Lemoning the Popcorn Films for Summer 2010 (Part Two)

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away, I wrote the first half of a summer movie preview. Now I am going to complete it. (Because sometimes, only sometimes, I am a woman of my word.)

In case you don’t remember the system, it goes a little something like this:

I rate a film’s likely problematic nature based on a 1 through 6 scale, with 1 being the least offensive in terms of the lenses of gender, race, sexuality, class, etc and 6 being I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. I will also rate the films based on (my own) fangirl excitement, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest. Snark and trailers abound, so let’s play.

The Last Airbender (July 1)

This is the big screen adaptation of the popular American anime Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, known for its depth of imagination, humor, and surprising artistic competence despite it being American anime. Also, it has protagonists that are people of color and female characters who do useful things rather than screaming and falling in love. The adaptation made the (Native American and Asian) protagonists white. This is just the beginning of the terribleness, as this review from io9 demonstrates:

This is the part where I would insert a quick plot synopsis of the film, but it’s really unnecessary – Shyamalan has boiled every epic heroic story of the past 20 years down to its most basic, primal soup-y essence, so he can spray it all over the audience, in a kind of Hero’s-Journey bukkake. You will be finding chunks of Joseph Campbell’s calcified spooge behind your ears for three days after watching this film, no matter how many times you bathe.

Shyamalan’s true achievement in this film is that he takes a thrilling cult TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and he systematically leaches all the personality and soul out of it — in order to create something generic enough to serve as a universal spoof of every epic, ever. All the story beats from the show’s first season are still present, but Shyamalan manages to make them appear totally arbitrary. Stuff happens, and then more stuff happens, and what does it mean? We never know, because it’s time for more stuff to happen. You start out laughing at how random and mindless everything in this movie is, but about an hour into it, you realize that the movie is actually laughing at you, for watching it in the first place. And it’s laughing louder than you are, because it’s got Dolby surround-sound and you’re choking on your suspension of disbelief. Continue reading

“I’m not trying to be rude, but you died.” : Hercules, Buffy, The Doctor, and The Problem with Immortality

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who episodes “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” and “The Pandorica Opens.” And a few Superman storylines. You have been warned.]

Lillian, you might say, you’re just trying to tie Doctor Who into Hercules, because you want to put in a plug for Alcestis. And you’re partly right. So myths yadda yadda come see my show in New York that is influenced by Neil Gaiman, Batman, and Gladiator, written by Euripides. That’s a plug for Alcestis. Buy tickets now!

But let’s talk for a second about why the villains imprisoned the Doctor rather than killing him in “The Pandorica Opens.” The Doctor is not exactly as invulnerable as Superman (though they share several other similarities), but his regenerations give him a kind of immortality. This flawed invincibility connects him to a much more ancient hero, Hercules/Heracles.

Now Hercules’ list of adventures is about as long as the Doctor’s. (One of those adventures includes the myth that Euripides’ Alcestis is based on.) Heracles is the son of Zeus so he’s supernaturally strong and he can solve most problems by hugging them to death. But he’s also immortal, so the whole dying thing was never an issue for him.

….until his wife Deianira accidentally poisoned his robe with the blood of a Hydra he’d killed, and he couldn’t wash the acidic blood off, and he was in such huge amounts of pain that he wished he could die. Continue reading

How to Destroy Superman: The Doctor, Batman, Senility, and the Pandorica

[Note: This post contains spoilers for the DC Comics’ The Death of Superman storyline, and The Dark Knight Returns (among others), and Doctor Who Series 4 and Series 5 including the episode “The Pandorica Opens.” It has not yet aired in the United States. You have been warned.]

I am going to tell you right now that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time, precisely because his only superpowers are a bank account and psychological trauma. He is the superhero that is closest to the reader, even more so than Stan Lee’s everyboy Spiderman, who fulfills all of our empowerment fantasies, but always shows us the best in ourselves. Batman is a triumph of the human will to fight back in the face of unbearable pain in order to inflict that pain on others. He is our darkest fantasies brought to life.

The Ninth Doctor bears a strong resemblance to the pre-Frank Miller era Batman, a man who has found new purpose as a result of losing almost everyone he loves, and he slowly creeps toward the darkness and thirst for vengeance that belongs to both the Tenth Doctor and The Dark Knight we see in The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns.

Dark Knight Returns is an interesting topic to bring up, because it shares so many connections with the Doctor’s current [Eleventh] incarnation. The Dark Knight Returns is set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world where a formerly retired, middle-aged Batman dons the cowl once again to bring down Two-Face after the treatment Bruce Wayne funded fails to cure him of his psychopathic tendencies. But the Gotham police force is a little less grateful than usual. They’re not sure Batman’s vigilantism has a place in this world anymore. He’s become outdated. (Remember Eleven’s “I’m stupid.” statement? How often has he been missing things lately, making the wrong calls?)

Batman’s reappearance also pulls the Joker out of a catatonic state in Arkham, suggesting that the hero attracts, even rebuilds his villains unintentionally. (iDaleks anyone?)

“You’re like iPods. One in every color.”

(Dark Knight Returns also sports a female Robin who rivals Amy Pond in terms of quips and needing to be rescued.)

The interesting thing about the Doctor is that he is both Batman and Superman. As of the 2005 revival, he has a dark trauma in his past that gives him the purpose and drive to save the universe again and again (because he failed to save his own people.) Like Superman, he is an orphan of a dead culture, and grew into the individual we know and love as a result of his “adoption” by humans. (I know it’s hard to think of William Hartnell as a baby Clark Kent, but just go with me on this one.) The Doctor’s companions softened him from a persnickety old man to a formidable clown whose cartoonishly long scarf or piece of celery in his lapel hid a dangerous brand of competence. (We are going to ignore Colin Baker’s silly costume.)

Pay no attention to the man in the tacky outfit. 

This paradox of the Doctor as both Batman and Superman was brought to a head with the most recent episode of Moffat’s new series. Continue reading