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Terrible Reviews: (The Ending of) The Rise of Skywalker


I want to talk about the end of “The Rise of Skywalker”, so rest assured, there will be spoilers ahead in this post.

Not a lot of them, mind you, and certainly not wide-ranging. In fact, the spoilers are really limited to one, and that to a specific moment. Specifically, I want that specific moment to be the final moment of the final movie, itself the final moment of the most recent trilogy, itself the culmination of a trilogy of trilogies. The previous nine films (let’s leave Rogue One and Solo out for the time being — and perhaps for good) all build up to this particular moment.

It must be said first that I was a Disney Star Wars skeptic, but now I’m a convert. Taking on a new trilogy in and of itself was a tall order to say the least, but I think that Disney not only stuck the landing, but they did it in a way that somehow threads a wicked-tiny needle: the new series is awesome, it preserves and reinvents the magic of the original series, and it lays to rest the fear that the prequels gave us that new Star Wars movies were doomed to be crap. The new Star Wars are not crap. Probably not least of which is because the franchise was pried from the grasping clumsy fingers of George Lucas.

But enough preamble. Let’s get to the spoiler and that all-important culminating moment.

The war is over, the fighting done, the survivors gone home, the obligatory LGBT inclusion included and summarily fast-forwarded over. Rey returns to the scene of the crime, the iconic planet of Tattooine, specifically Luke’s hut on said dust mote, to entomb the light sabers belonging to Luke and Leia. She’s approached by an old crone who demands her name.

“Rey,” she says.

“Rey who?” the crone replies.

And after a brief but poignant gaze into the middle distance, she replies, “Rey Skywalker.”

And then we get a lovely bookending shot of Rey and BB-8 silhouetted against those bloody twin suns over the desert world.

And when I first saw it, I was mad. It felt like a whiff on a perfectly good opportunity, a lame attemt at fanservice, a copout to justify the movie title, a phone-in in lieu of something actually clever.

See, there’s this moment near the end of the first act of RoS where the story is actually starting to get some legs. Rey gets approached by this kid in a crowd who asks her for her name, and Rey’s all, “Rey,” and the kid goes “OK but Rey who” and Rey’s like “just Rey,” and it’s a sad moment for her but also a growing one, because Rey has spent the better part of the last two films sort of tied up in knots about her parents, and she seems to be coming to grips with it there, though she still has some feels. So having a parallel moment at the end of the film seemed a perfect time, to me, for her to answer back “Just Rey” again, but with a bit more sass and certainty. “Rey Skywalker” felt … well, just wrong, on first look.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. And the more I continue to think about it, the more I think it’s the perfect ending to the movie, to the trilogy, and to the trilogy of trilogies. And it’s for much the same reason I didn’t like it at first.

See, by the end of episode IX, Rey has been through it. Faced certain death, become a jedi or whatever passes for a Jedi now that the order is gone, learned the truth of her bloodline, lost friends and mentors and … yeah. Wringer 800, Rey 0.

But the Galaxy has been through it, too. Planets wiped out. Spirits broken. Kids kidnapped and forced into service. A loss of hope. The spirits of the average sentient creature in the galaxy are broken. (This is a huge motif in the new trilogy.) And what rallies people together in hopeless times? A symbol. Something to believe in, something to throw their energy and, for lack of a better word, faith behind.

I mean, in the original trilogy, Darth Vader and the Emperor are out there scaring the hockeysticks out of everybody and it takes the arrival of a new Jedi, a nobody from nowhere named Luke Skywalker to pick up the mantle and a lightsaber, go get trained by a fuzzy little green guy in a swamp and give Vader what for.

Then, in the prequels, the Jedi Order is there, you know, being inept as they strive against the Sith but there’s all this babble, this prophecy, about the One who will bring Balance to the Force (randomly capitalizing words is fun). And they find this podunk kid, this nobody from nowhere, who’s force sensitive, and holy crap his MIDICHLORIANS (let us never speak of them again) are off the scale, and could he be the one?YES HE IS, and his name is Anakin Skywalker and he carries all our hopes and dreams until Ben’s all “YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE” and cuts him in half.

So in the new trilogy, we have … what? We have Luke but he’s in the wind, took his lightsaber and his fancy force powers and fargo’d off to a nowhere that wasn’t even on the map. He’s gone, the Resistance is in disarray because of it, everybody’s looking for Luke to save the day, but he’s off drinking green milk straight from the beached whatever-the-heck-that-thing-was and putzing around with porgs. He can’t be the symbol people rally around anymore; he’s old, he’s disillusioned, he’s SCARED maybe.

But then — but THEN we have the end of TLJ, where Luke becomes the legend again, where he single-handedly faces down an entire squadron of First Order walkers and Kylo Ren himself, and the Resistance has their minds blown in real time and the legend spreads and at the end of TLJ that kid force-pulls the broom over and you see that silhouette where he looks like a Jedi and HOLY CRAP the end of TLJ is so damn good.

Except now Luke’s gone again. Dead for realsies, or as dead as a Jedi ever is in this series, which is to say only as dead as he wants to be, but as far as being a symbol, he’s toast, because he can’t exactly go appearing to the galaxy in his little blue outline, can he? No. Ghosts can’t be symbols. The galaxy needs a new symbol.

The galaxy needs … a Skywalker.

Rey groks this. She knows how important Luke was, not just to her for her training, but also to the entire Resistance and to everybody who was too scared to stand up to the Empire. She feels the void left by Luke’s passing, probably more acutely than anybody who’s left alive, and she knows. There has to be a Skywalker.

And it has to be her. Who else is left?

“Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

God, it’s so poetic and awesome and simple. George Lucas said in that interview that Star Wars is like poetry; it rhymes. That quote is dumb and it pretends to be deep even though it isn’t, but there’s still truth in it, in that while the history of Star Wars doesn’t necessarily repeat, there are those elements that keep coming back. The galaxy needs a Skywalker, and Rey, like Luke before her and Anakin before that, sees the mantle there, abandoned by the one who came before, and says “guess I’ll put this on then.” Never mind she’s not a Skywalker by blood. Hell, Luke even tells Rey in RoS that some things are more important than blood.

But that only leads into the other reason that I love this as the last moment of the saga, which is that my wife read this moment in a completely different way than I did and she still loved it just as much. To wit: as I mentioned before, Rey spent the better part of the past two films in various stages of despair and disillusionment over her parents and not knowing her identity. And the more she learns about her parentage, the less she likes it. First it’s the gut punch that she got abandoned in the first place. Then it’s the big reveal that her parents were … nobodies. (We learn that in TLJ, even though we later learn that it’s only half-true.) And then there’s the haymaker of the truth that comes in RoS.

The parentage, or rather the lack of parentage, that has haunted Rey from the word go turns into the most catastrophic news Rey could hope to learn.

But.

Along the way, she has also gained a family that she never had. First there’s Finn, who “helps” her even though she doesn’t need it, then Han Solo, who recognizes her potential and takes her under his wing, and then Leia who does the same but also bonds with her over Han’s passing, and then Luke who becomes her mentor, and finally her … what, her romance? Weird sibling rivalry? … with Kylo Ren, nee Ben Solo. This is her family. In the strangest of ways, she has become the child of Han and Leia and Luke (that’s a fan-fiction I will not be writing) and so she *really is* a Skywalker.

Rey who?”

“Rey Skywalker.”

Again, it’s all so bloody poetic and beautiful that I could almost cry manly tears if my heart weren’t frozen and shriveled like a womp rat’s testicles on Hoth.

The fact that the new trilogy (and by extension the trilogy of trilogies) manages to end on a note that echoes and reverberates and boomerangs back on itself and on all the movies leading up to it is a master stroke, in my not-so-humble opinion.

Then again, here I stand, having an opinion about Star Wars on the internet, so rest assured I must be wrong.

But you know what? Wrong or not, I don’t care. I got new Star Wars in my lifetime, and I got to re-capture some of that joy that the original movies brought me, and the new movies are good, dammit. Yes, all of them. And yeah, Disney is a horror conglomerate that’s assimilating all of our entertainment like the Blob with Mickey Mouse ears and that’s, you know, that’s a thing that might be a problem that we’ll have to deal with one day. But for now, for today, we have Star Wars, and it is good. Perfect? No – but I promise you, the original trilogy is far from perfect itself. These movies are good. And that’s enough.

The Force will be with us. Always.


Penny Dreadful’s Dreadful Ending


We watched Penny Dreadful recently, a show that finished its run on Showtime a year or so ago and then washed up on the shores of Netflix. Of course, we began watching the series before reading the spoilers and reviews which suggested that the third (final) season was terrible and disappointing, but it starts off pretty gangbusters. Victorian heroes and heroines? Gothic stories, wicked violence, thrilling adventure? The perfect summer guilty pleasure, and so it was — we gobbled up two seasons in the space of about a week at the end of the summer.

Then we got about three episodes into season three and … just stopped. Partly because we ran out of time — when the summer goes for a family of educators, so goes the free time for binge-watching — and partly because the show lost its sense of what it was.

Here’s the part where I warn you that there are spoilers ahead for this show that’s over a year in the can, if spoilers are a thing you care about.

The first season was basically like the Avengers meets the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets all those dusty old novels you’ve thought about reading but never quite got around to: it mashes up Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde and Dorian Gray, and turns them loose on the seedy, foggy streets of London. We end up with werewolves and gunslingers and vampires and witches stalking each other through back alleys and holy sharknado, is it a wild, dark, sexy ride.

The second season takes those heroes and fixes them firmly in orbit around the only female hero in the bunch, one Vanessa Ives. She’s a badass witch, and we learn just how she became so badass, and the perils of becoming so badass — she’s sought after by basically all the forces of darkness. More adventures. Frankenstein re-animates a woman for his monster and falls in love with her himself, but hey, whoops, turns out she won’t be owned, and she wreaks absolute hell in the streets of London herself.

That’s what made the show so satisfying: it was a bloodbath every episode, with a ragtag group of mercenaries fighting for their lives against the ultimate darkness, and the strongest, most fearsome, and most interesting characters in the series were the women.

Until season three. Wherein Vanessa, the most fearsome witch in the land, goes into a dark, existential struggle and gives in to become the bride of Dracula, and the aforementioned bride of Frankenstein falls into orbit with and becomes the diversion of Dorian Gray.

And it just becomes so … boring.

Well, we hate to leave a thing unfinished, and having sunk in the time to watch two seasons of what was once a pretty good show, we felt compelled to commit the time to finish the series out, to see if it turned itself around.

And it did … kind of.

There’s a sort of lovely duality to the final two episodes. The two women — Ives and the Bride — are both kept women, slaves to the men who have tamed them, bested them. But they respond differently: Vanessa gives up, stops fighting, and accepts that she can no longer fight against the forces that pursue her, even though she’s free to leave at any time, while the Bride fights with every breath, though she’s literally chained in a dungeon. Too much of it has escaped from memory, because I waited too long to put down these thoughts about it, but it’s all actually very poetic and sharp.

Except — and here’s the big spoiler — Vanessa kills herself at the end.

Which, I dunno, is a thing that makes sense, given the world that’s been built up around her. She has, after all, been pursued by the devil himself, and then by Dracula, and, due to the events of season three, been left by herself to stand against these advances. She sees no way out. She succumbs, and death and destruction ensue as the world’s most powerful witch and the father of vampires open the gates of hell.

But she kills herself. Or rather, she asks the man who loved her to kill her, and he does. And … that’s it. This woman who has been built up as the baddest, most indomitable spirit between heaven or hell? She sees no way out, gives up, and doesn’t even do it herself; she asks a man to kill her.

Horribly anticlimactic and disappointing.

Now, the Bride — she uses her cunning, plays upon her captor’s heartstrings, and escapes into the wild again. That’s an ending we can get behind. But the show isn’t about the Bride, not really. She’s a side-plot. If the show’s about anybody, it’s about Vanessa, and at the end, she gives up. And it’s hard to get behind that.

Not because she dies; a character choosing death can be valiant, if it’s for the right cause. And the argument can be made that Vanessa’s cause is valiant — the union between her and Dracula is literal poison for London, and eventually, for the world.

But she goes out weak. And I was led to believe, by everything that the show showed us up until the moment of her death, that this character was anything but weak.

That, I think, is why the show’s final season got panned. But it’s not like Showtime hasn’t seen horrible finales before — this is the network, after all, that turned one of the most compelling anti-heroes in recent memory into a reclusive lumberjack in his series finale. (Oh Dexter, we hardly knew ye.)

Tonight’s viewing? The first episode of Westworld. And initial impressions are double plus good.


Terrible Reviews: Ghostbusters (2016)


So, the Ghostbusters reboot is out. And it’s gonna be hard to talk about the film without also talking about the six-hundred pound elephant in the room, which isn’t an elephant so much as it’s the manifestation of insecurities accumulated over decades.

There’s a bit of controversy around this film. I don’t know if you’ve heard. It has the dubious distinction of being the most downvoted trailer in film history, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t a thing until somebody who was determined to hate the movie went and counted to solidify his point. And, much like politics, the reasons for that largely depend on whom you ask.

Ask somebody who’s optimistic or indifferent about the reboot, and they’re likely to say the people downvoting the trailer and panning the film before it ever saw the light of day are antifeminist manbabies who, uh, tickle themselves to Pete Venkman getting slimed every night before they tuck in. These misogynists, they would have you believe, are just butthurt about the beloved franchise of their youth being repurposed with a female cast, and they are VERY VERY ANGRY ABOUT IT.

Ask somebody who’s not happy about the trailer, and they’ll blame it on any number of things: that the special effects look dopey, that the jokes aren’t funny, that the performances look flat, and the list goes on and on. Then there are those who insist that the film is “ruining their childhood” by remaking something that should never have been touched again, as if films, once they’re made, should get cast in bronze and locked in a hermetically sealed chamber until the rapture comes and Jesus himself uncorks them all for his own jolly consumption.

Then, of course, there are the actual misogynists, who literally say that it’s a bloody travesty for their beloved film to feature women in the lead roles.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s actually pretty damn tough to compare the 2016 Ghostbusters to the original, because they are not in any way the same film. They share the same conceptual core, the same nougaty center of “oddball scientists fighting ghosts and saving New York from the supernatural,” and pretty much diverge in every other way.

Whatever. Let’s get to the (spoiler-free!) review first, and we’ll get to the gender meta-analysis later. And I’ll go ahead and disclaim now that the original Ghostbusters is comfortably one of my top-5 films of all time. (And I didn’t hate this reboot.)

The Good:

Whatever else this film might be, it’s designed to be a summer blockbuster, which means action, some laughs, and a big, climactic showdown, probably one that causes millions of dollars in collateral damages and destroys most of a city.

And this film delivers that. The action sequences are pure eye-candy, with the redesigned but classic proton-packs slinging hot ghost death around willy-nilly, and a full load-out of new gizmos and doodads for the ‘Busters to show off. Proton Grenades, a Proton Shotgun, Proton Pistols … it’s all good and it’s all fun. (We’ll discuss the merits of this stuff later, but the visuals are top-notch.) McKinnon’s fight sequence with her Proton Pistols was a total wow-moment in the film, and her character is sure to be an audience favorite.

The comedy will be a sticking point for some people. The original had a dry, deadpan humor to it; this film is much more in the trenches. There’s slapstick. Poop and fart jokes. Ridiculousness. And a lot of people will hate that. But this film knows what it is, and that humor fits right in with the tone of this film, which is goofier than the original right from the start.

Then, the showdown. Buildings get smashed. Ghosts run amok. It’s pretty much what you’d expect, and it looks pretty great. I almost just typed that the final baddie was a bit ridiculous, but then I checked myself. We’re talking about a film in the original whose final showdown was with the StaPuft Marshmallow Man. So forget it. Last showdown is right in line with the tone of the film.

Finally, a note on the story: the main through-line of the story gets established a lot sooner in this film than in the original. Within the first twenty minutes or so, we see the guy (who will later become the big bad) messing around, acting weird, and his role is gradually fleshed out. In other words, we get an idea of what’s actually feeding the problem much earlier in this film than we did in the original (where we don’t really learn about Zuul or any of that until after the halfway point), and I think this film is better for it.

The Bad:

For me, the film has one critical flaw, and that’s the pacing. It’s forty-five minutes into the film (almost halfway) before the ‘Busters catch their first ghost, which is too long for my tastes. Those first forty-five are spent introducing characters, investigating hauntings, and in short, getting the team together. I felt like the introduction of the central two characters (McCarthy and Wiig) was entirely too drawn out, while the other two (McKinnon and Jones) get relatively little intro: then, all of a sudden, the four of them are together, on a gig, busting a ghost … and THEN the film takes off.

A related, but lesser, complaint is the development of these characters. Only one character really changes through the events of the film, and that’s Wiig’s — but the change doesn’t come at the climax of the film, rather it comes in the first thirty minutes. The film’s climax is therefore not transformative for any of the protagonists, which leaves a story wonk like me a little disappointed. Come to think of it, I could just as easily say the same of the original film, sooo….

Then there’s all those weapons I mentioned up above. Storywise, they’re a waste: the McKinnon character rolls them out, not because the proton packs are inefficient, but “just in case”. Every character gets one, and every character waves their altered boomstick around during the final showdown. They’re nice eye-candy, but that’s about it: in fact, the only non-proton-pack weapon that ends up having any story significance is a freakin’ Swiss Army Knife.

The Tough-to-pin-down:

Chris Hemsworth’s character is a big question mark for me. He’s so over-the-top stupid that it really stretches disbelief that the characters would allow him to stick around. Then again, he has some so-stupid-it’s-hilarious moments (the phone in the aquarium for example) which kinda make me rethink complaining about him. So he’s hard to nail down. Then again, my wife points out that he is the male equivalent of a worthless secretary hired just for her looks, so I guess that’s just my gender-blinders falling right into place.

Then there are the ghosts themselves. A lot of folks complained when the trailer came out that the effects on the ghosts looked lame or cheap. Hogwash, if you ask me. They look a little over-the-top, maybe, but this entire MOVIE is over-the-top. Still, the first ghost they catch is not so much a ghost as a freaking winged green devil monster. Maybe I’m nitpicking too much, but that seems less “ghost” and more “demon”. Regardless, in their first attempt to capture a ghost, they go up against this monstrous thing and they bring it down with relatively little trouble. It felt a bit like too big of a victory, too early, against too powerful an adversary.

Outside the Frame:

I said at the outset that you can’t really talk about this film without acknowledging the gender controversy. You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned it at all (well, a little bit around the Hemsworth character). There’s a simple reason for that: gender couldn’t be less of a factor in the movie. Which kind of makes this film the height of a feminist accomplishment.

How’s that, then? Easy. The protagonists are women, but it doesn’t matter that they’re women. The film would work just as well with the original cast of Spengler, Stantz, Venkman and Zeddemore as it does with these four ladies, as it would with any four male actors from today, as it would with any permutation of players and genders. That’s because these characters are not strong female characters, they are simply strong characters who happen to be female. There is no chest-beating, bra-burning moment of “look what we women have accomplished! See how we have thrown off the patriarchy!” No, these are simply capable women, going about their business, kicking ass and saving the day. They don’t need to prove how “feminist” they are. They just do it.

Then, there’s the fact that the film is a reboot (not a remake). Obviously it will be compared to the original, even though to do so is an exercise in futility. This will never be the same as the original, which means that the haters crying that the movie got remade at all will never be wrong. Still, the movie pays homage to the original in the form of cameos from the original cast and callbacks to well-known gags from the original. You still have the hilarious moment when they crank up the “unlicensed nuclear accelerator” in a backpack for the first time, and the other characters slowly edge away. Rehashed again is Bill Murray’s yank-the-tablecloth-off-a-set-table gag that he can’t resist, only this time it’s Kirsten Wiig being dragged out of a restaurant by security, grabbing the tablecloth as a last resort. Some will claim that these callbacks show the film is unoriginal, that it’s simply scavenging the corpse of the first film. Nonsense. They are little head-nods to fans of the original, they are winks-and-nudges to the folks who recognize them for what they are.

The Verdict:

The fact is, this is a perfectly ordinary film. It’s not going to change your life. It’s a good time with some funny ladies and some pretty excellent explosions and light shows along the way. There’s nothing earth-shattering going on here, outside of the sheer balls it took to retool the original so completely. That said? It isn’t a bad film. Not on its own merits and not by dint of re-inventing a film that, truth be told, probably didn’t need to be reinvented.

But when did “need” have anything to do with the movies being made in Hollywood? This is a perfectly good film with a lot of controversy around it. The fact is, your experience of the film will almost certainly depend on the baggage you bring to it. If you come to the film determined to compare it to the original, you’ll be disappointed. This film isn’t trying to improve upon the original; it’s trying to spin the yarn anew for a younger generation. If you come to the film with a more or less blank slate, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a visually delightful take on a true classic.

I’ll reiterate here something I said when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, and the purists were jawing about “IT’S NOT A SEQUEL IT’S JUST A REMAKE,” “YOU CAN NEVER IMPROVE UPON THE ORIGINAL HUR HUR HUR”. Which is: at the end of the day, Ghostbusters is not just a film, it’s a franchise. Movies, TV shows, video games, toys, motherfargoing Ecto-Coolers. And that franchise? However much you may love it? However much it may have influenced you in your youth? It owes you nothing. Star Wars owes you nothing, and Ghostbusters owes you nothing. If you loved the original and think any new take on it is an abomination? Well, for yourself, you’re right, and this film isn’t for you. But if you are willing to take a chance on something a little different, a little less heteronormative (and I just broke the word bank with that word), then hey, holy sharknado, you might have a little fun along the way.

Finally, just look at this viral photo of Kirsten Wiig greeting some young fans at the red carpet:

If the looks on those little girls’ faces don’t make this film worthwhile, then I don’t know what does.

All images are the property of Columbia Pictures.


Terrible Reviews: The Martian


I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, I was so excited to see this movie. I’m not a particularly big Matt Damon fan, though I like him well enough. I tend not to love “realistic” Sci-Fi — that is, science fiction stories that burden themselves overmuch with being “scientifically accurate”. (Give me The Matrix, give me Star Wars.) I was also a little dubious about the prospect of a film which was essentially Cast Away in space.

Still, I was pumped to see it. I heard good things, and there’s just SOMETHING ABOUT MARS this year; between the recent discovery of water (or water-like substances), the discussion of Mars One, and the recent announcements of NASA actually going for a Mars mission, I bought into the hype like your jerk of a brother buying up all the red spaces on Monopoly.

And man, oh man, does it deliver. The film is funny, intense, heartbreaking, funny, clever, sad, funny, and also, believe it or not in a science fiction movie, funny. The main character is an astronaut/botanist with a sardonic streak as wide and deep as the Marianas trench, and Matt Damon plays that up in hilarious deadpan to keep what could be a tedious or ultimately depressing movie … not exactly light and fluffy, but … let’s put it this way. The tension in this film is sharp enough to slice through steel. Yet, throughout much of the movie, I found myself smiling thanks to the levity provided by the main character.

Okay, let’s get into it…

The Good.

Pretty much everything.

No, seriously. The set design is brilliant: the surface of the alien planet is every bit as stark and hopeless as you could imagine; the living quarters on said planet as utilitarian and cramped as they would almost certainly have to be. The acting is superb: Matt Damon’s performance is of course top-notch, and I found myself swinging wildly between elation and despair right with him. There’s a particularly powerful moment when (no spoilers) he experiences a brutal setback, calmly approaches the terminal to log what has happened, utters a single syllable, and then the entire facade cracks and he flies into a paroxysm of rage and panic. An instant later, he recovers himself and gets back to work. It’s all believable and utterly sympathetic. Even the token unlikable bossman pulling the strings of the operation (Jeff Daniels, and what a turn he’s made from his Dumb and Dumber days, by the way) becomes sympathetic along the way, despite being at odds with most of his team for most of the film.

Also, for a sci-fi movie, the film does a remarkably good job of steering away from the science. You know, obviously, that a tremendous amount of science is happening offscreen, but you never feel inundated with it or hamstrung by your inability to comprehend it (I’m looking at you, Apollo 13, with your 02 stirrers and your gimbals and your other such witch science). It’s almost as if the science is a pleasant rose garden in front of a mansion — you can stop and appreciate it if you like, but the real action is the house itself.

And finally, the moment (SERIOUS spoilers here, jump ahead if you’re in doubt) when Watney blasts off from the alien surface to rendezvous with the passing rescue ship… I’ve been invested in stories and characters before, but it has been a long time since my heart has pounded like that during the climax of a film. There are too many things to count which could go wrong, and each try-fail cycle dovetails with the next like the tightening of the screws on a torture victim. There’s a perilous launch, which Watney might not survive. He does, but he blacks out. He escapes the planet’s gravity, but is nowhere near high enough for the rescue ship to catch him. They manage to lower their altitude, but only at the expense of blowing up part of their ship. And on and on and on. Masterful.

The Bad.

Um… maybe… science?

Okay, so there are some scientific faux pas present in the film. Making it not 100% scientifically accurate. The (SPOILERS OMG LOOK AWAY) dust storm on the planet’s surface, for example, wouldn’t happen, at least not with the effects that it has in the film. There’s the problem of cosmic radiation frying anybody who’s exposed for any significant period of time. There’s the frankly laughable (SPOILER HELP) plastic tarp covering the hole in the side of the habitation unit on Mars after the explosion.

But these are, with the exception of the tarp, easy to overlook. Without the dust storm, and without a magical nonexistent solution for the radiation, you don’t have a movie. The tarp … well. I guess every good film gets a pass on one or two ridiculous contrivances. The truth is, I’m having a hard time finding anything bad to say about this movie.

The Head-Scratch Worthy.

Maybe this is just me, but from the halfway point of the film onward, there’s a real head-scratcher. A previously unknown character basically comes up with the day-saving maneuver that sends the Martian astronauts back out to collect Watney, and this he concocts in a half-asleep daze while receiving a brief from one of his superiors. He goes in, pitches it to the head of NASA, and suddenly he’s like the lead mathematician on the project.

It’s not a bad device, but it feels like a stretch. We’re supposed to believe that despite the (presumably) well-staffed teams of experts at NASA working overtime trying to find ways to bring Watney home, none of them had this kid’s idea first? And, given the crew’s decision to basically mutiny toward the end of the film, why not let one of them come up with the idea? Again, maybe it’s me overthinking the elements of story, but it felt like a somewhat hollow method to drum up another character.

That said, at least they didn’t get another white guy to play this part. Yay for diversity!

The Verdict.

The truth is, I only wrote a couple of paragraphs for the other two categories because I could have gone on and on and on about what was good in this movie, and I wanted to give the illusion of parity. The fact is, this movie was fantastic. Think Apollo 13 meets Cast Away but without all the technical jargon of the former and without the knocking-your-own-rotted-tooth-out-with-an-ice-skate squickiness of the latter, not that either of those two things kept either of those two films from being excellent movies. This movie is awesome if you’re a science aficionado like myself, and it was good enough for my wife, who hates sci-fi, to enjoy as well.

The only thing that remains to be seen is how prophetic it is, which might — might! — happen in my lifetime.

If you haven’t seen it, go see it.

You will never look at poop or potatoes the same way again.

All images are obviously not my property. To the best of my knowledge, they are owned by 20th Century Fox.


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