So Why, Exactly, Did it Work?

20180110_174945It’s unusual for me to go out of my way to see a new movie in theaters. Even more-so after I’ve gotten home once already and I’ve decided that I have no interest in leaving my household ever again #introvertlife

However, my friend and I had finished getting caught up on some of the new anime that had grabbed my interest this season (disclaimer: one really good one, one mediocre one and one mostly satisfactory one. More on those another time), and we had decided to sit down for a nice quiet evening of Minecraft. That motivation lasted for all of 5 minutes before the two of us got incredibly bored. Then, a thought struck me.

The new Jumanji movie had come out a couple weeks back and I had heard from two other friends that the movie was exceedingly good. With little else to do, we packed up and shipped out to the big city to go see the movie.

If this were to be a review piece, I’d now tease you, reader, relentlessly for about half a dozen paragraphs about whether or not I liked the movie while picking it apart on a cinematographic level and quoting some needlessly inane metaphors to make my opinion sound more trustworthy. However, this is not a review, and I’ll save my inane metaphors for my typical nerd-tastic anime reviews another time (I did say more on the three anime later, didn’t I?). Instead, all you really need to know is that I fucking loved the new Jumanji movie.

JUMANJI_LIGHT_PANEL_2_1_1Going into the movie, I was already rather confident I’d enjoy it thoroughly. My friend, however, was much more skeptical. Most of his skepticism was born out of cautious interest in anything resembling a two-decade later reboot (actually, 22 years later, but that’s neither here nor there) of a franchise that was solid in its inception with a good ending (well, good in an enjoyment sense anyway) and nothing much left to say. We’d both seen the trailers for the movie and knew about the same amount going into it.

Moreover, much of my friend’s worries stemmed from the casting choice of having Jack Black playing a 16~ year old girl trapped in an “overweight, middle-aged man’s” body. I can most certainly see where his worries would come from in that sense: we’ve all seen that trope used before and become an exercise in patience rather than good joke material. To cut to the chase on that matter, that role was played surprisingly well: Black played the girly-ness often enough to just remind the audience in who he was on the inside, but not to the extent that it was painfully in-your-face the whole time.

By end of the movie, both my friend and I agreed that the movie was amazing, the casting choices were solid, and that we’d both be willing to see it again in theatres. This, of course, brings us to the main question of this article: why, exactly, did it work?


Funny thing is: only about half the audience will actively remember a time when 4 controllers had to be plugged into the same console…

For starters, we’ll poke at the whole premise of the movie. I was similarly worried about how the idea of Video Game Jumanji would have come into existence: neatly answered by the fact that the game is sentient-enough to understand its audience (or victim, depending on wordage) and change itself into an Atari game to better work for the times. This does raise several questions that are not answered by the movie itself: why does this game seek to bring people into itself, does it feed on human souls or something, why is the game (which clearly has no regard for whom might be harmed in its playing) so strict on following its own rule set and giving the players a reasonable chance to win?

I’m not answering those today, but you get the point.

Once inside the world of Jumanji, you see the story really come into its own. It’s not a remake/reboot of the previous movie. It did not awkwardly try to tie in references to the past movie, or call on mindless star-power to sell its tickets. It also had, much like in the first movie, a core message it was trying to relate. A moral to the story, as it were.

In the first movie, the main moral was that the cowardly Alan Parrish needed to learn how to face his fears and stop running from his enemies and/or consequences. This was reinforced by the various trials and tribulations that Alan, and his unlucky companions, were forced to overcome. Specifically, in the form of Van Pelt in the first movie’s iteration: ironically played by the same actor who played Alan’s father. In the beginnings, we see how Alan’s father is hard on the boy and how he is almost portrayed as harsh and unforgiving, controlling his life and direction. Take that to the extreme where Van Pelt, same actor, is actively trying to hunt Alan and is, in many senses, the final battle.


Classic Van Pelt: stereotypical British Colonialism at its finest! Except with a German name…

In the new movie, the main message is learning about yourself: who it is you want to be. It’s a message that most assuredly resonates with younger audiences today than the previous message would: high school is a sick sort of jungle on its own where the student body almost dons personalities and become artificial characters in the interest of fitting in. I could go into much more detail, but I feel many of you folks could start filling in the blanks yourself. In this iteration, Van Pelt does not serve as a literal antagonist much like he did in the previous movie.


Updated Van Pelt: what happens when Nathan Drake becomes a possessed evil bug-monster thing.

In actuality, his presence is significantly less important to the heroes to overcome than it is themselves that pose the greatest threat to their own survival. Overcoming their own personal biases, insecurities and shedding their artificial personas to find who, it is, they really want to be. The changes in these four Breakfast Club contenders from Jumanji entry and exeunt are small, but significant.

Besides the significance of the character dynamics and developments, the setting of immersion in a game world is much more relevant to facing challenges in the real world to my, and younger, generations. In many regards, the youth of today do most of their self-exploration and development in a digital format: translating that into video game terms might actually have been the only way the game of Jumanji itself would have had any sort of impact on the movies’ audience. Gaming is a very common pastime, and no longer just for the declared “nerd” culture.


While board games are making a come-back in Western Culture, they’re still somewhat an archaic form of entertainment.

By extension, this makes the intended audience much more literate in the short-hand gaming terms that are used in the movie; almost to an extent that the included dialogue used for explaining certain game functions (cutscenes, NPCs, etc.) to really be for the purpose of older audiences who were fans of the original movie and wanted to see where they’d go with the new one.

And, of course, you have all the staples on modern action-film cinematography: lots of explosions, an injection of womanly sexual push, big-name cast, more explosions, a few penis jokes… (I never claimed this was a very forward-thinking movie, just a good one) When brought together, you are presented with a very tight and well received movie but audiences at large. It really comes as no major surprise that audiences love this movie as much as they do; even if they might not understand all the details as to why it works.


This One Won’t be Making me any Friends

20170723_221122It’s not tremendously often I go out to see new movies. Most of this stems from a surreal combination of lack of cash and, more often the case, the lack of desire to drive half an hour to spend the aforementioned cashery. But on the rare occasion I do go out to see something on the big screen, I typically enjoy the experience. This week prior, however, I went to go see media sensation and equal rights front-runner Wonder Woman.

I realize that, by the very nature of who I am, any blog I write about this movie that doesn’t include “I loved every aspect of this movie forever and always and erhmagerd” will likely be discounted by my demographics: straight, white, middle-class male type thing. And while I’m not here to discuss the finer points of gender equality (a topic I lack the mental capacity to discuss properly), I am here to discuss a movie’s strengths and weaknesses.

I would like to preface this with a few disclaimers: I have about as much experience and certification to discuss a movie as I do with anything else I talk about. And my discretion of this movie is not, shockingly enough, fueled by any sort of sexism towards the material or subject matter. In fact, most of my problems with the movie come down to plot progression and source material.

Also an overwhelming dislike for Ben Affleck being cast as Batman. Still don’t like that one; please pass the pepper, as I already have more than enough salt.

So, in an interest of some sense of continuity, let’s start with the beginning of things. The movie starts off to a bad start with Mr. Wayne delivering a photograph to Diana Prince: for further explanation, please refer to the paragraph prior.

321_CPT_BeachBattle_v020_15.JPGOkay, in all seriousness: let’s actually actually start at the beginning. Before I had watched the movie, I’ve been loosely apprised of some of the praise lauded at the film for various aspects. Much of it I could appreciate and agree with: the armour worn and displayed by the Amazonian warriors was exquisite to someone of my interests. It was function, it made great sense and the historical references to certain pieces was a masterful stroke. And in the sense of the scenery of the island (which I shall refrain from trying to spell due to having exceedingly limited internet at present and no clear recollection of the name) was gorgeous. The setting, set pieces and framing of shots in that area was very well done.

But one thing I had read at one point or another was how incredible the sense of sisterhood was from the first quarter of the movie. As a writer trying to improve my writing of female characters, I was very interested in pulling apart those scenes to see what it was that other writers were speaking about in specific so that I could use similar methods and aspects for my own purposes. What I was presented with was several scenes of women doing fight-y things.

I’m willing to admit that I was largely disappointed by this: if for no other reason than the only way to represent a strong sense of sisterhood is to have women fighting together against evil Germans. It’s entirely possible that there might have been some subtle nuances of the scenes that eluded me in my single watching, or maybe it’s something only women can see and appreciate (in which several questions about empathy and understanding come up, which are another topic all on its own), and so I don’t consider this to be a massive issue against the movie.

A much bigger issue was with the fight choreography in general and, more importantly, the framing and camera techniques. While the fights were visually impressive, the nature of how much CGI these action sequences greatly undercuts the very significant physical training and practice that the whole cast underwent to make it a truly awe-inspiring accomplishment. Having confirmed with friends of mine from a very work-out intensive circle, they confirmed that the physical training these actors underwent is very strenuous and something a flub like me would probably have died trying.

And instead of showcasing this, the movie largely relied on CGI renders of the characters to have them perform sequences and movements that the actors quite possibly could have accomplished with some clever framing and a few camera tricks. I’d go so far to say that at least 50% of all action sequences involving the cast and 70% of action sequences involving Wonder Woman were completely computer rendered. It reminded me of a cheaper version of 300; similar action sequences, just involving more nerds at a desk instead of more actor performance.

And in between the action sequences, fairly unimaginative camera angles and shots were used, occasionally being a little too static or “by the book”. I’m not looking for a completely new and innovative way to showcase a movie, but something a little more interesting than a series of static shoulder/hip-and-up shots would have been a nice change of pace.

3236382-wonder-woman-lifts-tank-in-reald3d-posterBut, for the biggest nail in the coffin for me would have been the plot progression itself. I know DC can make brilliant stories with great arcs and clever twists; if anyone has taken the time to watch Batman Beyond, they’ll know what I’m talking about. In this movie, however, the writer seems undecided as to what they want to focus the message of the story on: is humanity innately evil, or is Ares the reason for WW1.

There was actually a very heated argument about this in my friend’s basement after we watched the movie. The only thing we could agree upon is that Professor Lupin is not a good representation for an antagonist. Moving on.

I understand the nature of including the lore of Ares being established at the beginning of the movie and that, from an outside source, the appearance of Ares was predictable to say the least as a result. And if this was the moral of the story the movie had tried to stick to, it would have been fine. Not great, but fine. However, then some philosophy about the nature and ethics behind the human condition got shoe-horned in and things got bogged down.

Outside of the Amazon Island, great effort is placed into showing the evils of humanity and the atrocities they can commit on their own, regardless of outside influence. Well, slight correction: the evils that Germans can perform, because Germans are pure evil in the early 21st Century. The entire movie, Diana is fully convinced that the source of the war is Ares, and the supporting cast and main villains go through great lengths to prove that humans commit terrible things without godly influence. Then, upon the death of the German commander, Diana begins to realize that the simple and naive beliefs she once clung to might have been wrong.

Suddenly: jokes, Professor Lupine pops up and says “Hay, it was me but not really,” so Diana kills him and the war ends rather abruptly. The sudden 180 the movie takes is jarring and kills all the good material the plot had going for it up until that point. I am fully convinced that, if the writers had not tried to inject god-plot into the movie at the end, it would have been great. We, the audience, would have seen Diana question the beliefs she held on her own and question the morals of the people she was trying to protect. It would also have shown that evil is not a one-person problem: it’s a slow and clever system that happens through many people and politics.

But nope; we don’t want any of that philosophical nonsense in this movie! Let’s have a CGI fist-fight with a god to showcase how badass he is. Because ratings!

The battle with General Ludendorf was a fun fight on its own. His battle and defeat was quite satisfying without having to take it over level 9000 with a duel against Magneto afterwards. General Ludendorf and Doctor Poison were really cool villains on their own without trying to cram Ares into the story as well.

wonder-woman doctor poisonAnd on those really cool villains, it would have been nice to have seen more of them. I mean, Doctor Poison was a really cool bad guy. What event caused her face to be partially melted away? Why was she so inclined to make such dangerous weapons? She really needed more screen and plot time than was allotted, so the whammy of being forced to believe Professor Lupine was the BBEG was more than I could choke down.

Which leads me to another common problem with Superhero movies in general (and usually DC is the ones more prone to this than Marvel), but trying cram multiple super-villains into one movie is just too much. I know it’s a method to raise the stakes, and typically the second villain is someone who has a more “profound” effect on the protagonist, but it just pads extra movie time in a film that’s already quite long enough.

I could also rip apart several of the historical inaccuracies portrayed in the movie about WW1 in general (like the half-asses approach to PTSD, or that German soldiers took civilians as slaves when they were captured, or that Germany fought Britain, France, Russia and the US on their own… does no one really remember that Austria-Hungary and Italy were also in those trenches?), but if I start ripping apart Hollywood for taking creative licences with history, we’d be in for a very long list of movies that were terrifyingly wrong in very nearly every aspect.

At the end, with the choices that were made by either the producers or direction, we went from a movie that could have been “holy shit wow” to “meh”. And I know that makes me the enemy of women everywhere to rate a movie like this as “100% meh”, but as things stand, I probably won’t be rusting out to buy this one on Blu-ray when it comes out.

Let’s see more of what the actors can do, let’s see superhero movies asking much harder philosophical questions and let’s see less Ben Affleck. You can fight me on that one, but you’ll lose.

And I really think that stance makes me a “Mediocre Hero” at the end of the day.