Posts Tagged ‘dystopia’

Before we start, I’m telling you now that there will be spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road. You’ve been warned. Proceed.

Like a massive amount of people this weekend, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller’s return to the Mad Max franchise thirty years after the last installment, Beyond Thunderdome (1985). How was it? So good, guys. So very good. You should all go see it so we can all incessantly talk about how perfect of an action movie it is and how George vhs-mad-max-fury-road1Miller should be given back the reigns to the scrapped Justice League movie from 2007. Tom Hardy does an admirable job taking over the role of Max from Mel Gibson, but what everyone’s been really talking about isn’t the titular character but the real hero of the movie, Furiosa, played fantastically by Charlize Theron. Though Max finds himself in the middle of a long drive down an endless, unforgiving road the movie is really about Furiosa and her search for redemption as she tries to smuggle the brides of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) back to the idyllic home from which she was stolen as a child. It would be very easy to launch into a review of the movie, but I think the phrase “GO SEE IT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT’S SO GOOD!!” is sufficient enough. Instead, I wanted to talk about Furiosa and her namesakes, the Furies – primordial deities of Ancient Greece who punished people for insolence, oath-breaking, unjustified murder, and anything else that might be construed as destruction of the natural order.

Descriptions of the Furies, or the Erinyes, often relegate them to a triptych of goddesses with interchangeable features like snakes for hair (not to be confused with the Gorgons), dog’s heads, bat’s wings, bloodshot eyes, and coal black bodies. It’s really more up to the author in question. Even the tri-goddess motif is subject to authorial whim since the Ancient Greeks didn’t exactly have a set number of cthonic revenge deities. We mostly have Virgil and Dante to thank for the three named Furies, Alecto (“unceasing”), Megaera (“grudging”), and Tisiphone (“vengeful destruction”). The triptych also works on a thematic level with other triple goddess groups such as the Fates, the erinyesCharities or Graces, and the Muses; there were originally only three Muses, but more were added. Still, nine muses fits with the “Power of Three” theme that’s carried over into modern day Pagan and Wicca practices and their pop culture equivalents like The Craft (1996) and Charmed (1998-2006). Fun fact: Charmed had an episode where the sisters were turned into the Furies (“Hell Hath No Fury”). But then again, they were turned into just about everything, so make of that what you will.

The Furies have actually made a fair number of appearances, and honorable mentions, in television, movies, and literature. As a trio, Xena: Warrior Princess used them in a handful of episodes, mainly as combatant figures sent by other gods to mete out punishment; they were also the main antagonists in the video game God of War: Ascension. As far as inspiration goes the Female Furies of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World were the ruthless bodyguards of the god-like despot Darkseid – and formerly led by one of my favorite heroines, Big Barda; and Barbara Stanwyck starred in the gripping Western, The Furies (1950), about a woman who cunningly gets hold of her family’s ranch after her father disowns her. The commonality of women in the position of protagonist and antagonist, sometimes Female_Furies_001concurrently, could be interpreted as harkening back to the idea that the Furies themselves were not necessarily malicious deities. Depending on your perspective they were either dispensing justice or executing unfair punishment. Or it’s just a happy accident.

The use of the word “fury” has had a long tradition of use in popular culture as well. Mad Max: Fury Road notwithstanding, we’ve also seen the rise, fall, and rise again of the Fast and the Furious franchise with the latest installment, Furious 7, giving the biggest finger to the laws of physics for the sake of pure entertainment that ever was given. If we go back a little further, William Faulkner’s 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury has been a staple of American literature classes for decades, the novel’s title coming from a soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth wherein “the sound and the fury” is our need for significance in a meaningless existence. Indeed, the use of “furious” and “fury” in a modern day setting has been more closely associated with anger whereas the Furies depicted in the plays of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, and the poetry of Virgil and Dante were more concerned with “fury” as an extension of justice.

In Mad Max: Fury Road we get an amalgamation of these varied depictions. For starters, the second half of the title reveals not just where most of the action takes place, but it also indicates that Max isn’t the singular hero of the film. If anything, Max is just the means to an end for us so we can meet Theron’s Furiosa. It can’t just be coincidence that the leading woman is named Furiosa and she’s driving a war rig across Fury Road. If Miller and co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris had wanted to be subtle (they didn’t), then there were better ways to go about it. FURY ROADFuriosa fits the duel role of protagonist and antagonist, a badass driver looking for redemption by saving a group of women and a foil for Max, in the beginning, who will do anything to survive. More to the point, Furiosa is the one to enact punishment and get revenge on Immortan Joe. As the supposed main character, Max has little to do with Joe’s demise. If he did, it wouldn’t make sense. After the brides, Furiosa has the most dramatic and narratively satisfying resolution in killing him and bringing down his tyrannical regime. If Max were the one to do so, then it wouldn’t ring true.

The culmination of Furiosa’s efforts to get the brides to her childhood home, however, unwittingly results in the creation of another form of the triple goddess motif, the maiden-mother-crone. Reunited with the remaining members of her people, all of whom are women, Furiosa becomes the “Mother” figure, the woman of middle age to the “Maiden” brides and the older “Crones” of her former home. Again, this may not have been the intention, but it sits there and whether you realize it or not you’re watching three generations of women fighting back in order to survive. Yes, Max is there and helps facilitate the plan to take on Joe and his army, but the heavy lifting is done as much, if not more so, by Furiosa, the brides, and the clans-women. Oh, and Nux (Nicholas Hoult) is there too.

There is so much to love about Mad Max: Fury Road. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa kicks all kinds of ass, even with one arm, and Tom Hardy looks like he’ll have no problems picking up the reins of the franchise. George Miller is so on point with a frenetic, fast paced, and gorgeously realized dystopian world gone mad but he also succeeds in giving us a cast of characters capable of meeting and exceeding that madness. It’s beneath the surface, however, that we see Fury Road‘s place in the long tradition of women looking for justice and my God is it glorious. Well done, Mad Max. Well done.

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Okay, we’re gonna go about things a little differently here. Since I’ve decided to strike out on my own – updates forthcoming – I don’t necessarily have the time or the funds to read every comic and write the fairly long, detail-oriented reviews I did in the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shirking my analytical duties of reviewing comic books. It just means these reviews are going to be much shorter.

What’s the approach? Your standard pull list of comics for the week and my thoughts on why you should read them with a specific Spotlight position set aside for what I think was a standout issue. There’s also room for highlighting new books from smaller publishers or collected graphic novels and such. Pretty much whatever I think is worth your time, which means – obviously – that this will be heavily biased to my tastes. In all likelihood, some of you may or may not agree with my picks and that’s fine. If anything, it leaves us open for discussion about what you think were the best books of the week and to make recommendations of your own.

Sound good?

I’ll take your silence as a sign of agreement. To the list!

 

C.O.W.L. #5 – Image Comics

COWL_05-1Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel with Art by Rod Reis, the first arc of the series comes to a close with the dissolution of C.O.W.L. Or does it? Higgins, Siegel, and Reis started their story of the first labor union for superheroes at the beginning of the end, but everyone knows that the end is only the beginning. In tumultuous post-WWII, Cold War era Chicago tensions have finally escalated to the point of strikes and rioting with the city content to wash its hands clean of C.O.W.L. Not that the heroes are too broken up about it, at least most of them. While the world of C.O.W.L. has been slowly built within the era of equal rights, paranoia, and disillusionment, one man’s story has been cutting through the narrative: Geoffrey Warner, C.O.W.L.’s Chief formerly known as The Grey Raven. From the beginning of the book, Geoffrey has been trying every tactic possible to keep C.O.W.L. alive only to see it crumble before his eyes. It’s his desperation that makes his actions at the end of the issue – the last panel in fact – all the more shocking. Does Chicago need heroes? Geoffrey thinks it does and he’s willing to do anything to prove how necessary C.O.W.L. is to the Chicago, if not the world.

 

Low #3 – Image Comics

low03_coverWritten by Rick Remender with Art by Greg Tocchini, Low #3 is a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing images and ideas set against what is ostensibly the end of the human race. While most of the people inhabiting the undersea city of Salus are set on counting down the days until they’re done for, Stel Caine holds on to the hope that humanity can be saved. The appearance of a long forgotten probe that may have found a planet suitable for human habitation prompts her to confront the decadent and corrupt councilmen who, like most people, see Stel’s optimism as some sort of disease. No one believes this more than her son Marik who, after being arrested for corruption and the death of a hooker, tries to kill himself because he can’t imagine his life could get any lower. Luckily, Stel manages to save him, which is debatable if you’re Marik, and takes him with her to find the probe. The issue mostly consists of a huge argument between Stel and Marik, a mother and son who’ve both experienced tremendous loss and have dealt with it in very different ways. But in this issue, there’s finally some catharsis and Tocchini’s art gorgeously captures the beauty and wonder of the ocean that Marik sees for the first time.

 

Wayward #2 – Image Comics

Wayward_02-1Written by Jim Zub with Art by Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Zub, Rori’s fresh start in Japan hasn’t exactly gone very smooth. What with the pressures of being in a new city, reconnecting with your mother, discovering you have strange powers that allow you to see monsters and getting saved by a cat-person – wait, what? Seriously, the worst thing that could happen after that is starting at a new school where you’re treated like an idiot and judged for your appearance while trying not to be a burden to the one parent you don’t want to hate you. Which is why that’s exactly what happens. Though I’ve never been to school in Japan, Zub finds a way to make Rori’s circumstances relatable despite the cultural shift. We can all sympathize with feeling like an outcast or a loner as well as the intense pressure that comes with being a student. Heighten that with the intense nature of Japanese schools and we see just how stressful Rori’s world has become. How she copes with that stress, however, left me gasping out loud. The art continues to be a lush and vibrant world of anime and manga influences. Even in the darkest settings, the colors still pop off the page as Rori tries to make sense and connect the dots especially when it comes to one of her new schoolmates.

 

Storm #3 – Marvel Comics

Storm-003Written by Greg Pak with Art by Matteo Buffagni, Storm’s solo book is only three issues in and, on the surface, the stories feel like vignettes in Ororo Munroe’s life between the myriad events going on in the X-Men universe. But what Greg Pak has been doing is taking the reader back to her roots, showcasing exactly what makes the former goddess and Queen of Wakanda tick, which inevitably leads her back to Africa; specifically Kenya where she was once worshipped because of her powers over the weather. After meeting the locals, she also finds herself confronted with another part of her past when Forge is revealed to be the one behind bringing her back so he can create a method of weather control so the local villagers can grow their crops. Unfortunately, Forge’s machine is too unstable and the leader of the village is a little too eager to harness the power of a god. Through the lessons she learned from being falsely worshipped as well as her time being de-powered and betrayed, Storm shows what makes her a true leader as she shows the wisdom necessary to strike a balance between Forge and the village. Neither are ready to move on, so she makes sure they find a way to do so together.

 

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5-6 – DC Comics

sensation5Written by Ivan Cohen with Art by Marcus To these two chapters serve as a full story that sees Diana’s belief in the gods challenged when she supposedly loses her powers. The writers and artists involved with Sensation Comics have been doing a stellar job of showcasing the various aspects of Wonder Woman and Ivan Cohen pushes the concept of belief into the forefront. Diana is a paragon of justice, truth, honor, and compassion, but even in this day and age her origins involving the Greek pantheon give people pause when she’s also wrapped up in the stars and stripes. The brilliance of this story, however, is Diana’s cleverness in sussing out who the true villain is and besting him through the sheer force of belief in one thing and one thing alone: herself. Without that she’s nothing and it makes all the difference.

 

Spotlight: Saga #23 – Image Comics

Saga23OneAs if there was any doubt! Saga is an ongoing emotional roller coaster and, as always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to pull the rug out from under the reader. The penultimate issue of the current arc finds Marko nearly giving into his feelings for Ginny after Alana kicked him out and Alana continuing to turn to drugs to cope with how miserable she is, but our favorite married couple find that even the greatest temptations can’t completely pull them away from each other. Oddly enough, it isn’t the calming and placating platitudes from Ginny to Marko or the story of lost love from Izabel to Alana that snaps everything into place, it’s Hazel’s toy Ponk Konk. Marko knows how much his daughter loves the toy and it spurs him to return to his home. Alana, on the other hand, sees how much she’s been missing out on by working the Open Circuit and getting high while Marko practically raises their daughter without her. Unfortunately, Dengo and the princeling show up before the family can reunite, fulfilling Hazel’s earlier statement that this is indeed the story of how her parents split up when Alana activates their rocket ship tree to blastoff, leaving the planet and Marko behind as a means of stopping Dengo. At the issue’s end, Marko is stranded, unable to reach his family, but he’s not the only father desperate to get to his family.

 

So those are my picks for the week. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what comics you’d highlight, either as regular pulls or new comics people should check out.

hunger_games_catching_fire_posterTrilogies are the equivalent of the three-act structure of any movie. The first movie is the set up, the second movie ups the stakes, and the third movie brings it all to a close. Of course there’s plenty of action, exposition, and world-building thrown in there at various points, but you get the idea. With this mind-set in tact, the second movie of a trilogy is usually the hardest to do since it’s the bridge between the almost simplistic set-up of the first movie and the, hopefully, more complex conclusion. It’s about keying up the protagonists for a cause they’re willing to fight for because there are stakes involved that have world-shattering and personal consequences.

In this case, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, directed by Francis Lawrence, benefits immensely from the missteps of the first movie to make a tightly packaged and mostly solid film. Everything’s bigger in this movie because the narrative demands it, which is why we get a greater production value, bigger sets, better special effects, and a stronger sense of who Katniss is and how her participation in the Hunger Games has affected her and affected Panem. To sum up the plot in a nutshell: After Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) defied the games and came out as dual winners, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees her as a threat to the power of The Capitol over the 12 Districts of Panem. While on a victory tour of the districts, Katniss and Peeta begin to see the results of their defiance as people from the various districts start to rise up and fight back against the power of The Capitol. Given an opportunity to squash the rebellious spirit she ignited, for the 75th Hunger Games, also called a Quarter Quell, Snow arranges for the game’s participants to be chosen from former winners. When Katniss and Peeta are chosen again, they need to figure out who to trust and how to survive even as their complicated relationship becomes more complicated.

The girl on fireThat’s about as basic as I can get, but trust me when I say there’s so much more going on in Catching Fire and none of it feels out of place or unearned. Catching Fire is about the aftermath of a defiant act and its impact, but it’s also about positioning Katniss into the role of a willing revolutionary. The games don’t even factor into the movie until the midpoint because, really, the games aren’t as important to the narrative as they are a plot device to motivate Katniss. Before the games, she’s still trying to deal with the post-traumatic stress of “winning” the games. She can’t hunt without seeing hallucinations of the people she killed and she wakes up screaming from terrible nightmares. Her relationships with Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are strained because of what she did during the games, and everything she’s done up to this point has been about keeping her mother and her sister Prim (Willow Shields) safe. A visit from President Snow before the victory tour, threatening her family and blackmailing her, only amps up the tension and the pressure Katniss is under. She doesn’t want to be a hero or an example, but because of the nature of The Capitol and its obsession with power and image, Katniss has become a reluctant symbol of revolution. When she doesn’t act, people get hurt, and when she does act, people get hurt. There’s no middle ground for her anymore, so she has to choose a side and by the end of the movie, when they cut away from her, we as an audience know exactly what Katniss has decided.

The cast is just amazing this time around. Jennifer Lawrence, once again, makes Katniss the coldest and most vulnerable character without forcing the emotions. Katniss is such an interesting protagonist because she doesn’t see anything she does as revolutionary or special. She does what she has to do to survive, reserving what little capacity she has to care for a spare amount of people. She can’t concern herself with the bigger picture because it doesn’t mean anything to her and Lawrence does a fantastic job of showing how reserved she is and the slow burn of her emotional state changing over time. Josh Hutcherson finally gets a fair shake in this as Peeta’s allowed to be more than just dead weight. He’s not just the lovesick puppy of the first movie, he understands the political and image-conscious side of the games more than Katniss and he tries to protect her as much as she protects him. The script also allows for a more nuanced exploration of their friendship/romance, making it easier to see why Katniss would really start to fall for him. Donald Sutherland’s President Snow is the only other major player in the movie and he’s suitably creepy while simultaneously displaying a charming facade. He’s so invested in what Katniss could become that he doesn’t see what he’s making her become until it’s too late and Sutherland does a wonderful job of maintaining that restrained menace.ID_D35_14123.dng

The supporting cast gives it their all even if their time is sparse. Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch has returned to his alcoholic, yet still knowledgeable and caring ways while Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket finally comes around as more than just a typical representative of The Capitol. When she tries to express herself and breaks down at the thought of what Katniss and Peeta are being forced to do, she wins you over entirely. Lenny Kravitz returns as Cinna and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, bringing the right amount of subdued cool and over-the-top excitement respectively. Added to the cast are Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, and Sam Clafin as Finnick Odair, a former winner of the games and possible ally. Hoffman is especially commendable for his performance. He’s unassuming in a way that makes you feel like you know who he is from the get-go right before he pulls a one-eighty and reveals his true colors. Filling out the cast are Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, and Jenna Malone as former winners out to help Katniss survive and fight back. If there’s one weak link, it’s probably Liam Hemsworth’s Gale. He doesn’t do much other than talk about fighting back and taking up space as the third member of a love triangle. Hopefully he’ll have more to do in the split Mockingjay movies.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of those rare instances where the sequel outshines its predecessor, but a lot of that has to do with the actual success of The Hunger Games. Thankfully, Catching Fire learned from what didn’t work before and made the proper improvements. There’s less shaky cam, the effects are almost seamless, and there are some genuinely exciting and heart-wrenching moments. The only big gripe I’d really have is with the final reveal at the end, but you can make a case for a lot of the reasons why things happened the way they did. It just seems a bit farfetched, but you’ll have to be the judge on that when you see it for yourself.