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

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Crimson peak: A Gothic Romance

cpGhosts are real, that much I know.

Well, okay, I don’t know, but Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) can certainly tell you a thing or two about ghosts.

Crimson Peak is Guillermo del Toro’s newest gothic romance film, and it possesses all of his trademark film-making techniques but with a distinctive late-1800s twist. The plot seems like something out of a gothic novel, with the basic premise being reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

Edith Cushing, an aspiring American author and the daughter of a successful businessman, falls in love with the mysterious Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), an English baronet. Their romance is complicated by the pointed glares Thomas’ older sister, Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain), keeps sending their way. Throughout the Sharpe’s estate, which seems almost alive, there is a permeating feeling of wrongness, which the audience feels as well, given how fast Thomas is taken with Edith.

And therein lies the main weakness of the film.

Perhaps the plot is too Romantic. Thomas Sharpe plays the stereotypical role of the dashing male hero who woos the female protagonist, despite her somewhat humble origins. From the moment the two meet, the speed at which Thomas reads and takes an interest in Edith’s manuscript is astounding. Perhaps Thomas can teach me his ways to aid me in my readings for class?

He then proceeds to stare soulfully into her eyes, notice her presence in every frame, and even stand outside of her house, in the rain, waiting for her father to leave in order to catch her alone.

All that within just hours of meeting her.

Although this does successfully give the audience a sense of foreboding and even foreshadows the tragic nature of their relationship, the love story between the two seems to exist only to drive the plot forward.

However, del Toro must be commended for his brilliant use of coloured lighting to build upon the tension and suspense of the plot. The constant interplay between amber and cool turquoise lighting reflects the conflict between Edith and Lucille, and by extension the conflict between the mortal and supernatural.

Edith and her American home are painted in warm orange tones that liven up the atmosphere, whereas Lucille and the Sharpe mansion are both drowned in a cool dark turquoise that infringes upon yet emphasizes Edith’s glow. The bloody red colouring of the ghosts is a nice horrific touch. But more, the colour adds significance to the purpose of the ghosts as figures caught between the light and the dark. Red is a warm colour, but its connotations are gory and chilling, like the turquoise, and the very opposite of the benign cast of orange. The ghosts are frightening in form, too, but once you reflect on their function and true purpose, are they really the antagonists here?

Crimson Peak’s cinematography also stands out in its combined use of sound and timing to create anticipation. The visual and auditory cues are predictable at times, but they call back to the style of old horror flicks. The close-ups on characters, the slow crescendo, the introduction of a horror element, the breathless pause, the abrupt zoom straight into the maws of a ghost—are all inexhaustibly thrilling in the way roller-coasters are. The fun isn’t lost despite the routine.

Overall this film was a worthwhile watch, even for someone who is deathly afraid of anything horror-related (i.e., me). Before entering the cinema, my biggest concern was that the film would be a simple translation of “The Fall of the House of Usher”, but instead it brought its own cinematic magic to the table. Watch, if not for del Toro’s imagery-laden visuals, then definitely for a few glorious moments of a view of Hiddleston’s bum.

-Contributed by Stephanie Gao

What does Mars tell us in The Martian?

This post contains spoilers.

THE MARTIAN illustration
Illustration by Shayla Sabada

Imagine this: you are stranded on a distant planet without water, food, internet access, your smartphone, or even other humans. What crosses your mind first? Of course, you want to survive. Maybe your goal is to find a way to reconnect with the Earth, or perhaps you’d prefer to settle down in this foreign land and crown yourself as its first ruler.

Matt Damon does both in The Martian, a sci-fi adventure blockbuster brought to you by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Prometheus). The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir. Weir’s first novel was self-published in 2011, and soon topped the Kindle sales chart. Well-researched yet fantastical, Weir blends real science and fiction without sacrificing either one for the sake of trying to be more entertaining.

On the eighteenth Martian day, or sol, of the Ares III manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Damon) is separated from the rest of his team, the other members of which are forced to evacuate the planet when it is hit by a sudden sand storm. While everyone on Earth (including NASA and his teammates) presumes that he is dead, Watney wakes up the next day impaled by an antenna in his abdomen, finding himself to have been abandoned. Being left behind on Mars might suck for many reasons, but Damon’s character doesn’t drown himself in self-pity. Instead, he decides to ‘science the sh*t’ out of every single resource he is left with on the Red Planet.

The next NASA manned mission to Mars is four years away, which means nobody will notice Watney until 1460 Earth days later. It is frightening, but the good-humored and strong-willed Watney does not just curse Mars and then cry until he cannot breathe. Thankfully, the astronaut was a botanist back on Earth, and he manages to cultivate four hundred and something sols worth of potatoes using his own feces and the universally scarce resource that is water. Meanwhile, Watney has to figure out how to regain contact with NASA and find a route to the spot closest to the landing site of Ares IV in the hopes that he will be picked up and brought back to Earth. Thanks to Watney’s super-brain, he translates his scientific knowledge into creative engineering, which ultimately saves his life.

Despite Watney having devised a comprehensive plan to keep himself alive on the Red Planet, those four hundred sols are riddled with frustration and uncertainty. Watney’s courage and endurance are tested as he struggles to overcome the volatility of Mars.

How should he positively deal with the decompression of the airlock on the habitat which blows up his shelter and kills all his crops inside? When the crew returns to Mars to rescue Watney, how can he ensure his vehicle achieves the necessary altitude to intercept the spaceship?

Undoubtedly, one could very quickly get discouraged in such situations. However, Watney is the poster-boy of human ingenuity, and his cool-headedness and optimism are qualities that audiences should take home with them. He does not beat himself up for miscalculating the amount of heat needed to create water by burning hydrazine rocket fuel (OK, well, he does—for like one or two seconds). He even jokes that he has colonized Mars, because he cultivates crops on its soil. Weir’s character lives up to the idea of “Keep Calm and Carry On” brilliantly.

Loneliness is hard to cope with, but Watney keeps his mind active on Mars by recording daily video logs. Scott shrewdly grants the video logs the dual purposes of allowing Watney to explain complicated scientific ideas in plain language while also giving the audience a chance to get a closer look at the intimate side of the character.

Besides recording what he is going to do next, Watney complains about the poor musical taste of the mission commander (played by Jessica Chastain) while blasting her old-school disco music collection in the background during his recording. This is just a little comic relief, which gives you a break from feeling bad for the poor guy.

Regarding the purpose of the recordings on a broader scope, they show that it is important for us as humans to learn how to cope with loneliness. Watney learns this incredible lesson, but we all do not get a chance to experience what he goes through—nor do we want to.  Not everyone can dance with loneliness classily, and if you can, that is truly an amazing ability. Human beings rely on the need to belong, but who knows when you will have to be all alone. The movie conveys that coping with loneliness is also a vital survival skill.

The Martian is not a typical Scott movie in terms of its cinematography and script (I had expected the story to be more devastating, to be honest), nor is the movie a typical disaster sci-fi movie. You’re sure to become infatuated with Damon’s charisma during the video logging, and be prepared to get yourself into the nostalgic mood when Gloria Gaynor’s disco dance number “I Will Survive” plays in the background.

-Contributed by Michelle Luk

Lilo & Stitch: it only gets better

Lilo and Stitch 2
Illustration by Bethany Pile

Check out Part One of this two-part blog series here!

Before we delve back into the serious stuff, let’s take a moment to admire the unique and colourful animation style of Lilo & Stitch. For the first time in decades, the directors chose to return to watercolour backgrounds as opposed to the typical solid colour of most of Disney’s current filmography. Watercolours were used to create a more storybook look as well as to recall the aesthetics of Disney’s Dumbo.

The animation style also differed from the standard Disney fare, being more reminiscent of director Chris Sanders’ personal drawing style, which is often described by his fellow animators as seeming to melt, as if the images were dripping. This effect gives us the chunky and gorgeous curves we see on all the characters (I’m looking at you, Nani).

Reportedly, Lilo & Stitch was also influenced by another one of our Spec faves: Hayao Miyazaki, who, according to director Dean Deblois, “creates genuine relationships in the realm of fantasy”. This inspiration is apparent in the complexity of the characters’ relationships to one another. Fun fact: Kiki’s Coffee Hut is named in loving tribute to Miyazaki’s film Kiki’s Delivery Service.

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Nuanced Morality

The wonderful thing about this movie is the lack of “black and white” morality that is so predominant in films for kids. Too often, children’s media is excused for having poorly written, one-dimensional characters—something that is thoroughly criticized in most other genres. In mainstream film today, we demand well-written and complex female, queer, and ethnically diverse characters. Yet somehow we constantly excuse simplistic “good and evil” morality in films just because they are “made for kids”. Fiction is important because it allows us to see things that are not necessarily our personal reality, and to thereby gain empathy and understanding. The overwhelmingly reasonable characters and complex motivations and conflicts in Lilo & Stitch allow for a broader and more engaging experience.

Representation of Minorities

Although mainstream Hollywood seems to still be dragging its heels with good LGBTQ+ representation, films like The Danish Girl and About Ray, which premiered in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, signal hope for the future. Unfortunately, the casting of cisgender actors in these defining roles is a blatant indication that we must keep pushing forward. With luck, we can move toward a future where characters are not defined by their gender identity or sexual orientation—or are turned into a farce—but are seen as people first, their sexuality and gender a small part of who they are.

Considering the state of modern media today, it seems amazing that Disney included such an ambiguous and gender-fluid character as Pleakley over a decade ago and in a children’s film. Clearly identified with masculine pronouns and voiced by a male actor, Pleakley resists gender constrictions by dressing in traditionally feminine attire when on Earth. While his choice of disguises could be chalked up to a misguided understanding of Earth (which Pleakley clearly has), he is further shown to enjoy his wigs and make-up, and remains in them throughout the film. It’s not even a point of contention in the movie; no one at any point has a problem with the way Pleakley chooses to dress and behave. While I’m not saying that Lilo & Stitch is the best portrayal of casual LGBTQ+ visibility that I have ever seen (the only gender-fluid character is not from our planet, after all), Pleakley is nonetheless a positive presence in the film. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded that one’s decisions about one’s body don’t have to involve everyone around them.

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The respectful and beautiful way that the film portrays Hawaii also deserves a mention here. While Lilo & Stitch is set on the island of Kauai, it doesn’t exploit stereotypes in order to tell its story. There are examples of beautiful Hawaiian language songs, although they are not the only music that we encounter (Elvis makes numerous welcome and hilarious appearances throughout the film). The traditional-sounding songs serve to set the stage, but do not dominate the story as a whole.

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Similar is the treatment of traditional Hawaiian activities such as hula dancing and surfing, which are present but do not detract from the point of the story. What I mean to say is: Lilo does not have to win a hula competition to earn enough money for the surfing team; these activities are used to build on the characters, not the other way around.

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Furthermore, for the most part, the Hawaiian characters are played by Hawaiian actors. Tia Carrere (Nani) and Jason Scott Lee (David) are Hawaiian-born and Hawaiian-raised, respectively. For a film that doesn’t visibly show its actors, it is impressive that the casting directors took the care to cast actors with a relationship to the islands. The actors even helped to rewrite some of their dialogue using correct Hawaiian colloquialisms. The natural traces of an accent in their voices lend a realistic feel to the atmosphere of the film that is subtle but extremely effective.

Positive Romantic Relationships

On the subject of David Kawena, everyone take a good long look, because he demonstrates what you should be looking for in a partner. First and foremost a good friend to Nani and Lilo, David doesn’t try to hide his romantic interest in Nani, but neither does he resent her for being too busy to date him. Instead, he finds productive ways to be a positive force in her life, such as by cheering up the sisters when they are feeling down, or by helping Nani to find a job when she is at her most desperate. He seems to truly care about Nani, as a person and as a friend first. Theirs is a truly good example of a mature and sincere relationship, and anyone waffling about in the murky swamps of romance should take note.

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What my gushing boils down to is: don’t waste your time indecisively flipping through Netflix. Do yourself a favour—watch this film and drown in a torrent of happy-sad tears with extreme satisfaction.

-Contributed by Amy Wang

Move Aside, Masculine Mayhem: Mad Max: Fury Road is Here to Stay

I happen to like my fast-paced, car-chase, post-apocalyptic movies chock full of social commentary, the more nuanced the better. Does that mean that I have many favourite fast-paced, car-chase, post-apocalyptic movies? No. At this point, I happen to have one.

Enter Mad Max: Fury Road.

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Image from superherohype.com

What may unexpectedly turn out to be the cinematic star of my summer, Mad Max: Fury Road has shocked me for all the right reasons. I might be partially to blame for letting my assumptions and preconceptions about this genre—one that has only ever offered me anarchy, specifically of the masculine mayhem variety—guide me into believing that I would see an average, mildly entertaining film at best. I thought it would be safe to place my bets on the stale trifecta of blockbuster films: the conventionally attractive, white male protagonist; the manipulative, often sexually abusive male antagonist; and the conventionally attractive, token female love interest.

Truth be told I wasn’t entirely wrong. The main cast consists of two men and one woman. However, the dynamics between them are different from the traditional configuration. The antagonist, Immortan Joe, is indisputably the villain, but the role of protagonist alternates between Max and Impertator Furiosa (henceforth referred to as Furiosa). While I would initially be inclined to say that Max is the main character—the series is named after him, the first two films have starred him as the protagonist, and the narrative opens with his internal dialogue—he takes on a strongly supportive character role to Furiosa. I will refrain from going into specifics for the moment, and save the spoilers for later, but here is what you need to know.

The cast is large in reality, ambitiously large for CGI. This makes the car chases rather intense because Fury Road is not one car going head-to-head with another; rather, it is an army of vehicles equipped to the brim with fire, harpoons, guns, poles long enough to swing soldiers into adjacent cars, and an actual—non-animated—flaming guitar, all chasing after an army rig full of female sex-slave escapees. It can be a lot to take in.

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Image from wallpapers.com

That being said, the cinematography of the movie is actually quite intelligently done, considering the constant and ferociously hectic material of the scenes. The plain, desert landscape facilities the madness without adding excess clutter, and there are a shocking number of creative ways a person can fall off of a vehicle going at high speeds. As an audience member, you’re guaranteed an explosive visual feast. However, the visual effects are not what I and many others are praising this movie for, so we’ll move on.

Out of the entire cast there are sixteen characters important enough to be given names; six are men and ten are women. It is also important to note that there are five other prominent female members of the Vuvalini gang who are active but unnamed. With them I’ll also include the unnamed male guitarist who never speaks but is a reoccurring and noticeable character. Together, these additions culminate in a grand total of twenty-two ‘important’ characters, of which seven are men and fifteen are women. I may be watching the wrong blockbuster action movies, but that is not a common ratio.

What’s even more uncommon is that the bodies in this film are widely varied to include characters who are old, young, thin, fat, pregnant, able-bodied, physically disabled, and mentally traumatized. In every case, none of the characteristics that are conventionally added to make a character sympathetic or to weaken them were used as such. While they were not all capable of performing in the same way, every person was capable in their own right.

Spoilers follow with a deeper discussion of these variations.

Disabilities play a large role in this film, and are addressed both seriously and practically. Furiosa, already discussed as one of the m ain characters—if not the main character—is highly competent both as a driver and as a combatant, and demonstrates her ability to fight with her prosthetic arm or with it detached. Moreover, none of the other characters comment negatively on her arm, or use it as a trite excuse to question her authority, ability, or credentials. The five wives trust her implicitly with their safety, and Max, along with Nux and the Vuvalini, treats her as either a superior officer giving orders or a comrade directly on par with him.

Nux is an especially interesting case in this situation as he begins the movie with low feelings of self-worth that result from his hero worship of the antagonist Immortan Joe. He idealizes the possibility of dying as a suicide bomber, and tries repeatedly to take out Furiosa’s truck and Furiosa herself at the expense of his own life. However, on his third and final attempt, Nux fails before Immortan Joe, who dismisses him as a worthless failure, unfit to enter the ideal afterlife at the crux of their religion. Nux, who has likely been raised as a war dog explicitly for the purpose of serving Immortan Joe and dying valiantly, cannot function after this. It takes one of the wives—whose name, appropriately, is Capable—to find him. Capable understands the similarities between their sufferings—both have been exploited in some way, and both have been indoctrinated into a religion by a man who sees them as less than property. Nux’s mental trauma inflicted under Immortan’s patriarchal regime is directly combatted by Capable’s humanity and the ‘feminine’ prospect of expressing emotion, as well as by the validation of personal agency.

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Image from http://www.indiewire.com

Mad Max: Fury Road offers a great deal to its audience: high action, explosions, car chases, and wickedly fun cinematography, but there are also deep, reoccurring undercurrents of truly meaningful topics. This movie does not back away from the challenge of a visually difficult scene or even of a socially nuanced one; moreover, it is evident by the writing that these ‘feminist moments’ were given a great deal of thought. There are a number of films touted as progressive for having Strong Female Characters or for ‘empowering’ marginalized groups that are fundamentally undermined by the white, male protagonist’s need to be The Saviour.

The truly standout moment of Mad Max: Fury Road is, in my opinion, at the very end. The final scene of the movie depicts the wives, women, and Max return to the Citadel bearing the dead body of Immortan Joe on top of their car to announce the end of his oppressive reign. The impoverished people of the Citadel, always excluded from prosperity under Immortan Joe, join the women on a platform that will take them to the top of the fortress, and as they are being raised and the movie is winding down—there, you see it. Arguably one of the best cinematic shots of the movie. As the platform is being lifted, the camera pans to Max, who is not on the platform but is disappearing into the crowd below. He looks up, and there is a single shot of Furiosa, prosthetic arm off and standing with the women, watching him leave as she rises and the movie cuts to black.

Max is not the Saviour. He chooses to not go on the platform, and this Citadel is not his to reclaim. In its last shot, Mad Max: Fury Road cements that Max was never really the focus of the movie at all—this movie is about people who are easily forgotten and exploited taking back their own lives.

And it is the best fast-paced, car-chase, post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen.

-contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

 

Hopelessly Hobbited: A Tolkien Addict’s Review of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

One last time.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

These words, though spoken by Thorin as he prepares to lead his company of dwarves into the Orc-Dwarf-Elf melee, also speak clearly for Peter Jackson. In the course of his own journey, fraught by battles (of the legal variety), fire, illness, and injuries, Jackson managed to channel fresh energy and enthusiasm into an already time-tested classic, a classic which essentially gave birth to the epic fantasy genre. Transforming many mechanical and artistic aspects of film technology, Jackson raised the bar to a level as yet unmatched by any other fantasy adapted for the screen.

So as the film’s release dawned, the ironic words “no pressure” had never been more relevant. As this die-hard fan rushed to the first showing on opening day, expectation mingled with excitement was nearly palpable in the impressively filled Ultra AVX theatre, particularly for a Wednesday matinée. Not only was The Battle of Five Armies the conclusion of The Hobbit trilogy, but it also represented the last of Peter Jackson’s film forays into Middle Earth. It bore the responsibility of satisfying old and new fans alike—fans who  number far into the millions. Balancing the demands of textual integrity (particularly of a piece so beloved and well-established), the intricacies of the cinematic medium, and massive fan expectation is not an easy task for any director. But Jackson had done it before.

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From the beginning, Martin Freeman more than pulls his weight as Bilbo, revealing new facets of his character and inhabiting his hobbit skin with effortless panache. Richard Armitage, too, shines in his masterful portrayal of the increasingly paranoid dwarf king Thorin, who is beginning to descend into gold-obsessed madness as he holes up in the treasure-filled halls of his reclaimed mountain kingdom. Armitage’s handling of Thorin’s death was particularly skillful. In each of my three viewings of the film, sizable portions of the audience erupted into (sometimes noisy) tears as Thorin breathes his last.

Smaug, too, does not cease to impress, opening the film with a brief yet somehow majestic rampage. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is one aspect of the film which all sides must agree is a triumph. Unfortunately, it is with Smaug that we see the last of secondary characters knowing better than to overstay their welcome.

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The Legolas-Tauriel-Kili love triangle proves once more to be the film’s canker. Already burdened by a clumsy premise and a fairly ridiculous execution, The Battle of the Five Armies finds the accursed subplot lumbering further into focus. Cheapened by tragically clichéd lines (warning: contains “Why does it hurt so much?” and “Because it was real,” without a hint of irony) and a drawn-out death scene (complete with a slow-motion tear-roll), I found myself doing an actual face-palm. The baseless relationship between Tauriel and Kili does not manage to expand the role of women; instead, her character disappears after Kili’s death having contributed absolutely nothing to the plot. In truth, Galadriel accomplishes more in her five minutes at the beginning of the film than Tauriel does in two films.

Nevertheless, golden nuggets are plentiful in the film—and not just in the treasure horde of Thror. Moments of warmth and humanity are largely provided by Bard and his children, but also by Bilbo’s loyalty to his Dwarf friends and his courageous defense of them. Humour, too, is gracefully woven into the story, provided primarily by the shameless Alfred, the late Master of Lake Town’s greasy grunt, and Bilbo’s impish quirks. Perhaps the most masterful moment of humour is found in the wordless interaction between Bilbo and Gandalf as the latter casually and irreverently pulls out the pipe weed for a post-battle smoke.

The Battle of Five Armies undeniably lives up to the epic grandeur of the Middle Earth saga. The immense entertainment value of the film is undisputable; it is a compelling story thrillingly adapted that still manages to find ways to surprise an audience that thinks they know it all because they already know how everything ends. With well-choreographed and impressively animated battle sequences, there are exquisite moments of awe and delight— Elves sail gracefully over Dwarves hunkered down for battle into a knot of oncoming Orcs and the Elven king Thranduil catches six Orcs by the horns of his elk stallion and decapitates them all in a single elegant stroke. You are constantly reminded that this is a film world built with the loving reverence of another fan—this is Jackson’s Middle Earth.

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Jackson ends an era with a significant bang, and it is with gratitude and with great sadness that this fan must reluctantly, in the words of Billy Boyd, bid Middle Earth’s cinematic representation “a very fond farewell.”

(For now.)

-Contributed by Emily Willan

Truth, Justice and the Kryptonian Way

Image from rogerebert.com
Image from rogerebert.com

“If Superman doesn’t kill, why would Zac k Snyder allow him to snap the neck of General Zod at the end of his film Man of Steel?” I asked myself at the end of the movie. What does it mean for Superman now that he will forever have the stain of death on his heart? He’s supposed to be a hero, not a murderer. However, this isn’t the first time Superman has gotten his hands dirty. Angry at Snyder’s ending, I went on a quest to find evidence supporting my argument that Superman doesn’t kill and that Snyder’s departure from the true Superman was detrimental to his development. But what I found was ComicBookMovie.com’s list of instances when Superman either indirectly or directly killed another. And it’s not a short list.

Internal conflict replaced my confusion. If Superman has killed in the past, why is his deadly act at the end of Man of Steel so shocking? He did it to protect innocent people from a villain after all.

As much as I wish I could ask Zack Snyder what his reasoning was, I’m left with my warring thoughts, trying to sort out if Superman really has a no-killing policy. The thought of our superhero killing others in the name of justice like military soldiers is slightly unfathomable. It would make him too…human.

The superhero that has dominated the DC Universe throughout the 21st century has been Batman, an ordinary human being who becomes a vigilante without powers. He’s got some really awesome toys, insane fighting abilities, and super smarts that make him a triple threat, but many admire him most for his relatability. Figuratively speaking, with an insane amount of money, intelligence, and intense combat skills, anyone can be Batman. Is anyone here able to become a Kryptonian with super speed, super strength, super flight, and other super abilities? No one?  Didn’t think so.

For the longest time, Superman has been seen as too perfect. The Man of Steel was at a level of perfection unattainable for regular people. Audiences were hungry for a hero they could relate with, and Batman became that hero. Superman didn’t understand the pain of humans because he always made the perfect, clean choice. Regular people hardly ever make a perfect, clean choice. He was a god , and we were subjects scrambling to match his impossible standard. Not many people look up to someone they see as looking down on them all the time.

So maybe Snyder’s fresh take on Superman was a marketing strategy to make him as popular as his darker contemporary. Many people thought he would turn into a Batman-esque figure with Christopher Nolan producing the film. However, Snyder explained in multiple interviews that he wanted his Superman to be relatable. He wanted this unattainable, god-like figure to become a man with extraordinary abilities. Killing Zod at the end of the movie was one way to accomplish this.

To fit into the world today, to be the relatable character Snyder wanted him to be, Superman needed to be lowered from his spotless godly throne. So, he violently killed Zod with his bare hands. Though it had to be done to save innocent lives, it most definitely wasn’t the perfect, clean choice we’ve grown so accustomed to with Superman. To be perfect is to be boring. To be broken because of a choice made for the common good of others is inspiring.

I’m not saying in any way that Superman is going to become like Batman, throwing people out of windows and yelling at criminals in a raspy voice. He still needs to be the hope that the “S” on his chest stands for, and he does that better without a dark costume and without a black mask. However, what Snyder has done is put Superman in a situation he couldn’t super speed, super strength or super whatever his way out of, making him a man who must kill to save others. He had to make a choice that took him off his throne and put him in the grey area, a color America is quite familiar with when it comes to ideas of national security and government protection.

The American way isn’t what it used to be, and as a reflection of America and her ideals, Superman must change. Zack Snyder has removed Superman’s god-like status and created a man-who-happens-to-be-made-out-of-steel (or Kryptonian DNA). However, Snyder’s Superman isn’t relatable to every individual citizen because not every individual citizen is murdering villains who attack innocent lives. Instead, Snyder made the man of Steel relatable to the nation he grew up in as a whole. Superman is the ultimate superhero, and America wants to be the ultimate super nation ready to come to the aid of oppressed countries and to fight the forces of evil from others. To do so, America and her heroic symbol have stepped into the grey, and accepted their duty to carry out the unthinkable to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American way.

God Bless America.

 -contributed by Camila Quinones