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LOTR controversy is nothing new. It’s just the same old “old vs new” argument.


So — ooh, boy. We’re going to make a mistake here. We abandon the website for a year, then with the second post upon our return we wade into the waters of fandom, racism, and social media. Top shelf idea, there. It’s gonna be great.

Look, LOTR and criticism thereof sort of has this problem.

And the problem is that you have to measure anything LOTR against the films of the original trilogy.

Why is this a problem? Because the films were just so damned good.

Say what you will about the novels. (They were formative for me — I discovered them in high school, read them, loved them, and have re-read them a few times since.) And say what you will about the adaptations. (There were some things I disagreed with, given my knowledge of the books. Some things that just didn’t make sense to me then, though now that I know a bit more about storytelling and movies, we get it. (See: moving the encounter with Shelob from the end of book 2 to the middle of book 3.)) But good ol’ PJ did that rare thing with the trilogy: he caught lightning in a bottle. He brought to life on the big screen a story that for so many of us had lived only in our imaginations, and it was as good, if not better, than we expected. He brought new fans to the story who never would have read the books otherwise. Oh, and he changed the way Hollywood thinks about stories and trilogies and series and all that stuff (for better or for worse.)

(Sidenote: We don’t talk about The Hobbit films.)

And, well, now we have to (or rather, now we get to) live in the universe where all those things happened.
And like any good series or book or otherwise IP, What Comes Next will inevitably be measured against the standard of the original. (Which is never going to be favorable for the new stuff. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. You can’t even catch it once. This is metaphor.)

We talked about this a bit back when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and all the hubbub about that film (spoiler alert: the hubbub did not quiet down, it only got worse, and that’s all very dumb, but that’s not our focus today, please stay on topic). About how the longtime fans feel some ownership over the thing, so when the New Stuff comes and it’s not exactly what they remember and expect, they get upset. But it’s rearing its head again and we’re thinking about it again, and well, I’m back, baby, so we’re gonna dive in and make some sweeping generalizations.

So, the new series is coming out. We haven’t even had the first episode yet, but people are angry. They will cite any number of reasons for their anger, but what they generally boil down to is: Thing Does Not Conform To My Expectations For Thing. Dwarves and elves with dark skin, Galadriel in battle armor — these things did not exist in the original works of Tolkien and they therefore have No Place in the new Tolkien thing.

Rings of Power in Vanity Fair – characters behind those posters UPDATED |  Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The  Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

And then, like clockwork, come the rebuttals and indignation from the other side. We’re not living in Tolkien’s time; we’re living in the 21st century, and representation matters. These stories belong to everybody, not just a bunch of white dudes. Say what you will about the response to the response, but it follows its own (entirely predictable) patterns.

We should point out, here, that there’s no simple answer to this problem, for reasons that will quickly become apparent, but it’s important as story-consuming people to think about these things, and what they say about us, and what we can learn from this, so that maybe (okay, probably not, but we can dream) we don’t have to keep having the same arguments over and over again.

The problem here is the same problem you have when debating a societal issue of any other stripe. Abortion. Religion. Gay marriage. Trans issues.

That problem is: both sides are right.

Let’s pick a spicy one, to make sure to offend as many people as possible. Abortion. One side says it’s the woman’s body, so it’s the woman’s choice, and they’re right. The other says all life is sacred, that every new life should have a chance, and they’re right, too. Gay marriage? On one hand, two people who love each other should be able to enjoy the benefits that society offers to the married just like anybody else. On the other, if marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, then calling a same-sex union a marriage is, by definition, wrong. (Personally, I think we need to abolish the concept of recognizing marriage through government institutions anyway — theoretically we have a separation of church and state in this country. That would unmake this whole issue, but it’s largely moot these days anyway. History moves on and the arc bends towards justice, or so they say.) The problem is that we get all territorial and tribal and we take bad-faith shots at the other side’s arguments and call them idiots and knuckle-draggers and anything else under the sun, and we try to make that comment that’s going to go viral, and we can’t compromise. We’ve forgotten how, in The Discourse.

Well, LOTR is the same. Dedicated, lifelong fans are right. Tolkien’s works were written by a white dude without much consideration for diversity, and possibly (probably?) with some assumptions that might not sit well with our collective consciences here, half a century and more on from when he set his tales down. To change the texts, to introduce characters outside of that mold, is, in fact, to change the texts themselves. But fans who want more inclusivity are also right: that the texts don’t represent the world we live in now, that the stories have appeal for a broader audience and, as a result, it would be nice to have a bit more inclusivity than the books did in their original form.

And you can already hear the arguments from both sides. “Why not make new stories with more diverse characters and casting needs — why do they have to change this one that’s already out there?” Well, that might be a good point … but no new series is going to have the brand appeal that LOTR has. It just can’t. New stories are great — and coming out all the time, by the way — but they’re not LOTR, and they can’t be. And from the other side — “why do these fans have to be so closed-minded and racist? Why do they have to pretend like they own everything?” But they’re not wrong — the original series actually is written that way.

Is there middle ground to be found between these two viewpoints? Almost certainly not, because we’re too conditioned by our echo chambers to seek out the support of those on our own side while scoring points at any cost against those guys over there.

It’s a depressingly obvious and probably unavoidable cycle. It played out with Star Wars, it’s playing out now with the LOTR series, and it will keep playing out as long as there are fandoms and social media and the internet and, probably, people.

I don’t actually have a solution for this problem at the macro level, because the problem doesn’t get solved at the macro level. It comes from one-on-one conversations and the commitment of the individual to stop shouting “OTHER SIDE BAD” for a minute and actually listen to what’s being said.

Our society just isn’t built for those conversations any more. It’s built for quippy one-liners, mic-drops, and dunking on the other side. And it’s a shame.

Sidenote and disclaimer: the world we’re in is changing, and media and filmmakers are changing with it. If you are bound and determined that your old stories remain what they are and never get changed to adapt to the times we’re living in … I have some unfortunate news to give you. That may or may not be right, but it is a fact. And life is just easier when you accept facts as facts. But that’s a whole other topic.


How To Ruin a Movie with Just One Character


I’m gonna say it, all right? I love Wonder Woman.

Conceptually, I mean. Like, she’s basically the answer to Superman, right? This broad, poorly designed skillset. She can basically do anything the situation calls for, as long as she “discovers the power within herself” and she’s doing it to save somebody, or save some institution, or you know, she feels like it or whatever. I mean, she flies in the new movie. Lassos bullets. Heck, she hookshots and Tarzan-swings off of friggin’ lightning in the new movie.

And it’s awesome. Who cares if it makes sense? I wasn’t a fan of the comic books or of the old school show or anything, but you know what? She’s a great girl-power character, the first movie is tons of fun, and it’s a harmless guilty pleasure. Is the first Wonder Woman a great movie? I dunno. But it’s definitely good enough to rank in the top half of the superhero movies out there, and it’s probably near the top of DC’s catalog. (Sorry, DC. You kind of suck.)

And there’s a new Wonder Woman out! Holy shnikes! Wonder Woman has this new badass gold armor with wings, oh my god. And it’s in this awesome 80’s aesthetic with that new-wave soundtrack? That was so cool in Thor: Ragnarok! This is gonna be amazing. I couldn’t wait.

See the source image

And I gave up on the movie about twenty minutes in.

I can’t even speak to how good the movie is generally, because I couldn’t get past this one thing. The movie went so horribly and stupidly off the rails before it even got out of the first act, it never got me back.

Mild spoilers here — I’m not going past the first act as I mentioned — but here’s your warning.

Her love interest from the first movie is back.

Was that in the trailers? I can’t remember. I remember seeing a trailer in the movie theatre back when we could still go to movie theatres, which was what, about seven years ago?

But he’s back. And I get it, he’s the big-name co-star in the franchise. He’s probably contractually obligated, fans maybe want to see him; this is Hollywood. Okay, fine. But if you saw the first movie, and if you have basic math skills, you recognize there’s a problem here.

The first Wonder Woman is set in the time of World War I, when Chris Pine plays a pilot. Wonder Woman 1984 is set in … 1984. So there’s some time passed there, and they can no longer (if they want to be story-consistent) have young, beautiful Chris Pine in the movie; that doesn’t make sense.

So instead, Gal Godot, young and immortal because Wonder Woman and all that, is approached by some rando at a public event. He hits her with something only Chris Pine would say. Slaps Chris Pine’s old wristwatch into her hand. It’s him. Her old flame. They go back to his room. We see the rando in the room, but there’s Chris Pine in the mirror, and from here on out, rando dude disappears and we only see our beautiful, rugged, contractually-obligated Chris Pine in the movie.

But like … how? I mean, I get it. Chris Pine’s soul or whatever has wound up in this random dude, but the movie has no interest in explaining how or why he got there. Wonder Woman literally asks him “how” and he’s all “I have no idea,” and that’s about as close as the movie gets to explaining this.

This is bad storytelling.

This is not in and of itself a bad plot idea — and certainly it’s been done in movies before, to better or worse effect. But here, it’s handled so badly that my eyebrows shot up to the top of my head and did not return to normal until hours after the movie was over and I had fallen asleep. I mean, explaining this thing away is easy, right? There is, literally, magic in the world when Wonder Woman is involved. The first movie’s big villain is the Greek God of War, for heck’s sake. Literally call on any god watching out for Diana, wanting to do her a favor, to squirt her old flame’s soul into this new husk like Cheez-Whiz into an olive, and bang, there’s your answer. But no, the movie just hand-waves it away and we’re expected to go along.

Or how about this? Start the movie not from Wonder Woman’s perspective (do we really need to go back to the island where the first movie started, aside from the super-obvious plant about not taking shortcuts from princess Buttercup?). Start instead from this rando’s perspective. Show his apartment. He’s obsessed with tracking Wonder Woman. He’s got newspaper clippings of this strange woman at the site of all these strange occurrences, pictures of Diana walking around town. The stereotypical red yarn zig-zagging across a big creepy stalker bulletin board. Dude is obsessed with her and we don’t know why. Feels creepy. Is he the villain? Is he gonna try to kill her? Then we go to the same big event. He’s got his collar pulled up, his hood hiding his face. He sees her. She moves away from the crowd. He makes his move — he’s gonna grab her, DANGIT WONDER WOMAN DON’T GET PUNKED BY THIS FOOL — and there’s the watch. And she knows it, and we know it, and okay, we haven’t explained any more what’s going on with this guy but we’re at least involved and we care about him.

But we don’t get that. We get a rando who Diana recognizes immediately as her guy and we’re asked not to worry about it. And I can’t do it. If you’re gonna bring back a character who should be dead or at the very least aged into uselessness to go on an adventure with your heroine, you have to at least make an attempt at telling your audience how it’s possible. I mean, audiences maybe aren’t as tough to please now as they were a year or two ago? COVID has softened our hearts. We just want to be entertained. Take us on a journey.

But that doesn’t mean you get to pretend we’re stupid.

And the presence of Chris Pine in this movie says that we’re stupid. It feels like the movie studio throwing up the big middle finger to us, saying “whatever, it’s a Wonder Woman movie and Chris Pine comes with the Wonder Woman movies, so just shut up and sit on your couch and eat your popcorn.”

Is WW84 a good movie?

I really can’t tell you, because I never got past this crap.


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.


Terrible Reviews: Endgame (Or, Why Fat Thor is All Of Us)


I always see myself in movies. I can’t help it — I’m always comparing myself to the characters, having the internal monologues of “I’d never do that” or “if it were me I’d…” which is part of the fun of the movies, and literature generally, innit? We get to live vicariously through the figures on the screen.

Which is why instead of doing a full-on review of Avengers: Endgame, I instead want to look at two things I absolutely loved about the movie.

Here’s your obligatory *MILD SPOILERS AHEAD* warning, but y’know, the movie has been out for two weeks, so avoiding spoilers is your lookout at this point.

Let’s start with the big one (pun intended): Fat Thor.

For my money, Thor has been the best thing about the MCU since the first Avengers movie. The best thing, by like, a lot. And since Ragnarok, the gap is only getting wider. Chris Hemsworth’s take on the character is so charming, so goofy, and so heartfelt that it’s hard not to love him. Also, he’s, y’know, the freaking god of thunder, so there’s that.

chris hemsworth GIF

And … actually, I need a detour here. Because what I really love about the Marvel universe — and what is giving its films such staying power, and what’s making its films resonate even with people (like me!) who not only aren’t comic book fans, but who might actually turn up their noses at the notion of being comic book fans — is that they really work hard at fleshing out their characters. Making sure that the movies are more than just beat-’em-up formulaic tripe of hero is the best at everything, hero gets his butt kicked by baddie, hero goes off to train and recruit buddies, hero kicks baddie’s butt, hero is the best at everything again but even better now. No, for a Marvel movie, if a hero wants to be successful in the end, they’re going to have to grow for it, learn for it, change for it.

The example springing to mind right now is in Spiderman: Homecoming where young Peter, just laid low by a failure to save the day, gets chastised by mentor-figure-doubling-as-surrogate-dad Tony Stark. Stark is taking his high-tech Spiderman kit back from Peter because he’s not ready for it. Peter protests that he’s nothing without the suit. Then, this from Tony: “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it.” Peter has to return to his un-souped-up heroing, takes a step back to work on his personal life, ends up saving the day by the skin of his teeth without the suit. He learns. He grows. And he becomes what we knew he was all along.

So — back to Thor. Thor has been laid low by the most recent slate of movies. Ragnarok saw the destruction of his home world and the loss of his hammer. Infinity War began with the death of his brother (and most of the rest of Asgard) and sent him on a quest to retrieve a weapon mighty enough to defeat Thanos — and he still fails. Loss after loss after loss. Thor, by the end of Infinity War, is way past due for a win.

Luckily, the Marvel gods know a good story arc when they see one, and in the opening of Endgame, Thor gets to make good on what he failed to do at the end of Infinity War: he lops Thanos’s head off with his fancy new thunderstick. (Mid-sentence, if I remember properly, for extra effect.)

But when the Marvel gods giveth, the Marvel gods also taketh away. Decapitating the biggest of bads feels good — damned good — for about five seconds, but it’s not actually a win. The stones are lost, Thanos’s evil 50% population downsizing can’t be reversed, everything is awful. Thor’s friends are still ashes, and Thanos wasn’t a threat to anybody anymore. The victory is entirely hollow. Still, it’s early in the film — lots of time for that character arc to swing upward. And that’s what we expect — the hero gets laid low, and he pops back up onto his feet and keeps fighting.

Except, no, that’s not what we get. Instead, our favorite thunder god goes into hiding like a spooked turtle retreating into its shell. Five years pass, and when we next see Thor, not only is he not bouncing back like a good superhero should (Cap is heading up support groups, Black Widow is running a global security system, Iron Man has embraced his family side and moved on), he’s wallowing in his despair. He’s put on weight, he’s stopped shaving, he’s wasting his days sucking down brewskis and playing video games with online trolls.

Man of the Year, right here. Pass the beer.

Now, here’s where the controversy comes in (because for goodness’s sake we can’t have a thing without spinning up a jolly good controversy about it) because apparently a lot of people are upset about Fat Thor. It’s fat-shaming, they cry, it’s an overweight character played for laughs, they moan, it’s cheap and hurtful, they warble.

Bollocks, I say. Yes, Fat Thor is played for laughs, but everything in the MCU is up for becoming a punchline — why should one of the most beloved butts of the brickiest brick jokes suddenly be immune? Just because he put on some pounds? Nonsense. Fat Thor is funny because Chris Hemsworth is a funny guy, and because we expect Thor to be chiseled and slinging lightning and hammers around, not pudgy and parked in a Barcalounger shouting at noobs on Call of Duty.

In my not-so-humble opinion as a somewhat overweight guy myself, I’m going to say that Fat Thor’s portrayal is absolutely not fat-shaming — in fact it’s just the opposite. For one thing, there’s no training montage, no blast of lightning that burns the fat away and gives us Chiseled Thor anew. No, Fat Thor goes through the entire movie as Fat Thor, squeezes into the jumpsuit as Fat Thor, saves the world as Fat Thor. Sure, we laugh at him along the way, but we also love him for who he is, as we always have.

Also — I’m gonna go ahead and say the controversial thing — when people get upset, sad, depressed even — sometimes? They let themselves go. It happens. And again, I’m saying this to you as a guy who has packed on a solid twenty-five pounds over the past several months myself. For some people, that’s a natural response to stress. It’s not shaming to point that out — it’s also not shaming, I’d argue, for that guy’s buddies to rib him a little bit about it. But (and here’s the heroic thing) Thor lets himself be talked out of his funk … sort of. He suits up and goes to work even though he’s not really feeling it, because he knows his buddies need him.

And that brings me to the second thing I love about the movie — really an offshoot of the first. Which is that Thor — Fat Thor, by this point, but still God-of-Thunder-Thor — struggles not against a foe, but against doubt. Because of his recent spate of failures, Thor — literally capable of almost anything Thor — falls into inaction, packs on the pounds and hides from the world, because of his own feelings of inadequacy.

Thor suffers from Impostor Syndrome. And a healthy dose of anxiety and probably depression to boot.

He has a panic attack, for goodness’s sake. The God of Thunder is literally struck helpless by the imagined gremlins running amok inside his brain.

thor i cant GIF

So while I absolutely adored Thor before, I double-dang-diggity-love him now, because, like I was saying way back at the beginning of this post that’s quickly getting away from me (WordPress for some reason removed the word count from the editor and it leaves me absolutely rudderless), in Endgame, Thor’s suffering is my suffering. And — as I always tell my students — the world is large. If you’re feeling it (or thinking it or wondering it), other people are feeling it, too.

Luckily Marvel has an answer for us — for the problem of one of the most powerful beings in the universe struck helpless by the feeling that he isn’t as much of a superhero as he thought. (And, by extension, for that existential doubt worrying away in all our hearts that we aren’t gonna be able to do the things we want to do, or that we need to do. Cuz, y’know. Thor is us.) And the answer is delivered by, who else, but his mother.

Frigga (Norse mythology has the best friggin’ names, I don’t care what anybody says): Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person — of a hero — is how well they succeed at being what they are.

And I can’t get over that. I’ve been hearing it in my head ever since. It’s the perfectest advice you could give to somebody suffering the way Thor is suffering.

Thor goes on from there to help save the universe. He’s still fat, of course. He saves the universe as he is, not as the idealized version of what he’s supposed to be.

This is why I am loving Marvel movies, still, so many years down the line, and even though there are, admittedly, way too many of them. Because their heroes are us — just, y’know, with better abs and magic hammers and stuff.

Until now. Now they’re just us.

thor GIF

All images are obviously the property of Marvel, except for the fact that Thor belongs to all of us.


Why I Cry at Kids’ Movies


I was watching the latest episode of This is Us with my wife the other night (why I continue to watch this show is beyond me; it’s genetically designed to pull at its viewers’ heartstrings at the expense of anything like a compelling narrative). And as Mandy Moore sat there munching on a candy bar as she received the news her husband had died, I glanced over at my wife. Tears streamed silently down her face, her brow knit up like a Christmas scarf your mother made when you were six. And I turned back to the show and just watched, not crying. Not that I felt nothing, but I wasn’t impacted so deeply by what I was seeing.

Maybe it’s because I know the show’s goal, like the Greek tragedies of old, is to get under my skin and tap into the emotions I’m not supposed to express in my walking-around life. The entire raison d’etre for This is Us is to make its viewers bust a tear every week, to give us a blubbering, tear-streaked catharsis. I know that, and I have feelings about that goal (I think it’s cheap, but more on that another day), and my viewing of the show is as a result inescapably cynical.

It made me think: what was the last movie I really cried at? Adult movies (yeah, what I meant there was movies for grown-ups) don’t really do it to me anymore. My wife swears I cried the first time she made me watch The Notebook, but I remember it differently. And I can still get a little misty towards the end of Titanic, a movie about which I’m as cynical as it comes.

But no; what makes me cry these days are kids’ movies.

bingbong

Pretty sure this purple jerk Disney/Pixar cooked up is responsible for more adult tears than an ocean full of Titanics.

Show me The Lion King and I will weep manly tears as Simba noses at Mufasa’s body, trying in vain to wake him up. Inside Out gets me every time when Bing Bong throws himself off the wagon so that Joy can escape the black hole of memory. Shoot, I cried the first time I saw Frozen when Anna sacrificed herself to save a weeping Elsa, and Elsa threw her arms around her sister’s frozen statue. Don’t even get me started on A Dog’s Purpose. I had to leave the room. (I haven’t seen Up. I don’t plan to. I’ve heard stories.)

They didn’t always do this to me. In fact, I would have laughed at a version of myself who cried at kids’ movies, before I became a version of myself who cried at kids’ movies. (Actually, that’s not true. I still totally laugh at myself for crying at kids’ movies.)

And I think I know why I cry at kids’ movies.

It’s because I’m a parent now. And being a parent changes your perspective.

Time was when I could watch a kids’ movie and just, y’know, watch it. As a movie. Here’s a protagonist, here are their struggles, here’s how they deal with them. Strife happens, as strife happens to all, but a resolution is reached. Bing bang boom, kids’ movie over, no tears.

Now, no longer. Now, a kids’ movie comes on and I can’t help viewing it as a parent. Not in that is-this-thing-appropriate-for-my-kid-to-watch-or-should-I-be-calling-my-congressman-about-it kind of way. Rather, I watch it, and either subconsciously (or other times, entirely deliberately) project my kid onto it.

The Lion King: I’m not crying because Mufasa has died. I’m crying because Simba’s father has died, because the center of Simba’s world is gone, and now Simba has to navigate the world without his role model and mentor. And it hits me. WHAM. What would it be like for my kid if he had to go through life without me?

Inside Out: I’m not crying because Bing Bong disappears forever. I’m crying because something that makes Riley young and adorable and sweet just kind of fades out, never to be recovered. Not only does Bing Bong die (and man it’s hard to take ANY sort of post about anything serious seriously [yeah, that’s grammatically correct] when you’re repeatedly typing out “Bing Bong”), he gives himself up knowing full well what it means: that a little part of Riley’s imagination dies with him. WHAM. What will my kid become when she stops obsessing over Minnie Mouse and My Little Ponies?

Frozen: I’m not crying because Anna dies for her sister. I’m crying because for a heartbreaking moment, Elsa knows that she has lost her other half, the sister who’s been her only family for most of her life. WHAM. What will my kids be to each other when my wife and I are gone?

And there’s only so much of this WHAMming that a parent can take before we start to leak from the eyes at the merest hint of strife befalling our kids — or the kids we subconsciously project onto the kids in these movies.

My daughter’s latest obsession is the My Little Pony movie. It’s hard to live in our house for more than a few days and not come away quoting the flavor-of-the-month they’re watching (and the list is long: Cars, Wreck-it Ralph, Curious George, Boss Baby, Finding Dory, The Little Mermaid, Ice Age, Moana, Lego Batman, The Secret Life of Pets, Zootopia, stop judging me this list is not exhaustive), but I’m managing it so far with this one. Not only because something in my soul still manages to HATE My Little Pony since the days when my sisters loved it, but mostly because I don’t want to have to explain to my wife why a handful of animated magical horses have moved me to tears when a perfectly good show for grown-ups doesn’t.

But the day is not far off.

I only hope I’m already chopping onions when I inadvertently catch the emotional moment.


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