(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.
Sometimes it pays to be skeptical.
When news of what would eventually become Legends of Tomorrow first popped up, the concept seemed, to put it in the kindest possible words, contrived. A team made up of Sara Lance, Captain Cold, and the Atom? What. It seemed like a something that had come into being not because somebody had had a fantastic fucking idea for a story that required these characters, but because The Powers that Be wanted to make some money out of characters from Arrow and The Flash that no longer had homes in those shows and needed a concept that could accommodate them as well as other assorted DCU B- and C-listers.
Now that the pilot has come and gone, it now seems that the initial suspicions were correct: Legends of Tomorrow is a show that exists primarily to give its characters something to do.
(Content Note: Transphobia; Transphobic Narratives)
The best scene in “Of Late I Think of Rosewood”, the premiere for the second half of Pretty Little Liars’ sixth season, takes place in a courtroom, where the Liars are being compelled to testify as to their mental state regarding Charlotte Dilaurentis, a.k.a. Cece Drake a.k.a. Red Coat a.k.a. A, in order to determine whether she should be set free. Charlotte’s sister has asked the Liars to live up to their name and testify that everything is hunky-dory, and because the Liars are all too used to dancing to Alison Dilaurentis’ tune, they agree. Aria even has prepared script and everything.
And then, Aria says no. Abandoning her prepared remarks, the littlest liar asserts that no, she is not okay, that the scars she obtained during Charlotte’s nine-month reign of terror are nowhere near fully healed, and that she does not feel safe. It’s quite possibly her best scene in the entire history of the show, and, in a world that consistently asks its underprivileged to Get Over It and forgive and forget transgressions enacted by more privileged peoples and institutions—a world in which women are consistently asked to forgive how the Patriarchy has arrayed things against them and to “act normal, bitch” because #NotAllMen—it can be considered a rather powerful, brave statement.
(Note: This post contains spoilers for the last six months worth of Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Universe issues.)
It’s been more than a year since the effects of lawsuit by former Sonic the Hedgehog writer Ken Penders first made their presence felt upon the Archie book, and just as much time since I’ve been able to unreservedly enjoy the book. After current scribe Ian Flynn was forced to jettison all his predecessor’s characters (*1) it seemed that the book could only move forward by either ignoring huge swaths of its universe and continuity, or by hitting the cosmic reset button in order to create a universe where those characters didn’t exist. Either way, the story I’ve enjoyed in one way or another for more than a decade would end.
We have crossed that bridge, and then another. Archie chose alternative number two, and for the last six months, we’ve been dealing a brand-new Archie!Sonic-verse, one considerably more influenced by the videogames than the one seen in the previous three hundred issues. We also have our first two complete arcs, designed to serve as an introduction to our new setting, a reintroduction to our core cast of characters, and as an implicit argument for the idea that what has been gained is of equal or greater value to what has been lost.
Mission not accomplished, so far.
- 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.
So not surprisingly, it turns out that I can be productive–but only if there’s an outside force providing incentives, such as deadlines. I haven’t written anything here for months, but I have managed to write up a couple of new reviews for the Trade Reading Order.
Even so, if the point comes ever comes where I realize that all the mystery is for naught, I still feel like I could enjoy Morning Glories, thanks to its characters, who continue to shine. This volume in particular does a lot to flesh out Jade, who up to this moment had been little more than “the suicidal, gothy one”, as she opens up and proves to be actually quite interesting. On the opposite end of the scale, Hunter, who’s been aggressively pushed as the most normal one in the bunch (read: he’s a socially awkward—yet strictly within the bounds of what is generally considered attractive–geek), displays a rather ugly side to himself in this volume, as he slut-shames classmate Zoe. While the incident isn’t cut-and-dried—this occurs just after Zoe herself insults him, and she later stops him from apologizing, making it impossible to know just what it is he later feels remorse for—it’s the sort of thing that makes me worried about potential problematic outcomes. While Nick Spencer has proven himself a capable writer, past experience with other stories has taught me not to be optimistic when it comes to geeky, socially awkward characters in fiction. Meanwhile, Zoe herself continues to kick ass as she takes advantage of circumstances like a boss, Ike’s shtick as someone who wants to convince the world that he is nothing more than a heel and cad continues to wear thin, and Jun’s arc continues being pleasantly surprising.
As the main player in the book’s drama, Virgil naturally gets most of the writers’ attention, and he makes the most of it. Over the course of the four issues collected here, he comes across as a person with various different dimensions, some of which help make him flawed—he’s entitled, especially when it comes to women—but mostly sympathetic and fun to follow. Perhaps more importantly, he is both smart and smartassed, in a way that could have easily felt derivative but instead marks him as is own person and serves to highlight the way race affects him. Virgil is very eager to stand out, and its hard not to think that his persistent flaunting of his vocabulary and references nobody else gets is his way of pushing back against narratives of how black men should be. It’s also rather fun and refreshing to see a geek who is openly a geek and yet manages to avoid the common stereotypes associated with geekdom.
At The Trade Paperback Reading Order. Give it a look!
Despite the “2” on the cover, this volume contains the Archie series’ very first original stories–the book up until then had consisted of adaptations of cartoon episodes–arguably making this the actual start of the series proper. The difference between it and the source is pretty much immediately noticeable. Sure, the Ken Mitchroney art is clearly inspired by the cartoon, and characters and elements that would later be abandoned, like the Turtle Blimp and mainstays Bebop and Rocksteady–are still being used, but even then there are a host of subtle differentiating details dotting the book, foreshadowing the turn it would eventually take. Most importantly, stories are less cynical: whereas the cartoon felt like the product of people who knew they were creating something utterly disposable and therefore didn’t require things like sympathetic characters or stories with proper weight, the creators here care and want the reader to care. Less noticeably, the various characters have been made different in ways subtle and not: the turtles are less reliant on their theme-song quirks; the Shredder and Krang feel more like legitimate threats than annoyances, April, despite having only a cameo, appears long enough to have her professional context altered.
I haven’t posted anything here in a while, but I have a perfectly good excuse. I was on the moon. With Steve.
(Actually, no. It’s just that between work, a sudden influx of activity on my other blog, and life, I just haven’t been able to summon the focus required for the sort of thing that I like posting here.)
In any case, I just wanted to announce that this blog now has an associated Tumblr page, Chasing Smaller Sheep,where I’ll be posting whatever interests me that doesn’t require the whole post treatment. Also, I am now writing comic book reviews for The Trade Paperback Reading Order, a website focusing on graphic novel trade paperbacks. The first one is a review of the third volume of Archie: The Married Life, which among other things features the wedding of Kevin Keller and his therapist boyfriend Clay Walker, and the plan is to produce one new review a week.
So yeah. While it’ll probably take a while, I still plan on producing content for this blog. But until then, I’m far from gone.
Publisher: Archie Comics
Script: Ian Flynn
Pencils: Jonathan Hill
Inks: Gary Martin
Colors: Matt Herms
Recommended Audiences: People who like the Young Justice cartoon and wish it looked more like Astro Boy.