Saturday, 13 June 2020

Working through things - like vermin through a woodchipper

Recent times have seen a lot of us working through things.  The future of humanity, what really matters to us individually, how we can make the world a better place.  Me, I’ve been working my way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, chronologically in story-terms, rather than release date.

The MCU falls, for me, at the overly silly, Mary Sue-heavy end of science fiction, but I’m more than happy to concede that the movies are great fun with some standout ideas and moments.  Hell, I'd probably put any of them on before Tarkovsky's Solaris.

With the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy.  Which I really can't stand, with a passion.

I watched volume 1 circa 2017, and felt an intense antipathy from the off.  I could have watched volume 2 on a plane shortly after, but elected for Get Out and Logan, so have only just caught up with it.  I think I made a couple of wise decisions, both at the time and in retrospect.

This is a personal view; I’m well aware of there being a lot of love for these movies, so the issue is me, not you.  Please don't write that I'm wrong.  I'm not wrong - but I'm not right, either.  It isn't a right or wrong thing.  It just is.

But, I thought it would be useful for my own therapy to try to work through (see what I did there?) my issues with these films, see if I can find an objective basis for the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.

That I had my tongue over both terminals of a nine volt battery, cinematically-speaking, was apparent in the first five minutes of volume 1.  So you'd think I shouldn't need to look much further than that.  It's the first paragraph and a bit on IMDB's synopsis:

On planet Earth in 1988, young Peter Quill (Wyatt Oleff) sits in the waiting room of a hospital, listening with headphones to "Awesome Mix Tape no. 1" on his Walkman. His grandpa (Gregg Henry) comes out and gets him so he can say goodbye to his mom, who is dying of cancer. His mom gives him a present and tells him his father was an angel and that Peter is just like him. She asks for his hand, but he's too scared to take it. Just then, she dies. The distraught Peter runs outside and is abducted by a spaceship.

Twenty-six years later on the planet Morag, an adult Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-lord (Chris Pratt), is searching for a mysterious Orb whilst listening to Awesome Mix Tape no. 1. He finds the Orb and takes it out of a laser enclosure.

Where to start?  I have no issue with opening on a bit of character-informing backstory.  But the kid needs a slap.  Self-absorbed little scroat, more interested in his Walkman than anything going on around him.  First impressions count - disproportionately so - and I've taken an instant dislike to him.

Yes, you could say that he's too cut up to face the reality of his mother dying, but the cognitive bias is too strong.  Oliver refusing to support his girlfriend in similar circumstances in Richard Ayoade's 'Submarine' is, arguably, even less forgivable, but it's not the first thing you find out about him, so you judge him with some context.  Here, self-absorption is the context, and it's all I have to go on.  Sorry.

Twenty-six years later he still has the Walkman and the tape (remember when the quality of blank tape you bought mattered, I mean, really mattered, whether it was the red label Maxell or the black and gold one?  That’s up there with white dog shit as a source of nostalgia) - and it still works.  Perfectly.  Really?  It hasn't stretched or broken?  It looks mint, although we surmise that it's been his trusty companion through thick and thin.

I'm not sure there's a technical term for it (there must be - probably something German) but you can shovel the most implausible hokum into the faces of an audience, but give them something real world that can't be so, and you've lost them in a heartbeat.  Show an alien invasion force travelling faster than light to get here - that's okay.  Show them taking the Northern Line to get to Heathrow and you'll have them throwing things at the screen.

And then there's the music and the dancing.  The music just screams naff.  Music for people who don't like music.  Putting the hoover around in the 1970s music.  The bits of Radio 2 that weren't Barbara Dickson or Leo Sayer in the 1970s music.  And the dancing...  Words fail me.  It's like the film just wants to hammer home that Peter Quill is an arrested adolescent.  And I do not feel like spending some hours in the company of an arrested adolescent, not to mention vermin, a talking tree and a big feller... actually, I'll leave the big feller out of it.  He looks like he'll not take well to my views.  Oh, and the various meanings of "I'm Groot" is actually quite funny...

Maybe, if I was really rooting for Star-lord (really? with a straight face? no, I'm laughing at you, not with you), then I wouldn't care that I singularly don't care about the story.  You've found an orb.  So what?  Why's it so important to you?  What is it?  Why do you have to risk your life to get it?  A macguffin only works if you care about it because characters you care about care about it.  I don't care about the orb (hence don't really care when it turns out to be much more than your common-or-garden, orb-on-the-Clapham-omnibus orb), and you've singularly failed to make me care about Star-lord.  Hence I find myself watching two hours of explosions and action with absolutely no skin in the game whatsoever.  It's just stuff happening.  I think I had more sympathy with the people who wanted to kill him: I could see their point.

Undeserved misfortune is a classic way to ground a story.  Had Star-lord had the orb planted on him, forced him into doing something with it, I'd sympathise.  If there had been an act 1 explaining why he had to get it (not realising what 'it' actually is), I might be rooting for him.  Either way is a route out of this mess.  But if a guy tries to climb over the fence to dance with the tigers in the zoo, you'll probably be laughing as they tear his face off.  That's not too much of a stretch, analogy-wise.  Honest.

Maybe I could have warmed to these two films if Star-lord (can I stop calling him that now? it's just silly) had grown up.  But I think there's one line that perfectly encapsulates his lack of character growth and that arrested adolescent is the apogee of his development across these two films: "You shouldn't have killed me Mom and squished my Walkman."  Pathos or pathetic?  The jury's not out; they came straight back and then went home.


Twenty-four sci-fi, slipstream and new weird stories.
Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Available now on,, .de, .fr, .es, .it, .nl, .jp,, .ca, .mx, .au, and .in.  


Friday, 5 June 2020

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

24 0s & a 2

Twenty-four sci-fi, slipstream and new weird stories.  Frequently absurd, often minimifidian, occasionally heroic.

Available now on,, .de, .fr, .es, .it, .nl, .jp,, .ca, .mx, .au, and .in.