Thursday, August 7, 2014

Comedians of the Galaxy

I'm high on believin' that you're in love with me.


Of all the trailers I've seen this year, the one for Guardians of the Galaxy was by far the most intriguing. It had an incredibly irreverent tone that’s sorely lacking around Hollywood lately and used a clever bit of self-deprecation to introduce a group of Marvel characters about which I knew very little. I couldn't help but wonder whether or not the entire movie would be as amusing as the trailer or if that was just a really great bit of marketing.

I was pleased to discover that irreverence permeates the entire movie, and it’s the comedic flair that saves it from being another Green Lantern. Like that film, Guardians seeks to establish too much too quickly, and so it’s stuffed to the gills with exposition, much of which is incredibly redundant. I don’t think I heard the name "Gamora" come up without a reminder that she is the “adopted daughter” of Thanos, for example. It also changes locations so frequently that it’s hard to ever get a feel for any one place, and the lack of travel time makes the galaxy seem considerably smaller than it should.

The group’s assembly is similarly rushed and kind of clumsy, but once they get together everything becomes much more entertaining. I wish the movie had started right at the lineup scene from the trailer and just cut out all of the unnecessary exposition at the beginning. It would've lent some mystery to how long these characters knew each other and that in turn could've obscured the fact that they’re willing to call each other family even though we've only seen them together as a group for like a half hour.

In any event, their banter is fast, furious, and terribly amusing. Each one has their own particular quirks, and those quirks are used to great effect in the group dynamic, such as Drax the Destroyer's (Dave Bautista) inability to grasp most metaphors. Still, the show really belongs to Chris Pratt's Peter Quill and Bradley Cooper's Rocket Raccoon. They’re the perfect kind of snarky anti-heroes, and without them, the rest of the characters would fall flat. Zoe Saldana's Gamora gets the worst of it, seeing as she’s a walking cliché without much else to her, but even the pretty wonderfully realized Groot needed Rocket to handle some of the thoughts that Vin Diesel and the animators couldn't convey with the words “I am Groot.”

One of my fears for this movie was that Rocket and Groot would look completely out of place given they are computer generated and the rest of the cast is not. Every so often the Uncanny Valley would appear, but for the most part they look like they are in fact there beside the actors.

Alas, the same can’t be said of the story, since there isn't much of one at all. There’s a MacGuffin everyone wants, and a super strong baddie who wants to use it to kill a planet full of innocent civilians. Since the Guardians are a group of misfits who aren't particularly super and don’t really care about being heroes, they’re at least interesting, but the villains are so unbelievably boring and cliché that they might as well not even be there. In fact I think you could replace Lee Pace with the MacGuffin itself and nobody would realize something changed.

And while it's nice Earth isn't in the crossfire for once, they do end up having a climatic battle above a city on a very Earth-like planet that we know so little about it might as well be Earth anyway. Not sure about you, but I feel like the whole “giant aerial battle to defend the major city from alien invaders” thing has been thoroughly played out at this point.

That said, that battle does include one of the single most out-there tactics a hero has ever tried on a villain. For all the movie's faults, it's things like that which make it so much fun that it's easy to let the other stuff slide. That and the incredible soundtrack rocking in the background, which consists in large part of awesome 70s and 80s tunes that come from Quill's cassette tape. There may come a day when I'll get Hooked On a Feeling out of my head, but it is not this day.

Marvel clearly gets that their audience came to have a good time, not to see a bunch of superheroes suffer through “real world” issues, which makes even these otherwise less than stellar assemblies an enjoyable experience. They're also willing to take a risk on a bunch of wacky characters like these to branch off from churning out sequels all the time, and for that I'm happy to say go ahead and see Guardians of the Galaxy. It might not be the best story you've ever seen, but it’ll make you laugh.

(It has a bit more profanity than any of the other Marvel movies though, so you might want to leave the youngsters at home.)

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Blue Shell Solutions

Don't mess with Luigi in Mario Kart


A couple months back Mario Kart 8 came out to give the Wii U a good paddle-shocking back from the edge of death, and with it returns one of the most infamous items in all of gaming: the Spiny Shell. Also known more commonly as the Blue Shell, it’s appeared in many iterations of the Mario Kart franchise over the years, and its notoriety comes from how infuriating it is to be on the receiving end of it.

For the uninitiated, Mario Kart is a deviously addictive little party game from Nintendo wherein players control their favorite Mario characters and their souped-up gokarts in a race across whimsical landscapes. It has created and destroyed more friendships than perhaps any other thing invented by man, due in no small part to the abundance of crazy items the racers can use to harass their fellow players. One such item is the aforementioned Spiny Shell, which when fired promptly homes in on the first place player and blasts them into the sky. Virtually unavoidable, that little blue turtle shell with the spikes coming out of it is a stream of vulgarities just waiting to happen.

Ostensibly the Spiny Shell exists to balance out a first-place player’s ability to open up an insurmountable lead over the other racers. Not only will the person out front likely have more skill than the others, they don’t face many of the hazards of riding in the middle of the pack such as other racers ramming them. In addition, they get first crack at any boosts or items on the track. Thus we have the Spiny Shell, which in theory would allow the players to slow down the top racer just enough to catch up.

In practice, the Spiny Shell serves mainly as a means for lower ranked players (and especially the AI racers) to troll the better ones. Now don’t get me wrong, that can make for some incredible entertainment, particularly if you’re not the person in first, but it’s certainly not terribly effective at bridging the skill gap that put the players in their relative positions in the first place. It merely gives one group a means to lash out at another in a futile attempt to feel better when they come up short by comparison. It neither imparts skill to them nor encourages them to improve. It can’t take away the drive, skill, luck or natural talent of the winner either, but it can frustrate them enough to stop playing.

This holds true for all schemes that seek to impose equality of outcome by attempting to redistribute success. Progressive tax systems that take money from the rich and give it to the poor never succeed in creating rich people out of the poor, nor have they turned the Warren Buffets of the world into paupers. Obamacare hasn’t made the poor healthier and the wealthy sicker. EPA regulations and fines haven’t stopped oil and gas companies from dominating the energy market, nor have the subsidies to solar companies made green energy more financially viable. Or to pick an example in the news today, giving Gaza to the Palestinians didn’t make them freer and the Israelis less democratic.

When the frustration of being harassed for their success grows large enough, people just leave the game. In the Mario Kart world, that takes the form of incredibly creative uses of profanity, flying controllers, and someone stomping out of the room ne’er to return. In the real world, it involves hiding money, skirting regulations, buying exemptions, or straight up moving out of the jurisdiction of those who would seek to use these Blue Shells.

So the next time a politician comes to you with a magic bullet that will make the less fortunate, less skillful, less talented, and/or less hard working get to a better place by shooting it at the folks who have succeeded due to their ability, effort, or dumb luck, just remember that like that spiny blue shell, it'll change very little beyond making someone else’s life miserable.

Also, Luigi will drive by your house and give you the death stare for it.


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Retro Review: Independence Day

In 1996, that would've been a tragedy.


Whether it’s A Nightmare Before Christmas on Halloween, Saving Private Ryan on Memorial Day, or Die Hard at Christmas, we've all got our favorite holiday movie traditions. For the 4th of July, there’s no better movie to watch than the aptly titled Independence Day. Conveniently abbreviated “ID4” by an incredible marketing campaign that helped push it to the top of the 1996 box office, it’s a funny, exciting, patriotic disaster romp that I love to watch every time America’s birthday rolls around and one of my top 10 all time favorite movies.

Looking back at it, Independence Day is remarkably tame compared to the destruction porn of today, as well as writer/director Roland Emmerich's later efforts. Instead of two hours of loosely connected edifice obliteration like we see nowadays, ID4 wraps up most of the disaster stuff by the end of the first act. By changing it up like that, the action doesn't get overwhelming to the point of monotony and we get to see actors doing stuff other than running and shouting.

That first forty-five minutes or so doesn't overdo it either. It plays out exactly like a good disaster film should: quietly introducing a looming threat and then teasing it just long enough to make the reveal satisfying. The new Godzilla did that using smoke, debris, and other scenery, but ID4 does it by introducing us to its characters. Just as the full alien menace might be revealed, it cuts away to meet a new group of people, and each group features secondary and tertiary characters who actually stick around for more than five minutes. That not only fleshes out the movie world, but also obscures who’s disposable since there are so many from which to choose.

When we finally get around to the city-sized alien spaceships, they don’t come out guns blazing; they settle in to a sinister hover above national landmarks. No swarm of alien fighters for some foreplay demolition either, just an eerie green spotlight on the target below. In LA, the spotlight shines in the face of Will Smith’s girlfriend’s stripper pal standing on the roof and mumbling “it’s so pretty.” Since we met her earlier, the knowledge of how utterly screwed she is builds tension in a way some random extra can’t.

Tension also builds from what doesn't happen at this point. Nobody shouts about rising percentages or counts the seconds to total annihilation. Even the ticking clock in the movie only appears a couple of times, but characters rush, drop things in haste, honk horns in frustration, bail from stopped vehicles, and anxiously check their watches in mid stride. When Jeff Goldblum finally shows us the clock hitting zero and ominously announces “time’s up”, we all hold our collective breath.

At last the special effects begin, which still look convincing today because they’re real explosions destroying scale models. CGI had just come on the scene, so it was only good enough to enhance a movie but not good enough to fully take over. That had two advantages. One, the best CGI today still can’t mimic reality perfectly, and two, spending all that time building a model and setting up a multitude of cameras to get that one shot right means nobody is going to obscure the final result. Thus it’s with a steady, distant camera we watch a wall of fire brutally smash its way through major cities.

And then, silence.

No slow motion pan of characters mutedly screaming in terror and grief while the sad music plays in the background, just the “July 3rd” title card and a lingering shot of destroyed New York City. That way everything gets a moment to sink in, and the date card gives our subconscious a frame of reference that adds a sense of scale newer movies undermine by jumping right off to the next action scene without rhyme or reason.

In the second act, ID4 shifts from a disaster film to more of a science fiction thriller, wherein a disparate band of characters come together as they try to figure out how to deal with an unstoppable killing machine. Since it avoids stacking coincidences as much as possible, the cast assembles with enough plausibility that we can focus our suspension of disbelief on the big things, like telepathic aliens. A lesser movie would've had Vivica Fox emerge from the rubble right next to the missing First Lady, run into Will Smith and the convoy in the desert, and then miraculously drive them all to Area 51 by random chance.

Meanwhile, the film builds on the despair created by the destruction in the first act. Our heroic Will Smith fueled counterattack turns into a desperate attempt to escape, and probably the only time in movie history the white guy gets killed off instead of the black guy. The alien prisoner intones that peace between us is impossible; they just want us to die. Nuclear weapons do nothing, the rescued First Lady dies anyway, and the optimistic environmentalist goes on a bender.

Were it Transformers: Age of Extinction, the goofy subplot about Randy Quaid's kid being sick would have appeared at this point to ruin all the other drama with its blatant attempt to generate sympathy. Instead, it’s cut in favor of better material. Unfortunately, so too are the scenes that explain how a Mac can hack an alien mothership, but you can’t have everything.

Once everyone is sufficiently depressed, we launch into the action-comedy finale. It’s also the part that aggravated tons of non-Americans. How deliciously ironic it is for people to complain about patriotism/jingoism in a movie that features an epic speech about humanity putting aside petty differences and uniting in common interest. I guess that line from the British guy about it being about bloody time somebody (America) came up with a counter-offensive was a bridge too far. Not that Hollywood is known for realism, but considering America’s military and economic might dominated the globe in the 90s, who else exactly would they expect to organize a worldwide counter-strike against an alien threat?

Anyway, ID4 sidesteps another action overdose by splitting up the cast so that Smith and Goldblum's characters embark on the quieter mission to the mothership while Bill Pullman and co. conduct the big aerial battle below. That makes both sequences feel longer without having to show a bunch of repetitive shots of F-18s blowing up and such. Plus there’s more room to insert comedy that would otherwise feel out of place.

Fortunately the filmmakers had the presence of mind to swap out the ridiculous ending where Randy Quaid randomly shows up in his biplane to sacrifice himself. Such edits seem to be infrequent of late. If somebody thinks something looks cool, it ends up in the final product no matter how much it ruins the flow, tone, or general consistency of the movie, if for no other reason than it usually cost a fortune to produce with CGI.

But even that silly ending could probably work with ID4’s superb soundtrack behind it. Whether it’s the terrifying alien attack, the quiet romantic moments, or the thrilling bombast of victory, David Arnold’s score sells every minute of screen time. Indeed, the hopeful little piccolo that kicks off President Whitmore's speech may be the only reason it comes across as fantastically rousing rather than pathetically cornball.

I could go on for pages more, but ultimately what we’re talking about here is fun. This movie is fun. It’s not bogged down with attempts to “ground it in reality.” It doesn't have all the color sucked out and replaced with muted grays and browns for the same. It has nods to similar past movies, but it’s not another rebooted retread of somebody else’s story. It doesn't rely on any one big star to carry the cast, though it did have the man they call Jayne in it, and the actors look like they’re genuinely into their roles. Despite the marketing campaign’s focus, the action doesn't overstay its welcome and therefore remains wonderfully exciting. It even makes you laugh from time to time to break up the tension. All in all, Independence Day is a textbook example of how to do the big summer blockbuster right.

So grab some popcorn and enjoy it again before they ruin it with a sequel.


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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Less is More than Meets the Eye

One city shall stand, one shall fall.
(Image by Sarjex - Check out her 
store)

Much has been said about Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise under his watch, and I’m certainly no stranger to opining about the writers that normally are in charge of these films. Fortunately Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have gone on to ruin somebody else’s franchise, and Ehren Kruger who previously played third fiddle to them has taken the reigns. With them gone, we finally get to see how much the dreaded duo influenced the direction of these movies, and how much stemmed from Michael Bay just wanting to blow stuff up.

At the core of Transformers: Age of Extinction there’s a really great movie about an altruistic alien race of transforming robots whose spirit has been broken by the willingness of humans to screw them over, and the single dad who restores that spirit after a chance encounter with their leader. Or there’s a story about a cynical government bureaucrat stuck in an “us or them” mentality and exemplifying the axiom “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Or it’s an action packed take on the “should” vs. “could” of technological development. Or…well you get the picture.

Maybe Bay & Co. just got tired of hearing how there’s no plot to these movies and decided to give us every plot they could possibly think up, because this one is stuffed to the gills. That is not to say these plot threads are raised and forgotten as they were in the Orci/Kurtzman scripts, but they are developed at the expense of one another. Subplots and scenes that would normally be chopped out in the interest of time/sequels simply stay in the movie as though the first cut got canned and shipped without ever going through the editing process. It becomes a veritable round robin of story arcs that eventually meet up with some robotic dinosaurs for Bay’s patented CGI Explosion Fiesta.

And as much as I love me some epic dinobot action, they’re really not relevant to any of the story arcs in this movie. They’re just an attempt to up the ante in a franchise that can’t really get any more filled with things going boom. It’s unfortunate because, well, giant transforming dinosaurs are perhaps the one thing we haven’t seen before in these movies, and it’s a shame to waste them.

At the same time, Bay leaves out the smaller, transitional scenes that could glue those cool sequences together rather than cut the redundant action bits. It would take a few scant moments to show us the relative positions of characters and their travel routes to alleviate the feeling that everyone conveniently teleports to where they need to be, but then we wouldn’t have time for Optimus Prime riding a mechanical firebreathing T-Rex. At least not without officially crossing the three hour mark this movie sneaks under.

The action sequences drag on forever as a result, even more so than what I previously complained about in Man of Steel. Funnily enough, a truck riding a dinosaur to fight a small army of walking cars while being harassed by a spaceship trying to vacuum them all up still caused less devastation than the new Superman.

There is one good thing about the movie being overlong, and that’s getting to hear Steve Jablonsky do his thing. He handles the score once again, and he’s pretty much the only guy who has done his job perfectly every time so far.

Despite the editing problems, Bay & Co. did learn some lessons from the prior movies. The transformers themselves are more starkly and solidly colored this time, and the use of shaky cam and hypercutting was lessened, although not eliminated. In any case, it’s much easier to tell which robots are fighting which, and they’re given considerably more personality this time around, not that it’s a high bar to clear.

The toilet humor departed with OrciKurtz and has been replaced by mostly witty banter, which is something right up Mark Wahlberg’s alley. He leads an entirely new cast that includes Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci, both of whom never disappoint. All three of their characters were interesting in their own way, with Tucci’s even breaking a long overdone trope, but they’re unfortunately all handicapped by the spinning wheel of subplots I mentioned earlier. With something like five villains vying for the title of Big Bad and a dozen good guys running around, nobody can retain focus long enough to feel like a fleshed out character.

That’s really the bottom line with this one: the clutter turns what could’ve been a remarkably interesting summer popcorn flick into too much of a mess to shine. It’s not as ridiculous as Revenge of the Fallen, nor as irritating as Dark of the Moon, but even the original Transformers was more coherent. Too disappointing to recommend outright, I can only say that nobody does over-the-top action better than Michael Bay and there’s no better place for it than in a theater. So if that’s your thing, go ahead and add to Age of Extinction’s $300 million worldwide gross.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lone Survivor Lives Up

They're the ones fighting.


As Allan Bourdius continued his awesome coverage of the 70th anniversary of DDay on Twitter, I noted my amazement that the entire venture didn't turn into a slaughter and complete defeat for the Allies given all the things that went awry that day. It’s a serious reminder that any plan can fall apart at the whim of Murphy’s Law, and unfortunately for the group of Navy SEALs at the heart of Lone Survivor, that proves true for them as well.

For those who don’t know, Lone Survivor relates the tale of retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell who, as the title suggests, is the only one of his comrades to come back alive from a borked mission to capture/kill a Taliban bigwig. Between a few goat herders, unreliable communications, the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan, and a small army of Taliban fighters, the SEALs' mission priority quickly shifts from reconnaissance to simply getting home in one piece.

It’s pretty impressive how well the film conveys the brutality and the desperation of the ensuing firefight. Between the acting, the cinematography, and some stuntmen who really know how to sell a fall, it’s not hard to find yourself wincing just watching it. Hollywood usually likes to exaggerate things for effect, so one might find themselves questioning the plausibility of these guys taking as much damage as they do and continue fighting, but from what I’ve read, the movie actually tones it down some. For example, Luttrell had to crawl several miles after shrapnel tore up his legs, but in the movie he’s only reduced to walking with a bit of a limp. Sometimes reality is simply more unbelievable than fiction.

And yes I did compliment the acting up there. I know people like to give Mark Wahlberg grief, but I can’t say I’ve ever had him ruin a film and this one is no different. Given his star power and the fact that he plays Luttrell, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see it turn into a one man action hero piece with every other member of the team used as red shirts, but fortunately this film didn’t do that. Instead we get a good look at team leader Michael P. “Murph” Murphy and fellow team members Danny Dietz and Matthew “Axe” Axelson, played by Taylor Kitsh, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster respectively. The actors do a fine job of conveying their personas without hamming it up or needing the script constantly double-back for a flashback or other random contrivance.

Of course, whenever somebody makes a movie about American soldiers that doesn't show them actively rebelling against the military, complaints about jingoism abound. I've seen that come up about this one too, but as usual it’s unfounded. The Americans are not portrayed as saints, and the Taliban are nameless and faceless because SEALs do not have time to ask for their personal histories in the middle of a gunfight. Further, there’s no moral equivalency to be drawn with the Taliban, who are in reality even more reprehensible than the movie portrays them. On top of that, one of the actual Hollywood embellishments of the film gives the Afghan civilians a chance to shine brighter, rather than minimizing or otherwise white washing their part in the story.

All in all this is a solid film, and despite knowing the story going in, I found myself really engaged and occasionally even surprised. It’s easy to forget what we as a nation ask our warriors to suffer through on our behalf, and it’s nice for once to have a movie that focuses on that rather than using them as props for a running commentary on the politics of the conflict in which they’re engaged. Director Peter Berg and his cast and crew said they set out to make an authentic movie that does justice to the men it portrayed and what they endured. As a civilian with no ties to the real life action heroes on which it is based, I’m hardly in a position to judge whether or not they succeeded, but I will recommend seeing Lone Survivor just the same.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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Monday, June 2, 2014

Droning On (About RoboCop)

One of these things is not like the other.

RoboCop continues the tradition of rebooting franchises and not giving us the common courtesy of some form of subtitle so that we can differentiate between the new one and the old one. Seems like filmmakers hope that by sticking to the original name they can completely overwrite the original so that nobody remembers how much better it was. Fortunately, in this version Alex Murphy becomes a black cyborg with a single organic white hand so I can refer to him as RoboJackson and anyone who’s old enough to remember the 80s will get the joke.

RoboJackson is about everything except this Alex Murphy guy who gets turned into a cyborg and the family that has to live with that new reality. It’s about drones, corporate greed, businesses in bed with government, modern news coverage, and did I mention drones? It’s like the filmmakers saw all the wonderful satire of the original film and felt like if they didn't stuff this one full of social commentary, people would think they didn't get it.

The difference between their film and the original in that regard is that the satire of the original film was window dressing. It was just the backdrop to a story about a man trying to regain his humanity after being turned into a robot, and then that man getting some sweet revenge with his new robotic body. This movie is too busy cutting away to Samuel L. Jackson doing his best Glenn Beck impression and Michael Keaton’s evil corporate machinations to focus on that part. This guy doesn't know how to go home to his family because Gary Oldman brought him back to life as only a head and a hand. Who needs all the drone crap when you have any number of PTSD and wounded warrior allegories right there?

Joel Kinnaman was doing a perfectly fine job of acting, why not let him take a crack at that? It actually would've been an interesting way to retell this story, and thus perhaps justify itself. That’s not to say doing the drones vs. human police thing couldn't have been interesting, but it’s so on the nose in this movie that you might as well have had Sam Jackson shouting “Drones, motherf***er! Do you want them!?” (I’d totally watch that movie, by the way.)

Then you have the corporate greed thing, which the original film already handled. Not to mention pretty much every other movie since then. In the 80s it may have seemed like privatization run amok was the dystopian future to which we were headed, but now one would expect the construction of RoboCop to be the Hail Mary of a corporation trying to survive the squeeze between health care costs and government regulation. Michael Keaton’s character should have been a man desperate to stay in business and distraught that he can’t afford to keep enough officers on the payroll to protect the citizenry. Instead he’s just another CEO who’s so anxious to make money he’s willing to outright murder people.

Then again this is the sanitized, PG-13 version so they keep the murdering to a minimum, to the point of having RoboJackson zapping people with a taser instead of perforating their genitals. That was a result of the budget exploding and the studio getting nervous they couldn't recoup their money on an R-rated film, which only serves to reinforce what I said in the Godzilla review about filmmakers not having to worry about and work within their limitations.

So rather than the comically gratuitous violence that was a hallmark of the original RoboCop, we get a CGI Michael Jackson cylon dancing around the screen to blast apart equally non-existent robots. It’s not even Alex Murphy deciding which robots to blast most of the time since Gary Oldman's character somehow wires him to let the robot part make the decisions without him noticing. Does anyone else miss the days of an actual guy on an actual set with actual props doing actual things?

Thus yet another perfectly good cult classic becomes a bloated big budget CGI action fest complete with all the usual tropes and continuing the trend of watering down everything that’s unique about a franchise in pursuit of the all mighty dollar. Perhaps Hollywood loves that greedy executive plotline so much because they can relate to it so well.

Overall, it’s not a terrible movie, it’s just terribly average. If you’re looking to waste a couple hours with the upcoming Blu-ray, it’ll do the job adequately. Otherwise find something else to buy with your dollar.

*this post cross-posted at http://www.theirfinesthour.net


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Save the Princess, Save the World

"Well excuuuuse me, princess."
If we’re not hearing about some kid who was corrupted by violent video games, we’re hearing about how it’s an industry dominated by creepy misogynist males. Yesterday, I read an article by Jeopardy! winner Arthur Chu that somehow manages to link both things together. He uses the latest killer psycho as a springboard into a discussion about “nerd culture” and misogyny.

His argument wanders a bit between various media, but the crux of it is this:

But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?

It’s rather amusing that he would bring up Super Mario Bros. because anyone who’s ever actually beaten that game knows that even after going through all those castles, the princess doesn’t so much as kiss Mario at the end. She merely says, “Thank you Mario! Your quest is over.”  In fact, fans enjoy pointing out Princess Toadstool (or Peach if you prefer) doesn’t demonstrate much romantic interest in Mario despite his numerous rescues, and that evidence suggests the only person to get her in bed was actually Bowser.

So why would we keep rescuing her if she’s not going to fall into bed with us in the end? Because that’s not the point of the quest, and everyone knows it.  We male gamers have had to listen to this tripe for years now about how rescuing the princess is some misogynistic exercise that turns women into mere objects we fight to possess.  Fact is, Mario never set out to rescue Peach because he thought he’d get laid, and neither did the player controlling him.  We do it because a wrong has been committed against her, and we’re the only ones around still able to rectify that wrong.

Treating women like trophies is the bad guy’s shtick, and it’s that villain’s choice to act on that evil impulse which spurs an otherwise unassuming hero-to-be into action.  The hero doesn’t strip the princess of her power and freedom; he sets out to punish the villain and restore the princess to her rightful place as ruler of the kingdom.  Once she regains her power, she’s free to reward a hero in any way she wishes, be it a simple thank you, a kiss, wealth, power, or even a cake.  (Since the cake is a lie, the real reward is having grown into a capable adult during the journey, but that’s a much longer discussion.)

If a gamer wants to collect and abuse women, they’ll have to pick a game where they are not a white knight rescuing the princess. They’ll be playing something more like a Grand Theft Auto game, where they’re at best an anti-hero and at worst an outright villain.  Even then, it’s clear to any normal human being that the behavior of that kind of protagonist is not to be emulated in the real world. Otherwise we’d have an epidemic of nerds stealing cars and trying to run down people on sidewalks for fun.

Violence, misogyny, and all around immature behavior is not a function of “nerd culture”; it’s a fact of the human condition, one of which geeks and nerds are acutely aware. Most of them have been pushed around, disrespected, and otherwise treated like crap their entire lives, which is why they spend so much time buried in their favorite fictional universes.

Young male geeks and nerds submerge themselves in the role of the hero because they have the very natural instinct to pick up the sword and defend a woman’s honor from the villains who will always exist.  They may not understand social niceties or the intricacies of female behavior, but the instinct to protect is still there.  Casting that instinct as a latent form of misogyny that should be repressed only serves to empower villains, not women.

But with all that said, I haven’t answered Mr. Chu’s question, have I? So what do video games teach a guy to do when his princess still isn’t in this castle?  Fight his way to the next castle.

*h/t to Sarjex, for the graphic. Check out more of her work in her store.


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