Mission: Impossible – Fallout, or, Le Retour de Tommy C. Dans un Film d’Espionnage

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For Cinema!!!!!!!!!!!

All too often when we talk about cinema, that stuffy moniker reserved for only the finest of film, we fall back on the same few facets of the medium – writing and acting. Specifically, it seems that time and time again the films that are dubbed by the establishment and thus ingested by filmgoers as vegetables, those movies that are hearty and healthy, good for us in the long run, lean on plots and monologues. Both are certainly more than capable of profundity, but they are far from the outer limits of celluloid.

This is cinema, after all! Moving pictures! Light! Sound! To limit the heftiest cinematic discourse to film’s that excel at narrative or performance is to utterly shun the potential of the very medium and all it has to offer.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, a film that demands the use of not a colon or a hyphen but both, is not the grandchild of Citizen Kane. It is not the spawn of The Godfather. It is the direct descendant of L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat, those first infamous frames of a black and white train barreling ahead at an unsuspecting audience of the very first moviegoers like a bullet from an otherworldly gun. It is a film that takes full advantage of being a film.

Christopher McQuarrie, the first returning director to the Mission: Impossible franchise, has crafted a film that harkens back to the earliest days of Bond, when that franchise was a cinematic passport, taking audiences to faraway lands and showing them extraordinary things they might never otherwise see. Here, that passport is updated for transit in a world in which facsimiles of facsimiles of those places and things are a tap away in our own pocket. This is a movie that rabidly pursues spectacle at its most authentic and whole-heartedly believes in its value.

M:I-F is of distant relation to the likes of John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road, a work of undeniable craftsmanship, of fine-tuned and purposeful movie-making. These bathroom fight scenes, these helicopter chases, these extended wind sprints are reminders of just how pigeon-holed we’ve allowed the ideals of film to become, how thinly the critical eye for quality has squinted.

Here is a style of film that we don’t get but once a year, if we’re lucky, in which calloused hands harness raw sweat into the sort of lavish exhibition only a movie can offer.

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Doomsday Clock #6, or, Master of Puppets

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It’s like that song from Age of Ultron, “I’ve Got No Strings!” Except the opposite!

Superman and Doctor Manhattan! Batman and Rorschach! The Joker and The Comedian!

The… Marionette? And the Mime?

Geoff Johns’ and Gary Frank’s DC Comics/Watchmen crossover Doomsday Clock promised a slew of thrilling face-offs, many of which have already happened six issues into the twelve-issue series and some have yet to come. But amongst those fandom-shaking meet-cutes we’ve been introduced to two new characters, the face-painted wife and husband crime duo The Marionette and The Mime, whose presence amongst these titans of comic book literature has thus far seemed inconsequential.

Doomsday Clock #6 explores the background and history of these new additions, focusing specifically on Erika Manson, The Marionette. More so than Doomsday Clock #4’s dive into the history of Rorschach II, this issue has offered more heart than any previous chapter in this delightfully cerebral series and it places a character that had previously teetered on the brink of being some sort of off-brand Harley Quinn front and center, revealing her to be an enthralling personification of many of the ideas and themes the book has explored thus far.

As a child we see Erika playing with the marionette she will one day model herself after, acting out that relationship between levels of fiction that has been a focal point of the series thus far, instilling life into the imaginary via thin, invisible threads, embodying the violent effects we’ve watched so many invisible forces reap on the Watchmen and DC universes alike. Marionette’s relationship with her namesake is as effective an illustration as we’ve gotten so far of the tunneling, reverberating nature of reality and fiction. Erika instills the marionette with life and the marionette in turn inspires Erika, who becomes a reflection of her childhood plaything, strings and all.

The character’s use of razor-sharp thread as a weapon is overwhelmingly appropriate, a symbol of her defiance of the system of intangible concepts dictating her life, evoking a reclamation of the means of subjection, a weaponizing of the myriad threads connecting the few powerful with the many powerless.

More fascinating still is that The Marionette never reattaches those strings. She no longer dangles impotently from them herself, and rather than dragging someone else along like a puppet, she reorients them, turns them perpendicular to their intended use to inflict violence. Violence, the implication and fear of it, is so often the means of control between the powerful and powerless, that thread so often indicative of permissions on behalf of the holder to yank up and hang the held. Marionette disrupts the socially-accepted monopolization of violence, doling it out swiftly, effortlessly.

Erika Manson, then, winds up feeling like the most organic character in the story thus far, the most relatable point of entry for us, the readership. Hers are motives spurred not by insanity and psychic squid attacks and super powers, but by the diabolical pressures so masterfully conveyed in that first issue of Doomsday Clock, the everyday horrors of living in the modern age. She is a little person in a sprawling multiverse who has shirked subjugation and grabbed power where she can. She is not all-powerful, she is not utterly free, but she has upended the traditional interactions between the variables of her world, tilting them 90 degrees to sever heads with an air-thin thread.

As Doomsday Clock #6 concludes, Marionette is established as the most human, the most real, the most “us” character in the series thus far. The question then becomes, why has Ozymandias freed her and insisted upon her joining his voyage to a strange, new universe? Why was her and The Mime’s child ripped away at birth? The answers we receive in Doomsday Clock #6 regarding The Marionette may have lent humanity to a mass murdered, but a god-sized question mark still looms over her head.

#CloneWarsSaved, or, A Poe Boy Hot Take

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I’m not crying, you’re crying. Ah, look at that, now you’ve got me going. I guess we’re both crying now. So silly.

Have you heard the good news!? No, not that, the OTHER good news! I have a brand new Star Wars podcast, Poe Boys! Check it out on Podbean and Apple Podcasts!

It was a confluence of events that threatened to sour Star Wars, my great pop culture love, for me.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had performed poorly at the box office and thus any and all discourse to the film was relegated to everyone and their mother’s hot takes on what went wrong, rather than any sort of discussion regarding the contents of the actual film.

Unfounded rumors began to swirl that Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy would be resigning and that Disney was entirely scrapping any and all planned Star Wars anthology films.

It became impossible to forget that Solo and Star Wars were products, to the point that it began to feel as though that’s all they were.

Around the same time, Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, essentially expunged her social media presence in response to the toxic little pigs that have coopted Star Wars fandom for their own racist, sexist agendas.

And of course who can forget the rogue band of fans offering/threatening to fund a remake of Episode VIII, a pursuit for which they claim to have raised… $400 million.

All this left me feeling like Star Wars fandom was something best left unengaged with, like politics at Thanksgiving. I felt like I’d been looking at Star Wars through rose-colored glasses and now my third eye had opened to reveal a dollar sign.

Look gang, I’m just trying to talk about the progression of heroism from Episode III to Solo and how that progression serves as a thematic bridge between the prequel and sequel trilogies, but it feels impossible to pry Solo out of its hardened fiscal resin!

And then San Diego Comic Con rolled around, and it was announced there would be a panel celebrating the tenth anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and they showed concept art and talked about the development of the show and OH YEAH THE CLONE WARS IS COMING BACK BABY THIS IS NOT A DRILL THIS IS HAPPENING THANK THE MAKER OH BOY OH BOY!!!

I don’t know that I’ve been as excited for a Star Wars announcement since I learned there would be an Episode VII.

The Clone Wars was what took me from a casual Star Wars fan most moviegoers could identify with to waking up at four in the morning in Orlando, Florida to wait in line for the Star Wars: Rebels panel at the last Star Wars Celebration. It is the beating heart of my fandom, and shortly after Disney acquired Lucasfilm Mickey buried a rusty axe in it, leaving untold stories in various stages of development and production dangling before fans’ imaginations, pesky what-ifs and what-could-have-beens just out of reach.

I’ve talked about it here one or five times.

I don’t remember if I wound up officially forgiving Disney for their flagrant transgression, but if I did I take it back, even in the face of the show’s eminent return.

#CloneWarsSaved rekindled my excitement for a franchise that seemed to be moving further and further from the contents of its actual stories and characters, not only because of the prospect of seeing more of my favorite show, but because of the fandom I saw on display during the panel at which it was announced.

Not every Star Wars fan is a Star Wars animation fan. We’re certainly a smaller subset of the sprawling audiences that flock to theaters for the live-action films. And if the panel in question is any indication, we’re also a subset that won’t immediately harass and berate creators and performers into digital oblivion because we don’t like the cut of their jib.

Perhaps because of that there exists a transparency, an openness between the creative forces that be and the fans of Lucasfilm animation that is not mirrored elsewhere in the Star Wars machine. Reading through The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story, for instance, I found no mention of the directorial transition behind the scenes and how that may or may not have affected the art direction of the film. I’m not looking for juicy gossip mind you, I genuinely am curious about the creative mindsets at play and how the film’s art direction grew. But that’s unseemly and secret and even though anyone who’s buying The Art of Solo knows exactly what happened behind the scenes, we just don’t talk about it. Inversely, on the Clone Wars panel, Star Wars animation guru Dave Filoni openly jokes about episodes fans have deemed “filler” and story arcs that viewers were ultimately less than enthusiastic about. There’s an openness to the conversation in which fans are just as ready to dislike something as they are to like it and creators are ready to acknowledge those feelings playfully because it never devolves into the Thunderdome. It’s the kind of back-and-forth you get when a fan base isn’t littered with ointment-sullying maggots.

The return of Clone Wars doesn’t make me excited just for a dozen more episodes tying up loose ends, it makes me excited for a discourse that, for a brief moment, felt in danger of being beaten to death by bigots and bullies. For me, and my relationship with the multi-billion dollar juggernaut of a franchise, it isn’t just The Clone Wars that was saved.

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Nine Inch Nails’ Bad Witch, or, The Evitable Conclusion

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  Well, it had to happen eventually I suppose, and five years in is as good a time as any to finally jump the shark. Which is to say, I guess I write about music now too. Nine Inch Nails is a band that has always felt, for lack of a less dramatic sentiment, a […]

“&” is for Cooperation, or, Ant-Man and the Wasp

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What’s he looking at over there? Wait. What’s she looking at up there? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!!!

More surprising to me than its lackluster box office haul was the feeling Solo: A Star Wars Story seemed to elicit in many reviewers that the film was “inessential.”

Huh?

Bro, they’re movies. They’re all inessential.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Solo didn’t have star war and lightsabers and Skywalkers. Still, the idea that Solo is inherently lesser because of that is perplexing to me and I’ve yet to see it conveyed in any meaningful or convincing way.

With that in mind, I left Marvel Studios’ latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the nagging feeling that the film had been… inessential. Like a regular pot.

But Ant-Man in the Wasp isn’t so much inessential as it is the direct follow up to Avengers: Infinity War, which is to say the galaxy spanning struggle of, like, twenty superheroes to stop a space warlord from committing universal genocide is followed up here less than three months later by a film that at one point involves seagulls. There’s a distinct sense of whiplash between the two films, one that is more jarring and less refreshing than the welcomed disparity between the cumbersome Avengers: Age of Ultron and the lean, original Ant-Man.

But scope aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a thematic follow up to Infinity War that proves itself, while still jarring, anything but inessential.

Infinity War finds its cast of heroes split across the universe, willingly or otherwise. It’s a film that sees a distinct lack of communication between its heavy hitters, even when they share the same geographic location. There are conflicting ideologies and strategies and motivations that muddy the waters of the Avengers’ common goal, and so while the heroes are not in open conflict as they are in Captain America: Civil War, they are lesser in their division, big or small, by choice or by circumstance.

So much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, down to its very title, is concerned with cooperation, with crossing aisles and uniting fronts. Here, crooks and physicists work together for a greater good, as do fallen-out old peers, the rich and poor, the brilliant and goofy. Human beings and ants.

Well, the ants seem like they might be straight-up slaves, but you know.

Ant-Man himself works alongside his ex-wife and her new husband to raise their daughter. The Wasp works aside her estranged father to search for her mother. This is a film about cooperation, about people helping and being helped. It paints a picture of an MCU in which hands, though sometimes more eagerly than others, are still extended in comradery. It’s not an Ant-Man movie. It’s not a Wasp movie. It’s all about that “and” baby.

Despite its great sense of humor and utterly badass antagonist, Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), I’d be lying if I said Ant-Man and the Wasp made it any easier to wait for Avengers 4 next summer, but it’s thematic follow-up to that film has me chomping at the bit to concoct hot takes on the quadruple feature of what is shaping up to be a fascinating run of Marvel films; Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and Avengers 4.

When the dust settles on phase three of the MCU after whatever fallout awaits us in Avengers 4 it’ll be very interesting to see just how essential this brief interlude becomes.

Communication Skills for Multiversal Salvation, or, Dark Nights: Metal

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(C) The Devil

Dark Nights: Metal is at once a Batman story and a Justice League story, a mystery and an adventure, a fragile, intimate drama and a sprawling, cosmic epic, and the mission of writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo’s latest collaboration (with Jonathan Glapion on inks and FCO Plascencia on colors) seems to be bridging those very sorts of fictional polarities. Metal is a story that posits that perhaps detectives and swashbucklers are one and the same, that perhaps the barrier distinguishing cosmic infinity from the sprawling expanses of any single individual’s imagination is far thinner than we might think.

Metal concerns the invasion of the DC Universe by the Dark Multiverse, a realm of raw imagination, comprised of the dreams and nightmares that on the rarest of occasions are forged into existence within the living, breathing DCU proper. Essentially, the world of Batman and the Justice League is an ark of existence, of reality, adrift on an unimaginably vast sea of could-have-been and should-never-be. Someone or something has breached the hull of that ark, which is now taking on sick water in the form of nightmare Batmen conjured from Bruce Wayne’s worst fears and insecurities. What follows is a desperate attempt to plug the leak in the DCU before the entire existing multiverse sinks into the Dark Multiverse.

It’s a mystery and an adventure, at once terrifying and exciting, a sentiment captured in the narrative’s dual focus on Batman the Detective and Carter Hall, the missing adventurer Hawkman.

Questions and clues abound: why is a covert ops team surveilling Batman? Why are strange metal artifacts around the globe reacting strangely to some unknown force? What secretes lie within the secret journal of Carter Hall?

Spectacle and bombast abound: the Justice League battles interlocking mechs in an alien gladiatorial arena. A demonic Bat-God clings to the apex of a dizzying spire that punctures a stormy sky, flanked by dual Joker-dragons.

And yet, whether it’s an army of villainous Justice League doppelgangers or a furrow in Wonder Woman’s brow as she prepares for battle, Capullo, Glapion and Plascencia never miss a beat, the attention afforded both to the smallest detail and the loudest spectacle alike indicative of Metal’s continued interplay between the intimate and the immense, the mysterious and the adventurous.

But the disparity between those two seeming opposites never feels jarring or disorienting, as Metal is, at its heart, largely concerned with that which unites them: communication.

Sound is a fascinating and prominent motif throughout DN:M, be it battle cries, devilish bellows, power chords, or good old-fashioned banging two pieces of metal together. Again and again importance is placed on sound, the difference between the life and death of all existence hanging on one character’s willingness or ability to create it and another’s ability to hear and comprehend it. It’s telling then that just before it hits the fan in the story’s opening issues, Batman refuses to communicate with his peers. His failure to communicate, his decision to withhold information, reaps dire consequences and the rest of this epic is largely concerned with not only discovery in the face of the unknown malevolence brought forth, but the communication of those discoveries with others.

Across the galaxy, in the depths of the sea and deep within the distorted bowels of the Dark Multiverse itself, the Justice League find themselves investigating any thread that might lead them to a plug for that leak in the ol’ aforementioned reality ark that is their entire known multiverse, but separated as they are those answers mean nothing without the willingness and ability to communicate that information, to share it, to come to a common understanding through detection and adventure.

For all its mystery and all its spectacle, Dark Nights: Metal ultimately revolves around communication, that which links the dreams and nightmares of our minds with the vastness of the universe. It’s a story about coming together, about living and experiencing and sharing those experiences to the betterment of all involved.

It is one hell of a comic book.

Doomsday Clock #5, or, Real Fictional Resources

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Valentine’s Day is right around the corner Ozy!

The fifth issue of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank’s Doomsday Clock explores the previously alluded-to Supermen Theory, a particularly potent vein of political discourse that has taken the DC Universe by storm. The theory, its true origins shrouded in mystery, posits that the overwhelming majority of superheroes, or “metahumans,” are American because they are being created and proliferated by and for the United States government. The accusations have torn apart the sociopolitical climate of the DCU, from Gotham City to Russia. Nations are amassing metahumans, closing their borders, withdrawing troops, holing up with their caped prizes and awaiting a spark that seems all but inevitable. In Doomsday Clock #5, the likes of Superman and the Justice League are more than heroes or vigilantes or symbols, they have become national resources.

That they’re treated as a resource is no surprise within the confines of the DCU. Superheroes can mean safety and protection for the denizens of their fair cities, they can mean justice or even propaganda, a canvas on which to plaster regional morals and value. Green Arrow says don’t do drugs! So don’t, Star City youth! But as with every idea presented in Doomsday Clock, the concept of superheroes as a resource reverberates across the spectrum of reality and fiction Johns has woven between our world, Watchmen and the DCU.

Just as superheroes are an American monopoly in the DCU, they’re a monopolized resource of sorts in, you know, the regular U. The here and now. In our world, as in theirs, superheroes reflect the philosophies and ideologies of the cultures that produce them. And in our world, as in theirs, superheroes are pretty much exclusively American. Here those heroes may not actually protect us, but they are a healthy economic resource, intellectual properties perpetuated across the globe in films with billion dollar grosses. Even in Watchmen, that gritty work of fiction buffering our reality and the balls-to-the-wall fiction of the main DCU, Superman is a comic book symbol of certain values that springs an ordinary citizen into extraordinary action, a social and commercial resource.

In Doomsday Clock then, superheroes become, for lack of a more pretentious term, a metatextual resource, fulcrums of communication between the real and the make-believe, bright, loud points of contact where ideas flow between levels of reality easiest. And it would appear, based on a hypothesis posited by Ozymandias in Doomsday Clock #5, as though that resource is perhaps what Doctor Manhattan is looking to exploit in traveling deeper into fiction, from his native Watchmen to the metahuman-swarmed realm of the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.

When Geoff Johns lobs an idea through layers of fiction, through Watchmen into the DCU, deeper still into old detective movies being rerun on TV within the DCU, that idea bounces back, finds me back in the real world and inspired this piping hot take of a blog post. Perhaps Doctor Manhattan seeks to similarly lob ideas, ideologies, morals, values into fiction in hopes that they echo not only within the DCU, not only within his own abandoned world, but perhaps outward still towards the only superior beings he is like to meet: the reader in the real world.

Why yes, I did just read Grant Morrison’s autobiographical history of comic books, why do you ask?