on them and the weight of the world’s expectations threatening to smother them. DOFP tackles this issue in a profound way. How does one of the most human mutants possible turn from being utterly broken into an amazing legend and hope for many?

Xavier in DOFP demonstrates that it doesn’t matter if you’re not equipped at the time and it doesn’t matter if you’ve messed up–you still have the opportunity to turn around and do something great. You just have to be willing to try. Even though Quicksilver is probably my new favorite character to dance in slow motion with, James McAvoy did the most amazing job as a rough-around-the edges Xavier. It’s mesmerizing to watch younger Charles actually get to point where he is calm, cool, and cutting the bull. I liked the notion that you don’t get to be great without the help of other people or standing on the shoulders of someone. Wolverine as the therapy counselor you would never want in any lifetime was perhaps the funniest thing I have seen in a long while.

The movie also makes you feel sorry for Wolverine. I mean, the guy has lived through nine lives of pain with Jean Grey drama alone and they want to put him through the wringer again? It’s truly a wonder that he’s not a psychopath.

I enjoy how Magneto and Professor X are acted with such gravitas on both ends of the time continuum. The movie really attempts to flesh out their relationship. Although by the end I wondered if you could ever truly flesh out their relationship. In the other movies (besides First Class) their relationship is hinted at, like a large elephant shadow casting over everything in its vicinity. But DOFP shines an interrogation light on that relationship and focuses more on the meat of their characters rather than slightly vague references. This helps to balance the film and it seems that action movies with humor might be my favorite thing besides mouthwatering tempura flakes on a spicy sushi roll.

This leads me to five aspects that stood out:

1) Please put Peter Dinklage in more movies. The universe demands it be so. Also the cast in general: Michael Fassbender and everyone else blew the minds of everyone in my theater.

2) My eyes have now been opened to the JFK assassination.

3) There is a glaring problem with the continuity of Professor X. You could argue for any of the others, but there is no excuse for this one (although they do try to make sense of it in this spoiler-ish i09 article)

4) The conflict is so much deeper. It’s humans vs. mutants, but it’s also about battling against the nature of ourselves to achieve greatness.

5) Loved the action sequences and appreciated Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique/Raven. She also did a great job at balancing a tortured Mystique and achieved some agency, when Charles finally allowed it. Thankfully, their relationship went through some healing, but the end leaves it rather incomplete. I wondered how she gets from the current Raven to the Mystique in the first three X-men movies.

Speaking of the first three X-Men movies, and I’m not sure where most people will stand on this, DOFP retconned X3 or all previous X-men movies (depending on your perspective and opinion). So X3 haters, this is for you.

The movie was well done, especially fitting all of the characters (cameos) and the plot points into one movie. The end will blow your mind. I’d probably be excited about the teaser if I was more of a comic book fan and actually knew who it was. I found out later so that I wouldn’t feel like a complete numskull, so I’m looking forward to X-Men Apocalypse and more mutant action.

Dashes of Xenophobia and X-Men

days of future past

I’m going to probably make a few enemies before X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out on Friday. I’m obsessed  to the point that I won’t care if it’s bad. Let me rephrase that–it would have to be really bad.

You can’t have Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Jackman together in a movie and completely drop the ball. Parents can understand where I’m going with this. Picture this as your kid’s middle school play because you know no one in the world can tell you that they were not the best carrot ever in the representation of the food pyramid.

My history with this franchise is rather complicated. The first was a good start. It was kind of clunky and watching it now makes me cringe at some of the special effects. The second was fantastic–more character development, emotion, and energy. It was the actual X-men Origins: Wolverine without the actual origin. It should have remained that way, but Hollywood cannot resist a bad prequel. And the third….I might be one of the few people who appreciated the third for what it was. Epic soundtrack, but among other things, Rogue’s storyline bothered me. The reasons for her choosing to be human were not clear or supported very well. On one hand, her change felt like a cop out to be with Iceman. On the other hand, it was completely her choice to make even if it felt like she was denying an integral part of herself.

And say whatever you want about the plots, but the acting was top notch across the board. The franchise made me fall in love with Famke Janssen. When she flipped out in X3 as the Dark Phoenix that was freaking epic.

My only gripe is that Wolverine’s obsession and co-dependency with her ruins his story arc in The Wolverine movie. You remember, the hot mess whose mission impossible was to singlehandedly butcher the character and Japanese culture.

I was skeptical about X-Men: First Class, but I don’t know why. James McAvoy is usually fantastic and Michael Fassbender never lets me down either.

Bros.

Franchise savers.

Despite the Olympic sized kitchen sink thrown in, everything came together well and another dimension was added to the characters we knew and gawked at. My favorite would probably be X2. The angst level is off the charts, there’s a whole Frankenstein-creation messed up relationship going on with Wolverine and Stryker, and the struggle isn’t as vague as the first movie. The mutants band together against a cause instead of fighting against each other. X2 had a smoother finish in terms of the arc and characterization. A lot was packed in. For X3, it could just be the change in direction, but it seemed pretty confusing. The somber nature of X3 and the gradual loss of Jean Grey to the Phoenix was a lot to take in. In X3, a few characters who played a large part in the first movies died. The two larger issues: the cure and the loss of Jean Grey didn’t mesh very well even when the final confrontation pitted both issues practically on top of each other.

Through the years, the movies made me appreciate differences. Differences should be used to embrace a wider appreciation of humanity instead of used to alienate people. X-Men was using a megaphone to point out that different doesn’t mean bad, and it definitely shouldn’t mean hated. Even though there is a ton of action, great lines, nice pacing, and all-star actors, that is the message that really stood out and a message that will keep making this franchise great.

And what we really need to marvel at is the evolution of Halle Berry’s hair through all the movies.

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Sorry Halle, the verdict is still pending on that last one.

The Truth About Melancholia

Melancholia pic 4

This movie required a thorough digestion before I actually understood what was going on. First of all, Lars von Trier is not for the faint of heart. If the movie you’re watching has a three minute long montage of stills that are going to happen in the following movie, you know it’s going to be somewhat complicated.  Secondly, for my PG-13/ G rated inner child, he can be a bit much. If we measure my comfort zone in cookies, I’m a mellow oatmeal raisin with pinpricks of intrigue and Lars von Trier would be the caffeine-laden chocolate, coconut oil, applesauce things that my mother concocted this past week.

Melancholia is dark–and I mean trapped in a pitch black basement kind of dark. Anyone who has ever felt deep and prolonged (or clinical) depression will connect with Justine (Kirsten Dunst). Justine is a slow descent toward destruction and life on the earth is a rapid decent in the form of a planet hurtling toward it through the sky. Science has a “will it or won’t it collide with us?” moment with the planet. Unlike most apocalypse movies, there isn’t chaos everywhere with screaming people. There isn’t a half-baked filler romance meant to kill time. This end to the earth unfolds in slow, almost silent apathy in the backyard of a mansion.

Most of the time, Justine doesn’t make one feel sorry for her, and her dysfunctional family is no better. Her brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland) is arrogant, her mother (Charlotte Rampling) is self-absorbed and insists on making a scene. Her father (John Hurt) does so in a different manner with his “girls”. It seems like her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is almost the sane one in the family trying to hold it all together–almost. Justine’s redeeming quality is her affection for her nephew, which seems to be the only thread connecting her to reality.

Her depression is underscored pretty well in the movie by the fact that she’s getting married (which to many women can be the happiest day of their lives) and her funk is a black hole sucking all the potential happiness out of the event. She’s getting married to Eric Northman and you’d think she’s marrying to a 60-year old leper against her will. What was most fascinating about the movie is how it deals with depression. It doesn’t sugar coat the detachment, the apathy, the seeming selfish, and the yearning to be free of everyone. The lens that we view depression in Melancholia connects us with Justine one moment and makes us hate her in the next. Sometimes depression in reality can be similar–wanting to help the person going through it and then losing patience because you don’t understand why they will not change or help themselves. It speaks to the much larger issue of depression being an illness and not necessarily because depressive people want to be the incarnation of Eeyore.

You can just sense the hope dying in everyone’s eyes as Eeyore foregoes even an iota of levity.

Melancholia has Justine waiting to self destruct, but instead reaching a place of stillness and calm while everything else destructs around her. As the earth collides with the planet, there is a bittersweet sense of peace that everything will be fine even though the whole planet is being blown to sparkly bits. The lack of bells and whistles in terms of explosions, the thousands of extras that come standard in a disaster movie, and filler really kept a sharp focus on an honest depiction of depression and a human focus on the end of the world confined to one family instead of the news reports, government reactions, etc.

Melancholia was a hard but refreshing and must needed look at depression combined with the end of the world. I think life would be a little calmer if we just faced our daily end of the worlds with dignity and a calm reality.

 

47 Ronin: Legend vs. Myth

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This contains slight spoilers. 

I almost did not watch this, but I’m glad that I did. I actually thought that it was a pretty good fantasy movie and it inspired me to go back and research the actual 47 Ronin legend. It was pretty bold of the filmmakers to take a deeply revered story that is almost canon in Japan and make it a fantasy epic. Although there are clearly parallels to the Lord of the Rings, I had fun watching it.

To be fair, a lot of fantasy movies should just have the disclaimer “Inspired by Tolkien” scrolling across somewhere.

First, let’s tackle Keanu. I had a “Oh hey Keanu, haven’t seen you since 2006” moment. To be honest, I just saw The Day the Earth Stood Still on Sunday so the fact that it came out in 2008 doesn’t matter. Keanu and I haven’t seen each other since The Lake House…and maybe it was better that way. Reeves’ character Kai is an addition to the original myth of the 47 Ronin. There was no half-breed storyline. There also was not a love story or the addition of a witch, but that is beside the point.

Romantic plot lines forced into action movies give me the willies. Actually, romantic plot lines forced anywhere give me the willies. Usually, we can all expect the tired old formula of “Two hours of gun-slinging plus a half hour of a random girl thrown in for kicks with whom the main character falls in love within one minute to two days time.” In 47 Ronin, the romance was overkill especially because there were already enough mystical elements for an interesting story. Let’s just say that Keanu is better at playing Neo or an alien than romantic roles. I enjoyed The Lake House but seriously, there is a reason why 90 percent of the film is based on the fact that he is separate from Sandra Bullock and not actually acting with her. And I know someone will mention Speed, but that was more action/adventure and lightening does not strike twice.

The Legend

47 Ronin is a story of bushido, a Japanese samurai code of honor. The two main players are Kira and Asano. Kira is preparing Asano and his kingdom to receive the shogun, but gets upset so he starts treating Asano harshly. Then he insults Asano. This is when Asano forgets his anger management training and pulls a dagger on Kira, wounding him. Even though Kira isn’t seriously hurt, Asano’s actions are against the law and he is ordered to commit seppuku, or ritual suicide, and his followers are to become ronin, or leaderless.

Oishi, Asano’s right hand man, gathers together 47 of the ronin and they pinky swear an oath to avenge Asano by killing Kira. They were some of the first gangsters because they know they’re going to be punished, but they just don’t care. Oishi divorces his wife to protect her and starts acting like he’s plumb crazy to throw Kira’s men off their guard. After two years of waiting and stalking, they finally get the chance to kill Kira. After the deed is done, they drop a mic, better known as Kira’s head, by Asano’s grave and turn themselves in. The ronin were sentenced to death but the shogun had them commit seppuku instead of dying as common criminals because they had followed bushido. One ronin returned later from his mission and was pardoned because of his youth. He lived his life and was buried with the other ronin when he died.

The Movie Myth

Our fearless leader Keanu grows up as an outcast after Asano and his men find him in the woods. He falls in love with Asano’s daughter Mika. When he’s older, Keanu and a hunting party have to kill some mythical beast so that the shogun can safely visit them (just pure visual fun, no reason why there’s a huge mythical beast stalking the territory.) Keanu, generous soul that he is, lets some other soldier claim credit for killing the beast.

To make a long story short, there are three major detractions from the myth:

1. Why Asano went after Kira with a dagger. The movie reason was weird and a little overdramatic which is probably why the movie included a witch to have it all make sense.

2. Keanu (in general) and the fact that he was raised by freakishly awesome mystical bird people.

3. Lastly, which ronin die at the end. I would have preferred that they kept the ending completely as it was because the actual history is a lot more tragic, but they left it close enough.

Of course there are other aspects: a ship fight that looks like it could have come out of Pirates of the Caribbean, the fact that Asano has a daughter, the witch and how her powers affect Kira’s plans and Japan, the mystical elements like Keanu’s lineage, the wicked dragon fight, and the romance. The fantasy elements were done well and the film is gorgeous. The costume design and the soundtrack are fantastic, plus I am a sucker for a well choreographed fight scene–it’s as satisfying as eating half of a Lindt chocolate.

Watching the movie on its own merits sans the legend makes for a fun time. I appreciate what the filmmakers were attempting to do. However, I suspect many people are probably upset at the ways that the movie tries to create an entirely separate space for itself outside of the legend which is why critics rated it poorly.

And maybe Keanu’s acting. Just maybe.

5 Reasons 300 Rise of an Empire was Unsatisfying

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I was considering not watching this, but I did it out of respect for the first film. I kept wondering how many epic speeches you could pack in the span of 20 minutes? As soon as Themistocles (let’s just call him Theo for the duration of this) opened his mouth again, I tried not to groan. Either he was going to say something that the script writers were trying to make quotable or he was spewing one of the most unmotivational speeches I’d ever heard. He should have taken notes from Theoden in The Two Towers, short but sweet.

I liked the action sequences, even though they were mostly sea battles. I think if they had a land battle or two it would’ve added a little bit. Also, they relied on the first movie too much so this movie didn’t feel like it had much of an identity.  I really hope they don’t make another one, but they will. Perhaps the next one will have a clear plot and identity of its own. I wouldn’t mind seeing Lena Headley lead Sparta into battle. Eva Green was fantastic. Of course she was the typical “I had awful stuff happen to me and this is why I became an ice cold queen of the damned with no emotional range” female character, but it was still fun to watch, regardless.

1. Personally, I didn’t care why/how Xerxes became a god. That is besides the point and basically wasted 10-15 minutes of film. The point isn’t how/why he’s a weird bald man who likes gold baths, gold chains and fairy dust a lot, the point is just that he is and that’s why he had some sort of legitimacy in the first movie.

2. If they were basically going to copy the first movie, they should have had Gerard Butler make a several cameos from beyond or something because he has a much stronger acting presence than Sullivan Stapleton as Theo. And I don’t know why the rest of Greece has blue capes and the Spartans have red. If they were trying to distance themselves with that minor detail, the ship had already sailed with all of the other blatant tie-ins and the historical inaccuracy.

3. VOICE-OVERS galore. If you need to have a voiceover for half of the movie just to illustrate what is going on, that is a strong indicator that you should probably be telling the story in a different manner. Of course I don’t mind Lena Headley’s voice, but the story is weak to begin with because it happens simultaneously to the first movie and relies strongly on it. Then, it’s explained to bits in voice-overs and slow motion. Some slow motion was nice for an artistic effect, but a lot of it was unnecessary. Case in point: Xerxes, just cut Leonidus’ head off. Don’t put the axe down and take 10 seconds to take it off.

4. The forced father-son dynamic. I’m not sure what we as an audience were supposed to take from that. It seemed forced, unnecessary, and the plotline could have been used for a completely different scene (like say, giving us another fight scene).

5. The ending–completely gratuitous, and I was disappointed. It was not an ending. I wish they would have shown some kind of conclusion and it basically seemed like an excuse to give Lena Headley more screen time and have Sparta show itself on-screen. Even though Headley’s war time speeches were better than Stapleton’s, it just lacked the fantastic, cartoonish nature of the first movie.

Blood and gore lovers will have a field day with this one, especially with the slow-mo blood spurts. It definitely did not disappoint on that front. Theo was not a strong lead in my opinion. A review I was reading mentioned the lack of abs compared to 300, and I have to say that I wasn’t primarily looking at that, but it’s true. If anything, they should have found more excuses to put Lena Headley in the movie, and to form a more cohesive plot that could stand up on it’s own. Instead of a lackluster version of this epicness: