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July Review Grab Bag

After looking over my notes on a few prospective Ancient Logic posts I realized that I am hopelessly behind schedule. The current WIP and the web fiction I write, "Agent Shield and Spaceman," have taken up almost all of the energy I usually devote these 'side projects.'

Anyway, in the past couple of months, I saw (in order of recall) Wonder Woman and Spiderman at the theaters, Magicians, American Gods, and the current season of Preacher on the small screen, and finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140. The last item will get its own review but here are some quick thoughts on the others: 

Wonder Woman: This remains my favorite superhero flick this year. Yes, Guardians was a lot of fun and Spiderman (which I'll get to) was one of my favorite recent Marvel films, but in terms of consequence, and meaning, and shear mythological epic-ness, Wonder Woman takes the cake. As others have noted, some of this impact surely comes from how little the typical fan has come to expect from DC properties on the big screen. But that also plays enormous short-shrift of the accomplishment of this film. Gal Gadot is a marvelous performer, perfectly cast for this or any other depiction of Wonder Woman. She throws tanks and armored trucks left and right, batters her way across no-man's land, and simply provides the best depiction of a demi-god I've seen on screen. The story charges straight-ahead with minimal narrative bloat, an agreeably knowing sort of humor, and provides action that feels quite different from other super hero movies. This is a movie with its own story to tell and it only really falters at the end as it reaches for a slightly disproportionate epic finale. Its final fight feels much more like a generic climatic comic book battle than anything that proceeded it. Still, very impressive.

Magicians: I haven't read the books yet so I'm not really able to compare the first two seasons of this work with Les Grossman's source material. I started this show last year and faltered a bit with the early episodes. In particular, the first season's third or fourth episode has an insane asylum plot which really threw me. Not to get to far into specifics, but the story was one of those was-it-all-a-dream? plots I feel usually crop up in the fifth or sixth season of a show casting about for ideas. But that was an unfair impression. I'd suggest this wry and hilarious reworking of fantasy material such as Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and (especially) CS Lewis's Narnia books, is what happens when a show BEGINS already fed up with fantasy clichés. By the second season the characters have passed through every layer of metafiction to land on a surprisingly heart felt look at that nebulous moment when children become adults, and myths become real.

Spiderman: Homecoming: For some reason I was less excited for this project than others in the MCU universe. First off: Spiderman was never my favorite comic hero. Back in the 90s, Spiderman was a pretty good symbol of everything I didn't really like in comic books - too silly, too corny, and too much of an institution. This is the one Marvel character with a goddamn theme-song! But, you know what? This movie is a lot of fun. I thought the casting of Tom Holland as Peter Parker was inspired and it helps that along with the struggles of a much younger, much less confident Spider-man, the movie chucks the origin story, includes very funny and believable interactions between him and Tony Stark, and, crucially, offers one of the best villains in MCU in the Vulture as played by Michael Keaton. This movie invests enough time in this villain and his connections to the rest of the MCU universe to make his motivations understandable and more than a little sympathetic.

American Gods: The first season had something I haven't seen in a little while - a compelling must-watch aspect I associate with Game of Thrones and the first season of True Detective. What I'm talking about is more than simply interesting characters or a compelling story. Some television shows are able to make a convincing argument for being relevant - as though it is important to make the effort to watch them - not simply for diversion but because they have something valuable to offer. I read Neil Gaiman's novel a while ago so I'm a bit foggy here where the show-runners are making changes but nothing strikes me as off here. The idea of old-world Gods trying to survive in the hyper-connected, glossy remixed world of 21st century America feels if anything more resonant now than it did back in the late 90s. I also enjoy how meta-textual this work is - this is a television with absolutely not problem veering off for an entire episode (which just so happens to be the penultimate one) to explore the poignant relationship between a thief and a leprechaun.

The Preacher's Second Season: this one's still going on so I'll restrict myself to first impressions. I saw a lot of reason for optimism in the first season and the first third of the new series maintains an absolutely ferocious pace. The introduction of the Saint of Killers is appropriately epic, and the show seems to have embraced a pleasingly garish, Brian De Palma meets Tarantino vibe. Preacher is going for a very loose adaptation from the comic and there are plenty of changes, some welcome, others less so. The show can off as pretty dismissive in its treatment of the three main characters. Jesse Custer and Tulip, in particular, come off in a much more cartoonish, less sincere way than the comics. Considering that one of the flaws of the source material, in my opinion, is the unquestioning way it took Jesse's side for most of the series, this slightly more jaundiced approach is probably for the better. However, I could see problems in the near future considering they're already teasing the Angelville plot-line. For those of you who have read the graphic novels, I ask you - how is that story going to hit with the speed and force needed if we are not fully invested in the idea of Jesse Custer being a goddamn American hero?

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