Let’s  Talk About – Loki & The Potential Birth of the “Megapremise”

Loki came out this week.

And, as a man who fully expected to hate that show, I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed the first episode.

Will I enjoy all six episodes? Who knows. Can I emphatically say that its theme song is one of the best OST themes I’ve heard in a long, long time? Yes. Natalie Holt is my new hero.

But this isn’t a post about Natalie Holt. It’s a post about what I think Loki and shows like it might bring to the fiction table.

And, again, to clarify, that’s a might; I am not Publishers Weekly, nor am I an agent keen on trends.

All I want to do here today, with you, is wonder . . . if Loki is the beginning of what I’m labeling “the megapremise.”

What Is the Megapremise?

The best way to explain is to start with Loki.

Loki is a TV show about the Norse god, Loki. A version of him who invaded modern-day Earth, was defeated by superheroes, and stole back a magical cube that teleported him backward in time. Because of this, he’s arrested by a bunch of time police who proceed to show him his life, (light spoilers) including his own death. (/light spoilers)

(not so light spoilers) As a result, he decides to join the time police to help capture . . . another, presumably evil version of himself. (/not so light spoilers)

With or without spoilers, that premise is just wild.

And so is the premise that (seriously, get this) a super-powered witch, whose husband—an android—died, is inexplicably living in a sitcom where her android husband is alive again.

These premises are ridiculous—in the best way. They are, in my opinion, when Marvel is at their best these days.

And they’re also what I think of as megapremises; story ideas that are so weirdly specific and bizarre that there is nothing else like them. Premises so strange and unique to certain characters that it isn’t even possible to duplicate them (i.e. Loki would not be the same show without Marvel’s Loki, and—even worse—WandaVision would not be the same show without MCU Wanda and Vision).

And these megapremises . . . might be the future?

Because They Aren’t An Inherently Marvel Thing

It seems like they are (especially with how I defined them).

It seems like you just couldn’t write a story like Loki without ten years of build-up.

But I don’t think that’s actually true.

Creating a megapremise is easy for Marvel because they have well established characters with that decade of continuity. Every new story builds on that, so something like Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t just a movie about a space-faring team of misfits—it’s a movie about a space-faring team of misfits that ties into the special rocks a big purple man is after so he can kill half of the universe.

But—and if I’m saying anything with this post, it’s this—you can just create a megapremise. With totally new characters you made up, put into as bizarre and specific of a situation as you can possibly imagine. Everything can be explained in-story, and none of it actually requires the excess foundation new Marvel movies have (i.e. if you write a story about literal aliens pretending to be human in a small town, learning comparatively intense human emotions while slowly getting enveloped in the town’s mania [because I’ve decided they unwittingly landed in a cult town and this is a horror story now], you don’t need it to take place in the same continuity with any of your other stories).

What I’m saying here is, seriously, we can just write crazy shit like Loki.

And, I mean . . . am I weird, or is that the most exciting fucking thing ever?

You don’t have to write a normal procedural cop drama with a twist—that your partner is a demon or whatever. You can write a story about—I dunno—a law enforcement group that’s just been newly established at the center of the Earth, which humanity has only just discovered.

You don’t have to write a fantasy adventure about a group of adventurers on a quest to save the king. You can write about a—whoa-a-a-a-a-a I’m not sharing the idea I just thought of. It’s too cool. I’m actually writing that one.

Fuck—now I have to make up another example.

You can write a story about a group of aliens questing through a dangerous planet full of weird, thin, green trees and giant insects. A planet that is obviously Earth, where they search for their dying king, who fled here—I dunno.

Essentially, you can make your stories all-the-way weird and unique.

To reel myself in a bit here, yes, I am totally aware that some writers already do this. You, who’s reading this, possibly already live and breathe premises that would blow the minds of us normies.

But if you don’t . . . maybe try to make a weird, totally-out-there story just to see if it’s a good fit?

Because even if this isn’t going to become a real trend . . .

. . . it’s still incredibly fun to try to make up the weirdest, least standard premise you possibly can.

And, besides . . . I think I want the future where a new movie is like, “Meet Gary, a sentient planet who’s looking for love!” or whatever.

And, real talk, I am definitely writing that story idea I got in the middle of this post. Seriously, if anything, know that I am amazingly pumped for that, and maybe you will be too if you settle on a beyond-strange idea you really like.

And I hope you do. Because we all deserve to have at least one really bizarre idea that we’re working on for nobody but ourselves.

~~~

Okay. I am calling it here because it’s 4AM and I am about to pass out.

If you enjoyed this post, I try to get posts out every Sunday. Today, this post came out late because my weekend was weirdly busy. I will admit that part of it was a long D&D session, but you can’t be mad, because I played a Warforged Fighter who was a mix between Robocop and a Terminator. His name was Silver and I accidentally min-maxed the shit out of him, so he was an absolute monster that didn’t get scratched once. Anyway, if you liked this post, please drop a Like or consider giving my blog a follow.

Last update here: I am at the end of my outline for Memory, my current WIP. I finished my Tally Run and I’m outlining the finale now. I just wanted to stay honest about that on here. Which I will continue to do next week.

Until then, take care, and always remember that ice tea that you brew yourself, with tea bags, is infinitely better than powder mix ice teas. Seriously, there’s no contest; brew those bags, put them in water with a little sugar, pour them over ice—so good.

Stay hydrated—bye!

Let’s Talk About – SWOGing, A Star Wars Phenomenon That Just Made It To Resident Evil: Village

I finished Resident Evil: Village.

And I have two things to say.

First, in case you’ve heard different from certain websites or YouTube personalities, I will be the completely honest party and say, man, that game is not good.

I can seriously go on an entire rant about conflicting game mechanics; bugs; bad conveyance; manipulative, time-wasting game design; false advertising (like, a very obviously, intentionally misleading ad campaign [Chris doesn’t turn into an evil werewolf even though this is the goddamn box art]) and all the other things Village does wrong, but that’s not what this post is about. Just take my word for it: don’t buy it. Just watch a playthrough of it

So what is this post about? Why am I bringing up Village at all?

Because of its stupid, obviously rushed, plot twist-dependent story.

Specifically, the way that it does what I now call the “SWOG Cameo.”

That’s short for the “Star Wars OG Cameo.” Or I guess maybe I can call it the “Rogue One Cameo,” since that’s where this weird, weird practice started.

What is a SWOG Cameo?

TL;DR: It’s when a franchise does an extremely masturbatory cameo for one of its classic characters in the 11th hour of its latest installment. These cameos can be a little longer—with them having a small stake in the plot—or they can be as short as one scene, but either way, the plot would’ve been fine (or significantly better) without their involvement. And their involvement is always over-the-top flattering for them, with the story falling over itself to make them look as awesome as possible. Why?

For fan service.

The SWOG Cameo is purely fan-service. Put in a fan favorite character, have them be a badass and do awesome stuff, and then sit back and watch the internet go absolutely crazy for it even though it took zero effort.

And it is absolutely a Star Wars staple at this point.

It started with Rogue One, where the climax of the film includes a super masturbatory scene of Darth Vader chopping up some Rebels. People always point to that Darth Vader Scene as the best part of the entire film . . . which I feel really says something about the rest of the movie, but man-oh-man am I tired of having that argument.

It continued in the new trilogy when Disney SWOG’d the entire last Rey film by throwing in the Emperor with paper thin narrative justifications. Remember when he created a storm with Force Lightning to destroy a bunch of ships? J. J. Abrams was really hoping you’d love that.

A little under the radar, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order also got SWOG’d. (Spoilers) for that game, but you spend the last 2 minutes running from Darth Vader, who shows up out of narrative thin air, murders the last boss, and then starts pulling apart the walls and machinery of the base you’re trying to escape from, metal swirling around him like he’s a literal god. True story: the friend I played it with thought it was awesome that he showed up and wasn’t at all upset about all the emotional storytelling getting sucked out the airlock immediately (/spoilers).

And, also a true story, that same friend (and all of my other friends [save the one writer]) also loved it when—(spoilers) for The Mandalorian—in the last two minutes of the final episode of season 2, Luke Skywalker showed up and easily took apart 30 Death Trooper robots who were conveyed as invincible (/spoilers).

Yeah, it’s called SWOGing because it is 100% a Star Wars thing.

At least it was until now.

Chris Redfield is listed as “Alpha” in Ethan’s phone?
Are you fucking kidding me??

The SWOGing in Resident Evil: Village is so bizarre.

To be totally fair, Chris was also in Resident Evil VII, but it was not the same. For starters it wasn’t a flattering cameo at all.

But in Village, it’s downright unhealthy.

And, look, spoilers ahead for Village, but, again—seriously—don’t play it. It’s just a waste. Lady Dimitrescu and her cool castle are part of the false advertising; she’s seriously in it for 3 hours and then dies (seriously, she’s the first boss).

To establish a framework here, the game starts with Chris Redfield apparently killing your wife for some reason. He takes you into custody, but the route to whatever detention facility passes through a village full of mutated monster people.  Oops! The van you’re in gets attacked, you wind up in the village, and you don’t see Chris again until hours later, at which point he doesn’t explain a plot twist because a giant fish destroys the house you’re in mid-conversation (it’s as stupid as it sounds). You don’t see him again until the end of the game, when he explains the game’s plot twist to you. He gives you a tank, you fight the second to last boss, get killed (in plot), and then perspective switches to Chris, who, in classic SWOG fashion, is tooled out the ass with insanely powerful weapons that you use to cut through monsters like butter.

And, yes, this is the point where it starts to get weird. As Chris, you stroll through the titular village, that it took Ethan hours to get through, in 3 minutes, turning monsters that Ethan struggled with into swiss cheese. At one point, you have to fight two of a monster that Ethan had to run from and find a special gun to kill; with Chris, it took about 12 seconds to kill them both without even getting scratched. When I had to fight an invincible giant as Chris, I called down a literal air strike to kill it. Easy peasy.

All of this while Chris’ team of soldiers call him “Cap” and “Alpha” over the radio. And I’m aware it’s because he’s a captain and I guess his code name is “Alpha,” but it just feels like the equivalent of people calling him “Supes” and “Big Dick.” “This quadrant is all clear, Commander Best-Ever Example of Masculinity. What are your orders??”

Holy shit. Resident Evil . . . please calm down . . . with the goddamn fan service. Seriously.

Why Exactly Is This a Bad Thing?

Aside from the obvious—that fan service is lazy and it sucks—there’s the fact that it usually ruins newer characters’ plotlines and arcs.

For example, Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo all lost a ton of story potential when Palpatine stepped in. Whatever their narrative could’ve been was lost the moment their villain became fan service. Because, without Palpatine showing up, the obvious answer is that there could have been some kind of intense, emotional finale with Kylo Ren (who would have stayed evil if I was writing things).

In The Mandalorian, the characters could’ve had an awesome scene where they devise some way to make it past the Death Troopers (spoilers) instead of standing in place and watching Luke cut his way through them (/spoilers).

In Rogue One, the 2 minutes spent on Vader could’ve been divvied up among the protagonists in scenes or beats that make us actually care about them. Or scenes that, at the very least, helped the audience remember their names.

In Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, (spoilers) the arrival of Vader genuinely and completely ruins the finale; right as that game’s uniquely complex (for Star Wars) villain, the Second Sister, is about to decide if she’s going to be redeemed, Vader steps in and literally kills any chances we had of complex storytelling. Because either our protagonist, Cal, was going to have to kill her and go back to tell her former Jedi Master about it, or the Sister was going to decide to be redeemed, and we would potentially get to see her go through that in the sequel (/spoilers).

But it’s actually even worse in Resident Evil: Village.

Because, in Village, although the Chris cameo doesn’t necessarily pull time away from Ethan (spoilers) –he’s already dead at that point—(/spoilers), it does oddly recontextualize our feelings for our protagonist, Ethan.

By which I mean it helps us absolutely hate him.

If you were to look through reviews of this game, pretty much every review you find will mention how stupid and unlikeable Ethan is. He’s extremely dense, really bad at action one-liners, and unbelievably gullible (at one point in the game, you have to frustratingly watch from his perspective as a villain very obviously stalls for time and Ethan falls for it). And all of those realizations get that much worse the moment you’re allowed to play as ultra-badass Chris Redfield. By the time (spoilers) you’re back in control of Ethan, who it turns out is one of the monsters from the previous game (it’s not as interesting as it sounds), you just want to be playing as Chris again. The entire time you’re fighting the last boss, you’re thinking, “I could just air strike her and be done with it if I was playing Chris.” And when Ethan ultimately decides to sacrifice himself even though he does not need to in any way, for any reason whatsoever, and it’s totally hollow because he’s dying anyway, all I could manage to think was, “Thank God.” Like, “I’m so glad I’ll never have to be in Ethan’s shoes ever again” (/spoilers).

But Chris’s role in Village also takes SWOGing to a whole other level.  Because the problem isn’t just that his presence made us dislike Ethan even more . . .

. . . it also made Chris himself less malleable as a protagonist.

Because now, he’s not just a man. By the end of Resident Evil: Village, he’s more like a myth; a super hero with massive connections behind the scenes, allowing him to achieve insane feats (like leveling an entire village in 5 minutes). I can’t imagine him having relatable, human drama anymore. Or, rather, I can’t imagine the writers at Capcom giving him relatable, human drama anymore. It feels like he will always be the untouchable badass in the background now.

And that is the real problem with this growing trend. SWOGing ruins the tension of a story and usurps focus from that story’s characters, sure. But it also elevates the OG to legend status, setting a new bar of awesomeness for them. They become untouchable, very, very unlikely to die, make mistakes, or do anything beyond dropping into a story and being perfect for a little while. Village ensures that if we ever get to play Chris in another Resident Evil game, it’s going to be a tacticool run-and-gun experience where he kills armies of monsters without breaking a sweat. Because now, it kind of has to be.

Vader, Luke, they’re all already legendary; they wouldn’t be appearing as protagonists in anything anyway.

But other SWOG characters totally might . . . until they’re used for an over-the-top, fan service cameo.

Which sucks because I’ve recently seen an OG character appear in a sequel with new characters and it worked well. There’s a lot wrong with Terminator: Dark Fate, but probably the best thing about it was Linda Hamilton returning as Sarah Connor, because Sarah had new drama, and it was really cool watching Hamilton sell that drama . . . It definitely wasn’t as cool when they tried to sell us on a Terminator raising a family and becoming a good guy, but whatever.

My point is, I hope SWOGing stops so characters can continue being human.

Instead of becoming caricatures, designed to make us clap like nostalgia-drunk seals.

~~~

Man, I almost didn’t get this one out at all because I’m weirdly sick. I don’t know why or how, but I slept 12 hours last night and then woke up exhausted and (still to this point) light-headed. I’m seriously off to just drink cold water and sit in front of a fan (and hope that I just overheated [yes, I am Grass Type, btw]).

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. You can always stop by next week or give this blog a follow if you want to hear the opinions of an aspiring writer on the internet.

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and seriously, stay hydrated.

The Brown Main Supporting Character & The White Side Protagonist

I watched The New Mutants a few days ago.

Based on the trailers, I was expecting something unique and hoping for something cool.

What I got was something a little meh.

And a lotta racist.

Yeah, New Mutants really pissed me off.

Because it starts and we’re introduced to Dani Moonstar, our brown protagonist, and immediately, the part of me that went, “Oh, man! Awesome!” was curtailed by the fact that, having watched the trailers, I had no idea she was even in the movie.

That’s a really bad sign, the old, embittered part of my brain told me.

And as the movie rolled on, that part of my brain was absolutely justified.

Because, on one hand, Dani was prominently featured in the movie as a protagonist.

But, on the other, she was suffering from a phenomenon that I’ve seen somewhere else recently: The Falcon & the Winter Soldier. Something I’m going to call . . .

The White Side Protagonist /
Brown Main Supporting Character Syndrome

I’m going to call it “WSP/BMS” for short. I know. Doesn’t roll off the tongue. But it’s 4:45 in the morning and I’m angry.

If you haven’t seen New Mutants, I’ll spare you spoilers.

Suffice it to say there’s a white character in this movie who gets an inordinate amount of attention.

And, of course, it’s a team movie–so everyone in the team is going to get some attention.

But one character, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Illyana Rasputin, aka Magik, blows the idea of unfair character bias out of the goddamn water.

In a film that is supposed to center around Dani, Magik–a blonde white girl–is the center of many, many scenes.

When the titular mutants are quietly coexisting in a common room, Magik comes in and starts saying openly racist shit to our protagonist, starting a fight.

When the titular mutants are momentarily free to blow off some steam because someone (Magik) drugged the person in charge of them, it’s Magik’s idea to use the lie detector the scene is based around. And the conclusion of that scene is that Magik stoically tells everyone about something dark from her past that leaves everyone in stunned silence.

When people start getting chased by living nightmares, Magik’s are the most unique and prevalent ones.

And, at the end of the film, even though no one else has any, Magik has a series of ridiculous, over-the-top hero shots that watch like ridiculous, at moments cringey, fanfiction.

All of this–especially the ending–left me with a pretty clear idea of what happened behind the scenes:

Someone, at some point during the production of this film, wrote this story entirely for Magik. It was basically Sucker Punch 2, pulling for that same vibe. Even if they didn’t put it down to paper, someone wanted to make that movie.

Then, someone else told them, “No. Actually, we want Dani Moonstar to be the protagonist.” And that Magik-obsessed writer was super pissed.

So they did an edit of their original script that pulled some focus from Magik to give to Dani . . . but then pulled focus away from the rest of the cast to give more to Magik (because, seriously, the other characters get very little development in comparison).

So, in the end, we wound up with a weird, extremely hokey moment at the end of the story, where Magik goes full super hero, complete with wind-swept-hair close-ups that feel wildly out of place with the rest of the film. There’s even a heavily contrived super hero name drop that the supporting cast awkwardly sets up for Magik (“You can’t fight that thing! It’s magic!” even though literally no one in the entire film suggested the thing they were fighting was magical, just so Magik could follow up with, “So am I.”).

Or absolutely none of this happened. Maybe instead, a few Hollywood writers got together, researched some characters, picked a diverse mutant for their protagonist, but then just fell in love with their rendition of a white character. And they saw absolutely nothing wrong with giving that white character a ton of attention.

Writer A: “I mean, she’s not even the protagonist.”

Writer B: “Right.”

Writer A: “So it can’t be racist if we give her a ton of attention! She’s a side character!”

Writer B: “Didn’t even need to say it! Clearly not racist!”

A: “So, yeah, wouldn’t it be so cute if she talks to Lockheed at the end and he reacts!? Like, not once, but twice!?”

B: “Yes! OMFG! And we can have her shout at one point that she’s the most powerful mutant in the team!”

A: “Essential! And we can have her murder the final threat in the third act by stabbing it with her sword!”

B: “YES! And–actually, wait . . . Shouldn’t the protagonist defeat the final threat in the third act?”

A: ” . . . Oh! Right! Pfft! I’m so stupid–totally forgot! Magik isn’t the protagonist! That Native girl is our protagonist! Ha ha! Slipped my mind somehow!”

B: “Ho ho! No problem! A mistake anyone would make!”

A: “Yes. An honest mistake and, most importantly, not a racist one!”

B: “Again, didn’t even need to say it, my friend!”

. . .

Yeah, either of these scenarios are bad.

If a writer wedged in and then steadily undermined a brown protagonist with a white side character, that’s bad.

And if a writer accidentally pulled focus from a brown protagonist to give more attention to a white side character they loved, that is also bad.

And, of course, to finally put a stamp on it, that’s what WSP/BMS Syndrome is. The tendency for writers in charge of a story with an ethnically diverse protagonist . . . to focus so much on a white side character that said white character might as well be the protagonist.

Now, most people can see right off the bat why that’s bad. But for anyone who doesn’t get it, WSP/BMS is an evolution of the practice of studios dooming minority-led or woman-led projects to fail by assigning terrible writers and artists to them. It is the act of demanding writers who don’t care about or don’t understand the need for diversity to write diverse stories. And then either not caring when those stories sideline their protagonists or . . . not even realizing that it’s happening.

And it sucks, because what gets lost in translation are a lot of great opportunities for telling that protagonist’s story.

Dani Moonstar’s entire personality focuses exclusively on the night when her reservation was destroyed. It makes sense she would think of that night a lot (it is the inciting incident of the plot). But . . . we see literally nothing else about her past and know nothing else about her as a person. She is a mutant whose reservation was destroyed. That is her character.

The same way that Sam Wilson’s character came dangerously close to being boiled down to, “He’s the guy Steve Rogers gave his shield to.”

Yeah, I’m bringing all of this around to something recent. Because The Falcon & The Winter Soldier comes dangerously close to being . . .

The Winter Soldier & Falcon

I am aware that this is the freshest of hottakes. The show isn’t even over yet.

However, it is very strange to me that in a show where the Falcon is the protagonist, there is a full episode where he just stands in the background.

And his personal arc with his family starts in Episode 1 and isn’t picked up again until Episode 5.

While, in the meantime, his partner, Bucky Barnes, gets intense, heartfelt moments in almost every episode. We get looks into Bucky’s past, intensely emotional moments of him coping with that past, complexity between him and Baron Zemo, questions about how much of the Winter Soldier is still inside of him.

While Sam Wilson is, for a bizarre amount of time, just standing in the background.

Sam gets a handful of good character moments, but 5 episodes in, we still don’t know why he gave up the shield. What he was feeling–why he thought it was the right thing to do, which I thought he’d explain in an emotional exchange with literally anyone by now.

We get Sam using his experience as a therapist for soldiers, which is great . . . but somehow, the plot does absolutely nothing with the fact that Sam was a goddamn soldier. Which is insane to me. Even in moments where he could easily relate to John Walker’s Captain America, we don’t get a story from Sam about the one time he had to make a hard choice while he was on a mission. No admission to anyone about how he felt when he came home from war. No former war buddy Sam calls to talk. No venting about how coming back from being an Avenger and finding corporate America ungrateful feels like coming back from defending the country abroad and finding the same social injustices are still in place. The latter is conveyed by another character entirely while Sam just stares at him and shakes his head, as if Sam would not have experienced any of that himself.

And all of this is a major bummer. Especially when a white villain, Baron Zemo, joins the cast and sucks up even more screen time (in a show that already gives time to another white villain, John Walker). Seriously, I know the Zemo dance became a meme, but at that point in my viewing experience, I threw up my hands like, “Why the fuck am I watching Zemo dance!? More of Sam’s family drama, please!”

Of course, a part of me should be like, “Whatever! It’s cool that we got a show prominently featuring Falcon and they are, at this point, doing a good job showing him becoming Captain America.” And also, a total surprise: they actually have the MCU’s first Hispanic super hero getting a tiny origin story of his own in the background (which, wow, no one is talking about at all–probably because Torres will forever be in the background [I know how these things work–I call it ‘Star Trek style’]).

But, at this point in my life, that bitter side of me can’t help thinking, “They could’ve done more.”

With New Mutants, that’s extremely obvious, what with the one character saying blatantly racist shit and other characters being white-washed.

But, with The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, even though it’s subtle by comparison, it’s still something we need to fight.

Because I don’t want to live through, like, ten years of movies with Black and brown protagonists who aren’t actually protagonists. With writers who ignore entire facets of their lives so they can give tons of screen time to a white side character.

Seriously, I want to get to the point where we get an MCU film or show that’s headlined by a Hispanic super hero before I die.

And, when I get it, if that hero gets shoved aside in their own show or movie so their sidekick or villain can get more of the attention they’ve no doubt gotten already in the source material, I will fucking scream.

~~~

Man, it’s been a while since I wrote something . . . angry. But goddamn, I really want the world to nip this one in the bud.

If you’re new here, and you were expecting something chill, yeah, I was too when I turned on The New Mutants. Wasn’t expecting to get a bunch of racist shit in my silly horror movie about super heroes in a haunted hospital–that’s for goddamn sure. But, hey, that’s the experience. The fun of being a minority and trying to watch anything.

Anyway, I’m definitely going to wind down for next weekend. Unless the last episode of The Falcon & The Winter Soldier really pisses me off. Who knows.

Either way, you can find out by stopping by next Sunday!

Until then, take care, stay safe, and if you haven’t read it, oh man, The Raven Tower blew my mind. It takes a while to get going, but once it gets good, it gets so good. Anyway, bye!

Monster Showcase – Mother Longlegs from Kong: Skull Island

Disclaimer 1: Yes, this post contains minor spoilers for Kong: Skull Island, which I only point out because if you haven’t seen it, KSI is actually good. Seriously, I just watched it for the first time earlier in this week, and I was floored not only by how entertaining it was but how that movie exists and–only four years after its release–no one talks about it. I’m actually going to write a post about the micro-genre I think that movie exists in, but whatever–for now, my point is if you haven’t seen this movie and don’t want a good scene spoiled, go watch it first, then come back here. And, seriously, get popcorn and beer, watch it with friends if you can. You’ll absolutely have a good time.

Disclaimer 2: The biggest trigger warning for people with Arachnophobia. Navigate away from this post, burn your computer, charter a boat to the middle of the ocean, weigh down the remains and throw them overboard. And if you watch KSI, just know that there’s one scene you need to skip. But, seriously, read no further.

Disclaimer 3: I’m sick. Like, sharp headaches, congestion, dizzy sick. So if I do anything weird, like start a post with three disclaimers, please cut me some slack.

All of that said, hello and welcome back.

Today, I just wanted to add another entry to Monster Showcase. Not just because the monster I talked about in the first one was pro-o-o-obably too weird, but because I was genuinely floored by what Gojipedia calls . . .

Mother Longlegs

This is a species of giant spiders living on Skull Island (yes, if you haven’t seen the movie, those are not bushes–those are tree tops).

Now, the thing is, I know Fantasy, you know Fantasy; there are a ton of giant spiders a-a-a-all over Fantasy. So why would I ever write an entire post about a pretend giant spider from anything?

Because of the worldbuilding.

What Makes It Cool

It’s fucking legs look like bamboo stalks. Because it hunts in bamboo forests.

How fucking awesome is that? A Mother Longlegs hunts like this:

Absolutely terrifying.

It just stands in place in a bamboo forest, obscured by the canopy, waiting for prey to wander close. When that happens, the Mother Longlegs might quietly spear them with one of its legs, or fire sticky tendrils down and draw them up to its massive pinchers. In KSI, the characters being stalked by it only notice it because it decides to kill one of them. Which invites the thought, If it didn’t decide to kill any of them, would they have just walked through the forest never knowing they were walking through the legs of a 20 foot spider? Would they have just not been aware it was there? And that, my friends, is, like the fear of spiders perfectly embodied. The terror of seeing a large spider scurry behind your wall unit and thinking, “Oh fuck . . . I don’t know where it is!” Sitting down and jumping because a chord brushed your leg. Or just glancing down and seeing a spider (or any large bug) inches away from your bare foot and flipping a table.

I’m getting a little carried away here, but my point is, all of the elements of this weird, giant spider immediately make sense. Its niche, its mutations, all of it comes together to make a very believable nightmare.

But, on top of that, all of those details that I just laid out–the things that make the Mother Longlegs feel real–didn’t come from the wiki.

They came from just watching the one scene this monster is in. From a cumulative 30 seconds of screen time, where everything anyone ever needed to know about this monster was conveyed in-story.

We get a short exchange between characters before this thing even reveals itself. It kills someone and the other characters turn around to attack it. In the confusion, it shoots its weird tendrils at someone, starts drawing them up to its massive pinchers, and another character calls out for everyone to “Cut the legs!” so that maybe if you didn’t realize some of the bamboo stalks were it’s legs, you definitely know now. The monster is killed, the characters continue their trek, and you get to just nod like, “Cool nightmare I’m gonna have tonight. Thanks. Can’t wait.”

All jokes aside, you come away from that one scene able to write the Gojipedia entry for Mother Longlegs yourself.

And that is amazingly clean conveyance. Like, Masterclass Show Don’t Tell.

What I Learned From It

The Mother Longlegs itself is a showcase on how to create a monster that feels like a living, breathing creature.

But its scene is a clinic on how to convey all the things that make it feel real–in seconds.

And that’s what I really want to master. I want to both make a monster that’s weirdly believable and convey all of the things that make it believable in a single scene. Without a character walking up like, “Oy. You heard about them big spiders? They ‘ide in the tree tops and scoop you up.”

Like, no. I want no lead up. No suspense building. Just clean, awe-inspiring design.

Seriously, last word here: just Google “Mother Longlegs” and marvel at the crazy amount of fan art there is of this thing.

~~~

Okay. That said, it’s 4:30 AM and I am going to go Flying Elbow Drop my bed.

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. So stop by next week, when I’m going to talk about something other than Kong: Skull Island–I promise.

Until then, stay safe, take care, and make sure to double check the expiration date on your antibiotic ointment. Seriously, expired antibiotic ointment makes your skin red and itchy so it looks like you have an infection and need to apply more ointment. Slipperiest of slopes. Bye!

The “MCU Glorifies the Military” Hottake is Stupid, But This Other Take Isn’t

Like a large portion of America, I watched the finale of WandaVision this week.

And, before I continue, I know this isn’t what I said I’d write about. I will, forever and always, stop myself from making promises about what I’ll write on Sunday, because it almost always changes.

The thing is, like anything, WandaVision is prone to takes. I have friends who loved it and friends who hated the finale so much that it ruined the entire rest of the show for them. That is fine and totally normal. I still really enjoyed it while (as I usually do with absolutely anything) acknowledging that it was not perfect.

That said, I couldn’t help thinking about the weirder, hotter takes that’ve popped up about the MCU lately. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure the take I’m thinking of is a recent development, but I only recently heard about it.

It’s the idea that the MCU . . . glorifies the military?

Like, I’ve seen this vehemently passed around Twitter by someone who attached a photo of Brie Larson posing with fighter pilots.

And, I almost never use this platform to be like, “People’s hottakes are stupid.”

But holy shit is that a stupid hottake.

If you’re a person who believes in that take, I’m sorry, but it’s just a bad take. However . . . there is absolutely a solid, reasonable take available (one that I really think needs attention), and I am going to lay out that take in this post. Because I don’t think MCU films are all sunshine and rainbows (I straight-up hate a bunch of them), and I think superhero movies in general need a reckoning when it comes to this one issue.

But first . . .

The Stupid Military Industrial Complex Hottake

The belief: MCU films portray a worldwide police state as a good thing that is both essential and inevitable.

When I hear a take like that, my immediate reaction is, “Hmm. Is that true?” Because, ya know, I always want to deliberate and consider issues and, especially, criticisms of things that I like.

But, the weird thing about this hottake . . . is that Iron Man–like, part-fucking-1–portrays military weapons-mongering as wrong. It’s not a huge moral, it’s not given a ton of attention, but that lesson is a sizeable, noticeable part of Tony Stark’s arc. He goes to sell weapons to the someone, gets captured, is finally forced to come face-to-face with the violence and death his weapons cause, and decides he’s not going to take any more military contracts or sell weapons.

Part of the tension in Iron Man 2 is that James Rhodes, Tony’s friend, takes one of his suits and brings it to the military, and, yes, the soundtrack goes all brassy when Rhodey lands the high tech power armor at a military base (absolutely not a good look). However, even that moment does not equal “police state propaganda.” Does it show the military through a rose-tinted lens? Yes. The first Captain America also does that. Do either movies show anything that actually suggests it would be great if the military controlled the world? No. Does S.H.I.E.L.D. as portrayed in the first Avengers movie come close to depicting a “world policing organization” as good? Sure. There’s outright talk among S.H.I.E.L.D. agents about missions in other countries. It’s typical spy shit, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is never shown enforcing a 6PM curfew on protesters, but still, a bunch of American spies in a giant floating fortress that has stealth tech is absolutely not a good thing that was, undeniably, portrayed as cool.

But . . . All of the films I just mentioned are followed up by many films in the franchise that work directly portray police states as bad.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (a movie I hate), makes a very (beating you over the head) obvious case for a police state being wrong when Tony Stark tries to create one–with a legion of robots controlled by a single AI–and it creates a monster, for which everyone else on the team is understandably pissed In my opinion, the film doesn’t stay pissed at Tony nearly long enough, but there is a scene where everyone is mad at him and he’s played almost like a mad scientist.

Captain America: Winter Soldier focuses very, very heavily on how bad it would be for the military to obtain weapons they can use to “neutralize threats before they happen.” “Enforcement of the law through fear is wrong” is seriously a main theme of that film.

Captain America: Civil War actively challenges the idea of government control to the extent that it basically makes Iron Man a villain.

Both Infinity War and Endgame have the heroes fighting a militaristic dictator who wants to impose his will on everyone.

Even fucking Captain Marvel has a hero fighting a duplicitous space government that demands control from everyone.

And, seriously, between all of those movies, there are a bunch of N/A’s like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy that don’t glorify military might at all. In fact, I think the first Captain America is the only film where the American military was even portrayed as competent; every other movie has military personal in the background, getting their asses kicked, including S.H.I.E.L.D. more often than not.

So my point here is no.

If you ascribe to this hottake, you’re absolutely right to think that something is off about the MCU, but it’s not this. If the final goalpost is, “Well, in Endgame, they show that the heroes are, like, monitoring Earth,” then, seriously, just stop, because that’s a group of 5 characters trying to find problems to fix, not a militarized force monitoring the world. The films just don’t glorify the military or support the idea that the world is inevitably heading toward a necessary police state.

However . . .

MCU Films, Like Most Comic Book Media,
Absolutely Glorify Capitalist Control

Part of the reason I’m so annoyed about the military hottake is because it’s drawing attention away from a conversation that should be had about the MCU and too many comic books.

They glorify Capitalist ideals. Like, right out of the fucking gate, in your face, a lot of comic book media does it, because many of the superheroes who are popular now were made here in America, the Capitalist shithole of the world.

Seriously, it’s not even a contest. Iron Man was the guy in the MCU, and his entire thing was that he was a rich genius who was rich because he was a genius and a genius because he was rich and only he was capable of saving the universe!

I mean, you can contest this with the two, major cases where he was portrayed being completely wrong about big issues in the MCU (again, Age of Ultron and Civil War), but Iron Man was still the billionaire, Private Sector savior that the American government keeps saying exists but fucking doesn’t really.

Like, don’t get me wrong–I love Iron Man–but he glorifies a system that ruins countless fucking lives on the regular. He is a fairytale–born out of old timey America’s love of industry and business.

🎶 Just 👏 like 👏 fucki-i-i-ing Batman! 🎶

Yeah, that’s right. The same way Tony Stark is a rich dude who gets to be the bestest superhero ever because he has money, so is Batman. In fact, Batman goes around and studies a ton of martial arts (and whatever else a writer decides at the moment) because he’s rich. Because Capitalism is great, you guys. If it wasn’t for Capitalism, Batman wouldn’t have the amazing car he uses in Batman V Superman to explode people who don’t have as much money as he does–don’t you get it?

Look, I’m not going to pretend the majority of superheroes are rich, because they aren’t, but two of the most popular ones in the world are, and they seriously aren’t the only ones.

Oliver Queen is another rich kid.

Doctor Strange.

Iron Fist.

Aquaman (who I didn’t even realize was rich, but he’s the king of the vast majority of livable space on planet Earth, so of course).

Thor (also a literal prince).

Black Adam, which I only mention because we’re going to get a movie for him–get ready.

Wasp is rich, which I didn’t even know.

Black Panther.

And, for sure, there are a bunch of rich villains on both sides. It’s not insanely on the nose with Batman’s villain being, like, “The Socialist!” (although I’m not going to look it up, because I’m fucking sure there is a Socialist villain somewhere out there). But when a villain with money exists in the same world as a hero with money, the problem in that equation ceases to be the money. And before anyone is like, “Um, actually, Lex Luthor is Superman’s villain, not Batman’s,” holy shit, the point is that modern superhero media glorifies Capitalism by presenting rich dudes who go out and beat the shit out of people they don’t know as a good thing. We should be questioning that.

In the MCU, Iron Man is already dead and, hopefully, they’ll replace him with someone who isn’t a mascot for Capitalism. But Batman is alive and strong, mercilessly beating the shit out of people in the trailer for his new movie. And. I. Hate it.

Because we shouldn’t live in a country where some people are so rich that the law doesn’t apply to them while others are so poor that they need to work multiple jobs and come home too tired to do anything but go to sleep.

Or, at the very fucking least, when Iron Man decides he’s going to make an AI that’s going to police the planet Earth because he’s a genius and it’s okay, he should be punished really heavily for it instead of being given a pass for the world to see.

And when Batman beats the shit out of someone or indiscriminately murders them (which he just canonically does now) and the music swells and gets super triumphant, maybe we question why the rich people who made The Batman commissioned other rich people to write that music.

“Why do they want me to get super excited when Batman punches an underprivileged stranger in the face 8 times?”

And what does that say about them?

~~~

Thanks for reading. This one’s been brewing for a while because it’s an issue I’ve had with comics in general for some time, but I only just realized it applies to the MCU. I guess that in the same way that the Punisher is significantly less appealing now after 2020, rich assholes who people deify are always going to be a sticking point for me.

If you enjoyed this post, I’ll be back next week to talk about something less . . . charged. Maybe. Not definitely, but maybe?

Until next time, take care, and if you see Love Crunch Espresso Vanilla Cream Granola, just trust me, it’s the crack of granolas. Like, obviously not something you can have a lot of, but if you want to treat yourself, it’s insane. Okay, bye!

Let’s Talk About – My Writer Quirks

So, if there’s one thing my writing group has exposed to me by accident, it’s my collection of what I think of as “Writer Quirks”: illogical standards / habits that dictate how and what I write.

I mean, I knew they were there, but some of them have been discovered by my writing group, so I’m thinking about them more this weekend.

And, since I woke up to some serious snowfall, I thought ‘why not just take a chill snow day and talk about my Quirks–the things that make me the weird writer I am?’

Yeah. Yeah, that could be fun and chill, so let’s do it.

Number 1 – I love writing in inclement weather.

There’s something about rain in particular that gets the creative juices flowing for me.

And, to be totally honest . . . I think it’s because of Jurassic Park.

Please don’t tease me, but one of the first stories I wrote was about me and my cousins trapped in my old apartment with my cats, who’d become Velociraptor-sized for some mysterious reason.

I was, like, 10 and had just seen Jurassic Park, so cut me some slack.

Anyway, yes, that movie was massively influential for me, so whenever it rains (like it did in the T-Rex scene), the urge to write hits really hard.

And, even if it isn’t raining, I can find an ambient rain sounds video on YouTube, put on headphones, and just go.

Number 2 – I love mustache-twirling villains.

Despite evidence to the contrary on this site, I do love villains. But not the misunderstood, “morally ascendant” ones.

No, I love obviously evil mustache-twirlers.

Like, the more ‘comically evil visual cues’ they toss out at first glance, the better. Is that villain in a black leather coat? Great. Is that villain in a black leather trench coat with shades on, and eyes that are burning so fucking red you can see them through the shades? Fucking glorious.

Paramount among them (obviously) is Albert Wesker as he appeared in Resident Evil 5, where he takes “obviously evil” to the ultra max.

Like, “Guys . . . I don’t want to jump to conclusions here, but . . . I think this guy is evil?”

Making him look like a stern, Aryan man was not enough; he had to be a stern, Aryan Terminator in (what looks like) head-to-toe snake skin.

It’s just so over-the-top. I love it.

Number 3 – I love writing outside
(but I hate writing at coffee shops).

I know–I should hand in my Writer Card right now.

But, seriously, I must have missed the window where it was comfortable to write in a coffee shop.

Because, every time I try, the “You can only sit for 30 minutes while eating” sign blares at me. Or the overhead music does. Or there’s a group in the corner, laughing and talking loudly about whatever. Or there are the people around me, working on/looking at who-knows-what on their computers (porn being a very real option from the Starbucks stories I’ve heard). And, real talk, that mystery of “What are they working on/looking at?” emboldens people to just stare at your computer screen while you write; seriously, the last time I wrote at a Starbucks, the woman sitting next to me went zero-fucks and openly started reading what I was writing.

Yeah. Thanks–I’m good.

However, I do like writing pretty much anywhere else outdoors–the more secluded, the better.

And this all came from my first NaNoWriMo, where I discovery-wrote Memory in different spots all over New York. The first post in that series, (which I called 30 Days of NaNoWriMo) starts at home (which was not the plan), but what followed was a fun, 30-day romp where I searched for places I could viably write, ending with the Cloisters. And I think that romp ruined me forever. I can (and still do) write from home, but I will almost always write more enthusiastically outside.

Unless it’s at a coffee shop.

Number 4 – I was heavily inspired by
Samus Aran from Metroid.

I’ve probably talked about this on here before, but a major influence for my strong female protagonists was Samus Aran. In particular, the above diagram from the Super Metroid Nintendo Player’s Guide.

My Samus is and always will be 6’3” and 200 lbs.

That said, Samus is only one side of the “Strong Female Character” spectrum; on the other side is Mabel Pines, who I’ve wanted to write an entire post about for a while. For now, suffice it to say that I love Samus for being a strong woman who’s massive, imposing, and badass . . . and I also love Mabel Pines for being a strong woman who’s nerdy, boy-thirsty, and hilarious.

Samus was an awesome gateway for me and I will always love her, but it’s important to say that she is not the end-all example of what a strong woman is.

Number 5 – FFVI made me want to write Fantasy.
FFVII guaranteed I’d never write anything else.

I was massively inspired by Jurassic Park, but my desire to write awesome stuff was forever turned from “no-frills American action movie” to “Fantasy” when I played Final Fantasy VI for the first time.

The Magitek Armor (made weird and fluid by the art of Yoshitaka Amano), the presence of fae-like Espers (who were not simple analogues of traditional deities), the variety of characters (who reach into pretty much every extreme a crew can have [from a spunky kid to a weary old man]), and the 11th hour twist that the villain succeeds in destroying the world (and you have to fight through the aftermath) made me irrevocably invested in Fantasy’s potential to be unique.

But I didn’t really understand Fantasy’s range until I played Final Fantasy VII.

I don’t want to rant about that game, so I’ll just say that it was the first time I experienced a Fantasy story set in a modern city.

And, as a kid growing up in the Bronx, the idea that a Fantasy story could be based in a modern city–that the slums under a giant city could be the starting point for an adventure with otherworldly monsters and magic–blew my goddamn mind.

I wouldn’t trade the bizarre potential and impossible range of Fantasy for the world.

Number 6 – I have a special designation for music
I want to write stories for–“righteous.”

Last thing–I take crazy amounts of inspiration from music, which I think a lot of us do.

However, I often find songs I want to write for. And, at some point, I started thinking of those songs as “righteous.”

I don’t know how this “righteous song” thing started, but most of the time, those songs will never fit into any of my WIP’s. For example, “Spectre” by Radiohead is the intro theme for a story I am not writing. What is that story? No idea, but I want to write something that fits “Spectre” so badly, and I don’t know why. It just triggers a part of my brain and evokes emotions that I really want to make into a story. I used imagine it as the theme for Aixa the Hexcaster, but it doesn’t fit Aixa’s tone either, so it will forever float as the intro theme for . . . something in my brain.

Once in a blue moon though, the visceral muse of certain songs does inspire entire stories; “Time’s Scar,” from the intro to Chrono Cross, is directly responsible for The Hand and the Tempest, the big project I’m working on after Memory. I heard that song in high school and created an entire story from it. Well, I was in high school, so really, I imagined a CG intro for a story, and then, 15 years later, made that CG intro into a workable plot, but still, if a = b, and b = c, then something-something-math.

~~~

Okay. it is now the late afternoon, so I’m going to clean up what I have and post this. I hope everyone is doing well, and if you liked this post, I’ll be posting again next Sunday . . . or Monday, depending on how insane next week is. I’m potentially landing a freelancing contract, so I will either be bummed but relaxed next week, or happy but wild-eyed and hyperventilating from the effort of making a design project perfect.

Either way, stay safe, enjoy the rest of your day, and eat your oatmeal.

. . .

I started eating oatmeal again recently and found that my old man taste buds think it’s delicious, so I’m on that kick now . . . Anyway, bye!

A Writer Watching – Wonder Woman 1984, Part 2

Well, it looks like it’s that time again. What time, you ask?

1984. Unfortunately.

This second part of “A Writer Watching – Wonder Woman 1984″ feels like a doozy, so I’m going to jump right in.

However, this is the second part of a two-parter, so if you haven’t read part 1 yet, you might want to do that first.

That said, let’s do this . . .

Yay.

Wonder Woman 1984 (cont.)

  • (1:15:04) Barbara murders the gross dude from earlier.
    I understand that what I’m supposed to be getting from this scene is that the monkey’s paw is making Barbara evil, but, again, there’s been no build up to her becoming evil. At worst, she’s ignored people when they were speaking to her. To jump from that to murder is pre-e-e-e-etty big, even with her victim being a total scumbag.
    What’s really coming through for me is the “Nerd Rage” trope, where a person who’s perceived as weak gets powers and immediately turns evil to get back at the people who persecuted them.
    Fun.
  • (1:19:41) Okay. Max Lord goes to Emir Said Bin Abydos, who wishes for control of his land. The monkey’s paw part of our Deus Ex Machina erects a wall around that land, which means his people won’t have access to water.
    But isn’t Max Lord supposed to decide the punishment for the wish? Isn’t the blowback for Emir’s wish supposed to be that Max Lord takes his security team?
    What I’m getting at here is that this is the point where the rules for Max’s powers get muddled.
  • (1:21:58) Diana gets out of her car and starts running after Max Lord’s convoy.
    And it looks . . . terrible.
    I understand that this isn’t necessarily the writer’s fault, but I will take this opportunity to make a point: it doesn’t matter how awesome your character is; if you write them doing something that might look stupid, there’s a possibility they will look stupid.
    And I think this needs to be said because, more than any other genre, Fantasy is full of ‘might look stupid’ moments. For example, “he jumped up and kicked the first bad guy in the face, but also used his face as a foothold. In a second, he was running across all of their faces in a perfect circle, knocking a new bad guy out with every step!” Like . . . Okay. I’m not going to say you can’t write that, but the chances readers will read that and imagine it looking cool are pre-e-e-etty low.
  • (1:23:24) Diana gets hit with a bullet, and we’re supposed to realize she’s losing her powers.
    But Diana has never once been shot before this.
    There was a moment earlier (when she struggled to pull a lock off of door) that hinted at her powers being the price she paid for Steve Trevor coming back.
    But I thought the price was that Steve was in another man’s body (but Diana just oddly didn’t care about that).
    So, what I’m left to believe then is that . . . Diana did wish for Steve to come back in another man’s body?
    Whatever. This movie needed to do a better job seeding Diana losing her powers.
    Or, even better, just don’t do the “sequel where the hero loses/gives up their powers” trope, because it’s overdone.
  • (1:24:13) Diana flips over a truck that’s behind Max Lord’s vehicle, uses it to propel herself into the air, and . . . lands on the front of Max Lord’s vehicle, facing him. Notice that the movie does not show the mid-air turn necessary to get her into that position. Just a weird, disjointed cut from her falling, facing forward, to her on the hood of Max’s car, facing the opposite direction.
    Again, spacing and action execution in action scenes is so goddamn important. If you’re struggling to make a character pull off an awesome feat, just think of another awesome feat for them to do. One that makes sense.
  • (1:25:42) I realize this whole fight could be a lesson in spatial awareness in an action scene, but this last moment, where Steve fires a rocket and Diana whips onto it and sails through the air to save some kids ahead of the convoy, re-e-e-e-eally takes the cake. It’s silly, bizarre, and overly complicated (with Steve needing to understand how to fire a rocket out of a military vehicle he’s never seen before and Diana needing to whip the rocket away after getting far enough ahead [but not losing any momentum whatsoever while she does so]).
    But, on top of that, another common problem I see in fiction happens at the beginning of this scene; Steve shows Diana a rocket and shouts, “Diana!” and she nods, showing that, yep, she gets what he’s thinking—even though there’s no way she possibly could.
    I call this “the Look,” based on D&D players metagaming by giving each other “a look that says I’ll kill the first goblin while you grab the treasure.”
    Really? What kind of look? Please explain.
    The Look happens in fiction all the time as well, and it’s something to keep in mind because it can get out of hand very easily.
    “She gave him a look that said she didn’t buy the minister’s lies,” is totally fine and makes sense.
    “She gave him a look that said she didn’t believe the minister was telling the entire truth,” is pushing it.
    “She gave him a look that said she knew the minister was going to kill again tonight and that she was going to try and get it out of him right now,” does not make sense.
  • (1:29:04) The macguffin being tied to the mysterious downfalls of ancient civilizations is one of the most tired tropes a macguffin can have.
  • (1:29:45) Barbara Minerva is in full, post-murder bad guy gear, and I have to say, again, that I feel really bad for Kristen Wiig.
    There are a lot of 80’s styles Wardrobe could’ve used to make a woman look cool and evil.
    The outfits they gave her in this movie were not it.
  • (1:33:46) I just have to take a moment to point out here that I love Pedro Pascal, who does a great job in this moment (when he’s not directed to act like a weird goofball).
  • (1:35:44) If I had to pick one scene that I really like from this movie, it’s this heartbreaking moment with Max Lord and his son. Max, a living monkey’s paw, tries to get his son to wish for his own greatness, but his son, who loves him, winds up wishing for his dad’s greatness. Pascal’s reactions really sell how badly Max wants his son to succeed and how hard he takes it when that potential is unwittingly thrown away.
  • (1:41:11) Again, zero setup on a Deus Ex Machina—this time, the golden, winged armor Diana will use in the third act.
    And I’m sure that the argument can be made that this scene is the set up, but if a story spends 43 seconds setting up flashy armor that only exists to be flashy (and has absolutely no effect on the larger plot), then it’s A) a bad, rushed set up, and B) the armor isn’t worth having in the movie.
    And it’s a shame because, man, just imagine if the intro with the tournament had established that the armor would, like, magically manifest on the strongest of the Amazons. Maybe the Amazon who won that tournament has that armor bond with them because they made some crazy sacrifice (like Lynda Carter’s character did). Maybe the Amazon who earned the armor stopped in the middle of the tournament to help another, injured Amazon get to the finish line while young Diana ran past them because she didn’t realize or was too focused on winning (and that’s why she doesn’t win the prologue tournament). I mean, that’s off the top of my head, but what I’m getting at is, ffs, how much cooler would it have been if, after struggling with losing Steve, Diana sacrificed him (and her own happiness) at the end and that’s why the armor came to her. Not just a flashy suit upgrade, but a physical embodiment of her sacrifice that allowed her to fly, like Steve. At the very least, I would’ve been invested in it.
  • (1:42:26) Wonder Woman sees CCTV footage of Max Lord’s car driving through Washington D.C.
    And, for the millionth time, setting.
    How does she have a hook up to CCTV footage in Washington D.C. . . . in the 80’s?
    Was there already a complex network of surveillance set up in the 80’s, or did Wonder Woman go around and hook up cameras in different hot spots for years? And, if so, why did she put one here?
    Can’t help feeling it would’ve been cleaner to show a news broadcast with a reporter like, “This just in: the President has set aside an important foreign diplomacy meeting to meet with Max Lord.”
    Because even if there was a CCTV network in America in the 80’s, that would just make this a classic example of the Stranger than Fiction phenomenon.
  • (1:48:04) Steve picks up a sword with the intent to kill Secret Service officers, but Diana says, “No, Steve, you can’t use that,” because of course he shouldn’t just kill people who are under Max’s control (also, how a former American soldier would think of skewering Secret Service with a fucking sword is beyond me–I guess Steve is a Patriot?).
    But then, after telling Steve no, Diana throws her insane, razor sharp tiara at their heads, which they only narrowly duck.
    She doesn’t even throw it at the lights for cover. She throws it at them.
    Diana! If you want to murder them yourself, just say so!
  • (1:50:20) I still feel bad for Kristen Wiig. In part because the idea of a villain getting their powers by wishing on a monkey’s paw is interesting—to me. I think if they’d just left it there, that would’ve been pretty cool. I am absolutely sure it’s been done, but I still enjoy the cleanliness of that idea. No science experiment gone wrong. Just a person wishing they could be cool like their friend without knowing that A) their friend had super powers and B) their wish would be granted. I dig it. Especially because it could yield a very interesting mentoring situation gone wrong, maybe with Barbara learning about/going to Themiscyra, being corrupted by the idea that she, a human, is stronger than all of the Amazons.
    Unfortunately, this movie hurdles right the fuck over all of that. In this fight scene in the White House, Barb even predicts and counters an attack Diana almost never uses, because this movie wants us to feel like they’ve been rivals for decades (because they have been–in the comics). Gotta love that good ol’ total-lack-of-patience!
  • (1:53:01) We get a few lines here from Kristen about how Wonder Woman has “always had everything” and “people like me have nothing.”
    The thing is, there is absolutely a conversation to be had about “pretty privilege” and other forms of discrimination (age, weight, color, sex). It’s too bad this movie actually demonizes the awkward nerd, who was genuinely being treated like shit at the beginning of the movie. Because the only thing worse than a nerd is a nerd who’s angry that everyone treats them like shit, amirite?
    Fuck this movie.
  • (1:53:59) Here, in the same conversation as above, Diana is bloody and bruised, her hair messy.
    And, as a fan of a hero getting fucked up over the course of their adventure, I just have to say . . . please, everybody, more of this. Especially if you’re writing a female protagonist. Because, I dunno about everyone else, but I am the kind of feminist who’s ready for his female protagonists to take battle damage. Like, straight up, fuck the male gaze; give me the female superhero who gets fucked up like Tobey’s Spider-Man at the end of their movies.
  • (1:55:25) I am a big fan of “shit is going down” super hero stories, where the threat feels palpable. I have to give it to this movie for at least selling me on the bizarre idea that one irresponsible dude being able to grant everyone whatever they wished for would destroy Earth in one day.
  •  (1:57:35) Diana tells Steve that she’ll never love again, but Steve tells her, “That isn’t true,” and can we please get more male characters who say extremely healthy shit like this, please?
    I still hate the entire Ghost Steve situation, but this one line is the kind of example more male characters need to provide.
  • (1:58:00) Also, Wonder Woman saying, “I can’t say goodbye” to you, and you replying, “You don’t have to. I’m already gone,” is just so good. Like, yes, sure, BDE. But more important, saying the perfect thing to get someone to revoke the wish that’s keeping you alive is incredible.
    Seriously, I always try to predict what characters are going to say in a movie (it’s just a bad habit I have), and I was actually surprised by that line.
  • (1:58:29) First, props to Gal Gadot for really selling this entire ordeal.
    Second though . . . you can just renounce your wish from anywhere, without touching the monkey’s paw?
    So . . . what’s the point of the monkey’s paw then? They’re supposed to punish you for being covetous, but if you can just cancel at any time, that means you can opt out of the punishment after getting the reward (if you’re smart). For example, I can be like, “I wish to be able to safely teleport anywhere I want.” According to this movie’s logic, I’d then have that power for, like, 3 days before anything bad starts to happen, and when it does, I can just say, “I renounce my wish,” and be fine. You could make the argument of, “Well, you would lose whatever you got with that power,” but does that include experiences? Cause I’d spend one day in Japan, another in New Zealand, a third day wild carding (like, on the moon and shit). This movie doesn’t indicate that people lose the memories, so I’m golden. Gimme that shit! Where’s it at!?
  • (1:58:58) I can’t believe the set up for Wonder Woman learning how to fly is “she whipped too hard, then whipped onto a plane for reasons that aren’t clear.”
    Just . . . what?
  • (2:01:05) Max Lord offers Barbara a second wish and she wishes she was in Cats.
    All of this is just stupid and I’m tired. LOL
    Just to scale it back and talk big picture here . . . why the fuck did they even need to make Kristen Wiig into cat lady? I get that she’s Cheetah, and fans want to see Cheetah VS Wonder Woman.
    But this is the kind of massive contrivance that ruins comic book movies—the moments where they have to adhere to their source material, even when that adherence is not properly set up.
    In an alternate reality somewhere, WW84 had the patience to set up Barbara as a morally grey sidekick, and then, in WW3, she becomes evil, finds the Jellicle Stone, and uses it to gain more power, becoming Cheetah in the process.
  • (2:02:23) The rules of Max Lord’s power go to absolute shit at the end here. Not a single fuck was given. “Oh. He can ‘touch’ people by being in a broadcasting station, broadcasting to televisions that no one is touching? Okay. Sure. What-the fuck-ever.”
  • (2:03:10) Max Lord manages to broadcast himself to everyone on planet Earth who has a TV, and I just have to laugh here. Because if I was alive for this—if Max Lord was real and he did this tomorrow—the moment he said, “All you have to do is make a wish,” I–freshly torn away from Control, which I just started playing–would absolutely roll my eyes and say, “Well, I wish Max Lord would shut the fuck up forever and let me get back to my game,” and his entire plan would be ruined. By just one smarmy asshole.
    And there is no way in hell I’m the only person who would do that.
    In fact, if I had just gotten home with a ton of groceries and I was tired, there’s a 95% chance I would sigh at my TV and say, “I wish Max Lord would fuck off and die.” Seriously, I say that kind of thing all the time without thinking—stupid, schoolyard exaggerations that I would logically never expect/actually want to happen.
    Max’s plan here would have failed immediately.
  • (2:04:34) I actually laughed really hard when the “She’s riding the lightning!” scene they kept showing in the promos was a totally pointless 5 seconds. Because of course it was.
  • (2:06:01) Cannons start shooting up into the clouds at something you can’t see. Turns out to be an awesome, badass, female superhero.
    No way you’ll ever see that in a Marvel movie.
  • (2:07:21) Cheetah finally appears. No transformation.
    Cheetah doesn’t look terrible, but this fight is . . . not great.
    And of course it isn’t. I mean, if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the writers behind this movie didn’t think about the space of their scenes and the execution of their action, so of course Diana blocks Cheetah’s attacks for (by my rough count) 35 seconds. She and Cheetah then spend about a minute swinging from Diana’s whip. Then, she and Diana fall in a pool of water, into which Diana pulls an electrical wire. And that electrocutes Cheetah . . . but not Diana?
    But, hold on, isn’t Cheetah also a god now? Actually, isn’t she better than one? Because she initially wished to be like Diana, who, per the first film, is a literal god . . . But then, Barb wished to be better than Diana and “everyone else.” So shouldn’t she be shifting reality and teleporting around? I mean, this is the DC universe, so she should’ve flown down on a god ray wearing a cape and punched Diana into the center of the Earth, because Superman counts as “everyone else.”
    Or, at the very least, she should’ve been able to withstand some fucking electricity.
  • (2:13:47) There’s not much else for me to go on here, but there is a moment that perfectly encapsulates this entire movie.
    Max Lord is taking wishes from people and building his own power. In a moment, Diana will use her whip to . . . talk to all of the people Max is transmitting to?
    It’s all-the-way stupid.
    I do like the idea of a villain being talked down instead of punched down, and (although it’s bizarre that he and Cheetah get off 100% Scot-free) I do find it interesting to see villains get passes. It even seems like Max gets a chance to reform, which is surprisingly healthy for a comic book movie.
    That said, in this moment at 2:13:47, Diana leans back against a wall, and her armor . . . pushes it in, making it clear that the wall is foam. And of course it is; Gal Gadot fell back against it, so it makes sense it would be made out of foam as a safety precaution on her behalf.
    But this shot, where her shoulder dips softly into concrete, is what this entire movie has been.
    No one cared. No one double-checked the plot or questioned the action. They saw the kinks—the weird hoops the story had to jump through—and they shrugged. In the same way an editor saw the wall pressing in and shrugged.
    “It’s fine,” they might have said aloud.
    “Yes, I see those obvious flaws, but whatever. There are cool moments and my main character is rad. I’m good.”
    And all I have to say is, “Please, no.”
    Please, never, ever think that.
    Writing—particularly editing—is a dangerous game. A lot of people keep working on their stories for eternity, never actually trying to get them published. That, obviously, is bad.
    But it’s just as bad to see genuine flaws in your work and just shrug them away.
    If something in your work is bad, it’s an opportunity to write something better. Because, at least in my experience, that’s almost always how correcting mistakes goes; no matter how deep I have to go into a plot to excise a loophole, my WIP’s are always better for it.

So, yes, if there’s one idea Wonder Woman 1984 reinforced in me, it’s the importance of editing, especially if you’re editing something you love.

But, also, it’s super important to understand settings.

Oh, and don’t ever put a dead character into a stranger’s body and totally disregard that stranger’s emotions.

And–goddammit, no. Nope. I’m just stopping! I need this part of my life to be over!

~~~

Thanks for passing by. I hope you enjoyed this honestly reserved criticism of a comic book movie that made millions of dollars regardless of how bad it was.

If you’d like to read another one, well boy howdy, I’ve done one other brutal takedown of a big budget Hollywood film, the cost and profit from which could’ve been used to save tons of people from poverty! Ha ha! Enjoy!

A Writer Watching – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Until next time, take care, stay safe, and if you know someone who’s lived totally by themselves for 10 months at this point, maybe check in on them? Everyone’s different, and everyone’s situation is unique, but if they’re still social distancing and they’re one of the many who probably won’t get the vaccine until the Summer, they’d probably appreciate hearing from you.

A Writer Watching – Wonder Woman 1984, Part 1

Okay. So, I still only want to be positive on this site.

But if there’s one massively influential avenue of media that needs to be heavily criticized when it’s bad, it’s movies. I never want to tear apart someone’s novel or short story on here, but giant blockbuster franchise movies are just free in my eyes. They’re often written by committee, the people who write them usually fail upward anyway (because that’s how Hollywood works for some reason), and if I was watching any of them with an impressionable young writer, I would absolutely take the time afterward to be like, “Okay . . . You get why elements of that were really bad, right? Like, I know you thought it was cool, but you get how stupid it is that Palpatine came back, right? Please tell me you understand.”

But, let’s be real: even if I knew any budding writers, I’m not social enough or confrontational enough to watch a bad movie they like to break down why is sucks.

So, instead, I’m going to continue doing what I feel oddly compelled to do: use my platform to float these criticisms out into the ether with the hopes that someone who needs to find them finds them.

Folks . . . it’s time for another Writer Watching.

This time (finally) on a movie that was released recently:

Wonder Woman 1984

Now, to preface, two things.

First, this watch wound up being so long that I had to split this Writer Watching into two parts.

Second, before I watched WW84, I watched Wonder Woman for the first time, and I liked it, but really wish it had ended differently; I feel like it would’ve been way better if the ending was just, “Nope—Ares died a long time ago and people are just bad. Time to fight Dr. Poison and magical cocaine man [I do not know his name].” Of everything I liked in that movie though, the thing I liked most was Diana herself. The movie was at its best when it was totally unafraid to just lean into her character (I loved that moment near the beginning where she sees a baby and is all, “Awww!”). So, what I’m trying to say here is, I was excited to watch WW84 tonight because I like Wonder Woman and I was expecting this movie to be good.

But about 12 minutes in, I texted a friend like, “Oh-h-h-h-h-h no-o-o-o-o-o-o.”

  • (11:45) The intro to our setting, 1984. Specifically, 11:45 is the moment where a jogger wearing a walkman almost gets run over by a car, but Diana kicks it out of the way . . . on a street lined with other cars. It makes a football punting sound, and, sure, that’s a (bad) foley choice, but the real problem is . . .
    . . . it’s a street full of cars.
    I would give anything for a follow up shot of the car she kicked slamming into three other cars, but Diana just jogs by like, “<wink> You’re welcome!”
  • (12:33) Okay, look . . . I am a soundtrack man. I never, ever talk about it on this site, but I have a bizarre affinity for movie and TV soundtracks. I do not know why. It’s a very stupid super power that just makes me weird whenever I use it. Seriously, the last time I did, it was at a morning meeting at my old job. One of my managers was like, “I’m gonna hum a tune, and if you know where it’s from, shout it out.” I shit you not, he was like, “Dun den—“ and I was like, “Duck Tails,” and he was like, “Wha—Holy shit. How the fuck did you get that?” and no one felt more uncomfortable about it than I did.
    That said, a retro 80’s movie not having an 80’s synth soundtrack is a bizarre, objective failure. I do not know why this movie has these jaunty orchestral compositions, but it absolutely destroys this film’s attempts at establishing an 80’s vibe.
  • (16:26) I really dig this thing they’re doing where Diana dashes and slides around. I don’t know why—it’s just cool. I have to wonder if they originally intended to have her in plain clothes on roller skates . . . Hard to tell if that would be horrible or great, but still, I dig the long range, sliding combat.
  • (16:45) I am completely aware that Diana threw her tiara earlier in this scene to destroy the mall’s cameras.
    But it is objectively bizarre when she gives this kid a wink and a “Shhh.” It’s an adorable moment . . . but there are roughly 300 other people who watched all of this, in broad daylight.
    The “shhh” makes zero sense. The other 299 people who were here are going straight to the first camera they see, describing Diana to a T, and the cops are going to put out an APB on a vigilante they call Wonder Woman.
    How none of that happens will always be beyond me. Instantly, my Suspension of Disbelief is out the window.
  • (17:35) Okay. This is just a small aside, but . . . objectively . . . these movies take a little too much inspiration from the Captain America films.
    I’m sorry. I know no one wants to hear that, but this moment where we see pictures of Diana with characters from the first movie who grew old and died . . . It’s just a retread of Steve Rogers talking to Peggy Carter in The Winter Soldier.
  • (18:50) Man, Diana drinking alone sixty-six years after the only person she loved died is the most Libra thing I’ve ever seen in my goddamn life.
    I am a Libra, btw, so I can say that.
  • (20:17) I feel so bad for Kristen Wiig.
    Girl, you did not deserve to get Electro’d in this superhero movie.
    Actually, let me upgrade that statement: no one deserves to get Electro’d anymore.
    Please, just . . . if you’re writing a super hero thing where the villain is a clumsy nerd who crushes on the hero, please just change it immediately. “The jealous, sweaty nerd” is just a terrible, weird, meat-headed angle for a villain.
  • (23:20) Here, Diana and Kristen Wiig are looking at an artifact together. Somehow, Kristen, who’s trained in this kind of thing, A) doesn’t know Latin and B) doesn’t notice the Latin inscriptions on the artifact. So . . . is she a scientist or someone who just walked in off the street? I am asking the plot.
  • (29:35) Okay, this I probably don’t even need to say, but a magical macguffin that can grant wishes is Bad Writing 101. The fact that this thing is going to both bring Steve Trevor back to life and give our antagonist her powers is pre-e-e-e-etty lazy.
  • (31:40) Our villain wishes to a magical stone that she can be sexy. And then takes off her skirt . . . and is sexy, by the movie’s standards.
    I mean, did she really need a magical stone for that?
    But also, more importantly, she was beautiful to begin with! She is Kristen Wiig! Just . . . This is sending the worst message to nerd girls. “Being nerdy and having anxiety is bad. Being sexy and popular is good!” No. Being any combination of those things is good. Being who you are is good, girl. Don’t listen to this stupid fucking movie. Wear those giant glasses and get yourself some more flats, girl, cause you are beautiful!
  • (32:07) Oh, Mando. What did they do to you?
  • (33:25) Barbara and not-Mando are laughing while messing with artifacts in their lab.
    I volunteer in a conservation lab, and even if a fucking donor came in and started manhandling artifacts like this, we’d kick his ass out.
    Seriously, of all the issues this movie has, the most persistent one is an inability to understand its settings. The car being kicked on a crowded street, the absence of 80’s synth, characters manhandling artifacts and no one caring—someone just didn’t understand or think about any of these settings.
  • (47:10) I promise not to keep harping on this . . . but Steve Trevor is apparently <sigh> a man out of time.
    Can’t wait for more jokes like this futon bit from good ol’ Steve.
  • (48:48) Steve Trevor is such a man out of time that he can’t figure out why an exercise bike wouldn’t work like a normal bike.
    Seriously, no one is ever that out of time. That would be like me going to the future and being confused why I couldn’t pour water into a cup that had no bottom.
  • (49:45) Okay. This thing where Steve is in another man’s body is the most bizarre contrivance I’ve ever seen.
    Like, is this what Diana wished for? “Magic rock, please bring Steve back. But only his soul. Inside of someone else’s body, thanks.”
    If I was an editor and this hit my desk, I absolutely would’ve sent it back like, “If you have to work this hard to put Steve Trevor in the movie, he shouldn’t be in it.” A new relationship for Diana, or her focusing on making new friends, would’ve been fine for this movie. Ghost Steve is just strange.
    And creepy. I’m sure you’ve heard about that from anyone who reviewed this movie, but it needs to be said into infinity that it’s just wrong and gross that some random dude’s body is hijacked for Diana’s wish and no one cared. Steve didn’t care, Diana didn’t care—they just used his body. To have sex. It is . . . so creepy. I’ve heard some people ask, “What if he was gay?” which, yeah, totally. But even if he wasn’t, even if he was a straight dude who would be attracted to Diana, it would still be gross. Because if Gal Gadot knocked on my door and was like, “Wanna have sex?” I’d be like, “‘Yes’ is too long a word right now.” But if Gal Gadot knocked on my door and was like, “Hi. We actually had sex last week, when you were asleep, but you didn’t know. ; ),” I’d be like, “Ah . . . I have to go call the cops. BRB.”
    Just fucking ew.
  • (56:15) This is a dress-up montage, just like the one in the first Wonder Woman.
    It is also . . . Shitty Committee Writing 101—a sequel regurgitating a fun scene from its predecessor. This is something that many blockbuster sequels do, and it’s as painful here as it is anywhere.
    Just never do this. If you’re writing a sequel to something, never regurgitate the one scene. I don’t even like that later seasons of Daredevil had their own “hallway fights.” Just do something new instead.
  • (57:47) Steve Trevor’s mind is blown by an escalator.
    And I have to ask . . .Why are they writing Steve Trevor like a child?
    It’s just bizarre.
    He stepped onto an escalator, two feet away from where the escalator goes down . . . and somehow was not expecting it to go down?
    Did Steve Trevor never experience stairs back in World War I? Because that’s basically what an escalator is—stairs that move–and literally any adult who’s never experienced escalators before would be like, “Oh. They’re stairs that move. Cool.” Even if they never experienced stairs before, they’d be like, “Whoa. Some kind of device to move me from up here to down there,” not, “WhOoAaA! I tHoUgHt I wAs GoNnA fAll!”
    I am legitimately baffled.
    And a little creeped out.
    By this entire montage.
    There’s just something about it. The way Steve is like a dog. The way he was eating Pop-Tarts in bed earlier, like a weird super slob. The way he can’t dress himself.
    Like, I don’t know who was behind this montage.
    But apparently they think it’s cute when a hot man has a child’s brain?
    Extremely weird.
  • (58:00) Steve Trevor’s mind is blown by a train.
    Trains were invented in 1804, a full 110 years before World War I started.
    Please do your research, people.
  • Sidebar: So, at this point, I decided to just watch through the rest of the movie, because I thought, “Maybe the constant criticizing is making me enjoy the movie less.” That . . . was not true.
    I am going to pare down these criticisms now though, because I realized (as I always do with A Writer Watching) that I can’t be here all day.
  • (1:01:20) Having watched the movie through, I have to say that I really like the idea of Max Stone—a villain who is a living monkey’s paw—has potential, but the execution in WW84 is extremely messy.
    In this scene in particular, we’re meant to notice, at the end, that he’s experiencing abnormal headaches, but he asks for “my vitamins,” which implies that maybe these headaches are not abnormal (because if he’s taking vitamins so often that his secretary knows about them and where they are, maybe that means he experiences headaches and other minor health issues consistently, which he’s trying to correct with consistent vitamin use).
    The weird thing here is, all of this could’ve been solved with a longer pause and focus on his headache in this scene. Or an easy swap to “Bring me some aspirin.”
  • (1:09:53) The origin of Diana’s invisible jet is pre-e-e-etty bad. In part because it comes completely out of nowhere.
    This is another case of “Don’t Do This 101,” so I think most people know it, but pulling a Deus Ex Machina out of thin air is a bad, bad move. Always always set them up.
    But also, just gonna throw it out there that . . . there would’ve been countless situations where making something invisible would’ve been more useful to Diana. Especially considering that she’s been hiding her vigilante activity for sixty-six years.
  • (1:12:03) Steve and Diana fly through some fireworks.
    And it is literally just a string of pretty visuals to look at. Diana and Steve don’t fall more in love. They don’t use the fireworks as cover. If anything, this is slowing down the plot and making them more visible in their invisible jet.
    Seriously, I just call this “trailer fodder.”
    In case anyone has the wrong idea, please no–do not write moments like this in your stories unless it actually moves the plot forward.

~~~

And that is as far as I’m going today, because, unbelievably, this is half of my criticisms for WW84.

If you enjoyed, part 2 will be coming next Sunday.

Until then, take care, stay safe, and listen to some 80’s style synth. If you’ve somehow never heard it, I suggest “Blinding Lights” by the Weeknd. Bye!

Let’s Talk About – The Responsibility of the Writer

Star Wars: Squadrons just came out.

That was the impetus for this post.

I mean, I’ve felt like I needed to talk about what I think of as “the Responsibility of the Writer” for a while now, but Squadrons triggered me.

Because, based on promo videos, I thought it was another Star Wars game that let us play as redeemable, likable space nazis, and my reaction was, “The world does not fucking need likable space nazis in anything we watch, read, or play.” And, again, yeah, I get it–that game isn’t actually about stormtroopers.

But holy shit 2020 has been long…

A few weeks back, in my post about how much I hate Proxy Racist characters, I made the point that modern American society just does not need a feel-good revenge plot for a racist villain from an 80’s film. In fact, I feel like it’s irresponsible to write any story from a racist’s perspective in 2020, no matter how positively it portrays minority characters.

Because stories from the perspective of those minorities are infinitely more uplifting and undoubtedly what the world needs more right now.

I still stand by that. And I still stand by the idea that it is our responsibility as authors to make that change possible where we can (i.e. I’m going to write about Latinx and Afro-Latino characters because I’m an Afro-Latino who grew up in a Puerto Rican family).

But since that post, I’ve felt a nagging need to clarify . . .

. . . that this is not the “WRITE LIKE THIS OR ELSE” blog. I don’t want to make demands, and I never want to say a static “You cannot write this!”

But I do want to say that if you do write certain things, you absolutely need to frame them responsibly. And if you shirk that responsibility, you might be contributing to a wide range of societal problems, even if you think you’re not.

Because all media does have an impact on society. We, as writers, do have power over it.

The power to normalize ideas.

Trends become common thought, and yield results–good and bad. On the innocuous side, there are the obvious creative trends, like the magic school stories that came after Harry Potter, a much needed continued exploration of an environment we all loved. On the bad side, there’s the nationwide, decades-long trend for mean-but-morally-ascendant-bad boy-protagonists . . . that normalized selfish assholes, and, at the very least, put us on the path to Trump.

What I’m saying is, we can write whatever we want, but we need to start being responsible about how we write those things and what ideas we’re normalizing with them.

The Responsibility of the Writer

If I had to define the responsibility, it would be as follows:

It is the writer’s responsibility to handle risky content with care so as to not foster and uplift horrible ideas. If it is impossible to frame a story in a way that is healthy, the writer should instead frame it in such a way that is is very clearly unhealthy without glorifying that toxicity. In cases where the content is too hot, never ever present the story from an unhealthy perspective; while you absolutely still have the freedom to write from that unhealthy perspective, doing so means you’re outing yourself as a terrible person.

You can write a story from a villain’s perspective, but you should:

A) Not actually make them a fucking racist, a misogynist, an unapologetic serial killer, a violent criminal, etc. in a plot that gives them zero motivation and/or uplifts them for doing terrible shit. This includes the bog-standard, bad boy protagonist who murders people, but–for example–hates liars, which every other character in the plot turns out to be (as if that double standard is realistic in the goddamn slightest).

If for some reason you have to write about a really terrible person, then–

B) Make it extremely clear that they’re monsters by taking the checks and balances further; actively have characters call them out for the terrible shit they’re doing and don’t use the swelling music, set design, or plot to undermine that criticism, even if the protagonist ignores it. Give your reader an unfiltered view of them; a reminder that, “Hey, in case you forgot, the shit they’re doing is actually bad.”

You can write the YA story about the toxic relationship, but you should:

A) Make your protagonist totally aware that it’s toxic and trying to get out of it, maybe ending the novel with the relief of escaping that kind of abusive relationship. Or–

B) At least have one goddamn character point out how toxic the protagonist’s relationship is in an exchange the reader cannot glance over. Make them aware that your boyfriend isn’t supposed to treat you like absolute shit all the time. Because selling a fucking book isn’t more important than empowering young women, you fucking leeches.

Sorry. The toxic bad boy trope just . . . really pisses me off because of how manipulative and ubiquitous it is. Like, some day, I want to have kids, and the idea that my daughter will get her hands on a YA novel with a toxic relationship, and assume she’s supposed to literally deify a pushy little shithead, already pisses me off.

But moving on.

You can write the story about racism, but you should:

A) Never write it from the negative perspective. Write either from the perspective of the victim, or, at worst, the perspective of someone who used to be racist. Because crossing your arms, huffing, declaring that “This is a free country!” and writing an actual racist who says racist things means you’re just a fucking racist.

Or–

B) Nope. There is no “or.” Again, the topic’s too hot, so never write it from the negative perspective.

With all of that said, I get that not all stories are this clean cut. In fact . . .

Most Stories Can’t Be This Clean Cut

Many of the best ones aren’t. In fact, many of my favorites aren’t.

But, in my experience, all of the best risky fiction at least tries to be responsible.

Joker is an example of a villain’s story that at least tries to be responsible. It intentionally teeters between evocative / tragic and scary / murderer for the entire movie to build tension, and then goes full “he’s a monster” at the end because it’s supposed to (although the mystique of the Joker, as an iconic character who’s had a ton of iterations, makes the crescendo weirdly triumphant anyway when it re-e-e-e-eally shouldn’t be).

In contrast, absolute garbage, guilty pleasure media is usually significantly less responsible:

In Venom, our protagonist, Eddie, bonds to a higher power, Venom, which talks in his head about how badly it wants to kill people. Eddie agrees to follow that voice’s orders (because it tells him it will kill him if he doesn’t), and then, via his willingness to serve, he’s rewarded with the ability to kill and eat whoever he wants . . . which the plot frames as a su-u-u-u-uper cool thing. There’s even a plot line where the higher power is slowly eating away at Eddie from the inside and that plot line never gets resolved, like the message is “Don’t ask questions! Just keep doing what you’re told!” It almost watches like fascist propaganda.

Meanwhile, the toxic relationship trope at least seems hugely popular in Romance across all media. Shows like You and 365 Days made the rounds at my job when they came out, with the one coworker demanding I watch You (and, yeah, literally demanding because she was a monstrous asshole), and the YA trope is the angry, raven-haired Once-Ler who negs the protagonist every chance he gets.

What I’m trying to say here is, once again, I’m not making demands. I’m not telling you what you can and cannot write.

I’m just begging you to please be responsible.

To acknowledge that your story might have the power to influence the way someone sees the world.

Please wield that power well.

~~~

I’m still hesitant to put this out there. Probably because, at this point, I’m just tired of stoking the totally unreasonable, determinedly close-minded First Amendment Bear.

But . . . I do think this needs to be said. Or, rather, I need to say it. It feels like we’ve been completely careless with our power to normalize ideas for ages, and now, in 2020, we have to acknowledge that lack of care comes with consequences that we need to consider in our own work and see in others.

By which, of course, I mean to say fuck Venom and don’t go see Venom 2.

If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified when I post again, you can find a “Follow” button on the red bar on the left side of your screen on PC, or the drop down menu on the upper right on mobile.

Until next time, take care and stay safe.

Damsel in Disguise: The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake & The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One

Disclaimer: No, I’m not going to talk about current events. Maybe I’ll reference them, but if you’re anything like me, all you want right now is a distraction, so let’s get right to it.

I do not consider myself a righteous man. In brutal honesty, I am a straight man who grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and thus, I was a sexist bigot well into my 20’s. An idiot who made bad jokes until events in his life taught him to do better. As a result, I exist in a strange, semi-objective limbo. I am a straight man who often hates straight men, but I am also a feminist who occasionally hates feminists. I do not like or make jokes about women being stupid, but I also hate the extremely common “dumb husband” commercials. It’s a strange, contentious limbo I live in, but I like it because it allows me to be fair. More fair, I feel, than bigots or extreme feminists ever want me to be.

My point is . . . when I see something that I think is problematic, I usually give it time before speaking up about it, because I want to be sure I’m being fair first. I don’t want to start flame wars, and I don’t want to sound like a pandering jackass.

So, please, understand that it’s after serious consideration that I say . . .

Rogue One . . .

and the recent remake of Resident Evil 3 . . .

. . . both of which are framed as empowering for women . . .

. . . are actually pretty misogynistic.

“What the fuck even are you talking about?” you might have just asked, to which I say, “Hear me out.”

This post is split into two parts. If you’re already pissed about one of your favorite things being criticized, you can scroll down to the heading for said thing now.

For everyone else . . .

An Introduction

In the 90’s, the Tough Princess was a thing. Princess Vespa, from Space Balls, stands out as an example, but I remember seeing strong princesses everywhere, picking up weapons, refusing help. For sure, they were a step in a better direction . . . but they also needed saving just like normal princesses; if you could play as Princess Peach in one Mario game, it did not mean you wouldn’t be saving her in the next Mario game. Ultimately, it was just a half-measure–the kind I’ve grown to hate (because, as I’ve always said, the way to change a stereotype is not to put a twist on it, but to avoid using the stereotype at all).

In this way, what I’m calling the Strong Female Damsel has been around for a long time. A female character who presents as strong and independent but ultimately needs a ton of saving by men, the Strong Female Damsel is a common trope and an obviously lacking, half-hearted attempt at being progressive.

Less obvious, however, is the the Damsel’s prevalence in modern, feminist genre films and games; in an age where there’s a much more pronounced attempt to cater to and empower female audiences, it always blows my mind when I see the ideals of those audiences either undermined (with the Damsel) or flat out violated (with the Object, which I’ll define a bit later).

For now, let’s start with the Damsel:

The Strong Female Damsel in Rogue One

This is something that has bothered me since the first time I watched Rogue One, but it’s also something I haven’t written about because, again, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t being contentious for no reason.

But now, having rewatched it, let me present the actual stats:

  • (07:18) Starting off almost immediately here; after Jyn watches her mother get murdered, she goes and hides in a hole. She stays there until she’s found and saved by Saw Gerrera.
  • (13:00) Jyn Erso, in prison, is rescued by a group of all-male Rebellion troopers. She fights them, which is cool, but still loses–because the best character in the entire movie, K-2SO, catches her.
  • (31:58) During the firefight on Jedha, Jyn saves a child, which is dope. She then stands in place while a tank rolls up so Cassian can first shout for her to “Get out of there!” and then shoot the gunner who might see and target her.
  • (32:09) A rebel on a walkway above the tank then pulls out a grenade, which he’s going to throw down into the area where Jyn is hiding, probably hurting her, but Cassian shoots him before he can throw it. The moment is complete with a little “I got your back” nod from Cassian.
  • (33:09) This doesn’t count as her being saved, but here, Jyn beats the shit out of some stormtroopers and it’s cool, but, weirdly, we still get the “Whoa–that girl is fighting all of them and I actually don’t need to help???” reaction from Cassian.
    I’ll try to keep these sidebars to a minimum, but the framing of that moment was a little strange.
  • (33:40) Arguable one here: K-2SO catches a grenade that could kill all three characters in this scene, but effortlessly tosses it behind himself, saving everyone and killing a bunch of stormtroopers at the same time.
  • (34:40) Jyn and Cassian are apprehended by stormtroopers, but are saved by Chirrut Îmwe.
  • (48:20) This one is so weird.
    Saw Gerrera’s rebel base is crumbing, but Jyn is in some kind of . . . trauma trance? Like, she’s so distraught by what her father said that she literally just drops to her knees and sits there . . . until Cassian comes in and literally grabs her, telling her “We gotta go. I know where your father is,” at which point she snaps out of it? It’s just a very strange moment for a protagonist. When the hologram cut, why did Jyn not turn around to Saw, and ask, “Where was this recorded? I have to find him!”?
    And . . . I mean, would she have stood there, doing nothing, until the building collapsed on her?
  • (49:36) I have to count this one because, once again, Jyn is being literally saved by men.
    To escape the fallout from the Death Star, everyone jumps into a ship piloted by K-2SO and . . . Cassian! It’s almost like this movie is about him, not Jyn.
    And, to be clear, I am not arguing for self-insert levels of competency here; I think it would’ve been stupid if Jyn saved everyone, always got herself out of danger, and shoved people aside so she could fly the ship. All I’m saying is, in the past 50 minutes, she has beaten up two groups of people and been saved by men 8 times.
    Absolutely nothing would’ve been wrong with her getting out in front, hopping onto the controls first, or shouting to K-2SO to get them in the air. As is, she just hops on, helps pull someone in, and looks out the window.
  • (1:09:04) On Eadu, there’s the group of scenes that made me realize Jyn was a damsel in the first place. The time stamp is for the exact moment, but I have to preface it so you feel how I felt the first time I watched this.
    Okay. To kick us off, Jyn does find her father.
    But she does not save him.
    She doesn’t even engage the stormtroopers around him, even though he’s in pretty clear danger, on his knees, with an Imperial General standing over him. Instead, X-Wings show up, kill the stormtroopers, and knock everyone to the ground. Jyn only manages to shout, “Father!” before all of this happens, because her ability to create drama is more important than her ability to have agency over the plot, I guess.
    Okay. That said, at 1:09:04, Jyn is kneeling over her father, who just died, and that moment is completely cut short by stormtroopers running up behind her. Again, like on Jedha, Jyn is too emotionally distraught to care about anything–she doesn’t even realize they’re there–and only survives . . . because Cassian fucking Andor saves her, complete with a scene where he has to pull her off of her father and the other male side characters have to fight off the stormtroopers chasing them, including the ex-Imperial pilot.
    And this after a close up shot at 1:05:59 of Cassian Andor saying, “Jyn! No!” when he realizes she’s in danger.
  • (1:18:33) Okay. Just another sidebar.
    Jyn gives her “rebellions are built on hope” speech, and I was totally ready to concede that she influenced the plot in a huge way by convincing the rebels to attack Scarif . . . because I totally forgot that, no, actually, she doesn’t. She does plant a seed here that eventually gets the rebels to show up and help.
    But that is only because the protagonists go to Scarif anyway, which only becomes possible . . . because Cassian fucking Andor rounds up a bunch of troops willing to volunteer themselves. And I’m sure an argument could be made that Cassian only rounded up those troops because of her speech, but Cassian’s character arc was already in effect since Eadu, when he decided not to kill Jyn’s dad. I’d argue he would’ve gone to Scarif even if the council scene was just rebel leaders arguing that it was too dangerous.
  • (1:24:49) The Imperial shuttle the characters are flying into Scarif is about to get shot out of the air, killing everyone, bu-u-u-u-u-ut luckily, the ex-Imperial pilot and K-2SO–both male–manage to fool flight control. Phew!
    Also, Jyn looks at a crystal in this scene. It’s probably meant to send over serious Force-vibes (what with “kyber crystals” being a talking point in this movie), but if the idea here is that the Force influenced flight control, through her or because of her, then that’s a pre-e-e-e-etty lame attempt at giving her agency.
    Again, I’m not saying she should have every skill and save every day; it would’ve been stupid if she and she alone jumped on comms, shoving aside all the male characters (i.e. every single other person on the ship). However, it is 100% within reason to expect her to have some way to hack a new code, or some reference for gaining the current code after the years she spent fighting her way through the galaxy as a space-orphan. She could’ve taken out a custom cipher she bought somewhere and told K-2SO and the pilot the current code. Maybe they both could’ve doubted her but punched it in anyway cause they decided to believe, and when it works, they all would’ve done something together. And we would’ve gotten some Jyn Erso characterization from her lone wolf years. Aside from “she fights good sometimes.”
  • (1:47:11) Worst scene of the movie: K-2SO sacrifices himself to keep Jyn and Cassian safe. This happens while Cassian retrieves the data file for the Death Star and Jyn watches.
  • (1:50:06) Another sidebar: We have a moment where it seems like Jyn and Jyn alone is going to do something amazing. She jumps out onto the data tower to retrieve the Death Star plans, but no, forget it; Cassian jumps onto it with her. Cause of course he does.
  • (1:51:08) I feel like I’m losing my mind. I honestly don’t remember it being this bad. Here, there’s a scene where the Imperials get into the data vault, open a door, and Jyn’s right there where they can easily shoot her. Cassian shouts, “Jyn!” shoots at them, and stops them from killing her while she literally dangles off of the tower for suspense.
    Cassian proceeds to kill all the Stormtroopers, by the way, and Jyn watches.
  • (1:59:10) Here, finally, the moment that got a loud, “Are you fucking serious?” from me in the theater.
    Jyn Erso is finally confronting Krennic, the man who killed her mother and forced her father into slavery. The man who ruined her life.
    A man who has a blaster aimed right at her . . . which means that when fucking Cassian goddamn Andor shoots him in the back, he not only absolutely robs her of catharsis, he saves Jyn again while doing it.
    I mean, for fuck’s sake.
    Cassian even stops her from making sure Krennic is dead. Like, “Honey, I know you’ve got your entire life’s worth of comeuppance and everything, but, like, my leg is hurt?”

By my count, that is 12 times Jyn Erso’s life was saved over the course of the film. Out of those 12 times, she was saved by men 12 times. One could absolutely go through and count how many times she saved herself or others and compare. Nothing’s stopping you. But it would not change the fact that a protagonist being helped out of life-threatening danger twelve times instead of helping themselves is way too many times.

Now, of course, I am not saying that a strong female protagonist can’t be saved by a man–obviously, that’s not the case, and having female-driven stories where the men aren’t helpful at all is also something I hate.

The point I am trying to make: the strong female protagonist who constantly needs to be saved by her cast of male-only side characters . . . is not a strong female protagonist.

She is, quite literally, a Strong Female Damsel. A female protagonist who looks strong, walks strong, but is repeatedly presented in peril so that men can save her.

I’m not sure how this kind of character happens, but I have to assume it wasn’t intentional. Maybe the result of a writer’s room determined not to make Jyn a Mary Sue? Different saves from different characters in different drafts that got snowballed into the final product? I’m not sure, but the thing that’s oddly, depressingly clear: if they wanted to make her less threatening to men . . .

. . . it worked.

Have you ever wondered why none of the men who hated Rey also hated Jyn Erso? Why they loved Rogue One . . . but also never walk around wearing Jyn Erso, “I Rebel” t-shirts?

It’s because none of them actually respect her. They love the movie–the script that constantly made her need help from Cassian (who’s getting his own Disney + show, cause of course he is)–but they do not love her.

My recommendation about all of this: if you’re writing a story that you want to be progressive, with a strong female lead, please make sure that she isn’t just a damsel in disguise.

That said, okay, we’re on to something worse:

The Strong Female Object in Resident Evil 3: Remake

This one is going to be a lot quicker, because I don’t have to replay the entire game.

But, first, a definition: the Strong Female Object is a female protagonist who is presented as strong, decisive, and capable, but who is clandestinely fetishized in spite of that. Almost like the artists behind the character knew that she needed to be strong . . . but just couldn’t help sexualizing her because she was so hot. It doesn’t matter that it completely undermines the strength they felt obligated to give her–there just needed to be a scene where she got deepthroated by tentacles.

Resident Evil 3: Remake is the entire reason I made this classification, because it is absolutely obnoxious in that game and, having loved Jill since the very first RE in 1996, I hated it.

Really quickly, we’re going to run down some events that happen in the game, with links if I have them:

  • The game opens up with a nightmare sequence where Jill, in pajamas for no reason whatsoever (she wakes up afterward in her normal clothes), starts turning into a zombie. In the nightmare, she’s in her bathroom, where there’s a loaded gun on the sink. She picks it up, wincing as she puts it to her head and pulls the trigger.
    What a great start for a strong female protagonist.
    I already hated it.
  • In her apartment, you can find a note from Brad, talking about how Jill has been suspended by the chief of police. The note was slipped to a pizza deliver guy, so in the postscript, Brad says, “Enjoy the extra large Mega Meat Supreme! It’s on me and the guys.”
    *sigh*
    Yes. Of course. The “extra large Mega Meat” from Brad and “the guys.” Because “extra large” is totally a normal size for a pizza pie to be.
  • When you first meet up with Carlos Oliviera, he is unrealistically, relentlessly  flirtatious in the middle of a zombie outbreak. It’s posed as gross, which would make it fine . . .
    . . . if Carlos hadn’t been as gross in the original game. Not sure why they broke this dynamic when it was already fixed, but okay.
  • Here’s a link to a group of male let’s players laughing at an absolutely bizarre poster you find on a door (which happens in the first 20 seconds of this video).
    One of those let’s players, Alex Faciane, calls it “egregious,” and yep.
    Now, hey, maybe this is a reference to the enormous boxes you find in safe rooms in-game. Considering how things are going so far though, I highly doubt it.
  • And here is the moment that made me want to write about this game in the first place.
    Everything that came before this was a little weird but passable.
    Not this though.
    I’ve linked to a video of the Game Grumps getting to the moment because one of them, Arin, outright says, “This is for the fetishists,” because, yeah, it is that bad (although if you want to skip ahead, the actual moment happens at 32:06 [and if you’d rather not watch it, just skip right over this link]): https://youtu.be/VEqmgvWCdvQ?t=1848.
    In case you did skip, tentacle stuff happens. And, while it’s not super gratuitous in the cutscene that introduces the tentacle monsters to you, it is really bad when they catch you in-game. You lose control and the camera focuses on the action for wa-a-a-a-ay too long.
    I tried to return the game at this point, because, already, it was clear that shit wasn’t right. Initially, I was excited that Jill didn’t have her impractical, miniskirt and tube top outfit from the original, but the tentacle monsters made it clear that, somehow, the remake was actually less respectful to her.
  • And that lack of respect is made clearer as the game progresses, and you “get to play” Carlos for long sections of it, a thing literally no one asked for. As if the game couldn’t continue being just Jill’s story, it’s now Carlos and Jill’s, with over an hour cut out for Carlos-time. And, to be clear, that’s beefcake, remake Carlos who is a super jacked commando, totally different from Carlos in the original: a young guy who Jill literally slaps in the face at one point to make him come to his senses.
  • To top it off, (spoilers) Jill gets infected with the T-Virus at one point. And guess who brings her to a hospital and runs around it for an hour looking for a cure?
    No, not Cassian Andor. Carlos. Carlos literally saves Jill when she’s in distress.
    Cause of course he does.
  • The moment that made me second-angriest: we “get to” see a nightmare Jill is having, where Carlos is infected and she has to shoot him . . . but she just can’t bring herself to do it. Because, even though he was a relentless fucking horndog at first . . . Jill now cares for him so much that she can’t kill him, even if doing so means saving her own life.
    Typical tsundere bullshit.

That dream sequence perfectly sums up what’s going on here. The “extra large Mega Meat Supreme” from “the guys,” the ad for an “Enormous Box,” the tentacle monsters, and Carlos being initially gross but ultimately so important to Jill that she’d rather die than hurt him–it all feeds into Jill being a sexual object for male gazers, chuckling to each other behind her back.

A tsundere for Carlos to win over.

Only, not just a tsundere. A protagonist that needed to be strong, made by men who are probably wondering what color panties she’s wearing. A hot, smart, capable woman . . . who’s just so hot that, I mean . . .

“. . . what do her pajamas look like?”

“What kind of dude is she into?”

“Big dudes like Chris?”

“Nemesis hasn’t killed her, so, like, he’s gotta have a crush on her, right?”

“Do you think she’ll bang Carlos?”

All of these questions coming with the one, absolutely intended hook: “Do you think Carlos will win her over?”

None of these questions were there in the original. None of them needed to be in the remake.

But, unfortunately, the people in charge made Jill Valentine look stronger . . . while forcing her into the role of the hot object, lusted over, grossly hit on, and ultimately liking it.

I can’t suggest that someone writing a Strong Female Object takes them out of their story, because that suggestion would fall on completely deaf ears–writing the Object is intentional. However, I have to acknowledge that there are people who love stories with Strong Female Objects (like Heavy Metal) and take influence from them.

So, with that in mind, I’ll say this: In the same way ethnic characters in media need to be protagonists (not side-characters or villains), the Strong Female Protagonist needs to be a protagonist, not a perpetual damsel, and not the sexualized object of a determined male gaze.

~~~

This turned into a novella of 3,500+ words, and if you sat through the whole thing, thank you so much.

I’m just not a frequent uploader, but I felt pretty strongly about this one (especially because it’s May the 4th and I just stumbled on one of the RE3 videos I linked [with Arin from the Game Grumps saying the one moment was for the fetishists]).

I do have other posts that I’ve found on here, some of which I’ve soured on (arguments that I don’t feel strongly about anymore), but others of which hold up. I’m in the process of editing them, and I’ll be posting them in the coming weeks.

Until then, please stay safe. And, as always, write well.