Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

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Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

Mulan Takes The Bechdel Test

Did I love Disney princesses? Of course I did. We all did. Don’t even try to lie. Everyone is an 8-year-old at some point in their lives.

It probably would have been a healthy obsession in my case—stopping after a few cute Halloween costumes, some fairly awkward conversations with animals, and an assortment of charming husbands—had it not been for Mulan.

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Image from http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/

Fa Mulan.

Sigh…

I knew there was no going back from the moment I first watched it. I went from wearing plastic tiaras to whacking my brothers with sticks faster than you can say, “The Huns have invaded China.” Maybe it was the lucky cricket. Maybe it was the silly grandmother. It was probably Mushu. But I like to think that it was watching Mulan discover herself with a sword in hand, rather than in ballroom slippers.

Let’s fast-forward (a shamefully small amount of time) to the present.

Now that I am much older and think about things (before hitting them with sticks), I have long since come to the conclusion that I was merely drawn to a strong, empowered female character. Done. That was easy.

Events transpired, however.

I recently stumbled upon something called the Bechdel Test, which is an unofficial measure of female portrayal in films.

Here is a 20-second history to get you up to speed:

The Bechdel Test was invented by Alison Bechdel and came from a comic titled “The Rule” in her series Dykes to Watch Out For (pictured here).

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Image from http://dykestowatchoutfor.com

A movie must meet three very simple criteria in order to pass:

  1. It must have two female characters (with names)
  2. They must have a conversation with each other
  3. That conversation must be about something other than a man

It sounds laughably easy to pass, but it turns out that 69% of IMDB’s top films fail that simple little test.

I’ll admit I was doubtful. I read through page after page about it.

I bet you have a favourite movie, they said. Look it up, they said. YOU WILL BE SUPPRISED BY WHAT DOESN’T PASS, they said.

So I looked it up. I saw a little green check mark next to Mulan. Hah, thought I, and gave my laptop a smug little smile. I was confident in my superior judgement. I was about to move on when the words “although dubious” caught my eye.

Dubious? DUBIOUS?!

How could Mulan be dubious? She was the pinnacle of female kickassery, the definition of feisty and unafraid, a raw, unadulterated shock of battle tactics and brute force with some kooky chicken feeding methods to boot. What could possibly be lacking?

Well, it seems that the female conversation was very scant in Mulan. Yes, there was some chit-chat between female ancestors, but they were unnamed. Yes, there was some mother/daughter/grandmother musical numbers, but those all circled around getting ready for the matchmaker to find a good husband. And yes, the protagonist was FEMALE but get this: Mushu had more lines in the film than Mulan did.

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Image from https://metrouk2.files.wordpress.com

Here’s how the movie scraped by:

Fa Li: I should have prayed to the ancestors for luck.
Grandmother Fa: How lucky can they be? They’re dead. Besides, I’ve got all the luck we’ll need.
Fa Li: Grandma, no!
Grandmother Fa: Yep! This cricket’s a lucky one! 

How progressive for the dark ages of 1998.

So I re-watched Mulan and came to the conclusion that in terms of women’s representation, it’s far from perfect. But then again, so is the Bechdel Test.

Although there was an utter lack of meaningful, non-male-related conversations between women in the movie, it’s not a stretch to attribute some of that to the largely (and in this case logically) male cast. Not to mention that this test doesn’t take into account the historical context, in which Mulan shows considerable independence and strength of character compared to the rest of the female cast as well as her fellow warriors. So perhaps this test is superficial, but it’s not entirely wrong.

Re-watching Mulan, I realized it wasn’t the perfect embodiment of female power I once believed it to be. Mulan says very few noteworthy things over the course of the movie, and the speaking parts are all largely male. Mulan is fighting for the greater glory of China, but the victory of the movie is more about winning the Emperor’s and her father’s approval, and Li Shang’s admiration.

I’m sad to say that I could summarize Mulan by saying, “Girl pretends to be a man, girl successfully blends in and is a very good man, girl wins huge victory for China and is offered a place as a woman in a man’s world but rejects it to return to domesticity. Then girl gets boy.”

That being said, for me, this movie will always be full of important victories: the cross-dressing imperial army, a Disney princess in armour, the most flattering of compliments (“Um… you… fight good.”), and an unlikely girl showing up all the boys.

But maybe I’ll make room for new heroes.

-Contributed by Katie Schmidt

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch: A Feminist Approach to the Alternative Horror Genre

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Anna Biller’s faux-1960s alternative horror film, The Love Witch (2016), follows the narcissistic and eyeshadow obsessed Elaine in her search for the perfect fairy-tale romance. The self-proclaimed “Love Witch”, Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a woman who uses home-made love potions, sex spells, and her own mysterious allure to seduce men until, of course, it takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Aesthetics and visuals are central to the film. The costumes, scenery, cinematography, and soundtrack are all carefully directed and consulted on by Biller herself, a Cal Arts graduate. The sequences seem spontaneous, taking on a life of their own beyond the linear plot of the picture. These vivacious, colourful, and intrusive statements guide the film from the tropes of a mainstream horror flick to the unconventional features of an independent art film.

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In the director’s statement for The Love Witch, Biller mentions, “While I am quoting genres, I am using them not as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.” Although Biller takes influence from aspects of the alternative horror/thriller genre, she uses a perspective that twists the typical male gaze of that genre, and brings about a sense of female empowerment. By using her knowledge of what men want, Elaine controls her own sexual agency.

This feminist concept is intermingled with the rules of witchery and the occult within the film. This is evident when the members of Elaine’s cult discuss how the strength of a woman’s sexuality both excites and challenges men’s patriarchal position in society, and how this makes men feel inclined to “put women in their place.” It is the figures of magic who bring attention to this, and the concept is juxtaposed with Elaine’s controversial behaviour regarding her lovers. Elaine uses her attractive persona to seduce men, but with her potions and her high expectations of romance, she “loves them to death.”

In a twist, Biller presents the dichotomy of Elaine’s lack of concern regarding her lovers with their increasing emotional attachment and eventual toxic separation from her affection. Elaine lacks any moral conflict in her actions, believing that the tragedies that result are simply a shame.

Biller borrows from the trope of the 1960s femme fatale, utilizing their hatred of betrayal by former lovers and twisting it so the woman gives the man what he wants physically but uses magic to separate herself from the emotional response he desires. Here, Biller references the social ideology in which men are thought to lack an emotional response in relationships. The moment Elaine denies her lover an emotional response is the moment that he starts to long for her love and support.

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Another vital aspect of the plot is Elaine’s obsession with fairy-tale romance. Despite the contrary ways she exhibits this, she greatly desires a relationship in which her love is fully requited and without complications. While Elaine presents herself as imposingly stern and careless, she fantasizes about a pseudo-medieval scene in which she rides off with her prince charming, away from the difficulties of a mundane life.

When Elaine’s curious landlord Trish (played by Laura Waddell) snoops around in her apartment, we are exposed to the hyper-erotic drawings and paintings that cover the room. These depict explicit scenes in an artistic style that is unexpectedly harmless and bubbly. This seems contrary to the darker erotic aspect of the film’s visuals, but its absurdity and spontaneity are central to the alternative rhythm of the plot, and play on the extreme paradoxes in Elaine’s character.

Overall, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch explores the rhetoric of the ill-fated search for a perfect love affair. In unison with the occult genre, this results in over-the-top dramatic sequences, stunning visuals, and a soap-operatic flair. Although the film is identified as a horror/thriller, it most definitely isn’t the type of film that has you at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Rather, the overly dramatic acting, quick-cut sequences, and flashy and comical costumes leave you with a smile plastered across your face.

-Contributed by Mia Carnevale

Shadowhunters and the Hunt for the Demon of Profit

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image source: variety.com

Book-to-movie adaptations have always been a natural indicator of a literary work’s popularity.

When cinema was only beginning, black-and-white adaptations of Shakespeare’s work served as an indication of what society perceived as “good” literature from an academic standpoint. Today, that hardly seems to be the case.

Movies and TV shows show us that today’s focus is a bit less on the quality of scripts and a bit more on the quantity of bills. The adaptation of literary works is no longer a novelty, translated to add dimension to the original series. Instead, it’s all about taking a series as far as it can financially go.

Cassandra Clare’s New York Times’ bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments, shamelessly mixes many common (and more importantly, popular) speculative elements. From werewolves and vampires to the legend of the Nephilim, the spectrum is quite wide.

First, we have a standard love triangle between the female protagonist, Clary Fairchild, her best-friend-turned-vampire, Simon Lewis, and the Shadowhunter (read: demon slayer) Jace Wayland. There is also a romance between Alec Lightwood and Magnus Bane, which explores not only the issue of racism in the division between the higher Shadowhunter society from the lower shadow world, but also addresses duties to one’s family in the case of Alec’s homosexuality.

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source: pinterest.com

The series came out at a time when the hype was still in full swing for the more familiar aspects of the speculative realm, and the call for more vampires and werewolves, along with the growing demand for magicians and fairies, caused publishers to narrow their vision.

It’s safe to say that the original 2013 film adaptation of the first book, then, did not come as a surprise. Not only did it guarantee that many fans would see it, but it would also act as an extra push for the book series, whose position on the bestsellers’ list began to grow shaky in 2012. The film’s poor reception, however, demonstrated differently.

The movie received mixed reviews and failed to recoup the budget, causing directors to speculate whether or not a second movie would be released. Petitions were posted online for sometime by fans who trilled their undying love for the series, wanting to see more. Their request was partially satisfied when an announcement was made stating there would, in fact, be a TV adaptation of the series starting from scratch, with a new cast and a different interpretation of the plot.

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image source: geekenstein.com

I will readily admit that I have been guilty of falling into the trap of popular series. I jumped onto the bandwagon with The Hunger Games as soon as the first book came out. Others, such as the more recent Divergent, I hoped to stay away from, but after watching the first two movies my curiosity got the better of me and I did end up reading the books.

With The Mortal Instruments, however, my patience ran out after the first two books, and after hearing that the series’ immense popularity caused Clare to add three more books to her initial trilogy, I was adamant in my refusal to touch it. Yet I must also admit that I saw the movie when it came out a few years ago and (perhaps against my better judgement) just finished the first season (yes, there’s a second season coming next year) of the TV show.

Why? Because of the curiosity to see what came of these attempts.

I thought to myself, was it worse than the books? Was it better?

Turns out it wasn’t great. For me, The Mortal Instruments proved itself to be a case study of sorts in a discussion of profit and the coexistence between the film and publishing industries. It’s partially understandable that a TV adaptation, rather than a movie franchise, allowed for a new start and possible changes in the way the original plot was presented.

The irony lies, however, in the similar reception the show, though some credit should be given to the overall higher reviews. The insistence on running a second season, given the way in which the first sloppily crammed subplots and events from various books into one, is the more puzzling aspect.

Perhaps we should be worried more about addressing a different kind of “dark force” that books skid around or fall prey to: the allure of franchising and riding the wave of popularity. While there are certainly some interesting plot points and witty dialogues within the books, there is not much that The Mortal Instruments, along with its tangle of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs, adds to the literary world.

The very fact that the franchise has expanded so much makes one wonder whether the author really is so enamoured with her own construction, or whether the influence of popularity has a bigger role. Making a remake of something not entirely successful the first time is a similar case of trying to keep the popularity alive for a series that is difficult to evaluate as a literary work.

The series focuses too much on appealing to its audience with its modern references and speech, and the way it falls prey to character archetypes that earlier New York Times bestsellers have already exploited.

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image source: shadowhunterfans.blogspot.com

Series such as The Hunger Games have arguably warranted their film adaptations. Moreover, even with the shortcomings and plot errors that occurred, a handful of these film adaptations did it right the first time they took on the job.

The fact that there is a remake of an adaptation should already act as a warning sign that begs the question of how much say the writer has in their own creation, as well as how much dignity they carry forward with it. It’s common nowadays to meet those who say they write in order to produce the next “big thing” and become a bestseller, and to a degree the allure of profit is understandable.

Yet it is hard not to go back and wonder about some great novels that may not have received movie adaptations, such as Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Milton’s Paradise Lost. It also begs the question of why other great works—Shakespeare being the most common—have received so many if the possibility of them being forgotten is practically impossible. Perhaps it is because few have come to recognize the modern incarnation of the classical demon, and the way in which it has precipitated into current society in a quiet comfort.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

Doing What’s Right: A Review of Captain America – Civil War

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Image source: marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com

“No. You move.”

Captain America: Civil War needed to be a lot of things. As the introduction of both Black Panther and a new Spider-Man to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sequel to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the final instalment in the Captain America trilogy, and the sequel to both First Avenger and Winter Soldier, this movie is also the culmination of a journey that Marvel has been headed towards since Robert Downey Jr. first appeared on screen in Iron Man.

It feels very much like we were always heading for this.

Amazingly, it works. Civil War works as an Avengers movie (with, oddly enough, more Avengers than either of the movies to actually use the title), but more importantly, it works as a Captain America movie. The grander scope and moral debate at the heart of Civil War is all filtered through Cap. Even if you disagree with him, the morality makes this not only a thrillingly engaging action movie, but also one of the most emotionally investing that Marvel has ever produced.

Let’s set the scene: the characters in the Marvel U have finally noticed what we the audience have been pointing out for years. When the Avengers save the day, there is always a ton of destruction and collateral damage. Avengers fought a war in New York, (the ramifications of which are still felt on the Marvel Netflix series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones), The Winter Soldier destroyed Washington, DC, and then Age of Ultron lifted the city state of Sokovia thousands of feet into the air then vaporized it.

The Avengers come to fight and people die. Finally, the world has noticed. When an Avengers mission chasing the mercenary Crossbones through Lagos in Nigeria ends with the accidental destruction of a building, and the death of several diplomats from the nation of Wakanda, it seems to be just one step too far.

The Avengers are issued an ultimatum in the form of “The Sokovia Accords”.

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Once signed, the Avengers will no longer act autonomously, but be sanctioned and controlled by a United Nations panel. This mirrors the “registration actof the Civil War comic which ordered heroes to register with the government; however, since practically nobody in the MCU has a secret identity, this element has been stripped away.

What is brilliant about the motivations of the characters in this movie is that they all make sense. You understand why some characters sign the accords and others don’t. When the lines are drawn, you understand why each Avenger has chosen the side they do.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) began as the ultimate capitalist. In his second movie, he famously stated that he’d “privatized world peace”. But over the years, from the first Avengers movie and Iron Man 3 to Age of Ultron, we have seen Tony becoming increasingly paranoid and obsessed with security. He is shown time and time again that he and others are not responsible enough keep the world safe on their own. So this is the Tony Stark entering Captain America: Civil War. He signs the Accords because he believes the Avengers operating above the law is no longer the right thing to do.

Then we have Captain America. Steve Rogers, who, in his first movie, had such a powerful faith in the systems of government, has been repeatedly shown that these systems fail. The Army tried to stop him when he could save the lives of Bucky and his friends, so Steve disobeyed orders and saved the day. In The Avengers, Steve finds a government that lies to him, and a Shield that pilfers Hydra technology and is willing to launch a nuclear bomb at the island of Manhattan. Then, in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Steve finds his trust in systems totally shattered as Shield is revealed to be mostly controlled by the Nazi death cult of Hydra. As Steve says in the movie: “The safest hands are still our own.”

Tony can only trust systems, and Steve can only trust individuals. So with a small push from Sharon Carter, who gives Steve a speech that Cap famously gives to Spider-Man in the Civil War comic, Cap refuses to sign the accords and the Avengers are split. It’s a testament to the even footing that both points of view are given that even after having seen the movie twice, I still can’t completely commit to one side or the other.

That could have been the whole crux of the story, but of course it isn’t. This is a Captain America movie, and the sequel to Winter Soldier. And that means Bucky, and not just as an afterthought. The movie starts with a flashback to the 1990s of the Winter Soldier making an assassination on an old lonely road. When the signing of the Accords are sabotaged, the Winter Soldier takes the blame.

This is where the mysterious villain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) enters the picture, having uncovered an old Hydra book containing the code words that can hypnotize poor Bucky, bringing out his murderous Winter Soldier side.

Zemo’s backstory is simple. He was Sokovian military, he feels that the Avengers killed his family in Age of Ultron, and wants revenge. He is a surprisingly effective villain, and (though still a little lackluster, as almost all Marvel villains tend to be), I actually really enjoyed his simple, subtle, and ultimately tragic character. I was also pleased to find a villain who understood he couldn’t just kill the Avengers. Finally, we have a bad guy who doesn’t think himself stronger than Earth’s mightiest.

It is the hunt for the Winter Soldier that truly drives the movie: Cap’s insistence on saving his old friend and everyone else’s insistence on his guilt puts Cap up against UN orders. When Zemo sneaks into the UN under the guise of a therapist, he activates Bucky to escape (who then basically walks through all the Avengers because Bucky is Marvel’s equivalent of The Terminator). But it is Cap grabbing hold of Buck’s helicopter and crashing it down into the river below that brands Cap, Bucky, and Sam Wilson (Falcon) as fugitives from justice.

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Falcon, by the way, seems to be almost solely motivated by the desire to make Steve Rogers smile, regardless of his own personal investment in whatever is happening. And it is amazing.

On this note, Falcon and Bucky share relatively little screen time together, but when they do it’s also incredible. If this were a romantic comedy, Sam and Bucky would essentially be Steve’s two boyfriends jostling for his attention while glaring at each other and thinking “Steve likes me best.”

At this point, it is also important to talk about Chadwick Boswin’s “King T’challa” (Black Panther). The actor invented his own accent for the role, since Black Panther is the king of a fictional African country. Black Panther isn’t on one side, so much as he just really wants to kill Bucky, for reasons that make perfect sense. The character is regal, lethal, and fights like an actual cat. Even his costume is amazing, and I’m incredibly excited for his solo movie. In the end, between the voices of Cap and Iron Man, Black Panther works as the third perspective. He is essential to the plot, and at no point does his inclusion feel forced.

The Avengers eventually meet at the Berlin airport, Cap and his team racing to capture Zemo, and Iron Man and his side determined to bring Cap to justice. Everyone gets their moment in this fight. Scarlet Witch gets a whole bunch. And Ant Man, a character who I was ambivalent about in his own movie, gets a moment here which might go down as one of my favourite in movie history.

Tom Holland’s motivations and reality as “Spider-Man” and “Peter Parker” are set-up beautifully in just one scene. Through his conversations with Tony, we see Peter as the shy awkward kid who just wants to make a difference and protect the “little guy”. Which, by the way, perfectly mirrors the moment Steve had in the first Captain America movie, when Dr. Erskine asks why he wants to join the war effort.

Then we get Spider-Man for the long and glorious airport Avengers brawl.

He’s perfect. Spidey holds his own against even the Winter Soldier (where all the other Avengers have failed), fighting against Cap and his team. He’s strong and fast, flipping through the air with webs flying around him, and he won’t stop talking.

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This is the Spider-Man we’ve always wanted to see. In the twenty-five minutes he appears in this movie, Spider-Man acts more like the famous chatty, annoying kid who’s swung through comic pages for fifty years than any of the five whole Spiderman movies. As a criticism, there is no real reason for Spider-Man to be in the movie at all from a narrative point of view, but he makes up for it by being incredibly fun.

But this is all leading towards a confrontation between Cap, Bucky, and Iron Man. Without spoiling anything, the climax of Civil War has surprisingly low stakes. There’s no classic world-ending scheme or invading army. All of that is traded for emotional stakes.

Civil War is in many ways a tragedy, as the heroes don’t make amends in the end, but instead fall into a greater split that goes beyond politics. Come the end of the movie, Iron Man is fighting for vengeance and Cap is fighting for friendship, in a harrowing, violent confrontation where just for a moment, you might really believe that one of these heroes is going to kill the other.

What’s really well done is at no point does this conflict feel forced. You understand, as everything is slowly stripped away from him, why Cap will fight for Bucky at all costs. But similarly you understand why, by the end of the movie, Iron Man feels he needs to kill the Winter Soldier.

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Usually motives in a superhero movie are pretty simple. The good guy wants to be good, and the bad guy doesn’t, and then they fight. That isn’t Civil War. We understand and accept the motivations driving each opposing side, and that is why this movie works so well. It’s also why at the end, as Captain America and Iron Man fight so brutally, it really is tragic.

In all this, Steve Rogers seems to have completed the arc he began all the way back in his first movie, to transform from a man into a legend.

“You’re trying to do what you think is right,” are nearly Cap’s last words of the film. “That’s all any of us can do.”

Because this is who Cap is: he’s going to do what he thinks is right.

I’m sure everyone will be back together again by the end of the next Avengers movie, but that doesn’t change how powerful this movie was.

Captain America: Civil War, is arguably both the best solo and team movie Marvel has produced. For the first time, we are wrapping up a superhero trilogy without a weak link.

Civil War raises the bar for everything that must follow, and incidentally, this is the first I can remember where I walked out of the theater considering the movie to be better than its source material.

-Contributed by Ben Ghan

Just Peace: Ambitious Politics in Doctor Who

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Illustration by Stephanie Gao

Yes, in this post I will be discussing specific scenes. Yes, there will be spoilers.

Doctor Who is an awesome show; you don’t need me to tell you that. Full of action, sci-fi, and a dash of romance, it has captivated viewers over many generations. Even if you aren’t interested in any of these aspects of the show—which I honestly can’t imagine to be the case—Doctor Who also provides a different angle of interest. It is a clever show that uses elements from history and gestures towards real world political tensions with relevance and tact.

At the heart of the show lies the figure of the Doctor: a powerful, mostly benevolent, and ageless (no, really, the production team has messed up the details of his age frequently) Time Lord. The Doctor is arguably the most important symbol created by the franchise. He roams freely across the universe, engaging in conflict with various malevolent alien species and humans who seek to do harm to others.

One of the Doctor’s most formidable enemies is also one the show’s greatest political statements. The Daleks are aliens that see themselves as a superior race and seek to exterminate other species. They originated in the 60s, borne out of a decade where the tensions of World War II were still resonant and frightening. The characterization of the Daleks as having an ideology comparable to Nazism allows the viewers to breathe a sigh of relief when the Doctor destroys them to protect humanity. Confrontation between the Doctor and the Daleks also represents the destruction of one ideology at the hands of another. This political statement that has its roots in the Cold War, and the strong message that the United Kingdom wanted to send to potential aggressors.

Vigilantism often falls within the patch of grey between clearly defined categories of good and bad. Though the Doctor doles out justice without authorization, he mostly manages to lean closer to the good. Before the Doctor condemns the villainous groups, he listens to eyewitness accounts of the horrors committed and uses historical and factual evidence. He also attempts to rehabilitate the villains before using irreversible force, as seen in his actions in the season 4 finale, “Journey’s End”, where he attempts to engage the Daleks in dialogue before blowing up their spaceship.

The Doctor is representative of the reality of how politics can and often does play out. Even in our world, states with more power and resources engage in treaties of protection with states lacking in these things, similar to how the Doctor offers protection to alien or human societies and the universe as a whole. Before engaging in combat or war, the Doctor insists that every measure be taken to minimize causalities and engage in peaceful mediation. The aforementioned episode was written in 2008, a time of fierce combat in the Middle East, which the United Kingdom, through NATO, participated in.

Doctor Who is also highly political in its treatment of sex and race. It features Captain Jack, a multi-sexual character with varying interests, and Martha Jones, a black female character who challenges viewers to face Britain’s troubling racist past when the character journeys to the Victorian era and encounters an obvious lack of basic human respect, to say the least. Doctor Who brings issues of race and sexual identity to the forefront when it features these characters in important roles within the Doctor’s life and allows for positive discourse on their unique qualities through the Doctor’s unquestioned acceptance of them.

While watching the show, I’ve often been fascinated by the nature of this fictional world. It depicts a version of our world that is resilient, as it is constantly assailed by species beyond human understanding, and yet manages to maintain its dignity, hope, and the will to fight. In light of the recent attacks on societies by terrorist and extremist groups, these are qualities that we should adopt and remember as our own. While I’ve seen no evidence of the Doctor being present in our world, may the political ideals of justice and peace that he embodies live and thrive.

-Contributed by Molly Cong

Larger than Life: A review of Syfy’s The Expanse

expanse-julie

If there’s one thing you can say about Syfy’s new show The Expanse (broadcast on Space for us lucky Canadians, eh), it’s that it doesn’t mess around with the title.

This show is big. It’s huge!

The premise behind the latest sci-fi adventure to hit our view-screens is that by the twenty-third century, mankind has expanded beyond Earth and has colonized the moon (now called Luna), Mars, and the asteroid belt just past Mars (known simply as “The Belt”).

This isn’t your happy-go-lucky brand of aggressive interstellar settlement; rather, these territories have been divided into factions, and as you can expect, these factions don’t exactly get along. At the outset of the show, the United Nations, who control Earth and Luna, find themselves on the brink of war with the highly militarized Mars. Meanwhile, poor working-class ‘Belters’ struggle for basic necessities in the Belt, while simultaneously supplying these necessities to anyone who is bigger and stronger than them (which is everyone).

So yeah, it’s big, and it gets bigger. After all, you learn all of the above in the show’s first thirty seconds.

Over the course of the first episode, “Dulcinea”, we are introduced to a stunning array of characters—so many that zero-gravity isn’t the only thing that makes your head spin. Cast is one place where this show seems to overstep its bounds, becoming a little too large for its own good. With settings bustling with activity, the viewer very quickly gets the feeling of impersonality, reminiscent of promenade scenes in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

This can be a good thing, if that’s the effect a show is trying to achieve. However, many scenes, including the opening of this episode, seem to evoke a more personal feel akin to shows like Firefly, in which a single down-to-earth crew deals with down-to-earth problems, albeit in a fantastic universe.

The contrast between the show’s attempts to create a grand space opera and the moments when it tries to focus more on the intricate workings of its world(s) can be a little jarring.

Fortunately, the show does focus down onto a small handful of main protagonists.

The first we meet is Detective Miller (Thomas Jane) of the massive metropolitan space station Ceres in the Belt. He’s your classic morally grey veteran, police officer, and tough guy, and he seems to be pissed off by at least one person at all times. It’s a trope that’s been done to death, but if you’re anything like me, it’s still nice to see grumpus over there almost flush a smooth-talking sleazeball out an airlock for “not holding up his end of the bargain.” There’s still a lot of potential with this character, especially considering the setting in which the show has placed him, and Jane does a decent job of giving the character depth through his acting. If the show was just about Detective Miller, it would probably be a pretty good show.

Next we’re introduced to the strapping Jim Holden (Steven Strait), the second of our gruff ‘manly man’ characters. Eye candy with a slacker attitude, he serves as a deck officer on the Canterbury, an ice freighter travelling around the Belt in a very Firefly-esque struggle for a solid day’s earnings. Again, his character is one we’ve seen before, but the show does a decent job of making him someone that you can at least imagine caring about. Over the course of the episode, we see him and his crew reluctantly explore a distress beacon, only to find more mystery and tragedy than any of them wanted. If this show was just about Jim Holden and the crew of the Canterbury, it would probably be a pretty good show.

Finally, we’re star-struck by UN Deputy Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), a family woman who seems to have some much more sinister pastimes than babysitting her grandson. Our first female protagonist, most of her appeal comes from her enigmatic qualities. I wouldn’t go as far as to call her a female Frank Underwood in space, but it’s not exactly a leap. However, just because we’ve seen similar characters before, doesn’t mean she’s any less interesting. Aghdashloo’s acting is wonderful, and the character herself spawns questions galore for the show to expound in future episodes. If this show was just about UN Deputy Undersecretary Avasarala, it would probably be a pretty good show.

Both the promise and the problem of this show stem from its combination of all these stories.

Like I said, this show is big, and part of the reason it’s big is because it explores so many corners of its universe. However, in a universe as diverse as the one we see here, these corners can look very different.

As I’ve already mentioned, there isn’t all that much new here; we’ve seen both the characters and the premises before. In order for it to be a truly great show, the goal for the series should be to connect these very diverse stories in a way that viewers haven’t seen before—which is quite a task.

It makes a good start as this first episode progresses, adding unique elements and subtle connections that allow us to see these characters as all existing together somehow, but it is still to be seen how this idea will play out over the series.

Unfortunately, we see when the show gets too big more than once, showing that a ‘shoot for the stars, land on the moon’ mentality isn’t always the right one. The special effects, though passable, leave a lot to be desired, and the pace is slow enough at points to be unmemorable. When you factor this into the already large issue of trying to capture too many parts of this massive universe into one comprehensible story, it all proves quite daunting.

Is the show good? That really remains to be seen. The first episode was good. It wasn’t terrible, and it wasn’t revolutionary—it was good. It played on old tropes and familiar concepts, but kept them fresh enough to make me (literally) scream for more when the credits rolled. It was good.

Yes, it’s big, and big isn’t always good—but at least it has potential.

The Expanse premiered on Space Channel on Monday, December 14 at 10pm and broadcasts weekly on Tuesdays at 7pm. Episodes are also available for streaming at Space.ca.

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski