The Supervillain Soap Opera That Could Have Been

My nerdy interests include superhero TV and movies but not comics. I’m more interested in the ideas behind the characters than the specific stories that have been told about them. Movies and TV shows are free to tell their own stories.
This brings me to Marvel’s Runaways. It’s about some kids who find out their philanthropist parents are supervillains. When they witness their parents being evil, they also discover their “inheritances”: super powers, sci-fi gizmos, a magic wand, and a velociraptor. The kids run away from home but stick together to keep each other safe. They have to deal with people who assume they’re just as bad as their parents as well as the drama of being teenage superheroes.
The TV version, which recently finished its first season, changed a couple things from the comics. They made Molly, super-strong mutant, a little older, and they were scared to call her a mutant because Disney hadn’t bought Fox when the show was being written. Also, the Runaways don’t run away nearly as quickly. They “act normal” until they can get some answers and proof to give to the authorities.
I’m fine with the show not staying consistent with the comics because it stays pretty consistent with real life. The teenagers act like teenagers. I always find it fun to see people in TV shows acting like normal people, especially when they act very much not normal at other times.
Something I liked in particular: while the kids are acting normal, some of them get a little closer to their own parents, and each one wants to believe that their own parents aren’t so bad, but they still hate everyone else’s parents. At the same time, they all want the group to stay together because they all share this secret burden, but teenager drama sometimes gets in the way. It makes for very interesting character dynamics.
Some things I didn’t like: the great teenager plots make the parts about the adults kind of boring. It’s basically a soap opera about supervillains, which would be great if there wasn’t also a teenage superhero show going on.
Also, Gregg Sulkin’s acting is pretty good, but his natural accent poked through far too often. It’s ridiculous; they couldn’t say “one more take with an American accent this time”?
Oh, and there’s some gay too. Because of course there is. Throw another on the pile.

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Why Did Anakin Turn Evil?

I just saw a YouTube video called “The Case Against the Jedi,” which ranted that emotional detachment – apparently the core tenet of the Jedi Order – is the path to the Dark Side. Anakin is denied emotional support, so he is unprepared for one tragedy (his mom’s death) and goes down a very dark path in an attempt to prevent the emotional trauma of a second tragedy (his wife’s death).

I guess I agree that the Star Wars movies needlessly preach macho emotional detachment. But I can’t accept that burying emotions is the reason Anakin becomes Darth Vader. For one thing, Yoda’s teachings about emotions leading to bad things aren’t entirely wrong.
Yoda says, “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” That first step is specifically fear of loss, which suggests you have emotional attachments to people that you’re afraid to lose. To avoid that, the Jedi preach celibacy and detachment from family members. Yes, that part isn’t great here in the real world. But everything else in that “emotional domino effect” is kind of accurate. Fear, anger, and hatred are selfish. Evil is selfish. The connections aren’t hard to make.
Anakin tries to suppress his fear of losing his wife, as the Jedi teach. Then what happens? Does bottling up his emotions lead directly to murdering children and becoming a Sith Lord? No. The video is forgetting one important piece of Anakin’s story: the Evil Emperor’s temptation.
Darth Sidious represents the Dark Side. He goes to Anakin and tells him that the Jedi are wrong, and that there is a way to save the people he’s afraid to lose. All he has to do is murder some children and serve a new tyrannical government. Does this sound familiar to anyone? It should. The original Dark Side has been using pretty much the same temptation tactics since Genesis Chapter 3.
Consider how Christians would suggest dealing with fear of loss. We wouldn’t say “stop caring so much.” But we wouldn’t suggest looking to the Dark Side for power, either. We would say, “Have faith that God will take care of your loved ones, and don’t be afraid anymore. Fear and anger are signs of pride, thinking we know better than God, thinking we can protect our loved ones better than He can.”

Let’s Connect!
Twitter: @noahspud and @CorrelationBlog

Star Wars Episodes Ranked, Worst to Best (Noah’s List)

The Phantom Menace: I agree with the general consensus. Think about it this way: midichlorians replace faith in a higher power with a “natural explanation,” Darwin-style.

Attack of the Clones: Before watching this movie, I always assumed I’d get to see Yoda fighting an evil Yoda clone. Nope.  But hey, it also had shapeshifters. Maybe that’ll come up… Nope. It also had Anakin and Padme’s love story. If it wasn’t so cool-looking, this movie would be worse than Episode 1. But it does look really cool.

Revenge of the Sith: This is commonly considered the one “good” prequel movie, and I’m inclined to agree. It has General Grievous and Senator Palpatine and Darth Vader all being cool villains.

Return of the Jedi: The cast spends the first two thirds of this movie running around clearing up the muddled nonsense that padded the runtime of the last movie, all so they can go blow up the Death Star again. The Ewoks are this one’s only saving grace, and that’s up to debate. But to be fair, this one gets better if you pause after Episode 5 to watch Episodes 2 and 3.

The Last Jedi: This one’s like Return of the Jedi except in that one the characters and the plot make progress. As I’ve said before, Finn fails at everything he tries to do, but no one does much better. The only thing that makes this one better than the prequels is the cast of consistently good characters.

The Empire Strikes Back: This one’s commonly considered the best Star Wars movie. As Jubilee said in X-Men Apocalypse, “it’s the most complex, the most sophisticated, wasn’t afraid to have a dark ending.” The downside is if you already know the twists like Darth Vader’s secret and what Lando is up to, the “complexity” comes across as overly muddled nonsense padding the runtime. It lacks re-watch-ability.

A New Hope: The first Star Wars movie is probably the most iconic movie of all time. It’s not even “the movie of a generation” or whatever. It was the culmination of centuries of storytelling tropes embedded in our culture and it became the face of those tropes for decades to come. And it’s awesome.

The Force Awakens:  This one took the most iconic movie of all time and did it again, but differently. And JJ Abrams did it really well.

Isaac, what sayeth you?

Is Finn Secretly Terrible in Star Wars?

Let’s talk about that new Star Wars movie. Specifically, let’s talk about Finn.

Finn’s story is he was the dude who turned on the bad guys to join the good guys, right? Then you watch the Last Jedi and see the heroic male lead fail at everything he tries to do. He only remains relevant to the plot through dumb luck. You start to wonder if you were wrong about him.
Yeah, Finn’s story is actually about him being a coward. He didn’t fire on the village at the beginning of Episode VII, but not because he developed a conscience. It was because his comrade died in his arms and he was freaking out. He didn’t help Poe escape because it was the right thing to do. He did it because he needed a pilot who wouldn’t kill him for being a cowardly traitor. He originally wanted to get Poe’s soccer ball to its destination, but when he thought it was taken care of, he tried to cut and run. He really went to Starkiller Base because he had a crush on Daisy Ridley, and who doesn’t?
At the beginning of the Last Jedi, Finn is running away again. He says it’s to make sure Rey doesn’t track the wrist-beacon back to a space battle, but he only had that wrist-beacon because he happened to be standing nearby when *spoilers redacted.* When Rose Tico catches him, the only way to keep her from turning him in for traitorous cowardice is teaming up with her. He doesn’t do anything particularly heroic on that mission apart from getting into a fight with Captain Somehow Not Dead, which he barely survives.
John Boyega does a fantastic job. And it’s not like this is bad writing, because as I just demonstrated, Finn is a coward consistently. The only time he isn’t a coward is when he tries to fight Kylo Ren at the end of Episode VII. That could have been his heroic turning point, but when he got his rear end handed to him, he clearly decided not to be heroic anymore.
In Episode IX, either Finn will finally rise above his cowardice and do something heroic or he’ll actually succeed in running away. The theme of Episode VIII was showing how the Dark side and the Light side might not be much different, so we can’t be sure what he’ll choose.

Thoughts from My Bathroom Floor

So here’s how my holiday week went:
I got Turtles All the Way Down by John Green for Christmas. It’s just as good as I expected it to be.

This week I also finished the rough draft of a novelette I’ve been working on, and I announced that to my family at a Christmas party on Saturday.
At that Christmas party, I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me, because I spent Saturday night depositing everything I’d eaten in the toilet. The uncomfortable way.
Just when I thought I had gotten the whatever-it-was out of my system, I went to bed and promptly had a nightmare about the book I just finished writing. Then I was back in the bathroom.
While I was lying on the bathroom floor, I thought of Turtles All the Way Down. Aza, Green’s protagonist, contemplates the book Ulysses by James Joyce. There’s a scene in that book where someone says “Jamesy let me up out of this,” as if the character realizes they’re fictional and doesn’t like this plot. At a couple points, Aza begs with the unknown entity she’s convinced is running her life (she has some kind of OCD-anxiety mental illness) to stop putting her through this plot. That night, I was having similar thoughts related to the ever-tightening nightmare-toilet-unpleasant sleep-toilet spiral.
That made me think of a book called Truest by Jackie Lea Sommers. The book is inspired by John Green’s work; the main difference is Sommers’ characters look to Christianity for answers to the tough questions in their lives. At one point, a character in Truest who’s also struggling with the ultimate question of “what’s real” says, “What if we’re all characters in a book? That would make the author God.”
It makes me wonder why John Green, who reportedly believes in God, hardly ever writes his characters turning to God for answers. Aza repeatedly refers to her grandmother’s Christian beliefs. But even at her lowest point when she says “let me up out of this,” she apparently doesn’t even consider putting that question to God.
Anyway, on the bathroom floor, I asked God to calm my stomach and my nerves, and then a voice in my head said “in through the nose, out through the mouth, nice and slow.” I did that, and I got better.
Happy 2018, folks. Your now is not your forever.

Did any of you have deep thoughts over the holidays?
Let’s Connect!
Twitter: @noahspud and @CorrelationBlog

And a Happy New Doctor

Merry Christmas! Let’s talk about Doctor Who.
Spoiler-Free Synopsis of Doctor Who’s 2017 Christmas Special, “Twice upon a Time”:
The Twelfth Doctor is trying not to regenerate. The First Doctor is also trying not to regenerate. When they bump into each other, they find a World War One soldier who’s been abducted at the moment of his death. While investigating, they find someone who looks remarkably like Bill Potts and the infamous Dalek with a Conscience from Season 9.
Also, it’s Christmas.

As I made clear in my reviews of Season Ten, I’m a big fan of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Nine was My Doctor, but Capaldi (combined with Moffat’s writing, whether we admit it or not) provided the best portrayal of the character in the show’s history. And we got to see plenty of him, rather than losing him after only one season, so I was okay with letting him go.
This episode was also Moffat’s departure as head honcho. Amazingly, he didn’t have any dangling plot lines he needed to take care of. He was able to tell a simple little story about a man who’s been dealing with pretty much the same problems for over 50 years and 700 episodes. Rather than saving the whole universe, the Doctor was just trying to pull off one Christmas miracle for one guy. And he was also dealing with personal problems, as only a time-travelling, regenerating alien can.
The Doctor’s origin has been retold and re-imagined plenty of times before, and it will be re-done plenty more times. I liked the version they told here. “There is good and there is evil,” the First Doctor said. “Evil should prevail, because good requires loyalty and self-sacrifice and love.” He left Gallifrey to find out why the universe hadn’t collapsed on itself. And of course he never really found the answer.
The other thing I noticed was the First Doctor being a sexist prick. At first I thought it didn’t make sense, but then I remembered how he married an Aztec woman just to get what he wanted and then ran off. Yeah, that’s in character. And I’m pretty sure it was the Twelfth Doctor’s subconscious motivation for turning into a woman.
No Christian-compatible moral that I could see. I’m debating about whether I’ll want to write about next season, but let’s face it. I always want to talk about Doctor Who.

Disney Princesses: A Public Service Announcement

In case you missed the news, Disney bought Fox. With their other conquests such as Marvel, Star Wars, and Lego, Disney now owns over one fourth of the cinematic property in the USA. This means, among other things, Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to get pretty interesting. Also, people have been popping up in social media talking about characters who are now Disney Princesses.
I’m the pedantic kind of nerd, so I’m going to clear a couple things up.
Go watch the Super Carlin Brothers on YouTube for details, but basically there are a bunch of rules for determining who gets to be a Disney Princess.
1) She must be human. This disqualifies that blue alien princess from Avatar.
2) She must not have been introduced in a sequel. This disqualifies Alvin and the Chipmunks’ female counterparts and Amelia Earhart from Night at the Museum 2.
3) She must meet at least one of the following: born royal, married royal, or performed an act of heroism. Rose from Titanic wasn’t royalty, and she sure didn’t save any lives that I can think of.
4) Her movie must have the right amount of box office success. Buttercup from The Princess Bride probably wouldn’t count either because her movie was a cult classic on home video, not in theaters.
5) She must have an animal sidekick. This is the least official of the rules because it comes from Maui, Shapeshifter, Demigod of the Wind and Sea, Hero of Men and Women. But it does disqualify a whole lot of characters, unless you count droids as animal sidekicks.
6) None of this counts unless Disney officially recognizes a character as a Disney Princess, so random people on social media shouldn’t jump the gun.
7) I saved this one for last but it’s considered near the beginning: she must be in an animated movie. Giselle from Enchanted and Leia aren’t Disney Princesses because any actresses who portray them at Disney theme parks won’t be enough like Amy Adams or Carrie Fisher. This also disqualifies Storm, River Tam, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no matter how great those characters would be as role models.

The moral of the story is: don’t get your role models exclusively from franchises. Use your own criteria.