analysis

Do I Have The Right? ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ Analysis

My first vlog. It’s based on an earlier post, but I’ve greatly expanded it, going into much more detail, adding more points and providing more evidence to support my claims. I wanted to try vlogging about Doctor Who, doing in-depth analyses of episodes, as it’s something I’ve often searched YouTube for but only found reviews and rankings. Hopefully, I’ve discovered a gap in the market, and my videos will become popular. If so, there’ll likely be many more to come.

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Do I Still Agree With Myself?

INTRO

Since creating this website in 2013, my writing and analytical ability have developed past that displayed in many early posts, and my views and understanding of the world and many of the works I’ve covered have changed. This often niggles me, and I’ve considered deleting some posts, leaving what I consider my best, but as they’re still popular and serve as a testament to how much I’ve accomplished over the years, I’ve instead decided to create this post. I’ll be reviewing my past posts, seeing what I still agree with and what I don’t, and clarifying my current views. Who knows, maybe this will turn into an ongoing series as my perspectives are constantly evolving, and there may be other posts I discover I have issue with!

EAT THE GUN

The motivation behind this post was to praise economical writing and the song’s use of it. However, due to the lyrical content I’m examining, it could come across like I’m critical of the armed forces. I’m not, but at the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about going along with someone who was. I have no great knowledge or strong opinions about the military, but I’m greatly admiring of anyone willing to make a sacrifice in aid of others.

ALIEN EQUALITY (THE ALIEN FRANCHISE)

I don’t believe now the creators of Alien (dir. Scott, 1979) intended to criticise female empowerment, and I don’t think I believed it at the time. There’s actually a stronger argument for exactly the opposite, and aspects of the film I focus on can all be reinterpreted to support this. We do indeed see a future society without gender divides, and it works out pretty well as the strong female character, Ripley, ends up saving the day; it’s only because the male crew ignored her quarantine command that they got into trouble in the first place. The alien, symbolic of man’s bestial sexual nature, turns the male crew into victims of sexual violence, in ways previously beyond their comprehension; one even experiencing a painful childbirth as a result. The porno mag scene is clearly designed to be critical of female exploitation and sexual violence; the rabid Ash, spewing white goo, forcing the phallic magazine down Ripley’s throat. And although we do see Ripley strip to her skimpy undies for the climax, it’s revealed it’s shot from the perspective of the alien, forcing the male audience ogling Ripley to realise their connection with the beast.

As mentioned in the post, this analysis was inspired by my recent discovery of viewing films through the lens of feminism, and I believe I was motivated more by my desire to explore this exciting new way of looking at films than I was with making a genuine exposé. This is also a symptom of university essay writing, which encourages analysis based on interpretation rather than fact. If you can justify it via your own interpretation of the screen language, it’s acceptable, whether you believe it was the filmmakers’ true intention or not. I don’t have a problem with this, in fact, I’m all for it! Finding connections and meanings in films that weren’t necessarily the filmmakers’ intention is half the fun of analysis. You can get into trouble, though, if you’re stringently critical of filmmakers for meanings in their films you’ve created yourself. I’d like to avoid ever coming across like this in future.

Aliens (dir. Cameron, 1986) does indeed reward Ripley with a family, symbolically returning her to the role of loving wife and mother. I don’t believe now, though, that this has to be viewed negatively. She’s never once depicted as weak in comparison to her male counterparts or shown she doesn’t belong in the heat of the action; quite the opposite. She draws strength from her maternal instincts, as male action heroes often have from their paternal ones (protecting family, being rewarded with one; common action movie tropes: see Mad Max), and this is to be commended. You maybe wouldn’t want ‘independent woman becomes wife and mother’ to be the plot of every action movie, but I don’t think there’s anything sexist about it here.

I think I make some good points in my analysis of Alien 3 (dir. Fincher, 1992) – an underrated film – in particular, recognising its depiction of a patriarchal society and rape culture; there’s depth to this film that’s often overlooked. There are a few points that were maybe just my own interpretation, tying together the overall point of the post, and not the director’s intention (the symbolism of Ripley’s sacrifice for example), but as I said earlier, that’s half the fun of analysis!

STRANGER, DARKER, MADDER… (LOVE & MONSTERS)

My analysis of how Love & Monsters criticises fans who have a very inflexible view of what Doctor Who should be comes across a bit hypocritically intolerant. That was not my intent. I would never want to suggest people aren’t entitled to an opinion, more that people who are unwilling to accept the greater possibilities of what Doctor Who (and life) can be are missing out on a lot of strangeness, darkness, and madness!

JUST ONE MAN CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

In the first of my Mad Max 2 (dir. Miller, 1981) posts, I posited that, despite their misleading appearance, the Marauders have more in common with traditional society, and the Settlers have more in common with the counterculture, but it is their more traditional beliefs that are their weakness. I think now, rather than representing any particular group, more simply, the Marauders represent what Miller considers the evil of humanity, and the Settlers, the good. The Marauders rape, war, pillage, they operate via a dictatorship, and they’re stuck in a cycle of selfish consumption. They lack a higher purpose and a desire to better themselves, which the Settlers have, along with democracy and a sense of community, family, and loyalty. The Settlers’ connection to self-sufficiency ties them with the counterculture (Pappagallo is a bit of an old hippie) but that’s more to do with the film’s criticism of fossil fuels (such an ironic theme) than an attempt to connect them with a particular group, and they possess many traditional qualities. Max is tempted over to their side and away from the marauding lifestyle once he’s given a purpose and a chance to better himself. The fact he’s betrayed – although he doesn’t seem too bothered about this – does add some ambiguity to the Settlers, but I don’t believe it’s their traditional beliefs that are being called into question. Perhaps, instead, it acts as a warning that although we require purpose in life, devotion to a cause can sometimes cloud one’s morality. I posited that the Settlers’ traditional community values give them a distrust of outsiders that prevents them from truly accepting the marauder-like Max and that their religious conviction leads to their act of betrayal. I no longer believe this. Their initial distrust of Max is just a logical reaction, and their belief in paradise and Max’s martyrdom does not act as a criticism of religion, rather an endorsement of purpose and sacrifice and the spiritual power of storytelling.

GEORGE MILLER: there’s something that compels us collectively as human beings to find meaning in the universe. I mean, we can’t exist without that. And we do it through stories and narratives in order to explain the universe to ourselves. Or life to ourselves. And in all cultures across all time and space as humankind, we do that. We do that spontaneously. And I think that’s the function of storytelling, and some stories are so compelling, they become mythologies and indeed religions.”

IF WE CAN’T STICK TOGETHER (MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME)

In my Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (dir. Miller & Ogilvie, 1985) post, I posited that it ‘also’ acts as a criticism of traditional (Western) society. I was closer to the truth in this case as it does offer a blatant critique of capitalism and seemingly supports a Marxist philosophy. However, knowing little of economics or politics at the time (I’m still far from an expert), but having done a little research into Marxism, I was quick to side with this critique without pinpointing any possible flaws. For example, we see those at the bottom of the hierarchy offered no payment for their services and no opportunity to climb the ladder. Not really reflective of capitalism. This lack of opportunity for social mobility, and the fact Pig Killer and his ilk are working solely in service of the state, arguably aligns Bartertown more closely with communism. Either way, as I’ve mentioned, economics and politics are not my expertise, so I’ll keep away from siding with political ideologies, as I did here and in other posts, in future (certainly not before doing more research). The film also offers a more pointed criticism of religion, suggesting it can halt social progress. However, Savannah’s final monologue, again, endorses the spiritual power of storytelling, and the fact the Lost Tribe reach ‘paradise’ by plane, hints that there may have been some truth in their prophecies.

HOMOPHOBIC HORROR

This was a piece of coursework written in the final year of my degree that I later posted on my website. It again suffers from the university essay ‘interpretation over fact’ philosophy. It’s unquestionable that Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951) and Psycho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) used homosexuality and transvestism to enhance their killers’ perversion, that Strangers’ protagonist, Guy, was a prototype final girl, and that these films, as well as real-life killers, had a huge influence on the slasher genre and its continuing characterisation of homosexuals and transvestites as deranged deviants. However, I don’t believe for one second and didn’t at the time that every final girl is symbolically a male in the midst of a sexual crisis. The concept just allowed for a new spin on the material that would make an interesting essay; much like my Alien analysis.

HOPE & FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

As they were based on interpretations of the earlier movies that I now disagree with, my hopes for Mad Max: Fury Road (dir. Miller, 2015) now, on the whole, don’t reflect what I’d be hoping for from a new Mad Max movie. I’m not particularly interested in the series giving direct criticisms of capitalism (or the rock industry. Where did that one come from?), more human ills in general. I’m not sure why I was hoping for a clearer critique of the military, having no strong opinions about it (see Eat the Gun). I suspect I’d just foreseen the possibility of this happening and felt I should include it. I was hoping for feminist themes (my obsession at the time) criticising female oppression, and again I unfairly criticise heroines with maternal instincts (see Alien Equality). Again, a more rounded view of humanity’s ills would be appreciated today. I enjoy the religious symbolism of the series and its contemplations on the spiritual power of storytelling and would always hope for their inclusion. However, while criticism of religious extremism and manipulation are alright with me, I would not hope for a negative depiction of religion in general. Ponderings on the afterlife are, again, alright with me, but I’m not sure why I was seeking a definitive statement on Miller’s belief in the existence of Heaven or Hell; I’d prefer a little more ambiguity these days. Today I’d give a big ‘no’ to the possibility of any romantic relationship for Max. Giving him a partner or a family would undermine the self-sacrificing nature of his character; unless they were planning on ending the series. Lastly, I’m still in total agreement with myself that CGI and an overly talky Max have no place in the franchise!

MAD MAX

In my Mad Max (dir. Miller, 1979) post, I describe it as my least favourite of the original trilogy due to its morally questionable material. I suggest its depiction of Toecutter’s gang vilifies the counterculture, while Max’s job as a cop suggests support for the establishment. I now disagree with this. The gang, like the Marauders, more likely represent the evils of humanity, with their lawlessness and purposeless self-indulgence. While Max and his job represent moral duty, and law and order; hardly things to be criticised. The gang’s homosexual characterisation is questionable as it bears similarities to the previously mentioned slasher killers, being used to heighten their perversion. However, there is the argument that the use of gay characters is meant to represent a sexually liberated future, with Max’s commanding officer, Fifi, also characterised as gay. I label Fifi’s characterisation as stereotypical, but he is a unique and memorable character, in a respected position, traditionally held by straight, masculine males, so that was perhaps a little unfair. I also cite Max’s traditional family life being presented as the ideal in comparison to the homosexual gang as being problematic. This argument is weakened when we consider the defence of the gang’s homosexual characterisation and the true themes of the trilogy, purpose and betterment. Max’s family are representative of this as are the surrogate families in the sequels he’s given the chance to help and protect (as he failed to do with his), showing the series is rightly supportive of families and the protective nature of the parental figure (see Alien Equality). I was also critical of the film’s grim ending, but as this is clearly presented as a tragedy, it is in no way morally corrupt, and actually makes the message harder hitting, as seeing our hero (and identification figure) losing his purpose in life, and giving into the gang culture and survival of the fittest philosophy, makes it easier for us to empathise with the film’s themes. Far from being morally bankrupt, Mad Max contains many admirable moral messages and has gone up in my estimations to become my second favourite of the series (nothing can top Mad Max 2).

A further note on the fridging of Max’s wife, Jessie, and fridging in general. I referred to Jessie’s death as an example of fridging at odds with the feminism of the sequels. Fridging is used to describe instances in which a female character close to a male one is killed to further his arc. I now believe to describe Jessie’s death and every instance of this trope as sexist is a little ridiculous. Characters (male and female) close to protagonists are killed off all the time to symbolise themes and further the protagonist’s arc; Goose, Max’s dog, Mufasa, Newt, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. It doesn’t automatically make it sexist every time it happens to a female one. After all, it’s not their story, it’s the protagonist’s, and good economical writing dictates it’s they who should be the main focus. Not every support character can have agency, be a hero, and have a happy ending; that would just be a mess. It may be the case that more female characters are fridged than males (but thinking off the top of my head, I mostly came up with males), but rather than being a symptom of inherently sexist writing, that’s probably more to do with the majority of writers being male and creating male heroes, which I don’t think they should be criticised for (good writers write what they know). More female filmmakers and writers would probably reverse this trend (if indeed it exists; I haven’t seen the stats). Jessie, and Max’s love for her, are symbolic of purpose and betterment, and the lose of the positive influence of a woman in Max’s life is presented as a complete tragedy. Male writers should be praised for viewing women in such a way, not criticised.

ONLY FURY (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Much I disagree with here. My central argument is that Furiosa should have been the only wife of Immortan Joe as the Five Wives are superfluous, lacking character and agency, which reduces them to figures of objectification; contradicting the feminist themes of the film. This thinking is based on the rules of economical writing – don’t use any more characters than you need to – but I now see why the Wives are needed and where their agency lies. While Furiosa possesses a lot of agency, if she were the only wife, she’d resemble little more than your stereotypical rape-revenge heroine, and while the Wives don’t do any of the kick-ass fighting, their agency is that of endurance. They have survived abuse through endurance and had the bravery to decide to seek help and flee their captor; it is they who set the whole plot in motion, not Furiosa. The implication being, abused women shouldn’t have to be kick-ass fighters to be seen as heroes; there’s bravery in endurance and having the will to escape oppression. It’s true they wear skimpy clothing, opening them up for objectification, but the scene I cite where they’re washing each other with the hose is shot from Max’s perspective, inviting the male audience to ogle them, connecting them with the oppressive male characters of the film. It’s the same trick from Alien, and arguably it’s used throughout. I still think as characters they’re underdeveloped and doing more than just giving one of them a weak love story would probably have been a good idea. Speaking of which, I still totally agree that Nux’s sacrifice is uninteresting and we would have connected with it more if it were given to Max. I’m not sure about cutting Max altogether and making this a Furiosa film, it probably could have worked, but having male and female characters learn to work together is a more positive way to go.

My statement that the film doesn’t expand much on what we learnt from interviews and trailers is utterly vacant. There’s a great deal going on in the film under the surface, but I think my overall disappointment with it on first viewing meant I just wasn’t looking. Everything we need to know about the world and the characters is shown to us, instead of repeatedly told, which is how it should be. I’ll give a brief summary, but it’d take a whole new post to get everything. It’s another amplification of humanity’s ills. It depicts society as a perpetual war machine, kept going by a power-hungry man (that’s who killed the world) just so he can cling onto power. Women are employed as baby making machines, while the men don’t fare much better, being bred and brainwashed solely for war; willing to die for the glory of their divine leader. Like the Marauders, they’re stuck in a cycle, with no higher purpose or chance for betterment, which is what they’re given via the altruistic actions of our heroes. It’s not on the whole how I view society, but it’s a credible exaggeration of the worst of humanity and certainly a layered depiction. I still prefer the original trilogy with its zero use of CGI and better use of Max, but I’ll gladly admit I was unfairly critical of this first time around.

MISSING MEL (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD)

Never thought this actually could or should’ve happened – I wasn’t campaigning for it – but it would’ve made a cool (possibly better) movie, and if they got the go-ahead ten years earlier, this could be quite close to how it would’ve turned out. As it is, I still think it’s a nice bit of fanwank.

THE MAN WHO CAME FROM THE SKY (MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR)

This post continued the assumptions (I now believe to be incorrect) made in my first Mad Max 2 post about the film’s themes and what Max, the Settlers, and the Marauders represent. I also suggest the Gyro Captain’s ownership of a snake connects him with Satan and reveals him as the true villain of the piece. An interesting but far-fetched analysis, his snake more likely representing his cunning nature, and his minor deceptions hardly paint him as the ultimate evil.

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK (STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY)

I cited its subversion of the ‘women as reward’ trope as something I like about Star Wars (dir. Lucas, 1977), and I still very much like this. However, it’s probably its subversion of the damsel in distress character that’s more appealing. No one likes the whiny damsel in distress, always stumbling into trouble, which makes Leia’s feisty, pistol-packing princess a really enjoyable innovation. The fact she’s not given to one of the male characters as a reward for their heroism is a bonus as it allows for a more unconventional story. It also showed excellent foresight as placing her in a relationship would have dulled the character for the sequel, which is eventually what happened (Leia doesn’t act like Leia in Jedi). I would like to point out, though, that, like fridging (see Mad Max), describing every instance of this trope as sexist would be ridiculous (not that I was doing that). Of course you want strong female characters, but the guy getting the girl doesn’t always equate to sexism. A female love interest may not always be as developed as a male protagonist but, again, it’s not their story, and she may be symbolic of very positive views of women (see Mad Max). Furthermore, female protagonists are given men as reward just as often. Some might consider this sexist, though, as it places them in a traditional gender role (you can’t win sometimes). Viewing films through the lens of feminism can be interesting and is definitely worthwhile, pushing writers to consider subversions of stereotypical characterisations and worn out old tropes. However, it can also be very restrictive, to both creativity and enjoyment, if you are too extreme in your readings.

I offered Han and Leia’s relationship as something I don’t like about The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I asked why does she fall for him as all he seems to do is act in a sexist manner and she seems quite adamant she’s not interested in him? I rewatched Empire before starting this post in a deliberate attempt to find material to counteract this argument but sadly didn’t find much. The first time we see Leia, she’s staring across the room at Han, suggesting feelings for him, but it’s subtle and easily missed or interpreted differently. Han expresses his feelings more openly, being rather sweet and sincere when he goes to say goodbye to her. Leia is very harsh in her response, and in subsequent arguments, Han suggests she is concealing her feelings. However, not much is done to suggest this is true, as she constantly refutes his claims. It also begs the question, why would she do this? Fear of undermining her position, or of falling in love in such difficult times? Possibly, but again, it’s not suggested, as she’s constantly depicted as resistant to Han’s advances. When Han shows concern for her, she pushes him away, and when they finally kiss, he comes across like a real sleaze, forcing himself on her, and she escapes the situation as quick as she can. It’s true she is a bit stuck up and rude and could maybe learn to relax a bit, like Han, but this suggests the theme of the love story is ‘she really wants it, she just needs to loosen up a bit’, and I can’t really defend that. I also criticise Han not telling her he loves her, but more because it shows he hasn’t really changed or done anything to deserve her. The line is definitely better than the alternative, suggesting character and avoiding being mawkish, and the feelings are all expressed visually anyway.

I still don’t like Leia being revealed as Luke’s sister in Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). It’s a ridiculous coincidence, mainly done for shock value, and doesn’t fit with what we’ve seen and been told so far. However, my criticism that she doesn’t react to the fact Darth Vader is also revealed as her father could be argued against. Her emotional interaction with Han after the revelation suggests distress, and her inability to divulge the truth suggests fear it could endanger her friends. I also state it doesn’t affect the story. This is a major oversight, as it sets up the most crucial moment of the climax; Vader using it against Luke, inciting him to embrace his anger and the dark side. It’s still a very silly twist, though. It would have been better if the other hope for the Jedi that Yoda refers to in Empire was Vader. It is, after all, Vader who kills the Emperor and destroys the dark side. This would show Yoda’s wisdom and strong connection to the Force, knowing there is still hope for Vader, and reveal he was training Luke to turn his father back to good all along (like all his teachings suggest). This is even suggested in the mise-en-scene in Empire as Yoda is surrounded by black and bathed in red (the colours of Vader) just as he delivers the line, “No, there is another.”

CONCLUSION

Well, that, along with finally putting The Darning Needle behind me, was a satisfying purging experience. Now I can get on with bringing you brand new analyses, films, scripts, and other projects in the coming year!

Career Plan 2016-2017

At the beginning of the year, I found myself in a much securer position than at the beginning of the previous year and with a clear objective for the year to come of prioritising the development of my own work over critiquing other people’s.

My main focus has been The Darning Needle, a 3×45 min drama that I’ve submitted to the Wales Drama Award. It’s my best and most substantial work to date and the first full-length piece I’ve been satisfied with (although a writer is never truly satisfied and I’ll go back to it if required). I’m eagerly awaiting the results of the Wales Drama Award, and preparing other work to present to the judges if I’m successful, including an outline for another full-length piece and a Doctor Who episode. At some point after the results, I should be able to share some extracts from The Darning Needle and these other pieces. I’m hopeful for success, but failing any, I’ll have another chance to submit The Darning Needle to the BBC via their Script Room in December.

I’ve also been seeking success with writing in the short-form. Last September, I set myself the target of writing three short films by January, with an eye to film the most suitable as an eligible contender for competitions and festivals throughout the year. The first I finished was Nice Guy. I felt this was least suitable as it wasn’t up to the standard of the other two and its critique of Internet culture would require the potentially long and costly development of a fake social network to avoid copyright. The second, Total Investigation Television, was the script I chose to film. It still provided a critique of Internet culture but was far more easily realised, being shot in the style of the social experiment films it satirised. I was happy with its realisation, its production led to connections with some brilliant actors and organisations that I hope to work with again, and it’s also received some recognition. It’s due to be shown at Made in Roath Arts Festival on October 15th and was nominated for best Fiction at Cardiff Mini Film Festival 2016 but failed to win. The final script I wrote, and possibly the best of the three, was A Love Story at Lin’s Kitchen. I decided not to film it immediately as I wanted to submit it to a couple of competitions that offered the prize of having it produced by professionals. Sadly, like Total Investigation Television, it was not successful. I feel on all these occasions, I missed out due to my entries’ incompatibility with the criteria, so next year I’ll be preparing more suitable applicants.

A further unexpected achievement came through our nomination at Cardiff Mini Film Festival. During the networking after-party, I introduced myself to the award hosts, Boyd Clack and Kirsten Jones, and asked them if they’d be interested in starring in A Love Story at Lin’s Kitchen; now retitled, Bamboo House. They loved the script and agreed. Shooting commenced yesterday, and you can keep up to date by watching our video diary. Being my first film to feature professional actors, Bamboo House provides me with a great opportunity, as this will not only enhance the production but potentially draw greater attention to my work than ever before. It will be made public on YouTube in November and submitted to competitions and festivals thereafter; including those we missed deadlines for last year – Cardiff Independent Film Festival – and others that Total Investigation Television was not suitable for due to its limited visual scope. With professional actors on board, impressive locations secured, and greater opportunity for sophisticated cinematography, Bamboo House should be my greatest production yet!

As well as instigating my own projects, I’ve played significant roles in other people’s. I helped out first-year film students at Cardiff and Vale College, acting in one of their shorts, and third-year scriptwriting students at the University of South Wales, assisting at script development classes. It was here I met James Humphreys, a fruitful connection as I went on to perform in a live reading of his script Ringland and was later asked to act at and script edit his first ScriptDawg event, and time permitting I’ll be taking part in all future events. I’ve also been told by senior scriptwriting lecturer, Sian Summers, that she’ll inform me of any further opportunities to assist at the university, which I’m very hopeful to do as I feel my tutoring/script editing ability has been put to good use. Another project where these skills have been utilised is YouTube sitcom series, How Not To Be Single, created by James Musgrove. I helped James develop the script for episode one, taking an advisory position, and then went on to co-direct and film it. Episode two I wrote myself, working from a brief from James, and again I’ve been co-directing and filming. It will be released later this month, and we’re confident it will top episode one. With this huge increase in filming, I hope to produce a showreel very soon or even multiple ones, focusing individually on my acting, camerawork, and writing.

Despite all my filming and scriptwriting work, I’ve still found time for reviews and analyses of film and television. These include E.T., the Star Wars saga, all the X-Men universe films, Ghostbusters 2016, and the classic Doctor Who serial, The Ark. I was particularly proud of my X-Men and Doctor Who posts. The X-Men posts perfected the more light-hearted yet informative blogging style I’ve been trying to move towards after writing formal university essays for years. Next year sees the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I’d like to review the Spider-Man franchise in a similar style, as well as the new Wolverine film so I can maintain my complete record. I was pleased to be able to debunk the negative and unfair fan opinion of The Ark, and I’m still hoping to produce many more Doctor Who posts in future. Critiquing at least one story from each Doctor is my next target, as well as an overview of all the Dalek stories, with an accompanying video ranking my best to worst. I also plan to post about Rogue One this Christmas and Trainspotting and its sequel upon its release.

I’ve exceeded my objective as this has been by far my most productive year. I’ve produced my best work, made great connections and received recognition for my efforts. I feel my ability is still progressing at a rapid pace and I’m more focused and confident than ever. I’ve achieved more than I could have hoped for, but I feel now that I’m in such a strong position, next year will reap even greater rewards. Big success is just around the corner!

Fear of the Unknown (The Ark)

Is The Ark racist? It’s become a popular opinion in recent years, with various bloggers championing it, but is it true? Let’s take a rational look at the story and see what we discover. The Humans are travelling on the Ark with their seemingly willing servants, the Monoids. Their destination, Refusis II. They are aware Refusis II is inhabited but know nothing about the Refusians. When the Doctor (William Hartnell) and his companions arrive on the Ark, they accidentally bring a deadly illness and are put on trial for their lives; accused by the Humans of being Refusian spies, out to destroy them! When the judge, Zentos (Inigo Jackson), reveals it is irrational feeling rather than reason that leads them to this conclusion, Stephen (Peter Purves) protests their intolerance.

STEPHEN: the nature of man, even in this day and age, hasn’t altered at all. You still fear the unknown, like everyone else before you.”  

Only when the Humans overcome their prejudice against the newcomers to their world and let the travellers free is the situation resolved, as the Doctor is able to cure the illness. The Doctor leaves them with a parting message: “travel with understanding as well as hope”. So far, the story’s intention seems clear; to encourage acceptance of difference, not fear and hatred. However, it is the second half of the story that has provided the most evidence for the accusations of racism. The travellers return to the Ark seven hundred years later to discover the Monoids have now enslaved the Humans. It’s been suggested that the Monoids represent migrants, as they came to Earth to live with the Humans when their planet was destroyed, and their rising up to overthrow the Humans reveals a fear of migrants doing the same in Britain. Unfortunately, they’re depicted as crueller masters than the Humans, as although the Humans were seen to consider Human life more important than Monoid, and the Monoids served them, it seemed to be an amicable relationship, with no evidence of them being mistreated. In contrast, the Monoids use weapons to inflict pain on the Humans and keep them in order and plan to destroy them once they get to Refusis II. But is this intentional racism? No, not at all, just ill-considered, unsophisticated writing, accidentally contradicting the message of the story. Yes, this could have been avoided if the Monoids were depicted as more sympathetic creatures, but to label it as deliberate racism is to be completely ignorant of how scriptwriting works. Both Stephen and the Doctor, the show’s moral conscience, give speeches condemning the Humans’ behaviour (“they were extremely intolerant and selfish”) and blame them for the Monoids’ revolution.

THE DOCTOR: “They (the Monoids) were treated like slaves. So no wonder when they got the chance, they repaid you in kind.”

Unawareness that a writer who wishes to send a prejudice message against migrants doesn’t write this kind of dialogue is baffling. However, the most glaring oversight that is always made by The Ark’s attackers is that the Humans are migrants too! Earth, the Humans’ home, has been destroyed, and they are travelling to Refusis II to make a new one. This is the whole thrust of the story! When they arrive at Refusis II, the Refusians insist that they must settle their differences with the Monoids. Once they do, they welcome the migrants to their planet in peace rather than enslaving them like the Humans did the Monoids. Again, the Doctor offers his message of hope and understanding, clearly signposting it as the story’s central moral.

It’s sad that a story that’s tried to promote the need for races to peacefully coexist together has been labelled as racist by people putting two and two together and making five. But also blame must be put on the writer for not fully thinking through the connotations of his work. An example of how rational deliberation must always be employed by both writers and critics.

The Ark

Monoids and Humans, happy together.

Additional Note: One recurring piece of evidence given by those accusing The Ark of racism is that Dodo (Jackie Lane) calls the Monoids savages. THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN. She hears the sound of drums from her cell when THE HUMANS are conducting a funeral and says, “sounds like savages”. A no longer politically correct word, but it’s never used as a slur against the Monoids.

Mutant Theory (The X-Men Franchise) – Part 2

Part two of my look at the X-Men franchise. Here’s part one and my look at the first film.

Mutant and Shameful – X-Men: First Class (dir. Vaughn, 2011)

There’s no better example in the series of Magneto being a more sympathetic and interesting character than Xavier, and the rest of the X-Men, than this movie. We are introduced to Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) as children. Xavier is in his mansion, whining because his mother won’t make him a sandwich, while Magneto is in Auschwitz, having his mother shot in front of him by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), a sadistic maniac who wants to experiment on him. Twenty years later, Magneto is on the hunt for Shaw and the other Nazis that slaughtered his people. That’s right, Magneto is a badass Nazi hunter on a just cause to make evil men pay for their crimes. Meanwhile, Xavier is chugging lager at his toffee-nosed university and attempting to manipulate women into sleeping with him by raping their minds, which apparently we’re supposed to find highly amusing. Magneto is on a heroic mission, and we sympathise entirely because we’ve seen the hardship he’s been through, and Shaw is a genuinely evil man who’s trying to destroy the world. Yet we’re supposed to side with Xavier, judging from his position of privilege, when he tells Magneto not to kill Shaw. When Shaw is attempting to kill Magneto, I might add. And Why? Because it’ll send Magneto down an inescapable dark path? His logic makes no sense to me. I mean, is anyone really hoping that Magneto spares Shaw’s life? No, I didn’t think so. If you want an audience to side with your hero, make sure their cause makes sense. And cutting out any mind rape might help too.

A badass, and just an ass.

One thing that doesn’t make sense to me about Magneto’s cause, though, is why after he’s killed Shaw does he want to kill all humans? I understand sending the ships’ missiles back at them, that’s perfectly reasonable, they started it, but why kill ‘all’ humans? Shaw was a mutant! The man responsible for all his suffering was one of his own kind, so why decide to carry on his cause and wipe out all human life? Magneto’s hatred for humans made sense in the original trilogy, they killed his family, his people, making the author of his pain a mutant really confuses things. But apart from that, he’s totally badass, and I’ll support anyone with a theme this cool.

Sadly, although Magneto remains a badass, his previous (or future, depending on which way you look at it) ally, Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), has lost all her edge. There’s an attempt to give her depth by showing her at odds with Xavier’s more passive attitude, as it won’t allow her to show her true self, but it all boils down to she turns evil because Xavier doesn’t fancy her. Just one example of the atrocious gender politics in this movie. This, along with the mind rape and the female cast being perennially dressed in their underwear, really doesn’t support the series’ central theme of equality; neither does the one black character being fridged halfway through.

Entertaining because of Magneto (Fassbender’s performance, especially when he’s interrogating the Swiss Bank Manager (James Faulkner), makes him my favourite for the next Bond), but one day I’d really like to see him win, or at least see the series add some ambiguity by sympathising with his cause more and highlighting Xavier’s hypocrisy and immorality.

What Kind of Monster Are You? – The Wolverine (dir. Mangold, 2013)

A competent action movie, an immeasurable improvement from Origins, but not really that interesting. Wolverine, mourning the loss of Jean in Last Stand, must prove to himself that there’s injustice worth fighting. He does this by going to Japan and finding and saving a new love interest. It’d all probably be a lot more effective if the love story held any weight, but it’s pretty standard fare. In fact, I can’t even remember the name of the love interest; can’t even picture her actually, and I only watched it a week ago. The plot doesn’t really make any sense, but you don’t notice when watching, only if you start deliberately pulling it apart afterwards, and it ends with your typical showdown with the ‘Big Bad’. Perfectly enjoyable stuff, though. Clearly, a concerted effort’s been made to add a bit of style and class to proceedings and to return some mystery and respectability to the tormented hero after the embarrassment of his previous solo outing. All things deserving of praise.

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A Darker Path – X-Men: Days of Future Past (dir. Singer, 2014)

Here we go again. Killing truly evil people will send you down an inescapable dark path to damnation. Blah, blah, blah. This time, it’s Mystique who must be saved from killing the bad guy. In the comic, the bad guy is Senator Kelly. In fact, he’s not a bad guy as such. He’s described as “a decent man, with what he feels are legitimate concerns about the increasing number of super-powered mutants in the world.” He’s a man who has the power to change, but the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants plan to kill him, which will result in the public turning against mutants and electing a president with extremist views, which results in an apocalyptic future. Sounds like something worth fighting against. In the movie, the bad guy, Trask (Peter Dinklage), is bad. In fact, he’s pure evil. He’s a psychopath who experiments on, tortures and kills people without reason or remorse, and he plans to enslave an entire race and give them the same treatment. The thing is, if Mystique kills Trask, it’ll turn the government against mutants, she’ll be captured, and her DNA will be used to develop the Sentinels; robotic, mutant killing machines that will threaten to end the world. Well, the right path is clear, isn’t it? Kill him without being seen or captured! This would solve everything! The bastard deserves to die. Sorry, but I can’t help thinking this as there’s nothing redeemable about him. Let him live, and he’ll carry on being evil. He deserves to die, and Xavier and Wolverine are hypocrites for stating otherwise. “It was the first time she killed”, says Xavier. “It wasn’t her last”, says Wolverine, bitterly. You monumental hypocrite! You kill three people as soon as you’re sent on your mission to stop her! And how many have you killed in the past in defence of yourself and your people? And what more is Mystique doing than defending herself and her race? What more was Magneto doing when he killed Shaw? Perhaps if the X-Men’s deeds were shown to change Trask, I could appreciate their perspective, but he’s beyond help, so screw him, and these passive, sissy hypocrites. Magneto was right.

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Sparing Psychopaths – Deadpool (dir. Miller, 2016)

Simple themes – love conquers all, it’s what’s inside that counts, you can’t run away from your problems, stick by the one you love – a nice restrained plot (no apocalyptic threats), and a story that’s not preachy or pretentious (although sometimes it thinks it’s a lot funnier than it is and verges very close to cliché considering its subversive aspirations). Its greatest moment comes when Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) holds a gun to the villain’s head, Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) gives a big speech about what it means to be a hero, and Deadpool just blows the guy’s brains out. This criticism of the X-Men films’ ridiculous, trite moralising is the highlight of the film, and if the sequel concentrates more on this kind of genre subversion and satire, while avoiding cliché, we’ll be onto a winner.

If wearing superhero tights means sparing psychopaths, then maybe I wasn't meant to wear them.

If wearing superhero tights means sparing psychopaths, then maybe I wasn’t meant to wear ’em.

The Third One’s Always the Worst – X-Men: Apocalypse (dir. Singer, 2016)

“The third one’s always the worst”, says Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as the young X-Men leave a showing of Return of the Jedi (dir. Marquand, 1983). This is supposed to be a dig at Last Stand, but the joke has backfired, as the third film in the First Class trilogy approaches X-Men Origins: Wolverine levels of badness. There is no debate here, just a series of unmemorable action sequences as the X-Men attempt to stop Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the ‘Big Bad’, from destroying the world (the most cliché of all movie villain motivations), and mutant after mutant is introduced (so they can show off their powers in the trailer) without any of their characters being developed in any interesting ways. True, we’re used to underdeveloped characters in this series, but X-Men: Apocalypse goes one better (or worse), it destroys the series’ most sympathetic character. Yep, they turned Magneto into a pussy. He’s given a family just so they can be fridged, which apparently justifies him bending to Apocalypse’s will. At first, I thought Apocalypse must be brainwashing him, but no, the main plot revolves around Apocalypse trying to steal Xavier’s psychic abilities, so clearly Magneto freely chooses to follow Apocalypse, without question. This just makes him look stupid, weak, and completely robs him of his agency; the one character left in the series who had any. There was always reason behind Magneto’s motivations, however wicked the end results, but not anymore.

These are not the only problems. The dialogue is atrocious, reminiscent of Colossus’ speech in Deadpool, which was meant as parody. Like Origins, it’s more interested in needlessly joining the dots together so everything fits neatly with the rest of the series than with telling a proper story. The tone is all over the place. A prime example being the comical sequence where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) saves students from the exploding X-Mansion being followed by jarring seriousness as it’s revealed he failed to save Cyclop’s (Tye Sheridan) brother, Havoc (Lucas Till); a character killed off for convenience in a far less delicate manner than anything in Last StandXavier is worse than ever. Not only is Cerebro corrupted by the bad guys again and its morality is still not brought into question, but the honourable Professor commits his worst case of mind rape yet; this time on the woman he supposedly loves, robbing Moira (Rose Byrne) of her memories without permission because he thinks it’s best for her. He is never judged for this, in fact, it’s joked about, and when he tells Moira, her response is to passionately kiss him, and we’re expected to go all gooey over this beautiful romance. Boring, cringeworthy, and insulting.

I think I rolled my eyes more than Apocalypse.

I think I rolled my eyes more than Apocalypse.

Mutant Theory (The X-Men Franchise)

Over two years ago, I posted about X-Men (dir. Singer, 2000), pointing out the contradictory cause of Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is against the government’s mutant registration act but sees no problem with using his machine, Cerebro, to keep a register of all humans and mutants against their will. With the release of the latest X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse (dir. Singer, 2016), now seems like as good a time as any to give my opinion on the rest of the series.

Behind Ice – X2: X-Men United (dir. Singer, 2003)

The best of the series. Slickly produced, well-staged action sequences (the attacks on the White House and the X-Mansion, and Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) prison break standout in particular), and a solid story arc for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), who must learn that the actions he takes in the present and his loyalty to the X-Men are more important than uncovering the secrets of his past. This is effectively shown when he confronts Stryker (Brian Cox) during the attack on the X-Mansion, and his past is separated from him by a wall of ice, like the secrets that lie beneath Alkali Lake. He is given the choice of staying to discover these secrets or leaving to help his friends. He chooses the latter.

WOLVERINE: “Go, I’ll be fine.”

ROGUE: “But we won’t.”

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This scene is later mirrored during Stryker and Wolverine’s confrontations at Alkali Lake. Twice Wolverine is given the chance to follow Stryker instead of his friends. At first, he does abandon them to pursue answers, but returns to help them when the dam bursts.

STRYKER: “Come with me, and I’ll tell you everything you want to know. You can’t help your friends. They’re as good as dead.”

During their final confrontation, Stryker tempts Wolverine again, but he chooses to leave with his new family, who hold the real answers he’s looking for, symbolically abandoning his past by leaving his army tag with Stryker to drown.

STRYKER: “Who has the answers, Wolverine? Those People?”

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Despite these qualities, the film definitely has its downsides. Cerebro being corrupted by the bad guys to serve their cause is a prime opportunity to retcon the attitude of the first film and draw attention to the immorality of the device, but this is glossed over. The biggest issues for me are the changes from the source material, the classic graphic novel, God Loves, Man Kills (Claremont, 1982). Now, I’m in no way a big comic geek or purist, I’ve read a select few, ones I’ve seen hailed as the best or featured in top ten lists, this just happens to be one of the few, and there are many examples of how X2 has watered-down the material. God Loves, Man Kills draws attention to religion being perverted for hateful causes (a continually relevant theme), the main villain, Stryker, being a televangelist on a mission to wipe out all mutants, who he believes are the seed of Satan, as they’re not made in God’s image. Stryker killed his son at birth, not understanding his mutation and thinking he was a demon. His hate for mutants and belief that religion is on his side is born out of feelings of guilt and a need to justify his actions. This offers far more depth than the movie’s simple anti-prejudice message and more complexity than the movie Stryker’s basic, undeveloped prejudice and stereotypical evil military man characterisation (nothing against Cox’s excellent performance). In the comic, as in the movie, Stryker attempts to gain control of Xavier’s mind, but instead of using a cliché ‘creepy child’, it uses horrific hallucinatory imagery. Xavier is placed in a sensory deprivation chamber by Stryker and experiences visions of himself crucified, being tormented by demonic X-Men, who rip out his heart. He’s repeatedly visited by a messianic Stryker, to whom he must give his hand and thus hand over his obedience and power. This imagery shows Stryker acting as a false God, manipulating religion and people for his own selfish gain. I can understand why the studio would choose to exclude this edgy, politically loaded material from a commercial blockbuster, but I don’t have to like it.

Under Fire – X-Men: The Last Stand (dir. Ratner, 2006)

I don’t understand the hate towards this one. Not saying it’s great, not at all, but I really don’t see a huge difference in quality between this and the rest of the series. We have the ‘cure’ debate, just like the previous ‘registration act’ and threat of ‘mutant/human war’, providing the film’s moral dilemma. We also have a character arc for Wolverine that eclipses the other characters’ stories, as his tragic love story with Jean (Famke Janssen) comes to an end. But, on the whole, the film is just a series of effects-based action sequences, featuring superhumans fighting and blowing stuff up. So business as usual then. The only reasons I can see for people not liking it quite so much are the action sequences aren’t quite as memorable as in X2 (although some are pretty damn good), and the regular cast is quite liberally disposed of throughout. But apart from Cyclops (James Marsden) – and who gives a toss about Cyclops? – they all get epic send-offs, so what’s the problem?

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Just like the other films, though, there are a number of things that could have been done to make it more interesting. There is an X-Men: The Animated Series episode called The Cure, in which Rogue (Lenore Zann) is faced with the dilemma of whether to take the mutant cure or not. In the end, after using her powers to help others, she realises how important her difference is, and doesn’t take the cure. In Last Stand, Rogue (Anna Paquin) moans a bit about being different, then takes the cure, and it’s really unclear what point, if any, is being made. Again, Xavier’s morality is brought into question, as it is revealed he’s been suppressing Jean’s abilities. Magneto accuses him of trying to control the X-Men to serve his cause, telling Wolverine he’s tamed him. Now Magneto has a really good point here, as this is exactly what Xavier did in the first film when he read Wolverine’s mind without his permission to gain information that he, does indeed, use to manipulate him into joining his cause. But this great opportunity to add some much-needed ambiguity to the series is ignored, in favour of the continued characterisation of Xavier as a pure and noble father figure and Magneto as the purely evil villain.

I hate the X-Men for doing this. Look how sad he looks, bless him.

I hate the X-Men for doing this. Look how sad he looks, bless him.

Finally, Mystique’s (Rebecca Romijn) fate is another huge missed opportunity. Now Mystique, as played by Rebecca Romijn, is a character I have quite a fondness for. This could be partly to do with the fact she spends most of her time naked, but it’s also because, along with Magneto, she is one of the only characters with any purpose; a goal she is actively trying to accomplish. This is incredibly important for getting an audience to get behind and support a character. I mean, who’s interested in passive characters who just let things happen to them and make no attempt to change things? Not me, which is a big part of the reason I find myself supporting Magneto and his Brotherhood in all these films. They’re fighting for change, and often for good reason. While Xavier and the X-Men just sit back and let stuff happen, trying to defend their stagnant behaviour with trite moralising. Plus, Xavier is a manipulative arsehole who invades people’s minds, controlling and wiping them without permission. I feel far more sorry for Magneto and Mystique when they lose their powers than I do for Xavier when he’s killed or for Wolverine when he’s forced to kill Jean. How about you? Anyway, back to Mystique’s fate. When Mystique loses her powers, she quite boringly and predictably decides to turn against and betray Magneto. From what we know of the character, I find this quite unbelievable. After despising humans all her life and believing unequivocally in mutant superiority, would she abandon her beliefs so easily? Wouldn’t it have been far more interesting if she didn’t abandon them, and stayed loyal to Magneto, perhaps sacrificing herself for him, even though she’s turned human and he’s turned his back on her, proving to him that it wasn’t her mutant ability that made her who she was? A far better way to put the film’s point across, surely?

Koo-Koo-Ka-Choo Got Screwed – X-Men Origins: Wolverine (dir. Hood, 2009)

Nothing good to say about this one. It’s unfair that Last Stand gets lumped together with this as the nadir of the series. Again, not saying Last Stand is an underappreciated classic, but at least it had understandable character arcs (mostly), and there was some sort of debate going on. This exists solely to introduce as many new mutants as possible so they can show off their powers in the trailer (admittedly, Last Stand had a bit of that too, but not to this extent). Wolverine’s past is needlessly revealed so it joins up with the previous trilogy, which really spoils the mystique (no pun intended) of the character instead of adding to it. And it’s all told in the most cheesy way possible, with a fridged love interest, cliché action movie dialogue, embarrassing CGI, and a series of ridiculous plot twists that some idiot working on this obviously thought constituted good storytelling. Just awful in every conceivable way. So bad, it often feels like parody.

XO

Return of the Return of the Star Wars (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Here are some more of my thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. Abrams, 2015). I liked the not so subtle digs at the prequels. The first line of the film is, “This will begin to make things right”. The Starkiller Base blows up the Republic and thus the Senate (there’ll be none of that talky politics crap in our Star Wars). I believe I also heard some dialogue criticising the inferiority of a clone army in comparison to stormtroopers. The humanising of the stormtroopers again seems like a reaction against the prequels. Finn (John Boyega) shows us they’re human beings with feelings, not disposable duplicates, which raises the stakes of the war. Plus, other stormtroopers have emotional reactions, showing us Finn is not just an anomaly.

Finn, I’d say, is the best of the new characters. His disreputable past, humour under pressure and strained bravery have their roots in Han Solo’s (Harrison Ford) original character, but his youthful inexperience and Boyega’s performance distinguish him. Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) roots are more evident, being a blatant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) clone, but with a greater sense of sadness about the loss of her family and less enthusiasm for adventure. Making her more of a reluctant hero makes her eventual bravery seem more heroic, and her stronger connection to her home makes her leaving more moving. Also, it’s good to see a woman in a traditionally male role and not appear at all out of place (why would she?). Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) struggle with the dark side seems far more genuine and nuanced compared to Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Darth Vader’s (James Earl Jones) sudden conversions. I know we’re bound to see more of her in the future, but Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) did nothing except look cool. I think they were going for a Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) vibe, but throwing her down the trash compactor kind of diminished that. If you want a character to look cool, don’t throw them in the garbage. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) also does very little. The writers obviously decided to make the other characters think he was dead for half the movie, not for suspense, but because they could think of nothing to do with him. Max Von Sydow’s character is entirely superfluous. All the information he conveys could have been told visually. Han Solo is as fun as he’s always been and it’s sad to see him go, as his relationship with his son and split from Leia (Carrie Fisher) added new dimensions to the character that would have been nice to explore further. However, his death is unearned, being the culmination of a story we haven’t been given time or reason to care about. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll care because it’s Han Solo, not because of anything the film has done. I wish we had seen less of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), possibly even nothing at all and just had him talked about to build an aura around him. I think it would have been far more interesting and darker to have Kylo Ren talking to Vader’s dead skull, which only seems to be in here so they could get that one shot in the trailer and probably on a bunch of merchandise.

The CGI used for Snoke is nothing new and looks out of place with the retro vibe the film’s going for. In fact, things start to really go wrong with the sudden introduction of Snoke and other CGI elements. We also have a pointless runaround on a freighter with CGI tentacles. It seems to be there so we can have some last bits of fun and humour with Han and Chewie (Peter Mayhew), but it serves no plot purpose apart from the bounty hunters inform the First Order of BB-8’s whereabouts, but this makes no sense as they’re already able to track him. Maz Kanata (Lupita Kanata) is another out of place CGI creation that seems utterly pointless. The time spent with her really bogs the movie down. All the emotional issues and plot points brought up during these scenes could be worked out on the Falcon; perhaps while being pursued by TIE fighters and Star Destroyers à la The Empire Strikes Back (dir. Kershner, 1980). I don’t see any reason why Han couldn’t have picked up Luke’s lightsaber somewhere, and Finn couldn’t just ask Han to take him away from the war instead of propositioning other characters. Maz’s cantina-esque home seems to have been included just so another box can be ticked on the film’s list of essential Star Warsy stuff.

With the amount of subtle and not-so-subtle references to the original films, I’m beginning to think it was genuinely the filmmakers’ plan to subconsciously trick us into thinking The Force Awakens was a great Star Wars movie by using as many familiar aspects as possible. It’s got everything you like about Star Wars, how can it be bad? The logic makes sense, and I think after the disappointment of the prequels, they were right to go back to what we love about Star Wars. I just wish there could have been something really original and different to make it stand out from the past films, but they played it safe. A sensible marketing decision, not a very exciting artistic one.