Jennifer Hayden is a middle-aged New Jerseyan, telling stories here about her growing kids and family life — so why did it take me so long to get to a 2011 book so close to my own life and experience? (I’m generally all over that stuff: don’t we all love to be validated by art that reflects the way we see the world?)
Well, I did see her big graphic novel The Story of My Tits
(spoiler alert: the story is cancer) a few years back, and I’ve had Underwire
on my shelf at least since then. This book-a-day run gave me a good excuse to pull it down, and I realized this was a compilation — it collects a strip she did for Dean Haspiel’s ACT-I-VATE collective, strips done around the same time she was working on the big book.
So this book has thirty pieces — a few of them are full-page illustrations (generally of what I’d call “goddessy stuff,” which may be a consumer warning for some), but most are comics. The stories are mostly two or three pages long — a vignette or moment of her life, or a whimsical dream — but there’s also a ten-pager, “Girls’ Club,” about a Christmas party and a night staying at the title club, where her grandmother made posters years ago.
Each story is a little slice of life — Hayden focuses on domesticity, so it’s about moments with her two teen kids and husband, rather than work or the wider world. These are about what it’s like to be Jennifer Hayden, in the years 2008-2010, with a daughter who got amazingly sophisticated overnight and a son who’s ready to go off on his own. A few are flights of fancy, but still rooted in that normal life. Not big things, no. But the stuff that good lives, and good people, are made of.
Hayden has a heavily-detailed, ornate style with a cartoony edge — not a million miles away from Lynda Barry, but entirely its own thing. This is a small, quirky book of small, quirky stories — but all lives are small and quirky when you look at them close up. It’s just that most of us aren’t as good at Hayden at really looking at them.
Milestone Media’s best-known character, Static, is back in the third volume of his animated adventures after the release of the first two seasons last year. Static Shock was somewhat revolutionary back in the day, featuring an African-American teen super-hero who juggled classes, girls, villains, and parents, not all that dissimilar to a certain wall-crawler. The comic was long gone, but he left a mark.
Virgil Hawkins (Phil LaMarr) arrived for the Static Shock the Complete Third Season sporting a brand new costume and during the season, his BFF Richie (Jason Marsden) gained powers, taking on the name Gear. Throughout the thirteen episodes comprising the series, which aired in the Kids’ WB, he left the confines of Dakota and journeyed to Africa and even partnered with Superman after fighting alongside the Justice League.
It helped that there were strong scripts from Milestone co-founder Dwayne McDuffie, backed by Paul Dini, Len Uhley, Ernie Altbacker, John Semper, Courtney Lilly and Adam Beechen. John Ridley, who wrote 12 Years a Slave and is about to write for DC Comics, penned the story for the Superman meeting, which was them scripted by Semper. They were backed with the usual strong vocal cast we have come to expect from Warner Animation.
The season opened strong with a return visit to Gotham City where he partnered with Batman (Kevin Conroy) to take on Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) and Poison Ivy.
It was anything but meet cute when Static and Gear continually confront a new superhero named She-Bang (Rosslynn Taylor Jordan). As it turns out, she’s a fellow classmate with dark secrets that require her to seek their help. She makes a welcome return later in the season.
“A League of Their Own” was a fine two-parter that saw Batman ask Static for help when the JLA Watchtower was compromised. However, it also meant Brainiac (Corey Burton) managed to infiltrate the headquarters so Static and Gear have to help the Dark Knight, Martian Manhunter (Carl Lumbly), Green Lantern (LaMarr), Hawkgirl (Maria Canals), and the Flash (Michael Rosenbaum). This and “Trouble Squared” show Virgil in his previous outfit, suggesting these were second season productions held over.
The final team-up was “Toys in the Hood” brings Toyman (Bud Cort) to Dakota with Superman (George Newbern) hot on his spring-heels. The story, in part, ties up loose ends from the Superman: The Animated Series episode “Obsession.”
Apart from the super-heroic geekiness of Static meeting the other heroes, the season’s most important episode was “Static in Africa”, which brought the Hawkins family to Ghana. Of course, danger followed the vacationers so Static teamed with a legendary African folk hero to combat a group of bandits. The cultural impact of the episodes still resonates.
The season nicely ends with “Flashback”, examining life in Dakota before the blackout the rise of super-powered beings. A new character, Time-Zone (Rachel MacFarlane), brings Virgil and Gear to the past allowing him to come face to face with his mother (Alfre Woodard), whose memory was beginning to fade form his mind. And then we have “Blast From the Past”, a passing-of-the-torch episode as Static teams with a sixties-era hero, Soul Power (Brock Peters) to close out a crimefighting career.
The two-disc DVD set from Warner Archive contains all thirteen episodes with the S:TAS episode “Obsession” as the only bonus feature.
The world might not have expected a homage to The Fearless Vampire Hunters. The world may not have needed a homage to The Fearless Vampire Hunters. The world may not have wanted a homage to The Fearless Vampire Hunters. But the world got one.
Mike Mignola has been making comics about vampires (and similarly ghoulish monsters) and the people who stop them (most usually, with punches from a massively oversized red fist) for close to thirty years now. And I suppose he can’t be serious all the time.
Mr. Higgins Comes Home
is not entirely serious. It’s not entirely comic, either, but it falls more on the goofball side of the ledger than the creepy side. Some of that is due to artist Warwick Johnson-Cadwell, whose work is more stylized (in a way that feels European to me, like a Donjon volume) and who uses brighter colors than usual for a Mignola story. And some of that is due to the story itself, which is more matter-of-fact and less ominous than Mignola’s usual. This isn’t quite Mignola parodying himself, but it feels a little like the Wes Anderson version of Mignola: straight-faced but not quite right.
So we have Count Golga and his Countess, in their massive Carpathian castle on the eve of Walpurgis, when all of the vampires who are anyone will arrive for the big annual celebration. And we have the two vampire hunters, who do not look overly dangerous, just arriving in the local village for a bit of staking. Both are wary of the other; both think the other is a worth opponent. We the readers may feel otherwise.
And then there’s Mr. Higgins. He and his wife were previous victims of the Count: Mary became one of the usual blue-faced vampiresses, and her husband is distraught and wants revenge. He has become…something different, which we see as the book goes on. He does not really go home in the conventional sense in the course of this book, but, then again, didn’t a great man once said that we never could go home again? Maybe that explains it.
Mr. Higgins is pleasant and fun, but I can’t help but see it as another pierce of evidence that Mignola needs to do something else for a while. He’s been doing supernatural mystery, almost exclusively in the Hellboy-verse, since the early ’90s. I suggest that he needs to do something substantially different: a space epic, an espionage caper, a noir mystery. This particular well is not drawing like it used to.
I have a hard time telling if I’m supposed to take this seriously. I mean, the volume subtitle is “Fourgy,” and there’s a food truck, apparently a franchised operation, called “Wide Wiener,” with a humorously double-entendre theme song. But it also has a melodramatic comic-book plot, and a more kitchen-sinkly dramatic human story.
So I suspect it’s meant to be just barely serious enough, so that creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky can continue to make silly sex jokes to their hearts’ content but that the whole thing doesn’t descend into farce. And I guess that’s OK with me: after all, this is the story of two young lovers who discover they can stop time when they orgasm.
(That is a sillier superpower than, say, Spider-Man’s, but of more immediate use to most people’s lives. And not all that much sillier, to be honest.)
Sex Criminals is, at this point, already at least halfway to being a Marvel Max comic — the sex is mostly tasteful and 90% hetero, with no on-panel insertions, and the cast is roughly half superheroes. Just classify orgasm-based metahuman abilities as a mutant power and Bamf! you’re there. Oh, there aren’t any big fight scenes yet, but just wait. Everything in mainstream comics eventually becomes about superheroes, no matter how hard it fights the pull.
Ostensibly, this is the story of Suzie and Jon’s relationship — which goes through some serious ups and downs this time out — but we’re really here because we want to see them finally have it out with Kegelface’s Sex Cops. (Note: her name is not Kegelface and her guys are not actually sex cops.) Sadly, that doesn’t actually happen here — as I said above, the fight scene is still on the way. Given what Sex Criminals is about, it might be more of a fuck scene anyway.
This is goofy and it can be hard to take seriously, even when it wants you to. It’s definitely fun, and it’s a different take on wild talents, I’ll say that much — not quite as different as it could have been, but I already made the superhero/black-hole comparison. If you’ve avoided it so far, I can say that it’s still weird and quirky, and that it is not trying to titillate you. And it is about Sex Criminals, and they are interesting people, with more characterization than usual for either a comic book about sex or one about strange powers.
“Aw, this is a sequel to somethin’!” – Crow T. Robot
I never read Kings in Disguise. On the Ropes
is a sequel to Kings in Disguise. So anyone who is looking for a comparison to Kings in Disguise will be disappointed. Anyone wondering how many consecutive sentences I cram Kings in Disguise into, though, may be intrigued.
Kings in Disguise was a comics series by James Vance and Dan E. Burr, published by Kitchen Sink Press over several years in the mid-’80s and eventually collected into book form. Telling the story of plucky Depression orphan Fred Block, Kings in Disguise was critically lauded, winning both the Eisner and Harvey awards. Luckily, we’re not here to talk about Kings in Disguise. Because, as I said, I never read Kings in Disguise.
To repeat: On the Ropes is a sequel to Kings in Disguise, set about five years later. Since — and this will, I hope, be the last time I mention this — I never read Kings in Disguise, I’m not entirely certain which flashbacks in On the Ropes are to the earlier story and which are to things that happened after that story ended. I think Fred lost a leg in a freight-car-hopping accident afterKings in Disguise, but I could be wrong. Anyway, he’s now 17, and it’s 1937, and he’s working as the assistant to an escape artist in a WPA circus traveling the small cities of Illinois. 
Fred is also a labor organizer, or at least associated with a group of organizers trying to get together a major strike against steel mills across the Rust Belt (then still moderately shiny, at least for the bosses). In particular, he has a small but vital role in that organizing effort, which will cause him danger and distress.
His boss is Gordon Corey, who I’m afraid is that semi-cliche, the escape artist who yearns to die. Gordon also has secrets in his past, which would-be novelist Fred will ferret out as he tries to ingratiate himself with a female stringer who he thinks can help him with his writing and maybe make some introductions to help him get published.
The narrative also follows, in parallel, two very nasty men — one smaller, smarter, and fond of a knife, the other big and strong but not quite as stupid as you’d expect — who are employed by the usual shadowy rich people to do some union-busting, and who rack up a serious body count along the way. This element feels pretty melodramatic; they kill more people than is plausible for traveling freelancers — they need to be more solidly plugged into a specific power structure to have the cover-ups of multiple murders in multiple places be reasonable, even in a deeply corrupt time and place.
Again, I didn’t read Kings in Disguise; I can’t compare the two. This is a solidly lefty book about labor agitation in hard times, with a melodramatic plot and a certain stretching for meaning, which I didn’t find entirely convincing. My understanding is that it did not take twenty-five years to create — Kings in Disguise was published as a complete work in 1988 and On the Ropes came out as an original graphic novel in 2013 — but Burr’s art sometimes varies from page to page, making me wonder how long it did take. (He also sometimes draws different characters in slightly different styles in the same panel, which is mildly surprising — I couldn’t figure out if there was a specific artistic purpose there.)
On the Ropes is a solid, historically grounded graphic novel, shining a light on a piece of history a lot of people have forgotten now. (A lot of working people in this country, in particular, have forgotten how much blood people like them shed to get unions, as they run headlong away from them into the cold embrace of corporate generosity.) I don’t think it’s a masterpiece, but it’s worth reading for people interested in the period, the creators, or the subject. And, of course, for anyone looking for comics about actual people in real-world situations, of which there are always fewer than there should be.
 Note that this is the first sentence in this review not to mention Kings in Disguise. I could have kept it up, if I wanted. I’m not proud. Or tired.
The hardest thing, for me, is to write on a book about normal people’s normal lives — without the genre trappings of excitement and violence, without the framework of some standard plot, without being able to do the Hollywood high concept thing of matching a new work with X and Y from the past. When that book is in comics form, and a lot of the heavy lifting of emotion and connection and scene-setting and time passing is done through art, it’s even harder: I’m not artistically trained, and I don’t have a strong vocabulary to talk about those elements.
So, um, Equinoxes
is a big, stunning book, sprawling across a whole year and a large chunk of France, with a large cast, not all of whose names we learn. It comes from Cyril Pedrosa, who in that European-comics style is usually credited with just his last name, and whose work I haven’t seen since the heartbreakingly wonderful Three Shadows in 2008.
Pedrosa organizes his book around the four seasons, starting in autumn — and, yes, he is eliding solstices into equinoxes to make the structure work, but let’s not be too much astronomical sticklers right now, OK? Each section begins with a wordless series of small panels about a Mowgli-like hunter-gatherer, somewhere at some time. (We will get other hints about him later.) Then the main action begins, set in France in what I think is the present day. (But everyone has flip phones, so maybe it’s supposed to be about ten years ago, sometime in the mid-aughts.)
There are two main clusters of characters, one centered on the middle-aged divorced orthodontist Vincent and his teenage daughter Pauline and the other on the aged ex-radical Louis. There’s also a photographer, not connected to either of those groups, who wanders through the action, another young woman, a little older than Pauline, trying to find her place in the world and work that will give her meaning. There are two kinds of text interruptions to the flow of comics — one is directly the thoughts of the photographer as she grapples with her life, and the other, I think, is her flow-of-consciousness impression of the person she’s just photographed. She adds another level of art to Equnoxes, which already is about, at heart, the big questions: what gives meaning to life, how should we live, how do we relate to each other, what brings people together and pulls them apart.
This is not a book of plot. It is a book of connections and daily life, of moments that feel small at the moment but maybe aren’t, of what to do with today and tomorrow and tomorrow, of the things that break into your life and shake it all up.
If I were French, I think I’d know where this takes place: it’s somewhere specific, I think, a small city on or near the coast. The places in it are real and solid, and we see a few of them repeatedly from different angles and in different seasons.
The people are equally real: Vincent is a bit of an asshole, but he knows it and fights against it. Louis is worn out from his life and detached from the things others think he should engage in. Pauline is quiet except when she explodes, hiding behind earbuds like so many other teenagers. And there are many more — some of whose names we figure out easily, some who appear once in one context and then loop back doing something else, some who only wander through once.
The cover is appropriate both thematically — two people, in a moment of conversation but entirely separate and not looking at each other — and as an important moment of the story. But I’m afraid it will look cold and distant, and this is not a chilly book. Equinoxes does require time and a willingness to let events flow, like an independent film, but it is lovely and true and has a deep wellspring of humanity in it.
I thought Three Shadows was a masterpiece; Equinoxes is as much of one — big and expansive and gorgeous. (Pedrosa is also doing a lot of things with his art — colors for the season and places and people — that I can point to but not explain in any depth.) I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who cares about people and their lives…which I hope is all of us.
Sequels are always an iffy proposition. There was a time that a hot film spawned an almost mirror-image sequel as a fast cash grab. After it was clear that was not what audiences wanted, sequels grew smarter and more sophisticated. In many cases, though, the first question asked is, “Does this really merit a sequel?” Sometimes, the creators have more they want to say or, after time has passed, feel there is something new to explore.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner took Philip K. Dick’s prose work and envisioned a near future that was a darker reflection of 1982. We had gobs of atmosphere, some very restrained and impactful performances, and were left to wonder. While talk of a sequel has bopped up every few years, everyone held out until now. Director Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, Blade Runner 2049, recruited many of the original cast and crew to take use a bit further into the future to see what has changed.
Judging from the box office, apparently the audience, which was wowed in 1982, has changed and shrugged at the sequel. That’s a shame, because the movie, out now on home video from Warner Home Entertainment, is well worth a look. Yes, it pales in comparison to the impact the original had, but so much has changed in filmmaking and society that it should be expected. A meditation on humanity and the decline of Western civilization is always a welcome subject, but this story left too many gaps, too much unexplained so ultimately proved a disappointing experience.
Screenwriter Hampton Fancher picks up thirty years later and Tyrell Corporation’s Nexus 8 is the cutting edge Replicant model, complete with an average human lifespan and finely tuned memories. We learn that Replicants have been invaluable in colonizing near-space, letting humanity escape the world they ruined. After a technology disaster in 2022 destroyed most of the world’s digital data, Los Angeles and other major cities are largely abandoned, sprawling slums.
No one machine is perfect and the imperfect 8’s get hunted down by blade runners and that’s where we meet “K” (Ryan Gosling), following commands from Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright). When he finishes his work, he returns to his tiny apartment and charming AI companion Joi (Ana de Armas). They have such an intimate connection that she later arranges to hire a hooker, Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), and seemingly merges with her to pleasure K in one of the film’s most visually compelling scenes.
His most recent case, dispatching an 8 (David Bautista in a small but fine part), sends him on a case that eventually leads him to Las Vegas, where Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), has been living in solitude. Visionary industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), who took over Tyrell, is blind and wants any hint of competition wiped out, issuing orders through his replicant assistant Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), contrasting with the K/Joi team.
There’s a hunt for K and Deckard, the revelation of an underground movement (isn’t there always?), and things blow up real well here and there.
Visual futurist Syd Mead nicely extrapolates his future over three decades and you can’t question that the money went into the production. It’s rich and textured, the effects strong, and Dennis Gassner’s production design superb. But the overall effect leaves one cold, and the story’s flaws leaves too many unanswered questions to be truly successful. It certainly leaves you thinking, which is a cut above much of the genre fare we were offered in 2017.
The disc does a strong job transferring the film to 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray at the standard 2.40:1 width, with nary a hint of the material shot at 1.90:1 for IMAX. If anything, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is better so you won’t miss a beat from the Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch score.
The film comes with complete with assortment of interesting special features. None are spectacular but given the look and feel of the future, makes for good watching. Perhaps the best is Designing the World of Blade Runner 2049 (21:55). There is also To Be Human: Casting Blade Runner 2049 (17:15); Prologues — 2022: Black Out (15:45), anime directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, 2036: Nexus Dawn (6:31), directed by Luke Scott, and 2048: Nowhere to Run (5:49), directed by Scott; Blade Runner 101 (11:22) — Blade Runners, The Replicant Revolution, The Rise of Wallace Corp., Welcome to 2049, Jois, and Within the Skies: Spinners, Pilotfish and Barracudas.
“There’s a world going on underground,” a great man once growl-sang, and Satania
just is the book to explore that hidden underground world.
One might think the naked redhead at the center of the cover is Satania, but no — she’s Charlie (short for Charlotte), the teenage force behind an underground expedition to find her missing brother. Also in the group is the requisite old, crusty guide, Father Monsore, who was on the ill-fated prior expedition where Charlie’s brother Christopher disappeared. There are several others — the party starts out with about six people– but those are the ones to be concerned with.
Christopher had a crackpot theory that Neanderthals moved underground and therefore mutated into demon-looking humanoids who are the source of all worldwide stories of hell and its inhabitants. But these evolved Neanderthals are actually highly civilized, sexually free, and possessed of uniquely high technology that he will discover and share with the world. Now, Christopher deduced all of this — he has no evidence of any kind — and it seems that his book expounding his stupid theory was roundly panned out in the world. So, in a huff, he planned the expedition to prove his theories, heading into this cave somewhere in Europe to film the people he already knows everything about.
I think the reader is supposed to take Christopher’s theories seriously. But this, frankly, is impossible for anyone with a lick of sense and scientific knowledge — if he was right about anything, it could only be by pure happenstance. Luckily, it’s not necessary to believe in those nutty theories to enjoy Satania; he does not turn out to be entirely correct, though he did correctly guess that there’s much more going on in this massive subterranean cave system than surface-dwellers suspect.
So: Charlie, and Chistopher’s collaborator, and some other people somehow related to the crazy theory, are looking for him, in the cave system where a flash flood separated Christopher from the rest of his party months ago. And do they encounter their own flash flood practically as soon as the book begins?
Reader, of course they do.
They do not die in the flood, but their scrambles and running and propulsion by water leaves them somewhere they’ve never been before, with no way back. They set out to explore, in hopes of getting back to the surface. They have limited supplies and light, but, as with any self-respecting tale of underground worlds, they soon find edible and luminescent growing things to keep them going. (From that point on, everything is illuminated, and finding food not a serious issue.)
They find a lot more than that, of course: dangers aplenty, strange landscapes both made by sentients and shaped by nature, strange and dangerous creatures, allies and enemies, deadly heat and chilling cold. Satania turns out to be huge, and full of horror and wonders.
It does not, though, correspond closely to anyone’s image of Hell, even though several members of this party really really want it to, and this leads to certain unpleasant disagreements within the party. This is a story of hardships and stunning vistas, of a series of strange revelations, each stranger and more revelatory than the last. (But, to be clear: this is not a fantasy. They are not in Hell and everything they see should be roughly acceptable to physics, biology, and chemistry as we know them.)
Satania is a gorgeous book, as you might expect from the wife-and-husband art team credited as Kerascoet. The colors are exquisite, giving color to emotions and places, and the book contains a succession of amazing images, culminating in a fantastic double-page spread near the end. Even if this book hadn’t been translated from the French, I think it still would be worth “reading,” just for their work.
But it was translated (by Joe Johnson) from a script by Fabien Vehlmann, here just credited by his last name. He previously worked with Kerascoet on the stunning Beautiful Darkness
, and I also really liked his script for the chilly SF graphic novel Last Days of an Immortal
. So Satania is just a little disappointing: Christopher is a crank, and his crankishness sets in motion the whole plot, and there’s no way around that. The story is also more episodic — bad things happen, they flee, and have a moment of peace until the next episode starts — than the stronger Vehlmann books I’ve seen.
Not being as good as something amazing wonderful is not that much of a criticism, though: Vehlman has excellent dialogue here, making his very different people all come alive, and he particularly has a way with mania…perhaps he does realize what a crank Christopher is. Satania is an interesting, gorgeous, twisty journey through a vividly imagined world, by a set of world-class talents.
I wish I had a grandchild to enjoy Scooby-Doo! and Batman: The Brave and the Bold with since I am far from the target audience. I was outgrowing Saturday morning TV when Scooby and the gang debuted and never warmed up to them. Over time, the troublesome teens have encountered countless pop culture celebrities in their storied career but this, their fourth meeting with the Caped Crusader, is a record.
It makes perfect sense that the 1960s homage version of Batman (Diedrich Bader) is used here since it is stylistically appropriate for this sort of crossover. Paul Giacoppo acquits himself well with a breezy script that uses touchstone elements from both series so fans are satisfied. Comics aficionados will appreciate the use of the New Look era Mystery Analysts of Gotham, even though the novelists have been replaced by the more colorful Martian Manhunter (Nicholas Guest), Detective Chimp (Kevin Michael Richardson), the Black Canary (Grey Griffin), the Question (Jeffrey Coombs), and Plastic Man (Tom Kenny). It’s funny to see Aquaman (John DiMaggio) trying to be a member while the Scooby (Frank Welker) and the gang are tested for admittance.
Since these sorts of mashups require a major threat, it seemed right that Batman’s rogues cause the trouble so of course we get to see Catwoman (Nika Futterman), Riddler (John Michael Higgins), Penguin (Tom Kenny), Clayface (Kevin Michael Richardson), Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy (both by Tara Strong).
There’s action, humorous hijinks, Scooby snacks, familiar catch phrases, and more all nicely handled by director Jake Castorena, who graduates from numerous art director assignments (Batman: The Killing Joke, Justice League: Gods & Monsters, etc.) to his third directorial job, following directing episodes of Justice League Action and Batman Unlimited.
The 75 minutes definitely feels padded but that’s to be expected given the limited range of the Scooby half of the match. Thankfully, the disc is rounded out with two classic episode from the New Scooby-Doo Movies: “The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair” and “The Caped Crusader Caper”.
If this was just about wasted potential, Valerian would easily be on the top of this list. There are five worse movies this year but none of them have a fraction of the visual artistry displayed here by Luc Besson. Valerian has some of the best design I’ve seen in a movie all year and two of the most inventive chase sequences maybe ever. It also features a terrible script that meanders forever over trivial nothing and merrily skips past dense plot without a moment for inspection. I loved watching the action but I never really understood why any of it was going on. Toss on top some of the worst chemistry I’ve ever seen between an on-screen couple (and honestly maybe Dane DeHaan isn’t ready to be a leading man) and this is an unpleasant movie to watch at any volume above mute.
5. American Assassin
I sincerely thought that we were past making movies like American Assassin now that we’re on year 16 of the obviously never ending War on Terror. I assumed we were past movies that seemingly exist solely to demonize and dehumanize brown people on the other side of the world. This is a movie with no nuance or subtext or anything. It’s predictable, dreary, and the worst kind of weighty. It depicts a world in which people are nothing but weapons for the nation as one we should want to be in. It also runs for 15 minutes past any events of consequence happening and expects us to sit and care about literally nothing happening.
4. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage
If you’ve ever seen those posts where someone feeds a computer a bunch of data about one topic or another and then the computer spits back an attempt at making original things of the same set, you could understand how they probably wrote the script for xXx: The Return of Xander Cage. It’s trying to be every successful action movie of the last ten years all at once. It has a multi-cultural cast, numerous exotic locations that all happen to be filled with parties full of white people, and a bunch of supporting and cameo roles given to people intended to draw in audience in foreign markets. There’s nothing holding the movie together so it’s easily the most boring movie I’ve ever seen that also features trying to use an airplane to hit falling satellites. Movies are more than the sum of their parts and XXx: The Return of Xander Cage is a great lesson in that.
3. The Mummy
I long for the days when studios would just make movies with the idea that they could make an obscene amount of money from them. Now it seems like they don’t want hundreds of millions of dollars unless they know it directly leads them to the next 100 million. There were fine ideas in The Mummy about a woman who would not be cast aside and wanted to seize absolute power to punish her family. That character doesn’t get to exist on screen because we need develop Tom Cruise to be the hero of the Dark Universe and we need time for Dr Jekyll and for the people who hunt monsters. It is needless and exhausting. The Mummy might not be an objectively terrible movie but it is so impossibly frustrating it needs to be recognized here.
2. Ghost in the Shell
Just to get it out of the way: this movie would make it on to this list just because it’s racist and tone deaf. Deciding, in 2017, that it’s a good idea to make a movie based on an iconic Japanese manga/film/media empire and cast almost exclusively white people is astonishing. It’s an irredeemable failure solely from looking at the poster. Then it’s not even a good movie. They threw out all the stories they presumably licensed the material for and instead gave us a milquetoast cyberpunk paint-by-number. When the studio found out the Blade Runner sequel would be released in the same calendar year they should have shelved the project until we all forgot what could be done.
1. Transformers: The Last Knight
I suppose I should have some respect for Michael Bay as an auteur at this point. He can’t possibly be hurting for money. Nothing would stop him from getting lazy and putting out shorter films to try and goose his grosses by squeezing in another showing. Bay is going to make these monstrous, incomprehensible, films and they’re going to be exactly as he wants them to be and as long as he pleases. It would be charitable at this point to call these movies pointless. There’s definitely a point: People who know things are idiots and people who shoot things are awesome. They’re never going to stop with these; we should all just adjust our lives to accommodate them.