Wednesday, February 7, 2018
My Thoughts On...A Bunch of Netflix Stuff
So...Netflix had a bunch of interesting stuff released recently. Honestly I don't get as much time to binge streaming services as I like, but when I do I try to be particular about it. If I'm not trying to make a dent in my anime backlog with Crunchyroll, I do occasionally see what's on Netflix, if only to see what exactly is getting mainstream viewers excited or pissy. The Netflix Marvel shows, 13 Reasons Why, Orange is the New Black, whenever shows like these become water cooler discussion in this day and age, it's always prudent to keep your hand on the service's pulse.
But since my prose is far too long-winded for its own good, I decided to make My Thoughts this time around be more rapidfire. Just quick thoughts and observations I have developed catching my share of the streaming service-viewing public.
First some very quick rapidfire thoughts on stuff I may have mentioned once upon a time.
The Marvel Netflix Shows
When I actually started reading comics I enjoyed my share of the brighter and more entertaining stuff. For example Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man post- One More Day was my reintroduction to the character and reminded me of why I loved the webhead; even while I am in agreement with everyone that One More Day is one of the worst things to ever happen to the character since The Clone Saga.
But I was also young and a had a dark streak as well. Reading stuff like the mid-2000s run of Moon Knight up until the aftermath of the Civil War story, the gothic supernatural action of Ghost Rider, and a LOT of graphic novel trades of Batman including The Dark Knight Returns, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, and his final epic case before his death in Final Crisis, Batman R.I.P.
I'm a bit older now and can appreciate the camp, but I've always had a soft spot for the more hardboiled and gritty heroes. The ones that see a truly depressing and overwhelming world around them and declare that it stops now, through bloody knuckles and broken teeth if necessary.
So let's get to my thoughts on the shows with that in mind.
Probably my favorite of the Netflix Marvel shows by default. Great action with stamina playing a factor. Love the supporting cast. Even enjoy how the show goes from gritty gangland crime drama to hokey comic book silliness when the ninja organization The Hand shows up. Also Jon Bernthal is fantastic as the Punisher, but it's a performance so intense and offputting with how realistically portrayed it is, recontextualizing the character as an army veteran dealing with depression and light PTSD as well as the loss of his family, that it actually made it almost impossible to watch The Punisher spin-off show. Maybe I'll get to it later.
What I don't like? Charlie Cox is a bit one note as the lead. The re-imagined Elektra is a bit of a boring non-entity and is just there to set up the Avengers-style crossover series, The Defenders. And the usual Netflix production issues of flabby middle episodes just there to stretch the run time.
Best show of the bunch. Kristen Ritter is phenomenal as the lead. David Tennant is terrifying as Zedediah Kilgrave. Having the entire season be about stopping a low end supervillain by way of noir detective thriller scratches all of my itches. Not to mention Jones' history with Kilgrave as a very blunt allegory for Rape/Abuse Survival is potent as hell. What I didn't like was the subplot involving shady pharmaceuticals basically goes nowhere.
A classic example of a show I can appreciate is great, but that I have to confess is not for me. The cast is great, the acting is great, the production design is solid, the source material is paid proper respect. But I never finished the season. Due to one reason or another, the racial tension atmosphere baked into the production, the hip-hop meets early 70s blaxploitation film vibe, or even just a case of Marvel burn out, I quietly bowed out of this show. Not because it's awful, far from it, but because it was preaching to a different choir. Say what you will about me, I will not be surprised if you love this show.
I saw several clips of this show and wanted to punch it in the face. I love kung-fu movies. I love kung fu characters. I even love Iron Fist in concept. He's a guy that learned martial arts and because he was so awesome he got superpowers from the spirit of a dragon. But the show took the most fantastic character in the entire Netflix series line-up and made him an annoying entitled little shit. Bad fight choreography, terrible casting, reduction happened in the worst possible areas and it is just....ugh.
Never started the show. Blame Iron Fist.
The minute I found out David Ayer was directing and the production didn't even have a proper screenwriter, I had a bad feeling about the movie the minute it went live.
And I was right. An urban fantasy cop drama that wants to be LA Confidential or Training Day with elves and magic but winds up playing like the movie Crash with DnD stuff awkwardly bolted on. And less subtle....somehow.
Seriously that's all I got. An ultraviolent, hypersexualized radical re-imagining of a beloved fifty-year old Japanese manga hero animated by one of the most underrated directors in the industry. Half of the stuff that happens in this show was stuff I thought couldn't happen with Netflix's standards and practices, and yet they did. Over. And over. And over again.
It isn't just cheap shock either. This show tells a taut, if extremely dark and violent, story of human nature and the literal and metaphysical end of the world. It's also a limited ten episode season so things actually have solid pacing to them.
If you enjoy anime, watch this now.
And now for the core reason why I wanted to bring up my thoughts on Netflix stuff.
I want to discuss....
The Cloverfield Paradox
Oh dear god I am getting so sick and tired of J.J. Abrams' marketing schtick!
I brought this up before in my thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi but I have a bit of an axe to grind with this particular film director and creative producer. In terms of actual filmmaking, Abrams is a solid talent. The original Cloverfield was an enjoyable found footage monster movie. Super 8 was a fun Spielberg pastiche in the vein of ET, The Force Awakens was a welcome return to the Star Wars universe, and despite how disastrous the ending, the first few seasons of Lost were full of highly entertaining character drama.
But it's how Abrams markets and presents his projects that always annoy me: the Mystery Box angle. When Cloverfield hit theaters, many people were greatly disappointed despite the actual film's quality. Why? Because the marketing for the film up to that point was full of misdirection and online viral campaigns. At one point people thought the movie was actually an American proper remake of Godzilla or a Voltron movie. Yes really. Abrams said nothing and let the speculation run wild. Yes, this lead to a pretty excellent box office for the movie, but there was notable backlash.
And this pattern keeps repeating itself with JJ Abrams' filmography. Lost had three good seasons, but the intrigue was so built up, the show became a ratings smash...and the writers clearly had no plans to actually answer the mysteries they had set up. The Force Awakens was pumped full of empty spaces of potential, practically begging for the audience to fill in the blanks themselves. Then The Last Jedi hit and answered every lingering question with anticlimactic answers. It's the perfect storm of utilizing the social media rumor mill and the overwhelming trend of modern blockbuster filmmaking to “logic” everything together; to make every little detail be connected as part of some elaborate tapestry instead of just letting things settle on their own. But the answers and the reveals are always disappointing for how much effort goes into them that it can actually do damage.
In fact, I thought Abrams' production was actually going to go in the exact opposite direction of this approach when it came to the second film to hold the Cloverfield name: 10 Cloverfield Lane. A pretty solid paranoia thriller with Mary-Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman. But the thing is the movie was originally called The Cellar and was directed by Dan Trachtenberg, until it was revamped by JJ Abrams' production company, Bad Robot. But there was no hard connections between the film's conflict of people trapped in a doomsday bunker wondering if the world came to an end and the giant monster rampaging through New York in the original Cloverfield.
In other words, it looked like Abrams was trying to take the idea of Cloverfield as a brand and turn it into a big budget sci-fi anthology film series like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. Genre films with a focus on character and drama all connected by a title.
But what everybody else was expecting was hard evidence and Marvel Cinematic Universe-style connections to the original film, no matter how badly those connections would ultimately dilute and trivialize the central conflict of 10 Cloverfield Lane.
Now, we have The Cloverfield Paradox, the third film in this series that was shadowdropped onto Netflix after Super Bowl LII, and has been marketed heavily as a prequel to the original movie and holding the secrets to the “Cloververse.”
Which is the greatest thing crippling this movie: the weight of this branding. Whenever it isn't dedicating its run time to laboriously explain and answer questions that nobody really asked, the movie itself is quite entertaining.
The set-up is that it is some time in the not too distant future and Earth is going through an energy crisis. So the world puts together what money and resources they have for a huge space station in orbit around the planet and a top of the line particle accelerator. The mission by the crew is to...basically throw science at the wall and see if they can find a source of unlimited energy by locating a Macguffin particle.
Yes, the science is so soft it barely makes sense in comic books.
On the space station are a freaking Beneton ad of diversity including Zhang Ziyi playing a Chinese physicist, Daniel Bruhl as a German scientist, and our British female lead played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Say her name a few times out loud, it's fun.
Things take a weird turn when the team seemingly discovers an energy source after firing their accelerator again, but it turns out something went horribly wrong. The whole station blacks out, Earth is nowhere to be seen, and unexplained stuff starts happening on the ship. With everything out of whack, the crew has to figure out what just happened and how to return to Earth.
That is basically the rest of the movie: a riff on Event Horizon but with parallel universes. Characters phase in and out of existence, personal histories mix and clash, and freaky things keep happening with gravity, physics, and magnets.
And as a low-rent schlocky sci-fi thriller, it's not half bad. There's a lot of stuff that only seems to be in the movie for novelty more than function, but there are some genuinely beautiful character moments. Acting MVP has to go to Gugu. She has a tragic backstory involving her family and husband, and when it comes to getting a glimpse of what might have been she doesn't miss a beat. It's a hell of a performance.
But once again, the jumbo-sized elephant in the room that is in the very title has to be addressed. Right before the scientists fire their particle accelerator, there is a broadcast shown by a crazy scientist on Earth who keeps begging the scientists to take caution. Claiming that by punching holes in reality looking for this MacGuffin particle, it could bring untold horrors into our world. Not just through space but time itself. He even flat out says these could include aliens, monsters, and demons. He even calls it The Cloverfield Paradox.
Yep, that's the big explanation for all the weird sci-fi stuff that happens and will happen in the Cloververse going forward. A particle accelerator borked with space-time looking for infinite energy and messed everything up. Meaning regardless of time period or location, you can blame the scientists on the Cloverfield Space Station for forgetting to carry the one. Aren't you glad you know now?
Well I'm not. The grand appeal of doing anthology-style genre filmmaking is there is a continued suspension of disbelief when it comes to big ideas. Did we need overly complicated mythology or interwoven narrative threads as to why Earth is suddenly occupied by pigpeople at the end of an episode of The Twilight Zone? Of course not, that would be silly. Small cameos and tenuous connections like recurring characters, think Dr. Vink from Are You Afraid of the Dark?, are acceptable but that's more the exception than the rule.
Also, the justification is so broad and boring it is effectively meaningless. It's an overcomplicated and pretentious way to say, “it's science magic, I ain't gotta explain shit.”
Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane, this movie was originally under a different title and director. It was directed by Julius Onah, a pretty underground talent in terms of mainstream film, and the original film title was God Particle. But while 10 Cloverfield Lane only shared a name with prior movies, you can actually feel how artificial and forced the Cloverfield connections are in this film. There's even a painful final shot that made me want to chuck my TV out the window.
But now it's gonna be picked clean by obsessive Cloververse fans trying to figure out how incidental dialogue or events will somehow tie things to the fourth film, which apparently is gonna be an alternate history narrative set in World War II. Connections that are basically impossible since this movie basically wrote itself a blank check.
On the one hand, I never would have checked out this movie if it weren't for the Cloverfield branding, and in a way I do appreciate what Abrams' people at Bad Robot are trying to do by marketing these kinds of movies. But the way they went about doing it feels both insufferable and unnecessary.
Still at least it they put it on Netflix instead of charging a movie ticket this time. There may have been panic in the streets!