(Spoilers for Power Rangers ahead.)
So in my Power Rangers review, I happened to write the following:
A good amount of time is spent on Kimberly’s angst, and on how her recent actions have alienated her from her social circle, and made her begin feeling a measure of self-hatred. When we’re told what the inciting incident to all this is—she maliciously shared a nude pic of a classmate to humiliate her, it feels a bit out of proportion to her response, but that’s just me an adult and official old person. She believes this makes her horrible, and that’s what matters.
It got some critical feedback, which is good, not only because it means that somebody read the review and cared enough about it to disagree, but also, because there’s a lot worth criticizing in the statement, notably, the suggestion that sharing a nude pic of a friend–a female friend, at that–is no big deal.
To be absolutely clear, what Kimberly did is objectively terrible, and Kimberly is right to characterize herself as terrible for having done it*. I know this, I knew it when I watched the film, and I knew it when I wrote the review. Despite this, my main takeaway from that scene, while watching it for the first time and writing about it, is “Kim, you sweet, beautiful overdramatic child.” The terribleness of it doesn’t really come across on any emotional level, and I’ve spent some time since then thinking of why that is the case.
Part of it is my own damn fault, of course, for not immediately seeing all the angles even when made plain and empathizing more about the character I cared about rather than the ones she’d harmed. Another part of it, though, is the way the film deals with that moment and how it characterized Kimberly in comparison to the people she betrayed, and, more in general, with the film’s portrayal of Kim as a mean girl in the larger context of mean girls on film and TV. If Kim’s actions don’t feel as the big deal they are, it is because as terrible as Kimberly’s betrayal of her friends and general slut-shaming (and, technically, illegal distribution of child pornography) are, they are positively dwarfed in that larger context.
Pretty Little Liars starts out with the girls having blinded a classmate, and is steeped in blackmail and murder. Riverdale is headed in that same direction. Mean Girls has Cady manipulate Regina George into altering her body in unwanted, possibly irreversible ways. Heathers was all about murder, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its characters slut-shame as casually as they breathed. And it’s not the antagonists that do this–or rather, it’s not only they who do it. It’s (also) the heroes, the ones we’re made to root for, while being all glamorous and pretty and sympathetic, without the self-recrimination Kimberly displays during her confession, in stories where the effects of their actions tend to be downplayed, victims tend to be less affected the more time we’re meant to spend with them, and forgiveness is granted with disturbing ease. Taken together, it has a definitive desensitizing effect, making the terrible feel not so, or even awesome at times. Mona Vanderwaal may be a killer and blackmailer, but damn if I don’t love every bit of her.
And really, the film itself doesn’t help. Kimberly’s victims aren’t really characters, they’re extras whose main quality is being catty in a way designed to draw sympathy away from them and towards Kimberly; they are pissed, and rightfully so, but they do not seem harmed. And we really don’t get to see pre-epiphany Kimberly, which means we’re left to draw our conclusions from the version we see on screen.* All of which makes the confession scene feel unbalanced, with only Naomi Scott to sell it. As mentioned in the review, she succeeds, to some degree, but perhaps not all the necessary ones.
The thing is, though, that none of that should matter. Kim is clear about what she does, and what she does is terrible. And yet it does. There are a lot of dimensions to Kimberly’s story, and those dimensions all got the short shrift in my review, and my thoughts were expressed in the worst, most dismissive and harmful form–one that I, for all it’s worth, apologize for.
* There’s one moment in the film where we get an unvarnished hint of what Old Kimberly may have been like, and that’s the moment when she takes pleasure at seeing her former friends’ car wrecked during the Goldar battle, perhaps not considering that she and her friends were a few feet away from being squashed. There are a lot of arguments that one could make about that scene, as it goes on to suggest a whole lot of things about Kimberly’s story arc that don’t really get elaboration, and make it feel as if its missing some necessary pieces rather than simply unfinished, as, say, Trini’s. That said, I’m not sure I see that ambiguity as a flaw, and I hope it’s something the writers either intentionally included or noticed after the fact, and that it gets more development in subsequent films. It deserves to.
Review: “Power Rangers” is the Weirdest, and Possibly Best, Remake of “The Breakfast Club” We Could Have Hoped For
Given its minuscule budget; its dependence on footage, costumes, and stories taken from the Japanese Super Sentai meta-series; and its primary role as a conduit to sell action figures, Power Rangers has always had an air of compromise to it. No matter how much kids enjoyed and continue to enjoy the series, the preponderance of moving parts has always been hard to arrange in a way that is consistently satisfying. The very first season of the original series, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, made by people who had to create a playbook for a game no one had played before, and had to do so as it went along, managed to be appealing despite a complete lack of consistent character development, sketchy-as-fuck plotting, and actors who on average were more earnest than good, thanks to a solid formula, the strength of the Japanese material, Ron Wasserman’s music, and un-self-conscious goofiness. The second season famously mixes material from two (three, depending on how you count) different sources of Japanese footage, alongside American material that was not at all ready to carry the increased weight it was forced to carry, and had to deal with things like the covert disposal of half its cast. Even more than twenty years later, getting a version of the Power Rangers that manages to fire on all cylinders—cast, story, aesthetic—and manages to do so consistently often feels like a crapshoot. And so, enjoying Power Rangers as a fan has always been a matter of managing expectations; Power Rangers in Space may not be the truly epic culmination of everything that had been set up before, as the Rangers faced the combined forces of all their past enemies, but taking all the difficulties it faced, it still manages to be pretty darn epic. And so, it feels somewhat appropriate, if disappointing, that despite its high-budget construction, the newest Power Rangers film still feels like a compromise.
The year 2009 brought about a seismic shift to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: after twenty-five years as a mom-and-pop property–albeit a ridiculously successful one–the intellectual property was sold to Viacom, and more specifically Nickelodeon, an entity that would not, and did not, waste any time capitalizing upon it. Only an entity like Nick could have been able to take a cartoon series that lasted six years and almost a hundred and fifty episodes and make it seem like a footnote in TMNT history, but that’s precisely what happened; with the turtles once again in comic book stores, tv screens and movie theaters, the last few years have been like 1991 all over again.
However, this is not, in fact, 1991, a time when Eastman and Laird were willing, if not always happy, to let almost anyone play with their toys: Nickelodeon appears to keep the turtles on a much shorter leash. Even when characters like Karai get radically reinvented, it feels like a boundary exists; the turtles must not pass this point. They can’t be radical, just Radical (TM). Therefore it is not surprising to see that April is once again and three times over, a white woman.
More interesting for the purposes of this series is the fact that IDW Publishing’s license to create and publish TMNT books gave them the ability to reprint the old Mirage and Archie material, and that the company has thus been making books that were out of print for decades available once again. More interesting still, the reprinted Mirage material, much of it originally in black and white, is being recolored, meaning that various colorists have been tasked with looking at the various looks of April O’Neil and drawing conclusions about just what it was the original creators intended, and deciding whether or not they’ll stick to that original intent.
So yeah, lots to cover here. One note before we begin, though: these images are organized in more or less chronological order, and while that’s easy enough to establish with the books, I’ve had to rely on some educated guesswork when it comes to the images relating to the cartoon and film. So there’s that.
The stars aligned in 2002, and production began on a second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Two things stood about about this effort at the time: 1) it would actually come to fruition, and 2) unlike the first cartoon, it planned to take many of its characters and storytelling beats directly from the Mirage comic books.
If there ever was an opportunity for April to appear with something resembling the look she sported through most of Mirage Volume 1–or as a Woman of Color, period–this was it. While the producers seemed to feel no particular need to adhere to characters’ comic book looks–as best seen in the Shredder, who now sports a full suit of armor–they also seemed to feel a certain commitment to racial diversity in the show, if the reversal of Baxter Stockman’s whitewashing and the various original characters of color introduced in that first season are any indication. If, like other people in the past, the showrunners saw Mirage April as a woman of color, it seems it seems reasonable to surmise that they would have at least been amenable to at least discussing the idea of depicting their version of our favorite gal-pal in a similar manner. The fact that the primary audience for this show would likely not be familiar with April from the original cartoon meant they could have done so with a minimum of uproar.
And yet, this didn’t happen, and there are several possible reasons why. It may be that, like many people, the producers at 4Kids never interpreted April as being anything other than a white woman. It might be that Peter Laird, who definitively sees April as a white woman, and who had something akin to a veto power when it came to the show, stepped in and insisted that the TV version follow suit–which frankly, I’m kind of okay with, being as he helped create her and all. It might be that the decision was made by people outside the creative circle. Or, in what seems to me the most unlikely possibility, given the show’s output, they might have interpreted Mirage April as a woman of color and consciously decided to whitewash her without requiring any additional input. I’ve asked Laird for context, but, unfortunately, he turned out to be less than forthcoming. Still, no matter the details, in the end, another generation grew up knowing that April O’Neil is white, making future interpretations where she isn’t even less likely.
Buoyed by the new interest in the turtles brought about by the cartoon and its merchandising tie-ins, Mirage decided to publish a second iteration of Tales of the TMNT as a companion to the Laird / Lawson TMNT Vol. 4. The second book, an anthology title featuring the work of several creators, hearkened back to the guest creator era, as various people put their stamp on the turtles, including some new faces like Tristan Huw Jones, who attempted to weave together several disparate plot strands into his own mini-universe within the universe. It was also the first time since 1992 that we’d see how Mirage April looked under different artists.
Hollywood loves a remake, and eventually a fourth TMNT film, titled simply TMNT and serving as a pseudo-sequel to the first three, was produced and released. Done entirely in CGI, it featured an April that was less Lois Lane and more Lara Croft, and was voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar. While a success in some respects, it was not successful enough to merit follow-ups. It did, however, influence the larger turtles-verse, as various other incarnations would begin to draw from its visuals.
In 2009, Peter Laird, by then sole owner of the franchise, decided to sell the turtles to Viacom, and specifically, Nickelodeon. A new era was set to begin.
From the very beginning, the most important question this latest iteration of the Spider-Man story had to answer was: why? With the Sam Raimi films still fresh in people’s minds, why did we need another version of the origin, and the Green Goblin, and Peter Parker’s romantic woes? The producers’ argument, as seen in the Amazing Spider-Man, is that this new version would allow us to see things we had not seen before: Gwen Stacy as the primary female character; George Stacy, who in the original books had been a rather prominent character for years; mechanical web-shooters, which many consider important for reasons I’ve never found entirely convincing; rogues not seen on the big screen before; an emphasis on Peter’s father; and some new actors who were just as good if not better than the ones we’d left behind.
The year 1992 marked the end of the Mirage TMNT‘s guest creator era: after three years of mostly non-canonical stories by a bevy of creators, Mirage staffers once again took reins of the book, with a new focus on featuring a more stable tone and in moving their characters forward. This latest phase in the book culminated with “City at War”, a thirteen-part mega arc which featured the return of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to active creative duties and ended on the book’s last issue. It also gave April some much-needed focus, as the writers had her decide to move to California in order to recenter herself.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this era of greater focus on April also saw the beginning of the end of depictions of her based on her issue #4 redesign, as the physical features she had sported since then–by no means limited to skin color–began disappearing. What one may draw from this is unclear, and the fact that there’s only one artist drawing the character for the duration of the era doesn’t help.
The years from 1993 to 1996 saw waning interest in the Ninja Turtles. The third film received a tepid reception. Mirage’s second volume of TMNT, which debuted shortly after the end of the first one,would prove short-lived, its final issue hitting stores on October 1995. The Archie series, TMNT Adventures, ended that same year. After seven seasons of sausage-making, Fred Wolf retooled the original cartoon for its eighth season in order to deal with a shifting children’s television landscape; old characters were written out, new characters were written in, and the series’ aesthetic got a face lift, but none of these changes were enough to stop the series from ending, after ten seasons and 193 episodes, in 1996. By January 1997, the flow new material featuring the TMNT had slowed down to a trickle, and existed mostly in the form of a comic series published by Image, continuing the adventures of the Mirage versions of the characters…but that’s something for another entry.
Note the first: While I’ve tried to be comprehensive as possible here, any help obtaining any relevant images I might have missed is much appreciated.
Note the second: Despite not having much in the way of comments, I still plan on moderating any discussion with a heavy hand, should it become necessary.
The year 1987 brought us our second ever incarnation of April, one that, while visually faithful to the character as originally depicted, was at odds with what had become the norm. As the new franchise’s popularity continued to expand, two more new incarnations were introduced: April as seen in the films, who like most things in the movie was conceived as an amalgam of her comic book and cartoon incarnations; and April as seen in the Archie comic books, who was ostensibly the cartoon version, but like most things in the book quickly became her own distinct character. While the people over at Mirage were still depicting their version of the character as a Woman of Color, by 1990, it was White April who had become the norm.
Note the first: While I’ve tried to be comprehensive as possible here, I have not been able to obtain several relevant images, most notably, images of film adaptations after the first one, and of the colored reprints of the Mirage books released during this time period. Any assistance in obtaining them is appreciated.
Note the second: Unlike the first time around, I will be allowing comments here. That said, as always, please keep common courtesy in mind, and note that I will moderate with a heavy hand, should it become necessary.
ETA: I*just* realized that I hadn’t actually enabled comments. Fixed.
Determining when a character has been whitewashed is, in theory, a rather simple task. Specifically, its a matter of asking oneself:
- Was Character X established as a Person of Color in the original work?
- Has an adaptation of that work changed Character X so that they are now White instead?
If the answer to both is “yes”, then whitewashing has occurred.
Of course, reality has ways of taking the simplest of tests and adding a whole bunch of complications along the way. For example, what if the answer to sub-question one is “yes and no”? This is the case with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ April O’Neil, a character who had no established heritage aside from her last name of Irish origin, and whose looks could change rather drastically between appearances, because apparently, her creators–Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird–had different ideas, and never definitively settled the question while they were working together.
Because people are complicated, there are a lot of differing opinions about this matter, most with at least some evidence backing them up. Hence, this series, chronicling the many looks she’s had, beginning with the moment of her creation and taking us all the way to 2014, where she is set to appear on the big screen once again, this time played by Megan Fox. The idea is not to argue for any particular conclusions–although I do have my own opinions on the matter–but simply to allow people to come to their own. Plus, I like timelines, I really like seeing the visual evolution of a concept, and I think that April’s is, in particular, really interesting.
We begin this first section in 1984, the year when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird for the second issue of their surprisingly successful comic book, and go all the way to 1987 when she was set to make her debut in the cartoon that changed the franchise forever.
Note: While comments for this series are closed–I do not feel that I am capable of moderating the particular discussions on race that this has the potential to lead into–feedback, either in the form of factual corrections or whatever thoughts you’d like to share, can be sent via the Contact Form at the bottom of the post.
- Clearly, the film takes place in a world in which Neon Genesis Evangelion never existed. While actually mentioning the resemblance would have left a bad taste in my mouth, I would have still appreciated some nod to it.
- That said, I wish that in some respects, it had been more like Evangelion, particularly as it pertains to the world-building, which is where I had the most problems with the film. First and foremost, I find it inconceivable that any sort of competent authority would have taken such a blasé attitude to the study of Kaijuu as The People In Charge do here. I mean, how the heck does “Kaijuu research”–which would be necessary regardless of whatever measure is taken against them—get reduced to a two-man team? THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF ANY ANTI-KAIJUU MEASURE. And yet it takes years to figure out they’re clones? NERV would be so disappointed.
- From what I understood, there was nothing inherently special about the Jaegers—they were just equipped with enough firepower to take down most Kaijuu. So if it’s about having the right weapon, why not diversify? Why not have plasma-cannon equipped planes, or maybe a killsat placed directly above the seam? Or heck, any sort of non-Jaeger scout-units, so that they don’t have to go in blind every single time and waste their only effective defensive measure trying to figure out what their up against?
- I’m unsure what to make of the relationship between Raleigh and Mako. Part of me wanted it to be platonic, because genuine friendships between straight opposite-sex people are still so rare in film, but another part of me wanted to support the idea of having the only romance in a film be interracial. What I got in the end, though, just let me unsatisfied, cause it read to me like a romance arc, with the lack of a kiss in the end suggesting that they wimped out about making it explicit for some reason. Then again, there’s a good chance that I may be misreading things, so I don’t know.
- Given the Tumblr hype for this film and the good things I’d heard about what it’s approach to diversity, I was, in the end, rather disappointed on that front. As fantastic as Rinko Kikuchi and Edris Alba are on their roles, and as much as their characters are totally the emotional core of the film which isn’t to say I found either of them terribly interesting: theirs are the sort of characters whom I feel are made worth paying attention to by their actors– their inclusion feels like an oasis in a film that otherwise leaves me parched. As nice as it is it to see a woman of color in the female lead role, it’s hard for me to give cookies to the film when Mako is the only woman in the film (the other female Jaeger pilot is essentially a named extra). In the end, the two characters end up feeling like exceptions and exceptional. Just where are all the female Jaeger pilots/pilot candidates?
In the end, my biggest issue with the film is this: it does nothing that others haven’t done before or better, and what it does is for the most part boring. I feel that given the premise and the actors and the budget, Pacific Rim is a film that I feel easily had the potential to be another Speed Racer (I love Speed Racer) and yet falls short, landing instead on “merely okay”. I’m glad it exists, and that it was given a shot, and hope there are films that improve on what it does. I’m glad that it found an audience, and hope that further increases the profiles of the people involved in it, particularly Keiko Minuchi, whom I hope to see in lots more stuff. But I just can’t share in the enthusiasm.
Lately, it’s been hard not to feel ambivalent about Superman. I love the guy and what he stands for, but given how it at times feels like my ideas of what makes the character work are the complete opposite of DC’s, I haven’t been happy with the character for a while. And yet, I don’t feel sadness or even disappointment, because the Superman-sized void in my feels has been more than capably filled by other fiction. If I’m in the mood for larger than life, physics-bending superheroics, Gurren Laggan and its galaxy-sized robots has me covered. If I want stories about an alien whose the last of his kind, adopts Earth, and inspires regular people to themselves become heroes, I’ve got Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who to keep me satisfied. Superman, in comparison, often brings thoughts of “good idea, but…”
So in the end, I wasn’t all that excited during the run-up to Superman: The Man of Steel. If it worked, great. If it’s didn’t, eh. I’d been mostly unspoiled, so I’m not sure what to expect, except that it seemed very heavy on the Krypton—rarely a good sign, when I’m concerned, since I tend to feel that where he was born says very little about who he is, and therefore focusing on it is a good way to start off on the wrong foot.
In any case, let’s start with the good. Lois Lane is great, and Amy Adams is fantastic in the role (I’m so happy she got it). The character’s a bit drier than she tends to be portrayed as on the screen, but she works supremely well, particularly given the one big change in the film. And all the characters are well cast and give good performances, elevating the material. General Zod, is, I feel, as good a portrayal as the character is going to get on the screen.
As for the rest? Honestly, it was all a bit boring. The first few minutes are spent establishing Krypton’s backstory, and through it all I was “get ON with it”. It’s kinda necessary for the plot, but then, I don’t care for the film’s plot, which is all about how Clark became Superman–or rather, it would be if there were a difference between the two sides of the character.
One of the things the film does differently from past versions of the story is to essentially do away with Clark’s double life. Arguably, it also does away with Superman as we know it, leaving us with the story of Kal-El, who wears a costume and has Diane Lane as an adoptive mother, and is still unsure about what he wants to do. With the Daily Planet‘s staff serving as satellite characters to Lois (which isn’t at all a bad thing, except insofar as they were shunted aside for most of the movie), the film is centered in Kansas in a way that feels weird.
Like I said, I have Ideas about Superman, and in the end, what I got from the film is that their take on Clark wouldn’t have become Superman if he hadn’t found about his heritage, which feels wrong. I’ve always been partial to versions of the story where Clark becomes Superman before finding out about Krypton, because it makes clear that there’s no correlation between the two things. Clark being Kryptonian has no bearing on who he is, and if he had no super-powers, he’d be Lois Lane, except less impressive because of male privilege. Here, however, the heritage and the heroism are connected to an uncomfortable degree. Yes, he’s seen helping people as Clark, but throughout those scenes, it doesn’t convince me that he gets any emotional satisfaction from it, which I feel Superman should always feel. It doesn’t help that this version of Jonathan Kent—one half of the couple that made him what he is–is far too willing to make Clark feel guilty about helping people. The film seems to agree with him, which again, makes this feel like the story of someone who is not Superman. Yes, people shouldn’t be expected to harm themselves for the sake of others, but part of what makes Superman Superman is the fact that a) he totally would, without hesitation, and b) he’s clever enough not to need to, most of the time.
As for the action…meh. While there are a few nice bits—I like that his initial fight with the Kryptonians is mixed with the rescue of the soldiers also with him—it’s all very generic-looking. This has been done before, and frankly, I’m tired of it. Again, Lois comes off better, with the scene where she—helped by Jor-El’s post-mortem A.I.–escapes Zod’s ship being a highlight.
In the end, I don’t feel this was the Superman film to sell people on the character—at least, if I didn’t also think that what I like about Superman isn’t what other people like about him. In any case, if nothing else, I feel it placed the characters in a very good position for an excellent sequel, so here’s hoping. But until then, there’s always Doctor Who.