Yesterday in Geek-dom: The Defenders

Daredevil Season 1 was a little better than Jessica Jones, which was better than Luke Cage, which was better than the mess that was Daredevil Season 2, which was still a little bit better than Iron Fist. In other words, Marvel/Netflix’s shows have been going downhill. So how did the culmination of it all turn out?

Short answer: it was good. It didn’t have the mercurial characters of Iron Fist or the in-your-face black stereotypes of Luke Cage or the overwhelming mix of plotlines from Daredevil Season 2. And Jessica Jones was in it. Jessica Jones makes everything better.
When the evil organization known as the Hand puts all of New York in danger, almost everyone from the four previous shows crosses paths. The heroes find themselves fighting the same war so they (somewhat begrudgingly) team up.
Unlike the Avengers, no one recruits the Defenders. Matt’s old mentor, Stick, shows up for exposition and stuff, but even he points out that the four heroes coming together wasn’t chance. Danny Rand probably thinks it’s his spirit-dragons. For Matt, it’s God. It’s only mentioned once, but I liked it.
There are other differences between the Defenders and the Avengers. If Tony Stark and his government-sanctioned superheroes were called in for this crisis, they would have caused an awful lot of collateral damage. Plus, they most likely would have gotten there too late. That’s why they’re called the Avengers. The Defenders live at ground level with the mere mortals (even boy-billionaire Danny Rand), so they can see the dangers coming and deal with them.
Also: this show addressed the “about racism” thing that Luke Cage danced around. Luke put it pretty straight: Danny is a rich white dude who could do so much good for the world without using his glowing fist. Brief but effective.
This show does diversity pretty well without shoving it in our faces. Various ethnicities, check. Woman getting over depression-like symptoms and abuse, check. Disabled person (officially anyway), check. Then there’s also a rich white hero and a rich white villain, so it’s not just a bunch of diversity for the sake of diversity.
One Issue: I see no chemistry between Daredevil and Elektra. Charlie Cox is great; Elektra is a good character. They just don’t fit together well on this show.
Final Verdict: Third Best Marvel/Netflix show. Definitely worth watching.

This Fall in Geek-dom: Teen Wolf

Because I’m a writer at heart, I can’t help but notice trends and similarities in TV shows. You remember how the third season of iZombie was about regular people learning zombies exist? It seems something similar is happening this season on Teen Wolf. Not the Michael J. Fox movie. I’m talking about the MTV series that’s currently on its last ten episodes. Fans are sad to see the show go, but at least it’s getting time to wrap up the story in a satisfying way.
That story is about Scott McCall, a teenage werewolf who has achieved “true alpha” status. I know, it sounds like a Boy Scout rank. It means Scott became an alpha werewolf without killing another alpha, which is what you normally need to do. Long story short, it was a cop-out, but it’s worked out for him so far.

After all, Scott’s pack is full of misfits. He has one werewolf with anger management issues, another who used to be an undead were-jaguar, one were-coyote who’s spent most of her life in animal form, and a couple regular humans who have spent time as evil monsters.
The point is there are a ton of interesting stories revolving around these characters. But the people of Beacon Hills (the town in the show) don’t know those stories. All they’re likely to see are the glowing eyes, claws, sharp teeth, and extra-long sideburns. And according to the trailers and the hints dropped in the show, the truth will be coming out soon. And there will be war.
This works on so many levels. Hunters were the big threat when the show started. Then the pack moved on to bigger threats like witches, ninjas, steampunk Frankenstein, and cowboys borrowing plot ideas from Steven Moffat. Now the show is kind of going back to basics with “werewolves versus normal people”, but also introducing the biggest threat yet. Because even if the heroes win, that means humanity will have to lose.
Werewolves work as a great metaphor for puberty and the responsibilities of growing up, but on the other side of the coin we fear them because they’re terrible predators that usually look just like us. Getting past this isn’t as simple as accepting people who are different, like in iZombie. It takes a stronger love, the kind that’s portrayed in Teen Wolf pretty well.

The End Comes… Down a Video Phone

Black Mirror is…I guess a good term would be “psychological horror.” There aren’t always monsters, and people don’t always die. But it’s usually creepy as all get out and there’s almost never a happy ending.

The show is about the various ways technology can ruin lives. Some episodes are set in the not-too-distant future: hackers use drones and webcams to cause trouble, or a guy gets stuck in virtual reality horror game. Other episodes happen in high-tech dystopias, like the world where social media likes and dislikes are the only currency.
I need to be vague so I don’t spoil anything…but then again, I’m not eagerly recommending this show. Unlike the scary Doctor Who episodes or those post-apocalyptic stories I like so much, Black Mirror has no discernible morals. It’s always “cynicism beats optimism.” The creator of the show even admitted, “We throw you into a pit of despair and then pee on you, because people seem to like that.”
It’s true. People seem to like the realistic outlook of science fiction like this, even if it’s a pessimistic outlook. But Black Mirror gets really, really pessimistic. Fans admit that it makes them sick to their stomach, but they still enjoy it. It’s kind of like how nerds enjoy the feeling of getting punched in the soul. But worse. It’s very possible for people to go overboard by forgetting the Hope that still remains even as the world is falling apart. So viewer discretion is very much advised.

I did say “usually creepy” and “almost never a happy ending.” The one notable exception is “San Junipero.”
This episode is about the Matrix, except people log on willingly because it’s a fun vacation spot where they can look however they like. When they die, their minds can be uploaded permanently, so it’s basically heaven on Earth. But if your girlfriend is dying of cancer and she would prefer to stay dead, things can get complicated.
Of course, if you’re a girl as well, you’ll be fine. All the “best” stories let the gay people have their happy ending. Even one where 90% of the main characters get terrible endings.
See, in this case, I’m not just disagreeing with the gay romance on a Christian basis. As a nerd, I dislike “San Junipero” because it’s too happy to be Black Mirror. And that says something about the rest of the show.

Angels in Spiffy Tuxedos: A Movie Review

I’d like to submit another entry for “angels portrayed in media.” It’s a movie from several years ago called The Adjustment Bureau. These guys don’t call themselves angels and they don’t specifically say that they work for God, but we’re meant to assume that religions and mythologies throughout history have been referring to these guys in nice suits and spiffy hats, including Anthony “Falcon” Mackie and Terrence Stamp.
This movie is a mashup of Men in Black and that Sliding Doors movie. The tuxedo guys can predict the future with uncanny accuracy and Make Things Happen from small things that could be mistaken for chance to bigger things like changing how people reason or erasing their personality – anything that helps them keep humanity on track according to the Chairman’s Master Plan.
The Plan involves Matt Damon winning a bunch of elections. It doesn’t involve him falling in love with Emily Blunt. But Damon is very good at one thing: changing his mind at the last second and doing something stupid. This makes him the Adjustment Bureau’s greatest enemy.
But to be clear, Matt Damon is portrayed as the hero, trying to fight so-called destiny and be with his dream girl. Terrence Stamp and his spiffy hat-wearing friends are the bad guys. Meaning, by extension, the Chairman (God) and his Master Plan must be bad. It’s Supernatural all over again.
But the Adjustment Bureau is a good movie, in general. It’s about chance encounters and genuine human interactions. It’s well-acted and it flows nicely.

*Spoilers Ahead.* If I’ve piqued your interest, go watch the movie, then come back. If you don’t mind, just keep reading. Ready? Here we go.

From a nerd perspective, the third act is the movie’s downfall. Mackie shows Damon behind the Men in Gray’s curtain. The explanation of how things work seemed needlessly confusing and I found it boring. The movie might have been better if they kept the truth shrouded in mystery.
But then the very end of the movie makes it a bit better from a Christian perspective. It turns out Damon is so good at going outside the Master Plan that the Chairman is willing to change destiny-as-written for him and his dream girl. The “Chairman” changed his mind a few times in the Bible, too. So maybe this movie isn’t so blasphemous after all.
Final Verdict: 7.5/10; well-acted, good concepts, shaky ending

This Week in Geek-dom: The 13th Doctor Is…

I know I just finished talking about Doctor Who Season 10 a couple weeks ago, but this week the Internet exploded with the news of who’s playing the next Doctor. There was then a second explosion: the debate over whether the Doctor should be played by a woman.

When Tilda Swinton played the Ancient One in Dr. Strange, the main problem was with her skin tone, not her gender. But it matters to people that the Doctor is supposed to be a dude. What’s the difference here?
As far as I can tell, it was okay for the Ancient One to be a girl because even when he was a guy he didn’t have a romance with anyone. The Doctor has only had romance in recent years; he behaved as aromantic and asexual for at least 33 years. Based on the majority of the evidence, then, the Doctor’s gender shouldn’t enter into the equation.

In-universe, the show has been building up to this for a while. The Master turned female. The Time Lord General on Gallifrey went “back to normal” by turning female. The Doctor even mentioned once or twice that turning female wouldn’t be so bad.
But here’s the big one. People think the show is making the Doctor female just to pander to the “feminists” and anyone who writes fanfiction about a female Doctor. I honestly can’t disagree with this point. Whether the writers will admit it or not, being “inclusive” for the sake of being inclusive is a driving force behind almost every piece of modern media that’s not headed by a staunch Christian.

On the other hand… one second (quick IMDB search).
Chris Chibnall will be the show’s head honcho after Moffat is gone. Chibnall also wrote “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” and “The Power of Three.” Those episodes introduced us to Queen Nefertiti and UNIT Director Kate Stewart. They’re not terrible female characters, compared to the women that Moffat’s been writing about (River Flipping Song, for example). It makes me think this female Doctor will be a good character, is what I’m saying.
I’ve seen Jodie Whitaker (that’s the actress, spoilers) in one other thing that I can think of, and I can’t complain about her acting. So even if it’s pandering, it will be quality pandering, I guess.
In summary: cautiously optimistic, but haters gonna hate.

Last Week in Geek-dom: Spiderman 6 – Return of the Reboot

Spiderman: Homecoming was awesome. I loved it.

The movie was two hours long, but every scene was fun and engaging. A big part of this was not including an origin story. No living spiders, only mechanical; no mention of Uncle Ben, only young, pretty, and cool Aunt May; no pearl necklace clattering to the ground – sorry, wrong franchise. And no “with great power comes great responsibility.” Marvel expects the viewers to know Spiderman’s origin by now, so they jump us right into the action.
Rather than an origin, this is a coming-of-age story. It’s less than a year after Peter Parker started his vigilante career and a couple months after Tony Stark gave him a cool suit. Peter is still very much a kid. This is illustrated by a) the genuinely portrayed high school setting, b) the excellent performances of Tom Holland, Zendaya, and everyone else, and c) the fact that Peter is still really bad at being a superhero.
This isn’t just Iron Man crashing into a parked car after his First Flight or Thor getting backhanded by a fire-breathing metal giant. Spiderman spends most of the movie screwing up and causing collateral damage, from drainpipes to smacking the wrong guy in the forehead to…well, if you’ve seen the trailers you have some idea.
Any superhero antics are going to involve collateral damage, but in this movie it’s framed as Spiderman’s fault in particular. This emphasizes Tony Stark’s point that Spidey should stick to his friendly neighborhood.
Okay, let’s talk about Tony Stark. If you’re going to include Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, doing it by way of Tony Stark is…well, true to comic book canon. But for the first half of the movie, Tony makes it clear that he considers Spiderman an asset and an ally. Then, seemingly out of the blue, he starts acting like he considers himself Peter’s surrogate dad, or at least his mentor. Unlike GotG Vol. 2 (see Isaac’s post), this time it doesn’t work. It should have worked; it would have been a nice touch. But I don’t think it did.
On the other hand… I say Spiderman is bad at being a superhero, but there are some parts he’s good at. He has the classic Spiderman wit (“Yoink!”) and the stubborn determination, for worse or better. And like OG Spiderman, he’s wonderfully relatable.
10/10, would recommend, will watch again.

The Tricky Thing about Polytheism

Last time I mentioned Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, I said that it contained wise insights about faith and metaphysics if they’re kept in context. That was weeks ago, before I had seen the episode about Jesus. I think the topic bears revisiting.
In the Gaiman-verse, there’s more than one Jesus. There’s only one Son of God, but he has at least a dozen individual bodies. Each manifestation is a different ethnicity. Mr. Wednesday’s explanation is, “There’s a lot of need for Jesus, so there’s a lot of Jesus.”

See, most of the others gods on the show manifest as a nationality that matches the majority of their followers. Jesus came to save all of humanity, so the show suggests that he looks like all of humanity simultaneously. That’s theologically incorrect, but I still like what the show does with the Jesi.
Traditional-looking Jesus talks to Shadow, the protagonist, and in that conversation he is portrayed differently than any other god. He’s not lording over the mere mortals, but he doesn’t act like a weird foreigner either. He casually sits on the surface of a swimming pool, and he calmly and sagely helps Shadow through a personal struggle. I enjoyed that scene.
At one point, Mr. Wednesday points out that Jesus replaced the pagan gods that used to dominate Saturnalia and the Spring Equinox Festival (which actually exist in this universe), and Jesus acts like he didn’t realize that. And he acts guilty about it. And he doesn’t seem to recognize what guilt is, as if he’d never felt that feeling before.

Ummmm…

An incarnation of Jesus would be capable of guilt, like any human. And if it ever happened, it would be a new experience for him. And in a universe where there are multiple gods that spend most of their time competing with each other for dominance, that’s what the Jesus situation would look like. So it makes sense in the fictional context.

The same episode also features this conversation: “So he messed with me just to mess with me?”
“What do you think gods do?”
That’s the other thing about a world like the Gaiman-verse. Making multiple quasi-deities means omnipotence must be divided among them, and that means some of them are going to do questionable things just because they have the power. I appreciate how this show pointed that out.

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