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Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom •••

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall
Director: J.A. Bayona
Screenplay: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 128 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Are we reviewing a new Pokemon Movie with new dinosaurs and we “Gotta Catch ‘em All?”


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

No, Greg, the only thing we’re catching is sequel fever. It’s a Hollywood epidemic. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is running an organization to save the dinosaurs left on the Jurassic Island. The island is on the verge of exploding due to volcanic activity. She’s approached by entrepreneur Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who wants to save eleven species – especially the Raptor named Blue. She enlists the aid of her old friend / love interest Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) who wants nothing to do with the rescue. She convinces him by reminding him that Blue was his favorite ‘saur. And they’re off to the island of misfit dinosaurs to catch ‘em all.


Of course things go badly on the island. Not only do Claire and Owen barely escape with their lives, thanks to the irritable volcano, but they also discover that the paid mercenary rescue team has been ordered to move the ‘saurs to the home of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), a long-lost partner of Dr. Hammond who established the original Jurassic Park. All the ‘saurs will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.


Scott, I’m at a complete loss to understand why any of us should care about these ‘saurs. They seem really dangerous and vicious. It really seems like the world would be better off without them. We don’t see any examples of how the ‘saurs are compassionate, or cute, or cuddly, or in any way worthy of saving. Jeff Goldblum even reprises his role as Dr. Malcom to tell a Senate subcommittee that they should let the ‘saurs die with the island because they don’t belong here. So, the entire premise of the movie – that we need to save the dinosaurs – is in no way validated. So I can’t buy in to our hero’s goal to risk their lives to save really dangerous animals.


I admire your cynicism, Greg. You could say that our two romantic heroes are driven by two needs — the need to preserve life, however dangerous that life may be, and the need to prolong the longevity of the Jurassic Park franchise, which is making millions for Universal Pictures.

This installment of the Jurassic Park franchise has all the familiar ingredients – bloodthirsty ‘saurs, bad dudes who underestimate these ‘saurs, good dudes who try to stop the bad dudes from exploiting the ‘saurs, and a cute little kid who eludes the ‘saurs. There is also a romantic couple devoted to these creatures but are helpless to do anything about their mistreatment. To top it all off, Jeff Goldblum is the expert narrating the story and giving us the usual Jurassic Park commentary about the dangers of tampering with nature.

So you’d might think from my tepid description of the film that I was bored to tears and am ready to beg the filmmakers to euthanize this series once and for all. But I refuse to do that. Jurassic Park has always managed to entertain me even when I know exactly what’s going to happen before it happens. There’s no logic to my liking these overgrown lizards. It should be time to retire the raptors, terminate the T-Rex, and jettison the Jurassic. I plead guilty to liking a movie I have no business liking, and there’s not even an interesting hero story I can single out to justify my poor taste. Could it be that I’m partial to films starring Zefram Cochrane (played by James Cromwell), inventor of the warp engine?


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is what it is: a summer blockbuster popcorn movie filled with action and adventure. It’s not driven by a coherent plot, but at least the acting was pretty good. I give it 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes in this story are Owen and Claire. As a buddy and romantic pairing they do pretty well. Although Claire is played up as the beautiful brains behind the operation, she’s also pretty tough in her own right. Owen is the masculine save-the-day classic hero. I give them 3 out of 5 Heroes.

As for the archetypes, I noticed that they replaced the DAMSEL IN DISTRESS with a screaming, inept, and impotent COMPUTER GEEK. Good for them in the age of the #MeToo movement. There’s the classic CORPORATE FAT CAT only interested in profit without regard to life, liberty, or ethics. They also went to great lengths to create a family unit harkening back to the original Jurassic Park. Claire is not a fan of children, but by the end of the movie Claire, Owen, and the CLONED GIRL Maisie (Isabella Sermon) come together as the NUCLEAR FAMILY that the audience can recognize and root for. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Damn it, Greg, I hate it when we agree on all three ratings. This is a flagrant violation of the laws of nature and the world feels off-kilter now. This rendition of Jurassic Park is indeed a prototypical summer action flick that appeals to my reptilian brain, my inner ‘saur. There is a dark side to this film that is much more horrifying than the bloodthirsty lizards on the screen — the reality of human cloning, which is thrown at us without much fanfare. If the next film in the franchise runs with this idea in imaginative ways, we could have a really fresh future for this franchise.

So yes, my ratings are identical — 3 Reels, 3 Heroes, and 3 Arcs. The heroes of this story undergo the same journey as the heroes in all the previous Jurassic movies. They are not so much transformed by their journey as they are horrified and damaged by it — yet with each installment, they come back with renewed enthusiasm for saving the ‘saurs. Also, with each film we have a fresh new set of bad guys who underestimate the power of nature and whose cages for these creatures never seem strong enough. Did they never see the original King Kong movie? It’s definitely a ‘saur spot for this franchise.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Adrift •••

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Screenplay: Tami Ashcraft, Aaron Kandell
Action/Adventure/Drama, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, will you cast me adrift if I write a bad review?


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, your reviews are always bad. Bad-ass, that is. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Tami (Shailene Woodley) who is a drifter – finding rides on whose-ever boat will take her. She’s landed on Tahiti where she meets Richard (Sam Claflin) – a sailor with his own boat. They quickly fall in love with plans to sail around the world. But first, old friends of Richard’s offer his a sweet deal. The old friends have to fly back to the states to a funeral, so they need Richard and Tami to sail their boat, the Namaste back to California in exchange for first class tickets home.


Naturally, they encounter a storm. It is a humongous storm that nearly tears their boat apart and appears to leave Tami alone and slightly injured. She’s devastated that Richard is not on board and looks longingly for him with her binoculars. But there is nothing but the cruel ocean surrounding her. Finally, she sees Richard clinging to a dinghy and brings him on board. Or does she?


Adrift is a great vehicle for Shailene Woodley who very much looks like a drifter/sailor. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks which start with Tami on the open seas trying to lash down her sails. Then we flash back to where she first comes to the island and meets Richard. The film then flips back and forth between the events leading up to the terrible storm, and the events after the storm. It’s a great construct for this movie as it puts both the worst part of the storm and Tami’s rescue at the climax of the film. This makes for a very satisfying resolution.

This is in two parts the story of Tami and Richard falling in love, and the heroic efforts of Tami to save herself and her critically wounded lover Richard. It shows Tami as a resourceful, competent, and strong woman fighting the tides of nature. She has to make decisions that could mean life or death for them both. I was engaged from beginning to end.


Greg, Adrift is Gravity set in the ocean rather than in space. Moviegoers may recall that in Gravity, Sandra Bullock is set adrift in space and conjures up the illusion of George Clooney to help her through her ordeal. Adrift shows us basically the same idea, with Tami inspired by the ghostly presences of Richard to buoy her spirits. What makes Adrift more special than Gravity is that Adrift is a true story.

The movie works on the strength of the illusion that Richard has survived, albeit barely, the accident at sea. I suppose we could be cynical about another film portraying a woman in “need” of a man to survive, but I don’t think that would be the correct take-home message of this story. The right interpretation is that Tami is a fiercely strong woman who survives for 41 days alone on a boat and acquires enough food, water, tenacity, and resourcefulness to make it to Hawaii on her own. This is true survival-heroism at its finest. Like Gravity, we are denied seeing how our hero delivers her gift or “boon” to society after her survival story, but it’s not unusual for Hollywood to cut corners by not giving us the full hero’s journey.


I think you’ve summed it up pretty nicely, Scott. Except, especially in this based-on-a-true-story movie, the “boon” is the story of survival itself. We’re treated to an uplifting and empowering story of a woman surviving against all odds. And, unlike Gravity, the fact that Tami lives to tell the tale is exposed in the story itself. It may be both “meta” and self-referential, but this odyssey is it’s own reward. I give Adrift 3 out of 5 Reels.

Tami is the ultimate heroic figure. She’s competent, strong, resourceful, virtuous, and loyal. As any good hero would do, she has to find a way to save herself and Richard. She even gives up on her vegetarianism to eat fish to survive. I give Tami 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Richard as MENTOR is an interesting character too. We aren’t aware of it as the movie unfolds, but he was actually lost at sea. His character is there to offer support and consolation. But, wounded as he is, he never lifts a finger to help and he never tells Tami what she must do to survive. This is all Tami’s story from beginning to end. There aren’t that many other archetypes in this story since it’s mostly about Tami and Richard. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I’d say we’re on the same page here, Gregger. Adrift is worth watching on the strength of Shailene Woodley, who shows off her acting chops with a great range of emotion in this film. This film is at once a love story, a love tragedy, and a clinical study of survival in a situation where no one has any business surviving. That this is a true story is inspiring and illuminating about the human spirit. I also award this movie 3 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey is monumentally difficult for Tami at both a physical and psychological level. This is one tough woman who does whatever it takes to do the next right thing for herself and in response to her dire situation. Was Richard really needed for her to survive her ordeal? I’d say we all rely on memories of loved ones from our past who gave us strength and instilled us with self-confidence. In this sense, yes, Richard’s mentorship works. I give Tami’s heroism a rating of 4 Heroes out of 5. With regard to archetypes, there isn’t a whole lot going on here, but then again showing off archetypes was not the point of this movie. I award it 2 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Solo: A Star Wars Story ••••

Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke
Director: Ron Howard
Screenplay: Jonathan Kasdan, Lawrence Kasdan
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 135 minutes
Release Date: May 25, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, would you like to review this movie together or go solo?


Let’s see if this ‘millennial’ falcon stands up to the rest of the franchise. Time to recap.


The galaxy is in turmoil with gangsters and warlords fighting to gain economic and political control. Looking to escape a chaotic planet, Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) bribe a local official to gain passage on a transport ship, but only Han is able to escape. Three years later, he is an infantryman for the Empire and encounters a gang of criminals led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson).


Having befriended the Wookie Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), the two join forces with Becket and his friends to rob the Empire of the powerful fuel “coaxium” for the evil Crimson Dawn lead by Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany). But things go awry when the radical group Enfys Nest interfere and the shipment is destroyed. Now, Becket, Han, and Chewbacca must face Vos and find a way to replace the shipment of fuel.


Greg, I’m not a Star Wars fan and yet I found Solo: A Star Wars Story to be thoroughly enjoyable. Alden Ehrenreich is no Harrison Ford, and yet he does a serviceable job creating a character who somewhat resembles a young Han Solo. His motive throughout the film is to “get the girl”, and even when he finds Qi’ra his goal centers re-winning her heart after a three year separation. Woody Harrelson’s complex character of Beckett is one of the true highlights of this movie. Beckett is one of those complicated people we admire one minute and hate the next – and all for plausible reasons.

This movie does a nice job of explaining the origins of Solo’s last name, as well as depicting how Solo meets and befriends Chewbacca. Solo isn’t so much a mercenary (as we might have expected) as he is a love-struck young man who will do anything to find Qi’ra and then (re-)win her heart. His superb piloting skills save his butt several times, and we’re not terribly surprised to see him go toe-to-toe with Beckett and come out on top. In all, the story works and director Ron Howard deserves credit for crafting an entertaining story out of the various elements of Solo’s character.


After the last three Star Wars films, I was afraid Solo would devolve into a child-appropriate story with lots of cute creatures suitable for sale as plush toys. But Solo turned out to be a pretty gritty story of a young man’s desire to be free and then falling into a life of moral ambiguity. While the film very much bent over backwards to fill in the blanks of Solo’s mythology (like the infamous ‘Kessel run in 12 Parsecs’ comment – and proves that when necessary, Han shoots first), it also found some deep and complex characters. And there weren’t any cute creatures to turn into cartoonesque toys.


Because Star Wars is derived directly from Joseph Campbell’s archetype-filled analysis of the hero’s journey, there are no shortage of archetypes to chew(bacca) on here. Han Solo is your classic rogue soldier, an independent agent who pretends to have no moral compass while his actions prove otherwise. There is also the mastermind villain, the baddest of bad guys who outsources his evil with an army of henchmen. We discuss the different layers of villainy in our last book, Reel Heroes & Villains. Qi’ra, I’m happy to say, defies female convention in the movies by showing a savvy and strength that ultimately saves the day in the end. She is much more than a sidekick and occupies a dual archetype of love interest to the hero as well as co-hero to Han.


Solo: A Star Wars Story does a great job of filling in the blanks of Han’s story – including his ‘frenemy’ status with Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover). There’s plenty of action, as well as a well-thought-out heist story. Ehrenreich channels his inner Harrison Ford to portray a devil-may-care Han Solo that we both recognize and come to know as a young man. I give Solo 4 out of 5 Reels.

Han is an interesting hero. He is devious and cunning, and he seems to apply his skills not just to what benefits himself, but to the underdog as well. His motivation for the majority of the film is to return to Qi’ra and save her. He takes on a mentor in Beckett and quickly learns the lessons of the mercenary lifestyle. We come to learn that Han started out as a compassionate character and only through his difficult choices becomes the cynical scoundrel we meet in Episode IV. I give Han Solo 4 out of 5 Heroes.

There are a multitude of archetypes here. Han as the URCHIN becomes the MERCENARY. Beckett is a DARK MENTOR. Qi’ra is both the DAMSEL IN DISTRESS and the FEMME FATALE. Lando, plays the role of the FAT MAN (the owner of a cantina and con man), though he is obviously fit for fashion.  Dryden Vos is the HENCHMAN reporting to a higher MASTERMIND. I give these archetypes 4 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Solo: A Star Wars Story gives us a wonderful backstory about the early adult life of Han Solo, one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe. The filmmakers here decided wisely to make Han’s motives less mercenary and more romance-based; doing so endows him with more noble, heroic qualities of selflessness and self-sacrifice. Woody Harrelson and Emelia Clarke deserve kudos for  endowing this film with heart, soul, and grit. Letting go of the idea that Alden Ehrenreich could “become” Harrison Ford allowed me to enjoy Ehrenreich on his own merits. This film is a winner, earning a rating of 4 Reels out of 5.

Han’s hero’s journey is an exciting adventure wrapped in intrigue, as his goal is to win the girl whose heart he once won but whose character may have changed during their three-year separation. Like all good heroes, Han enlists the aid of several allies who help him defeat the bad guys, not to mention the traitorous Beckett. Most important, his helpers help him win back Qi’ra’s heart. Our hero has all of the ‘great eight’ traits of heroes – he’s smart, strong, charismatic, reliable, caring, resilient, selfless, and inspiring. I give Han Solo a rating of 4 Hero points out of 5.

We’ve already shared our views of the archetypes, so I’ll just give my score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Deadpool 2 ••••

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin
Director: David Leitch
Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick
Action/Adventure/Comedy, Rated: R
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, Ryan Reynolds is back in the gene pool with Deadpool 2.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I’ve been dying to swim in the Deadpool again, Greg. Let’s recap.


Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool) has dispatched a ‘pool’ of bad guys when he returns home to his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two are canoodling when one of the remaining bad guys interrupts and kills Vanessa. Now, Wade is despondent and attempts suicide by blowing himself into small bits – hoping that his regenerative powers are not sufficient to pull him back together.


Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) picks up Wade’s pieces and attempts to rehab him by enrolling him as a trainee in the X-Men school. On his first assignment, Wade is asked to diffuse a situation in which Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) has exploded in anger over being mistreated by the headmaster. Wade mishandles the situation, leading to he and Russell being incarcerated together. But a cyber-thug named Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives from the future to wreak havoc and kill Russell.


Scott, ‘Deadpool 2’ is the sequel that should not have been made. Or at least, a sequel that is really just a transition to a new franchise. It seems the purpose of this film is to create a new group of mutants called the X-Force. If you liked the first Deadpool, you may like this film, too. Although the shock value of a superhero who is nearly as bad as his villains has worn off. Reynolds’ sarcastic humor is still in force here. There are a lot of pop culture references that probably will go over the heads of younger audience members – so it seems every joke has to be explained (for example, Deadpool is regenerating his lower-half and he uncrosses his legs in a style reminiscent of Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’. So, someone quips that Wade has given in to his ‘Basic Instinct’. So on-the-nose.)


Greg, it’s no secret that I’ve had issues with several recent films from the Marvel Comics universe. But I’m going to have to differ with you here and proclaim Deadpool 2 to be an unequivocal winner, perhaps the best Marvel film I’ve seen in years. Like most Marvel movies, this one is a comedy, but it is no ordinary comedy. The filmmakers have taken the comedic elements to another level here, breaking the fourth wall in clever ways and giving us many laugh-out-loud moments. This movie also has a stylishness here that is usually reserved for classier films outside this genre. I was particularly taken with rather inventive, surreal scenes of the afterlife involving Deadpool’s slain girlfriend.

When we reviewed the first Deadpool, I believe we disagreed on the issue of whether Wade Wilson was a hero or an antihero. I think it’s pretty clear in this film that Wilson falls into the hero camp. Inspired by dreamlike encounters with his girlfriend in the afterlife, Wilson develops a desire to save Russell Collins before Collins becomes irredeemably bad. At the end, Wilson even sacrifices his life to save Collins’s life, with a convenient time machine able to reverse Wilson’s death. All this makes Deadpool a first-rate hero.


I’m not so easily convinced, Scott. Deadpool seems to kill without provocation – assigning himself the roles of judge, jury, and executioner. I don’t think a proper hero would do that. Compare to Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War – is he a hero or villain? Most would consider him a clear villain. But Thanos put himself in the same role of deciding for the universe who lives and dies.

Deadpool crosses the “Batman Line” in that he’s a vigilante. But unlike Batman, he doesn’t let the justice system determine the villain’s outcome – he takes it upon himself to dispatch justice. This is what X-Men Colossus and Negasonic are trying to teach him. And that is the very reason we find him in jail. However, by the end of the film, it looks like he may have found a balance. We’ll see in the next installment of this franchise.


Deadpool 2 represents a breath of fresh air in offering us a fun story with clever, comedic irreverence. The fact that I was once critical of Ryan Reynolds as an actor has come back to haunt me; he’s proven himself to be absolutely perfect in the role of Wade Wilson. This movie has many layers of nuanced humor that will require a second viewing to fully appreciate. I’m eager for more Deadpool and am sad to have to wait a couple years until the next installment. This film merits a rating of 5 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey stands out in bold relief, with Wade being thrown into the journey when his girlfriend is murdered. He’s rather pitiful for a while but the combined influence of Colossus, Russell Collins, and his love interest (in the afterlife) do a tag-team job of pulling Wade out of his funk and into his best heroic self. Wade undergoes a terrific heroic transformation in this film. I award this Pool of Dead 4 Hero points out of 5.

In this film we see many of the usual archetypes depicted in superhero movies. The super-strong hyper-masculine male is on full display in Wade, Colossus, and Russell. There is also the archetype of the revenge motive, which spurred Deadpool into action in the first movie as well as in this one. The time-travelling archetypes is old and worn yet used well with self-deprecating humor here. I give this film a rating of 3 archetypal Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


I was bored during most of Deadpool 2 – perhaps I’m suffering superhero fatigue. There was just so much demolition that I had trouble parsing out the story. I enjoyed the twist that Cable was not out to kill Deadpool, but the kid Russell. This gives Deadpool someone to protect. But in the end, it’s Cable who is trying to save his daughter by preemptively killing Russell who ultimately kills her. It creates a dual “saving the cat” motive that creates depth for both characters. I give Deadpool 2 3 out of 5 Reels.

As we’ve discussed, I’m not sold on Deadpool as a hero. Although, in this film, it looks like Wade Wilson may have come to some resolution on his villainous choices and may, in the future, not be so heavy-handed with doling out judgement. I give him 3 out of 5 Heroes.

The archetypes are typical superhero fare. Wade as the SUPERHERO, Russell as the SIDEKICK, Cable as the MISUNDERSTOOD VILLAIN, Vanessa as the FALLEN BRIDE, and Colossus as the MENTOR. I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Avengers: Infinity War •••

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, if there can be an infinity war, can there be an infinity peace?

 


Only if we have an infinity of time – and the stones to do it… Let’s recap:


Thanos and his henchmen have just obtained the Power Stone and are now plotting to acquire the 5 remaining sacred stones. Doing so will give Thanos (Josh Brolin) complete rule over the universe. Sure enough, Thanos obtains the Space Stone from Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Meanwhile, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) warns Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) of Thanos’ plan to kill half the population of the universe once he realizes his goal of acquiring all the stones.


Fearing for the Mind Stone embedded in Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head, Captain America (Steve Rogers, Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) appear in Paris to assist Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in fighting off more of Thanos’ helpers. Meanwhile, Thor is found alive among the debris of his ship by the Guardians of the Galaxy. Now the fight is on to prevent Thanos from getting his hands on all the Infinity Stones and decimating the universe’s population.


Greg, this movie exhausted me. Yes, it’s a triumph of sorts, weaving dozens of super beings into a story about saving the universe. But my goodness, what a clusterfuck. For 150 minutes we’re subjected to one fight scene after another, after another. A cacophony of characters and physical mayhem, it’s a wet dream for people with ADHD, and it left my brain bleeding.

There are so many questions that need answering. Why do these magical creatures bother punching each other when they are impervious to punches? They slam each other into skyscrapers when they know their adversaries are immune to the ill-effects of such slamming. These super-peeps can be impaled, crushed, and mangled yet bounce right back up with only a slight cut on their forehead. They withstand every kind of physical abuse and we watch them pound each other to smithereens ad nauseum. What is the point?

The other problem that this film shares with many others is the problem of “superpower convenience”. When the plotline demands it, a seemingly invulnerable good guy or bad guy will suddenly show a vulnerability, or the reverse will happen, with a previously established super-strength from someone disappearing conveniently because the story demands it.

If I overlook these issues, and the problem of film-length (always my pet peeve), then we have an extremely large-scale good versus evil superhero movie. Our heroes must work together to stop Thanos from obtaining all 6 infinity gemstones, which would give him dominion over the universe. I like Thanos as a villain; he’s a morally ambiguous dude, a guy with good intentions but a questionable game-plan. But Thanos cannot rescue this frenetic mess of a film.


We’re in basic agreement, here Scott. However, in true Marvel fashion, they managed to get a dozen major stars and their characters in one movie – and no egos were bruised. Everyone gets screen time. Everyone gets great dialog. All the heroes are equals. It’s a monumental task and the writers delivered a coherent, albeit bloated, movie.

Having said that, this is just one immense battle scene after another. When you strip away all the explosions and fisticuffs, there’s not much of a story here. And since we’ve had introductions to all the major heroes in the story (through their own franchised films), the only character who has any depth is the villain – Thanos.

And what a villain, indeed. Thanos believes the universe is overpopulated. (Which is never substantiated in ANY way in this story. AND, it appears that Thanos is aware of UNIVERSAL problems when GALACTIC problems are not made clear. I would have preferred that Thanos’ goal were to cure the galaxy of overpopulation. The universe is a pretty big place.) Thanos is given the option of trading the one thing he loves (his daughter Gamora) for the Soul Stone.

This is a huge deal. Thanos is not a PURE EVIL character after all. He cares about his planet enough to take initiative to save half the population. And he actually loves his daughter. But he loves the universe enough to “give his only begotten daughter” to save it. This is the stuff of heroes to certain ways of thinking. As we mention in our book Reel Heroes and Villains – the villain often thinks he is the hero of the story. Thanos fits this to a tee.


Infinity War is a triumph of sorts but it falls victim to the mentality of “more is more” when we all know that “less is more”. My fear is that the billion-dollar success of this film will open the door to many more movies of this type, movies with too many characters, too many explosions, and too many illogical fight scenes. I am hoping that the DC Comic universe will not follow suit, but the cynic in me suspects that Infinity War has ushered in a new era of the bloated superhero movie. I give this film 2 Reels out of 5.

There are many, many heroes here trying to stop Thanos and his hench-army. There isn’t much of a journey to speak of, not much going on  in terms of character development, and not much indication of hero attributes to discuss (other than super-strength). As such, I give this humongous ensemble of heroes a rating of 2 Hero points out of 5.

In terms of archetypes, there is much more to talk about. Superhero movies are replete with archetypes of power, strength, and hyper-masculinity. Greg, you’ve nicely pointed out the archetype of sacrifice — Thanos’s daughter must be sacrificed and half the universe must be sacrificed, all presumably in the name of promoting the greater good. These and other archetypes earn this film 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Infinity War would have been a nice cap on the Avengers franchise, but based on the ending credits easter egg, it looks like a new hero is coming. I try to rate films in the genre in which they’re set. Superhero films are supposed to be filled with screen-smashing explosions and bigger-is-more effects. Infinity War does this “infinitely” better than others. But the lack of any character development is a negative. I give it 4 out of 5 Reels.

As you say, Scott, these are heroes we’ve met before. The only real character development happens in the villain. I give this film 3 out of 5 Heroes.

And the archetypes are all standard fare. Superheroes will be superheroes. Superwarriers will fight super hard. I give them all 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Ready Player One ••• 1/2

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: March 29, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, I’m READY to be the ONE who reviews this next movie with you.


It appears the ‘80s are cool again. Let’s recap.


It’s the year 2045 and much of the world lives in poverty and squalor. As an escape from this grim reality, everyone spends most of their time in OASIS, a virtual world in which players assume various virtual identities. The creator of OASIS, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), has recently died and has left the ultimate game for users to play. Whoever finds the Easter egg that he has hidden in OASIS wins the game and will inherit ownership of OASIS. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), an 18-year-old living in Ohio, is intent on winning the game, but he is up against a vast army of IOI “sixers” led by the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).


In the OASIS, Wade is known as “Parzival” and he befriends “Artimis” (Olivia Cooke) who in real life is “Samantha.” Together, with his best friend “Aech” (Lena Waithe) and other friends “Sho” (Philip Zhao) and “Daito” (Win Morisaki) they form a team intent on discovering the secrets of the OASIS and keeping it from the hands of evil Sorrento.


Greg, Ready Player One is both an adventure story and a “cause” film with a not-so-subtle biting critique of current social issues. First, there is the message about the dangers of online addiction and over-dependency on computer gaming. Second, there is the dystopian future theme of the younger generation showing greater wisdom than their corrupt elders, wrapped also in a critique of the older generation’s single-minded craving for wealth, greed, and power.

There are many nice touches here with regard to good storytelling. The whole idea of living beneath the veil of avatars underscores the heroic theme of secret identities that we see in so many classic stories ranging from Superman to the fable of the Ugly Duckling. The secret identity theme also touches on the dreams we have to become something bigger and better than ourselves. Ready Player One is all about journeying away from fantasy into a deeper, truer reality, which in storytelling is always a journey toward knowledge of one’s deeper, truer self.


Scott, I was a bit disappointed in RPO. As is true of many popular films of the day, Stephen Spielberg has opted to create a visual spectacle rather than tell a compelling story. None of the characters get a very strong treatment because there are so many of them and because we’re constantly assaulted by computer graphics and gaming imagery. When you remove all the smoke and mirrors, you’re left with a very simple story and a rather trite message – “the real world is better than the virtual world.”

But the movie doesn’t deliver on that message. The real world Wade belongs to is bleak. And his becoming the master of the OASIS does nothing to change that. Sure, he closes the OASIS two days a week – but that doesn’t change the fact that people are suffering. It only means that they have to suffer in the real world 28% of the week.

If this movie is in fact a cautionary tale, then we should see the real world ramifications of living in the virtual word. We should see the causes of people preferring the virtual world. None of this is present in RPO – it is just another roller coaster ride. So buckle up.


We have another strong female hero in this film, Samantha, who cautions Wade about her avatar misrepresenting her so-called true self, which features a facial birthmark. Wade loves her for her inner qualities, an act of pure love and acceptance that redeems and transforms her. We know that she becomes transformed when she revises her avatar to include the same birthmark that she once despised. This film wisely doesn’t take the extreme step of advocating the abandonment of technology; rather, it encourages a “balanced” approach with online fun being part of life but certainly not all of life.

You’re right, Greg, that true heroes would transform the bleak “real” world in addition to winning the game of OASIS in the virtual world. Perhaps that’s the ideal plot of a follow-up movie.


I’d be more impressed if Sam were not beautiful in a classic sense. It’s easy to love someone’s soul when she looks like Olivia Cook. How might this story have turned if she looked like Steve Buscemi?

Ready Player One is a great visual romp through 1980s video game culture. As a child of the 80s I found it very entertaining and nostalgic. The computer imagery was amazing, well beyond anything we’ve seen up to now. The recreation of the hotel from The Shining was absolutely incredible and well worth the price of admission. The story was a little formulaic and lacked any sophistication. I give RPO 3 out of 5 Reels.

The heroes here are pretty simple. Wade is the classic boy warrior and Sam the female sidekick. We don’t really admire Wade for anything he’s done except be clever in the ways of finding clues. He seems to have a sense of morality, but we don’t see much that endears us to him (where’s his “save the cat” moment?). I give Wade 3 out of 5 Heroes.

There are plenty of archetypal characters. Halliday is the WIZARD, there’s a MENTOR in the Curator. Sorento represents the EVIL OLIGARCHY. We also have the QUEST TEAM that Wade leads and they support him in finding the final Easter Egg. Overall, I give them 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


Ready Player One represents another triumph of sorts for director Steven Speilberg, as it is an ambitious film with plenty of heart, solid sentimental storytelling, and terrific action sequences. The film falls short of achieving epic status because no truly new ground is broken here in terms of originality and impact. We do have plenty of endearing characters and a classic good versus evil set-up which won my heart. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero’s journey for Wade and his friends is everything you’d want to see in classic storytelling. Every element of Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth is present, from trials to allies to villainy and mentoring. This film is a rock solid hero adventure tale, with Wade displaying most of the “great eight” traits of heroes – intelligence, strength, inspiration, heart, selflessness, and resilience. I award Wade and company 4 Hero points out of 5.

Not surprisingly, the archetypes in this film are bold and moving. There is the underdog, Wade, doing battle with a far superior enemy force; there is the eccentric scientist in Halliday; there are wise children, a wise old man (Halliday’s partner); wizard-like characters in the virtual world; a curator serving as a guide, and of course a great love interest in Sam. Overall these archetypal element merit a score of 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Tomb Raider •••

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenplay: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Action/Adventure, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 118 minutes
Release Date: March 16, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Greg, right now I feel like raiding the refrigerator.


Resist the urge, Scott, because Lara Croft is about to do her best Indiana Jones impression. Let’s recap:


We meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), a young woman who lost her father (Dominic West) seven years earlier. She’s never quite accepted that he’s dead and refuses to sign legal papers entitling her to her inheritance. One day she is about to sign the papers but is given a clue left by her father which leads her to his secret office. There she discovers that her father had been researching the island of Himiko, where the evil Queen of Yamatai is said to have been entombed.


She travels to China and enlists the aid of boat captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who sails her to Himiko where they crash land. They encounter Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who enslaves them and puts them to work mining for Yamatai’s tomb. She escapes and finds her father who has been thwarting Vogel’s plan for the last seven years. And now she determines to steal Vogel’s satellite phone and get her father, Ren, and herself off the island.


Greg, it’s hard to believe that 37 years have passed since Raiders of the Lost Ark appeared on the scene, and yet here we are still watching movies that are derivative of this classic film. Tomb Raider isn’t a bad movie, it’s just a movie that we’ve seen before in many variations. On the bright side, we’re treated to a great performance from Alicia Vikander whose athleticism and charisma are on full display in her portrayal of Lara Croft. On the not-so-bright side, the story is formulaic and predictable, reminding us that the recycling of old ideas can only take a movie so far.

There certainly is a vivid hero’s journey awaiting our hero Lara Croft. Her father’s disappearance hurls her onto her journey, which first consists of angry reckless rebellion. Lara becomes empowered when her father leaves her clues to his whereabouts, and her journey to Himiko tests her mentally, physically, and emotionally. She displays epic amounts of resourcefulness and transforms herself into someone greater than her father, which is exactly the pathway to enlightenment that what we want to see in any good hero story.


This Lara Croft is not the same hero we met in Angelina Jolie’s 2001 incarnation of Tomb Raider. In 2001, Lara is a fully-formed hero – in more ways than one. She is already an adventurer who has a large fortune and wields all kinds of weapons. And she was played by a woman who resembles the video game character with long legs and large breasts.

To the director’s credit, Vikander’s Croft is a leaner, more athletic, younger woman. She has eschewed her father’s fortunes and is still in fight training. In the opening scenes we see her defeated by another woman fighter – so this Lara Croft has a ways to go before she’s a complete hero. In fact, Tomb Raider is an origin story for Lara Croft. It isn’t until she realizes that her father may be alive that she goes on the journey that turns her into the adventurer she must be.

However, this is as far as the movie goes. The vast majority of this film plays out like a video game. There is a succession of puzzles and clues that must be solved to get to the next stage of the movie. This makes for a rather plot-less presentation and made me feel as if Tomb Raider is a mere advertisement for an upcoming video game release.


Croft’s journey is full of peril at every turn, requiring her to summon the courage, grit, and resourcefulness that every hero needs to complete her mission. Her father is her mentor and she realizes that she must outgrow him in almost every way to bring them both home safely. Because I’m not a fan of the video game, I had trouble appreciating all the different stages of the journey that correspond to game-challenges. I also had trouble maintaining any interest in all the hazards and secret buttons and gimmicks in the cave. We’ve seen this far too many times in the movies.

There are plenty of rich archetypes in this film. Once again we have the missing father and the orphan child who strives to overcome her family deficit. Lara is a misfit, an underdog who nobody expects to succeed. There is also plenty of magic in the story, and with it is what I will call the myth of pure evil. This is one aspect of the movie that I applaud, namely, the evil demon woman of Himiko turns out not to be evil but infected with a hideous disease. It’s a nice surprising turn of events in a movie that is otherwise predictable.


Tomb Raider was an enjoyable, if predictable film. While it doesn’t offer all the glitz of contemporary action-adventure films, I enjoyed the return to Indiana Jones-type storytelling. I agree with you, Scott, that this film had a few too many flashbacks to Raiders of the Lost Ark. But for a modern, younger audience who haven’t seen those films, it might be novel. I give Tomb Raider 3 out of 5 Reels.

Lara Croft is a hero cut from the same mold as Katniss from Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. While I’m a little tired of women being limited to bows and arrows (Katniss, Merida from Brave, Neytiri from Avatar, Mulan, to name just a few), I was happy to find she was independent and strong. I give Lara Croft 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Yet again, we’re presented with the ABSENT FATHER archetype that we see in a lot of female-centric films (see Molly’s Game, A Wrinkle in Time). I’d like to see a different device in the future. Surely young women have more obstacles to overcome than neglectful men. You’ve already named the ORPHAN CHILD (which is a staple in Disney Princess films) and the PURE EVIL VILLAIN. Happily, there was also the FALLEN FRIEND in Vogel and the SIDEKICK FRIEND in Lu Ren. I give these archetypes 3 out of 5 Arcs.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


You’re right, Greg, about Tomb Raider being fun for a younger audience that has never seen any of the Indiana Jones movies. There is a fresh adventurous spirit to this film, and Alicia Vikander won me over with her bold, brash physicality and determination. This movie will win no awards but it is two hours of good mindless fun. Like you, I give it 3 Reels out of 5.

Lara Croft’s journey is packed full of snares and tribulations that require her to adapt and grow in the ways that every good hero should. She has all eight traits of the “great eight” traits of heroes: She is strong, smart, resilient, reliable, charismatic, selfless, caring, and inspiring. I award her 4 Hero points out of 5. With regard to archetypes, Tomb Raider has more than its share of rich archetypal images. We’ve already reviewed them, and so I’ll give my rating of 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

A Wrinkle In Time ••1/2

Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon
Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenplay: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell
Adventure/Family/Fantasy, Rated: PG
Running Time: 109 minutes
Release Date: March 9, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!

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I thought this was a movie about an old guy who arrives just in time.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Chris Pine has just enough gray in his beard for you to be right, Greg. Let’s recap.


We’re introduced to young Meg Murry (Storm Reid) who is bullied at school because her astrophysicist father (Chris Pine) went missing four years ago. She has an adoptive brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) who is a child savant and sees the world in ways that Meg cannot, her pain at being abandoned by her father blocking her vision. Then one day, a magical “witch” appears – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) – who tells her that she and her brother are able to follow her father through the magic of the Tesseract – a way of folding space-time that her father and PhD mother were researching.


Two other magical witches appear, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), and joining the kids on their journey to find their father is neighborhood kid Calvin (Levi Miller). The witches first take the kid to a luminous planet with intelligent flowers who inform them that Mr. Murry had been there but had left. Here they also learn about the great evil force of the universe, IT, which is spreading. They must find their father on the planet Camazotz where they must defeat evil to find Mr. Murry.


Scott, it’s rare for a movie to be better than the book, but A Wrinkle in Time succeeds. The book is plagued by a first-half that merely takes our heroes from exotic planet to exotic planet without furthering the plot. This incarnation abandons the world-building-for-world-buildings-sake plot for a more compact telling.

However, the movie maintains a critical problem with the book in that it has no clear villain. The “IT” is an amorphous blob that reaches out into the universe like spiney tindrels. As we noted in our book Reel Heroes and Villains the best villains are those who have a physical, personal presence. These sorts of “pure evil” villains leave little to the imagination and are difficult to have an argument with.

Director Ava DuVernay eventually uses the device of having Charles Wallace be possessed by the IT so that Meg can have an emotional discourse with IT. While it’s not particularly entertaining, it is much better than fighting a largely unseeable villain.


Greg, A Wrinkle in Time is a movie with a big heart and certainly means well. Somehow, this noble intention coupled with big star-power doesn’t add up to a successful movie. My theory is that the film does a poor job of identifying its audience. If it’s pitched to kids, then why throw around fancy theories of space and time? If it’s pitched to adults, why give us dialogue at the second grade level? It doesn’t help that the three witches are silly-looking and even sillier-sounding. I recently watched The Wizard of Oz — its 1939 rendition of Glinda The Good Witch far outshines Wrinkle’s CGI-infested portrayals of Who, Whatsit, and Which.

I did enjoy some elements of the film, particularly its message of the unsurpassed transformative power of love. There is also a great theme of our defects hiding our strengths, with our wounds being the place where the light enters us. These are great messages to pass onto both kids and adults.


Scott, director DuVernay has been criticised for her use of a young Black girl as the protagonist. I’ve read complaints that Wrinkle is a love letter to them. If so, then good for her. So many movies are aimed at young white men (think of any action adventure film, Harry Potter, Transformers etc…) that one film that lifts up and enriches girls is both far overdue and very welcome. We’re treated to a young woman who is highly intelligent, fearless, and sensitive. And she’s mentored by three strong and wise women. Despite Wrinkle’s many flaws, I suspect in 10 or 20 years there will be millions of women who look back on A Wrinkle in Time as an inspiration.


Greg, I’m shocked to hear that anyone has a problem with a female African-American playing the lead role in a movie. I think you’d agree with me that less than 1% of the movies we review feature a Black woman in the hero’s role. We need more fair demographic representation of people of color in the movies, not less.

There are some notable archetypes in A Wrinkle in Time that are worth mentioning. Our hero Meg Murry is an outcast and an orphan, which positions her as an underdog whom we root for. Another underdog is her friend Calvin who joins them on the journey. We also have the young genius archetype in Charles Wallace, who (when he’s not possessed) is smarter than any other human character. There is also the mad scientist archetype (Mr. and Mrs. Murry), the good magical Witch archetype, and the pure evil demon villain (IT).


A Wrinkle in Time is a fantastic voyage with dark overtones which I believe will become a cult favorite similar to 1984’s Neverending Story. And as with the latter film, Wrinkle has a number of flaws that make for a good child’s fantasy, but leave adults wanting. I give A Wrinkle in Time 3 out of 5 Reels.

Meg is a wonderful hero who is smart, fearless, resilient, and capable. We want her to find her father – and ultimately it is her combination of intelligence and heart that save him. She’s flawed in that she can’t see beyond the pain of her abandonment by her father and her inability to accept love and feelings as being as valid as any science. I give Meg 4 out of 5 Heroes.

You’ve nailed the archetypes: The MENTOR, the ABSENT FATHER, the MAD SCIENTIST, CHILD SAVANT, FRIEND SIDEKICK, PURE EVIL VILLAIN. This movie has them all. I award 4 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


A Wrinkle in Time is a child-like adventure tale that I would only recommend for children below the age of 10. It saddens me that the filmmakers here didn’t pitch the movie to a mature audience, because certainly the message of the film is timeless and potentially transformative for us all. I wish I could award Wrinkle more than 2 Reels out of 5 but I can’t.

There is most definitely a stirring hero’s journey here, with Meg and her friends led on an interplanetary adventure that teaches them valuable life lessons about love, loyalty, family, and good and evil. I see some classic elements of the hero’s journey, such as friendship, mentorship, and transformation. As such, I’ll award 4 Hero points out of 5.

With regard to archetypes, there are plenty of them for us to sink our teeth into. None of them moved me to any great degree, perhaps because I’m not in the film’s intended demographic. I’ll give the movie 3 archetype Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

Black Panther •••••

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: February 16, 2018

SPOILERS WITHIN!


It looks like Marvel is putting out a Pink Panther sequel.


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Shirley you jest, Greg. This panther is fiercer and greater in every way. Let’s recap.


It’s 1992 in Oakland and the king of the hidden futuristic city of Wakanda is hunting the thief who stole vials of vibranium – a powerful metal from outer space. The thief is the king’s brother who is summarily executed leaving behind a young son. In the present-day Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), son of the king, is challenged for the throne and must defend his right by hand-to-hand combat. Once T’Challa succeeds, he goes to South Korea in search of Klaue (Andy Serkis) – an arms trader who has stolen Wakandan artifacts and must be brought to justice.


Meanwhile N’Jobu’s (Sterling K. Brown) son, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), has plans to use Wakanda’s riches, including vibranium, to liberate Africans worldwide from their oppressors. After Klaue attempts to sell the artifacts to CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), Killmonger arrives to kill Klaue. He then brings Klaue’s body to Wakanda where Killmonger announces his true claim to the throne. T’Challa accepts the challenge and the two men engage in hand-to-hand combat, with a surprising final outcome.


Scott, origin stories can be boring. Usually, we get a movie where the first half of the film is taken up with the hero getting their new powers (“hey, I just got bitten by a spider”), learns to use them (“I’m going to need a suit and web slingers”), and by the midpoint has become the hero they were meant to be. The second half is the chasing down and vanquishing of the villain. So, you often get two weak half-movies for the price of one. Not much fun.

Black Panther is different. Our hero starts out as a fully formed hero. But his father dies, leaving a vacuum in the land of Wakanda that can only be filled by ritual battle. Our hero steps up to the challenge and becomes king. But there’s a catch, one of T’Challa’s detractors forces his hand and now the search is on for the notorious Klaue.

Another difference with this film is the wealth of characters. This can be a problem in a 2-hour flick because often there is no time for the secondary characters to develop any depth. But Black Panther skillfully manages this by creating scenes that allow all the characters to participate. As much as this is T’Challa’s story, it is also the story of his family and faithful followers.


You’re right about Black Panther deviating from the origin story norm. From the opening credits, this film is a story about home — finding it, discovering its hidden powers, using those powers to better the world, and seeing home at ever more deeper levels. There are so many great elements of storytelling here. We are treated to reflections on the importance of family, the important linkage to one’s ancestors, the tragedy of colonialism, and the searing legacy of enslavement. It’s a rich narrative about fathers, masculinity, and the sins of the father that the son tries to correct.

I urge readers to check out my colleague Patrice Rankine’s erudite analysis of Black Panther in which he connects the film’s thematic highlights to biblical imagery and classic mythology. Both the hero and the villain of the story have a royal past, and each holds claim to the throne. While the hero is worthy of the status of hero, the villain is morally complex and leaves us pondering the worthiness of his agenda. The best villains in cinema have some redeeming qualities that leave us questioning their villainy and pondering whether they are redeemable. Regarding our hero, Rankine points out that near the film’s end T’Challa addresses the United Nations with a new accent reflecting his transformation into Africa’s international icon. As a result of his journey, T’Challa is forever changed and ready to lead his people toward collective enlightenment.


Black Panther is an artistic marvel (if you will pardon the pun). Everything about it exudes quality – the acting, the costumes, the dialog, world building, backstories, characterizations. This was not a haphazard affair as so many superhero movies have been (see my recent opinion of Thor: Ragnarok). I rarely rate a film above 4 Reels, reserving the highest rating for films that could not have been better made. Surely Black Panther is as good as it gets. I give it 5 Reels out of 5.

As a hero, T’Challa has it all. He starts out feeling entitled, learns that his father was not perfect, falls from grace, and must rise up (with the help of family and friends) to become the hero he is meant to be. It takes the entirety of the film for this transformation to occur. And it is well worth the wait. I give T’Challa 5 out of 5 Heroes.

Black Panther has a wealth of archetypes to choose from. There’s the KING FATHER in T’Challa’s father, the QUEEN MOTHER, the BRATTY SISTER. This is a very strong family hierarchy as laid out by Moxnes. Meanwhile, the RETURNING SON wants to take back the throne. The MENTOR advisor lays down his life for T’Challa. As I said before, it is a credit to the writers that everyone gets plenty of screen time and are well-developed, strong characters. I give them all 5 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:


You’ve summed it up well, Gregger. Black Panther takes superhero storytelling to a bold, new level of complexity and wonder. Every great hero story is about home. Here we see a hero transforming himself and his people as a result of finding his home and discovering the full potential of himself and his home. There is so much of substance in this film regarding family, ancestry, women, masculinity, and redemption, that we can only scratch the surface here. Suffice to say this movie earns the full 5 Reels out of 5.

T’Challa’s journey is fascinating as it unfolds in ways he never could anticipate. This is the hallmark of good heroic storytelling, as heroes can only transform themselves by encountering unexpected and unsought turbulence, villains, allies, and mentors. Black Panther gifts us with a unique origin story of a superhero from whom we will hear plenty in the coming years. I award him 4 Hero points out of 5.

You’ve mentioned the depth of the archetypal images invoked in this film. There are kings with hidden identities, entire kingdoms themselves with hidden identities, Moxnes’ “deep family roles” involving fathers, uncles, sons, and lovers. There’s even a villain who is not entirely bad and whose intentions leave us pondering the nature of leadership and how to bring about social justice. This film is a treasure trove of archetypes that easily deserve 5 Arcs out of 5.

Movie: Archetypes: Heroes:

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi •••

Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill
Director: Rian Johnson

Screenplay: Rian Johnson, George Lucas
Action/Adventure/Fantasy, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 152 minutes
Release Date: December 15, 2017

SPOILERS WITHIN!


Scott, are we about to review the last Star Wars Film?


scott
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

The Force is with us both, Greg. Let’s recap.


The Rebel alliance is attempting to evacuate their base when First Order ships arrive and prepare to blow the base to bits. Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) lights just off the main ship’s bow and leads an attack on their Dreadnaught class destroyer. They succeed at destroying the ship, but at a great cost losing all their bombers and several fighters. However, it gives the rebels time to evacuate and jump into hyperspace toward their next base.


Meanwhile Kylo Ren, sensing his mother General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) presence, fails to fire on the resistance’s main ship. Rey seeks to learn the ways of the force from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has exiled himself to a remote island. He reluctantly agrees. Rey also begins having telepathic communications with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whom she believes is redeemable. This belief appears to be corroborated by Ren’s decision to save Rey’s life at the hands of Snoke (Andy Serkis), whom he slays. Ren, however, remains on the dark side.


Scott, I have mixed emotions about The Last Jedi. On the one hand it is a proper sequel to the last film, The Force Awakens, but on the other, it seems like a scattered project that tried to accomplish too much. And with a 150-minute running time, you’d think it would have accomplished all its goals. But it does not. As with the last film, there are echoes of previous episodes which left me feeling as though the story doesn’t really move forward.

There are four distinct plotlines here. The first being the escape of the Resistance to a new base. This is Princess Leia and Poe’s story. The second is the emergence of Rey as a Jedi under the (reluctant) training of Luke Skywalker. The third is the evolution of Kylo Ren into the Master of the First Republic. Fourth and finally is the search for a thief to help Finn and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) take down the Republic’s main ship.

The first plotline is pretty boring stuff with Poe constantly second-guessing Admiral Holdo’s (Laura Dern) authority. Not much happens here until the end. The training of Rey with Skywalker resembles much of what we saw in The Empire Strikes Back but with intercuts of Rey and Kylo Ren having inter-Force communication. Rey ultimately leaves her training before she’s finished to face Ren because she “feels there is still good in him.” This all feels very much like Empire.


Greg, this is a curious, complicated movie. There is much to like, some to dislike, and much to ponder over. My summative feeling is somewhat positive, but wow, where do we begin with all that is thrown at us in this film? You’ve pointed out the multiple simultaneous plotlines, at times exhilarating but at times delivered in a disjointed manner. There is also the bold move to redefine “the force” as more supernatural than in previous Star Wars incarnations. This cheapens the force, IMHO, yet I admit it’s handled well in the film’s final act when Luke’s magical powers save everyone’s butt.

Luke Skywalker’s persona has radically changed, which may not be terribly surprising as decades have passed since we’ve last seen much of him. Again I see some value in giving him inner conflict but at times I wasn’t sure this was the same character we’ve grown to love. There are also several strange directorial decisions by Rian Johnson. One irritation is his bizarre decision to include dozens of unnecessarily closeup face-shots of Ren and Rey. The film is long and densely packed, a smorgasbord of good and not-so-good Star Wars fare.

Although J.J. Abrams didn’t direct the film, it does have his fingerprints all over it. There is plenty of action and several powerful homages to iconic Star Wars lines involving “the force”, “help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi”, and Yoda uttering reverse sentence structures. So ultimately, we should leave the theater satisfied — assuming we can overlook the many complications.


Star Wars has become less about telling a great story, and more about creating a spectacle. The logic behind the Republic’s ships having to slowly track the Resistance is confusing. This is just a placeholder while action occurs elsewhere. The events on the casino planet have no real impact on the story at hand. But it does introduce a number of colorful characters and exotic animals that will make nice plastic toys at Christmastime.

LIkewise on the island where Luke has self-exiled himself we see very cute little bird-like creatures that have no purpose in the story except to be cute. Very much like the Ewoks. For some reason, these creatures have taken roost on the Millennium Falcon. And there are “caretaker” creatures as well as 4-bosomed sea whales which Luke milks for breakfast. None of these characters play into the plot. They are just part of Star Wars’ world building for the sake of merchandising.


Wow, you really are cynical about the merchandising placements, Greg. To be honest, I hadn’t given this much thought until now, but you may be right. We may agree about this film’s attempt to be a spectacle, and so the big question for us to consider is whether the movie is a spectacle that tells a compelling hero story. We do have heroes undergoing severe trials and transformation, which left me mostly satisfied. We also have the classic Star Wars battle between good and evil, with Kylo Ren filling the void left by the surprising death of Snoke. There’s a bit too much going on but overall the film hits enough classic Star Wars notes to produce a satisfying movie-going experience.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi was an entertaining visual feast – but pretty light fare. Star Wars has increasingly become a franchise for children and the young at heart. There are no morals or messages to take home. Characters seem to appear for little reason other than to fulfill either a gender or ethnic checklist. The story lines seem to have no real purpose other than to create a reason for flash and boom. The original Star Wars trilogy was about the redemption of Anakin Skywalker – a story with mythical proportions. I’m left asking “What is this story about?”

This latest series appears to be an attempt to right a galactic wrong – that of an absence of female characters in the Star Wars universe. As such, we get characters like Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who does little more than stand in for Admiral Leia while she’s knocked out and to confound pilot man-child Poe by keeping him (and the rest of the Rebel fleet) in the dark about her plans. The men in this universe seem universally dim while all the women seem eternally wise. Just when you think something interesting is going to happen (will Rey and Kylo Ren rule over a new Empire?) – it doesn’t. I can only muster 3 out of 5 Reels for this film.

There are so many lead characters in this story, it’s hard to figure out who I’m supposed to care about. Rey seems to follow Luke’s storyline from Empire Strikes Back and goes to fight the dark side without full Jedi training. Kylo Ren is still impetuous and fighting authority figures – even when he’s the ultimate authority. Poe had no trajectory in this story as his only purpose was to be a loose canon. Finn goes on a merry chase with Rose and has no arc to speak of. Leia spends most of the film sleeping off a vacuum-induced hangover. Rose has the best line of the film – only to find herself unconscious in the end. Luke evaporates for unknown reasons. I can’t get excited about anyone in this film and can barely extend more than 2 Heroes out of 5 and 2 Deltas as well.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes:


My impressions of this film are similar to yours, Greg. The Last Jedi is pretty good Star Wars but lacks sufficient cohesiveness and focus to emerge as exemplary Star Wars fare. There are a few bold moves here involving an extension of what has for decades been iconically known as “the force”. Now apparently the force involves extreme magical prowess, which is unfortunate as the force used to connote a more subtle special power that metaphorically endowed all of us with the ability to become the best versions of ourselves. Overall, I was entertained by this movie despite its flaws and I also give it 3 Reels out of 5.

There are plenty of good heroes in this movie and in fact their abundance is a drawback. Still, we are treated to the spicy hero’s journeys of Poe, Luke, Leia, Finn, Rose, and others. These heroes transform in meaningful ways; they grow in their maturity and understanding of themselves, the force, the nature of good and evil, and the world in which they live. Ren and Snoke are also formidable and interesting villains for our heroes to overcome. There’s so much going on at the expense of cohesion that I’ll only award 3 Hero points out of 5 as well as 3 transformative Deltas out of 5.

Movie: Transformations: Heroes: