Tag Archives: Review

Review: Captain America – Civil War


Score: 7/10

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passed – barely. Natasha and Wanda are sort of talking to each other in a group conversation about their current mission.

Racial Bechdel Test: Passed. Rhodes and Sam are talking directly to each other in a group discussion about the Sokovia Accords. T’Chaka and T’Challa are having a short father-son-moment before the congress in Vienna.

Mako Mori Test: ….ahahahahaha …no. Yes, it’s still technically a Captain America flick, but seeing as Tony, Bucky and T’Challa got their arcs in addition to Steve, when we’ve never seen T’Challa before and Bucky was a villain the last time we saw him, it’s still somewhat annoying to see this trend continued, especially after Winter Soldier gave so much room to Natasha and her way of dealing with the situation in a film that wasn’t hers. Plus, it seems the writers have no clue what to do with Wanda, either, and she of all people could have used a nice character arc from who she was in Age of Ultron to who she needs to be as an Avenger. Especially in light of what the film is about.

So, with the score out of the way and only two of the three lowest bars cleared, let’s get to the review proper.


Minor spoilers to follow, but nothing that wasn’t given away in the trailers or the after credits scenes of previous films.

Captain America: Civil War is a perfectly entertaining film. That said, it isn’t as good as it could have been. In part, I think, this is due to the writers not really knowing what to do with a large cast of characters. They did well in Winter Soldier, when their main cast was Sam, Steve and Natasha, and everyone else was relegated to supporting cast, but with a main cast as bloated as Civil War’s, they met the limits of their writing skills. The other big factor here is that the MCU’s first big story arc is nearing it’s conclusion. We’re close to Infinity War and thus the likely departure of many core Avengers (either because their contract is up or because someone needs to die in a film that’s ostensibly about a war on a cosmic scale). So the characters who will be left need to still be present in our memory, and appear in a film every now and then. Thus, we got not only Hawkeye back from ‘retirement’, but also Agent 13 and a random Ant-Man, plus introductions for Spider-Man (because we haven’t got enough Spider-Man yet) and Black Panther. Out of those, only Black Panther has any business being in this film in a larger role. Agent 13 at least has a role that justifies her presence in the plot (to a degree, anyway), and Hawkeye can maybe be justified, if you squint, but then his role makes Ant-Man’s completely unnecessary. Spider-Man doesn’t need to be in this film at all, neither for the plot nor for an introduction. We know who he is. He doesn’t need introducing, especially since they’ve gone with Peter Parker again, and we all know that dude well enough by now. That Joss Whedon has written everyone into a corner with a really overpowered Vision who now has to be kept away from most of the action lest he obliterate anyone who opposes him isn’t doing anyone any favours, either, so he’s pretty much swinging wildly between ‘unstoppable’ and ‘completely useless’, depending on what the scene demands.

This inflated number of heroes makes it nigh impossible to really focus on all of them in a satisfying way, so the focus is only on some, making the other characters’ randomness stand out even more. The ones who get character arcs are, as I mentioned, Tony and Steve, and to a lesser degree Bucky and T’Challa. Everyone else is just sort of there. We can guess their motivations from bits and pieces here and there, but for me, there’s a lot of comic background that helps with that, and the friends I went to see it with don’t have that, so occasionally, they interpreted things very differently.

The antagonists/ambiguous figures are much too numerous as well and thus have too little screen time and influence on the plot individually to really have an impact on the viewer; some are downright wasted. Cutting down their numbers could have helped flesh out the remaining characters by allowing more room for their personalities and motivations.

All in all, with how chock-full of characters the film was, we had too little time to explore each side’s motivations. Again, a lot is implied, but sometimes in ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments. Overall, Team Iron Man comes across as arrogant and uncompromising, and Team Cap lacks any clear counter-solution. Which isn’t that bad, seeing as opposing another solution because you think it will only make things worse isn’t too bad a stance in itself, but going a little deeper into the reasons why they thought the Accords were a bad idea and how they could have been done better would have been nice.

So what did I like about the film? Enough, apparently, to still give it a relatively good score. For one, the theme was interesting. In a world where superheroes exist, should they be under someone’s control for the ever-popular ‘greater good’, and if so, who should that someone be? Here, that’s not explored through the usual hero-villain conflict, but our heroes are divided into two groups, so we can’t tell who is right and who is wrong from the get-go. It’s not a good guys vs. bad guys scenario, where the good guys are an audience stand-in and thus automatically right. The audience stand-in itself is divided, and thus, the audience is as well. We are squarely in the grey area without the film being grey and gloomy and broody about it in any way, which is refreshing in a superhero film.

What little we saw of certain characters was also interesting – namely, T’Challa, Natasha, Bucky and Wanda, with Wanda and T’Challa being my favourites here. They would have profited the most from more screen time. Natasha, we already know well enough to make sense of her actions (which doesn’t mean she shouldn’t have had more presence; more Widow is always better). Wanda and T’Challa, we barely know at all, and the glimpses we got of them in Civil War had me very intrigued.

I’m still divided on a few things, but as of now, I’m inclined to weigh them on the plus side because of the sheer potential they had. Like Bucky’s storyline and the aspects the writers took out of Ed Brubaker’s Winter Soldier run, which could have been amazing and a great starting point for a Black Widow/Winter Soldier duo film, considering how little we know about Widow’s past, and what’s hidden in a certain location could very well have Red Room ties as well. All we know so far is that Natasha was supposedly born in 1984, but also ‘traded in the KGB for Hydra’, which is odd, since the Russian KGB stopped existing in 1991, so what’s the deal with that? Lots of room for exploring her and the Winter Soldier’s backstory here, but wasted for a cheap moment of surprise.

Wanda’s arc is also something that’s super-interesting, but tragically underdeveloped. When Age of Ultron ended, she was fresh out of quasi-Hydra’s clutches and a newly-minted Avenger. She had just lost her brother, come out of a devastating fight she helped start, and was trying to find a new place among the good guys. Now, she’s suddenly thrust into this world where it’s not clear who the good guys even are, and what being one means. The first scene is hitting her really hard with this, and one should expect more exploration of her arc during the film. That doesn’t happen, save for two conversations with Vision that are much, much too short to properly delve into that.

Lastly, Cap’s character was coming along well in this film. Around here, he still has this image of being this unquestioningly patriotic figure that stands for the awesomeness of the grand US of A. Winter Solider started rapidly moving him away from that, and Civil War had him continue down that path. After starting out as a symbol wrapped in a flag and promoting a war, he’s now at a turning point after a difficult conflict about authority and how much power it should have, and it will be interesting to see where his character goes after this.

Those points saved the film from being simply mediocre, but they also served to show how much better it could have been with a little restraint, and if TPTB had refrained from putting characters into the film just so we wouldn’t forget who they are and thus taking away much-needed time from other characters. I was debating a 6/10 for a bit because of this, but the parts that stuck out so positively elevated it enough to give it a 7/10 after all. It’s still a trademark Marvel film and I still had a good time – it just could have been a lot better.

Maybe it would have worked better as an actual Avengers film. It certainly was a better one than Age of Ultron.


Marvel’s Jessica Jones – it’s pretty good


(Cross-posted from my Tumblr)

Score: 9/10

Jessica Jones has been on Netflix for a few days, and I made it halfway through already, mainly because “just one more episode” is one of the biggest lies people tell themselves. Anyway. Have a review.

Of course, as always, there are people who don’t like it, which is also completely fair. But probably the most hilarious bad reviews of Jessica Jones are the ones that claim the series is “unoriginal”, and that Daredevil was “refreshing” and compared to DD, JJ is boring.

Okay then.

I’m not bashing DD, that show was okay, but it wasn’t more than just that precisely because it was fairly unoriginal in its choice of protagonist! Jesus, how many “change the world, do good, and with great power comes great responsibility” heroes have we had these past few decades? Marvel’s franchises are full of them, starting with Captain America and Spiderman and ending with freaking Iron Man and Black Widow, who may have started out as a bad guy (in an origin story we never got to see because reasons) but ultimately is trying very hard to be a goody two-shoes hero like the others.

Jessica Jones is pretty much the first Marvel hero who isn’t behaving like all the other heroes before her. She is super-human, but she is also completely human, a quality that many Marvel heroes sorely lack. This is the first time in god knows how long that I have seen a hero I can really relate to because she isn’t depicted as some paragon of justice and virtue. Even Tony Stark, alcoholism and all, is always ultimately portrayed as A Good Guy. In Jessica Jones, we finally get to see the other side of having superpowers. People not trusting you, others expecting too much, and then the ones that just want to use you, all portrayed in varying shades of grey. No-one is completely perfect, and so far, also no-one has been shown as being irredeemably evil (though I have only watched until episode seven, so not sure how they will ultimately handle Kilgrave).

Maybe this surplus of “good” heroes took some enjoyment out of Daredevil for me. If there hadn’t been so many like him before, it wouldn’t have felt so boringly familiar. On his own, he’s an idealist who had terrible things happen to him but who wants to use his gift for good, to protect and defend his home, and I can totally get behind that sort of motivation. But after years of heroes just like him, I’m getting bored of that archetype. It was time for something new, and from what I’ve seen, both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage will have different sorts of heroes.

JJ isn’t perfect, either. For one, Luke plays a big role in the first half of the season, and if it turns out that Jessica (or someone like her, anyway) won’t be in Luke Cage in the same way, I will take it was what it probably is, yet another sign that Marvel thinks women can’t carry a show on their own, and that will impact how I watch both subsequent seasons of JJ and Luke Cage.
It’s also a bizarre-but-unsurprising example of Hollywood diversity, which is basically “add white women + black men”. Even I see that, and I live halfway across the globe from where the show is set. The extras and minor roles are a little bit better, I guess, but the main cast is weirdly uniform, in that almost all women are young, white and at least decently attractive, right down to Jessica’s weirdo neighbour, and if there are men who aren’t white guys, they are black and that’s about it.

All in all, though, I like the casting choices, and they managed to avoid the most obvious stereotypes.

The characters are refreshingly distant from the usual roles women get to play in superhero franchises. Of course there is the titular Jessica Jones, who gets to play a brawler with a traumatic past and a severe drinking problem who still manages to make a somewhat decent living for herself by using her powers in her job as a P.I. to have an advantage over the competition. And then there are Trish and Hogarth. God, I love Hogarth in all her self-centred, no-nonsense glory. I admit I didn’t know at first who Hogarth is in the comics (might have read that name somewhere, but couldn’t really place it), but with the way she’s written on the show, I immediately thought “They wrote that role for a dude, didn’t they?”. Turns out the original Hogarth is indeed a guy. I think I read somewhere that they wrote the role for Moss first, then added Hogarth’s name and Hogarth-ness as an afterthought, but it works. Breathes some new life into the archetype of her role. It adds a role where Moss can shine, and it adds a female character to the show who is allowed to be just as complex and complicated as the male characters that usually occupy this role. They didn’t even adjust her age (although she doesn’t seem to have kids, like comic-Hogarth does, but I suppose that would be too “radical”, right?). They also didn’t change the role of Hogarth’s wife into Hogarth’s husband, and she still has an affair with her female assistant. I’m still not entirely sure how the writers got that past the Marvel executives, but they did, and it’s amazing.

Trish is great in that she is both a badass and elegantly feminine. She wears dresses and skirts and also has an affair with a dude she barely knows and can hold her own in a fight (as long as that fight doesn’t involve one-sided tasers, which is just unfair to begin with). She isn’t one single thing, character-wise, and she’s also a perfect counterpart for Jessica. Where Jessica just wants to be left alone and use her powers to make a living, Trish wants to be a hero badly but is just a regular human being, so she has to work around that limitation.

Oh, and of course, David Tennant is brilliant as Kilgrave. Terrifying and suave and a perfect fit for the way the role was written for the show. A great villain in the same vein as Loki, but a lot scarier.

Overall, I already love the show. It’s something I have been waiting for for years, and now Marvel finally delivered. It’s still just one female-centric franchise among many regular dudebros, but with it’s solid 9/10 rating on IMDB and 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and the upcoming Luke Cage, I have some new hope for more diverse superheroes in the future, casting-wise and character-wise.

As for my own rating. I’m going with IMDB here. Nine out of ten bottles of Whiskey.

So. Age of Ultron.


Score: 5.5/10

Disclaimer: I enjoyed the film. I really did. I had a hella good time at the cinema, with only the occasional facepalm moment. Age of Ultron has a high entertainment value. But that never has and never will excuse shitty things, and AoU is no exception.

Also, spoilers ahead (for pretty much the entire MCU). And swearing. You have been warned.

Joss Whedon has one thing down cold: Tricking you into thinking whatever you’re watching is amazing while you are watching it, covering up the, once you think about it, glaringly obvious issues whatever product you’re consuming has. Firefly suffered from this. I watched a few episodes and sort of enjoyed them, then didn’t have time and took a break, and while I had time to think about what I’d watched, I realised that, even without the obvious problem of “I’m telling you that humankind is basically a mash-up of the USA and China at that point but I will proceed to show you mostly white people”, no, the show isn’t all that great. Same for Cabin in the Woods. It was fun while it lasted, if you will, but its supposed subversion and parody of common tropes and clichés was actually just mostly common tropes and clichés.

Age of Ultron has the largest gap so far between the fun I had watching it and the number of things that have been driving me nuts about it since I left the cinema. Now I think the writing wasn’t really that good, the “wit” of many conversations was mostly just bad puns and thinly-disguised insults (mostly directed at poor Hawkeye and Cap), and the most genuinely funny thing was everyone teasing Steve, the eternal gentleman, about being opposed to swear words. Clint, on the other hand, got told that his (allegedly) not having a girlfriend is something that needed fixing, and that he’s supposedly impotent. Hilarious.
The short(est) end of the stick goes to Natasha, though. She gets flashbacks alluding to her training in the Black Widow program, telling us a little more about how and why she became who and what she is. Oh, and that bit about being a monster because she can’t have biological children. Nope, that’s what she says, pretty much a direct response to Bruce telling her that he “can’t biologically have children” and therefore isn’t good enough for her (a notion that’s problematic on its own). Now people argue she’s not referring to the sole fact that she was forcibly sterilised as part of her “graduation ceremony”, but rather means that the entire thing, being trained and basically brainwashed to become a merciless killer, but the way the dialogue is written has the line about not being able to bear children come directly before she says to Bruce (probably paraphrased, I’m translating here) “you’re not the only monster in the room”. There is a direct connection made by the script, and you can’t tell me that’s a coincidence. And Bruce doesn’t react. He just looks vaguely doubtful, instead of, dunno, telling Natasha that she’s not a monster because she had this procedure done to her without her consent that rendered her infertile, maybe giving her a chance to say that she doesn’t think that specific thing makes her a monster, but that she meant the whole ordeal she went through when she was young, making it clear that she was referring to her being an assassin for so long, and that she only told him about the sterilisation to make him see that there are other people out there struggling with their inability to have children, that he isn’t alone with this and that it doesn’t make him worthless as a romantic partner. That the monster comment indeed was meant to make him see that because he becomes the Hulk and possibly hurts innocent people when he can’t control himself doesn’t make the Bruce here and now a monster, just like her past as an assassin killing innocent people doesn’t make present-day Natasha a monster (returning to the red-in-her-ledger theme from the first
Buuut instead of exploring the struggles of both Natasha and Bruce and how they bonded over sharing the burden, if you will, we get a stupid-ass conversation that measures a human’s worth pretty much entirely by their ability to have biological children. It occurs for both Bruce and Natasha, but in Natasha’s case there’s a whole string of issues attached to it, from centuries of measuring a woman’s worth almost exclusively by how many children/sons she had to the stigma women face even today when they don’t have children (by choice or by circumstance), making the whole thing so much worse for both her and the women in the audience who, for one reason or another, don’t or can’t have children (not to mention that this hints at the horrible notion of what defines a “real woman”, and subsequently a “real man”).
Also, there’s this weird romantic subplot between Natasha and Bruce that just came out of nowhere and progressed from friendship to smooching hella fast. Figuratively speaking. Actual smooching did occur, but only because Natasha needed to distract Bruce for a moment so she could push him into a giant hole in the ground to make him turn into the Hulk to fight Ultron, which turned the already weak romance into a hot mess of “wait, so was she pretending the whole time or was she just desperate for the Hulk in that specific moment?” I’m still not a hundred percent sure.

Let’s move on to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Oh boy.
I like those guys. I really do. And Olsen’s performance was really good. But… can we talk for a moment about how they are basically just Wanda and Pietro by name in AoU, and pretty much nothing else except their superpowers? Sure, they couldn’t make them mutants, but why did they have to go and make two Jewish Roma people into two very white people who actually volunteered for fucking HYDRA? As in, the super-Nazis of the MCU? I mean, if they didn’t know it was HYDRA and they just wanted revenge on Tony Stark, okay, but that never gets mentioned? And neither does their heritage? If you had to be an asshole and cast non-Roma actors because you don’t have the balls to break Hollywood’s unspoken “token and no more” rule (and you already had Rhodey/War Machine and Fury and Dr. Cho, so of course you couldn’t cast any more non-white actors, jeez!), then at least don’t completely erase every part of their heritage? Is it too much to ask for a throwaway line or two to tell us that they are Jewish and/or were raised by Roma parents? I mean, Steve gets his line in Avengers about how there is “only one god, and he doesn’t dress this way”, hinting strongly at a (probably protestant) Christian background, so why not give one of the twins a line like that? Someone mentioned a possible comparison of the old church where the twins first meet Ultron and their old synagogue which “is a lot nicer”. Or maybe have them talk privately in Romani, or give one of them a one-liner about how fighting an evil robot isn’t how they “imagine a quiet passover” or whatever. Anything that hints at their comic origins that doesn’t paint them as mutants would have been possible, you chose nothing at all. Awesome. Another lost opportunity.

Those were my biggest issues, but the rest of the film is far from perfect. I remember watching the scene where they try to lift Mjölnir when the teaser came out, and when the scene played in the cinema, I was hella confused. Everyone gets some kind of quip when they try to lift the hammer, and Tony made the hilariously funny “joke” that, when he’d lift the hammer and get to rule the world, he’d reinstate prima nocta: the alleged right of feudal lords to sleep with anyone’s new wife before the husband did. Basically legal rape. Yes, they went there. Even though that right is pretty much a myth (at least in Europe, apparently it did exist elsewhere, in different versions, but it never was a wide-spread law).
The original line was something about him being “firm and fair” – not a rape joke. It was good. Fit Tony’s personality as a megalomaniac with a ginormous ego. Why they decided to make him joke about sleeping with someone else’s wife whether said wife consented or not is beyond me. That’s not even something one could attribute to the playboy side of his personality. He’s a womaniser, not a fucking rapist.
The stupid kidnapping of Natasha by Ultron, that served no fucking purpose at all except to give Bruce an opportunity to rescue her. Literally nothing happens, Ultron has no reason to even keep Natasha alive, so why did you just have to include that? Was Natasha too independent for your taste? Couldn’t you imagine a better scenario to show us that even super-spies sometimes need help, and Bruce can be a hero without the Hulk, too? Something that’s not completely stupid and lazy writing, and actually is grounded in the plot and not a done-to-death trope?
Then the suggestion that the fact Clint is supposedly single is something that needed to be “fixed”. Why? What the hell is wrong with people who think that single people are somehow inherently broken? Screw you, Whedon. Seriously.
Speaking of Clint, he’s married and has a family and that’s good for him. And he kept his family a secret from SHIELD and his fellow Avengers to keep them safe. But his wife’s last name is Barton, according to the cast list? For the love of god, why? That’s about the easiest measure to take to prevent anyone from finding out about your family, dude! I’d say something about masculine insecurities here, but a) Hawkeye is fictional, b) he’s probably the least traditionally macho type of the group, and c) my mum kept her last name, too, and it hasn’t shattered my dad’s ego, either, so there really is no excuse for the secret government agent/superhero to not take this extra measure and ask his wife to keep her last name to eliminate one more official connection to him that could be found.

And the myriad of other things that just didn’t make sense in the larger context of the MCU. How did Steve’s search for Bucky go? How did Natasha become so close with Bruce and so good at calming the Hulk? What’s up with the new heroes we saw in previous films, like War Machine and Falcon, where are they when the killer robot shit goes down in Sokovia? Chilling on Hawaii? Somewhere without cell reception? And didn’t Tony basically retire from being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3? Shouldn’t he be way more reluctant to don his suit again? Where is Loki hanging out? Shouldn’t he have a vested interest in getting back his Infinity stone if he wants to be king of Asgard? And where the fuck did Fury find an intact helicarrier that he could just take on a ride to Europe after Winter Soldier?! I’m guessing he actually made an ass pull joke in that scene, going by his line in the German version? But that is not a satisfying explanation! Making random shit happen yelling “Magic!” and expecting people to just swallow it is fucking lazy.
A lot of what happened in previous films just doesn’t seem to matter anymore in Age of Ultron, and the writer in me is really angry that someone so famous can get away with this lazy bullshit, and so many people seem to think he and his creation(s) are somehow immune to criticism. No. No, they are not!

I’m pretty cross with Marvel in general and Whedon in particular right now. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if he didn’t constantly talk about how he’s so much of a feminist, and then mention that declaring one’s alignment with specific political views destroys one’s art (in reference to people telling him that writing lines that shame people, especially women, for making choices he doesn’t agree with is not feminism). He even said that you “change people’s (sexists, in this case) minds” through your actions, not through words, and then proceeds to do stuff that’s 100% not what feminism stands for. He says all these things and then throws us lines like the monster one, or the “single people need fixing” reference, and renders his pretty words little more than lipservice to an audience he wants to appeal to because he likes money, I guess?
I’m glad he’s not doing Infinity War. I hope Marvel get their shit together and learn from the criticism they got for AoU. But I probably won’t go see Infinity War at the cinema. I didn’t go see the last few MCU films, and then went to watch AoU because Winter Soldier pleasantly surprised me. Shoulda stayed home and saved me some money.
For me, it’s just not worth it anymore. I just want a fun ride that has some sort of overarching plot attached to it that pays off in a huge, loud, colourful showdown, and instead get told by the film that I’m a broken human being because I don’t have a partner or kids, other people apparently don’t exist because they aren’t “white” enough, and rape is funny. Sorry, but I’m not giving you money to get insulted. Do better in the future, and I might reconsider. The last scene was a good start, with the “new” Avengers being trained by Natasha and Steve. There’s potential there. But I have a feeling it’s going to go to waste one way or another…


Of Walkers and Talkers


Score: 5/10

[Fair warning: This is long, and kinda rant-y. Also, The Walking Dead spoilers for seasons 1, 2 and 3 ahead, thought that might be moot at this point when season 5 just premiered…]

I’m probably the last zombie fanatic on the entire planet to discover The Walking Dead. I’ve heard a lot of noise about this show, mostly about how it’s something new and exciting, and is something like the Game of Thrones of us zombie people. I kept putting it off for various reasons, but now it’s on German Netflix, so I thought, what the hell, might as well finally give it a shot. I’ve pretty much run out of shows to follow anyway.
I have purposely avoided ‘spoilers’ before watching; I didn’t even read reviews on Amazon, as I usually do. So all I’ve heard about the show was praise, either from the few media outlets I caught mentioning it or from friends of mine who love the show. So I binge-watched the first two seasons in three days to see what the fuzz was all about.
My own reaction was… uh… how to put it… confused. Yep, that’s pretty much what this show does to me – it confuses the hell out of me, on so many levels. Mostly, though, because still I like it, for some reason. It’s like Supernatural all over again. I like the idea, and the general vibe of the show, but so, so many things make me angry about both of those shows that I just want to scream at the TV sometimes. I still started with S3, but with much less enthusiasm than I had when I watched the pilot.
For SPN, it’s the ridiculously convoluted plotlines since season 3, the metric shit-ton of ultra macho angst in every other episode, and the fact that it’s a total sausage fest and treats its few women in an infuriating way. For TWD, it’s the ridiculously uninspired plotlines (though that might be due to the source material; haven’t gotten that far into the comic yet), the forced drama in every single episode, the total lack of character development (unless you count Rick going from Nice Guy to sociopath in the span of three episodes), and here, too, the fact that most female characters are tropes instead of characters. Most male characters, too, but the show at least attempts to give most of them something more.
Those things in combination with the generally good idea and overall quality of the show (writing notwithstanding) make for a show that managed to hook me and still makes me fume quietly over at least half of each episode.
Let’s dissect this from the top.


I. Plot and structure

I’ve said the plot of TWD is uninspired. Allow me to elaborate. Zombies have been used for ages as a vehicle to tell stories about humans, about civilisation versus animal instincts, about individuality versus crowd mentality, just plain survival and whatever else anyone could think of. They are great for that. An enemy that’s not human but somehow still is, that reminds us about the fact that, under the right circumstances, we all can be monsters, and then can be used to explore just how extreme those circumstances would have to be for any given individual.
TWD tries that, and fails miserably. Part of the reason why might be the short lifespan of each season. Six episodes in the first, thirteen in the second. Yet they crammed so damn much into those seasons: The apocalypse itself, naturally; Rick waking up and coming to terms with the new world; Lori apparently moving on; Lori and Rick getting reunited and the resulting tension between not-really-moving-on Lori, Rick and Shane; Carol’s abusive asshole of a husband; the group deciding to move on and splitting up because of conflicting goals; the ‘maybe there’s hope – there is no hope’ CDC plot; Shane slowly turning into a sociopath; Fort Benning; Carl getting shot; Hershel’s farm; Sophia getting lost; searching for Sophia; tension between the groups of survivors; Andrea maybe-or-not killing herself; the walkers in Hershel’s barn; Lori’s baby and the ‘Who’s the daddy?’ plot; the group being allowed to stay at the farm just to get yanked out of their perceived secure ‘paradise’; Rick killing Shane; Rick assuming Shane’s role as the designated sociopath and all-around asshole. And then repeating some of those plotlines again: The Govenor as the nice-guy-who’s-actually-a-total-dick; his keeping his zombie daughter locked up because “maybe she’s still in there”; the safe-place-that-isn’t-so-safe-after-all. Plus all the ‘little’ things, like someone dying all the time for really dumb reasons, people getting in trouble for really dumb reasons, and people arguing for really dumb reasons.
And that’s just the first two-and-a-half seasons. Really? Believe it or not, there is a limit to what you can cram into a single season (especially one that’s shorter than average) without it looking like you’re trying too hard. At some point, it’s getting tedious, then ridiculous, and then flat-out hilarious. In this case, hilarious began with Lori’s stupid car crash. I don’t even… what? How would anyone manage to crash their car on a deserted road like that? Out of sheer stupidity, that’s how. Lori crashes the car by not looking at the road for almost ten seconds and hitting the only lone walker on the whole damn road. This accident should not have happened, especially since it does nothing for the plot, at all. Lori wants to go after Rick (an ex-cop) and Glenn (the guy who, according to the show, is the best at traipsing through walker-infested cities undetected), who went after Hershel, who went to get wasted after his walker-wife was killed. She has no reason to go after them other than manufactured drama. Not to mention that she’s a) pregnant and b) has a son to protect, too, which she frequently seems to forget.
Point is, the show can not maintain tension through anything other than forced drama and surprise zombie attacks that most of the time should not be surprising or, and that’s my favourite, shouldn’t happen at all. An example of the first kind is Rick’s arrival in Atlanta, a city with over five million people in the metropolitan area, and even if you only count the city, it’s still half a million. The walkers swarming Rick should have surprised exactly no-one, least of all Rick, the guy living in the zombie apocalypse. An example of the second variety is the attack that drives the group off the farm at the end of season 2. A heard of zombies heard a helicopter and started following it, even long after it passed, and ended up on the farm. But. In the first episode, there was a helicopter doing exactly the same thing, and the walkers didn’t give a fuck about it then. And if zombies behaved that way, the city would be empty, and huge zombie herds would be walking across the land, because they apparently don’t stop after starting in the direction of the noise. It would’ve also made killing them really easy; just do the World War Z thing, blast some AC/DC in stadiums and then nuke them when they’re full. And even if we are willing to suspend disbelief for this, there’s still the question how a relatively quiet helicopter drew so much attention; there should be ambient noise, wind, buildings crumbling, animals and whatnot being just as loud or louder, so the helicopter shouldn’t have the impact it has.
I’d totally be willing to suspend my disbelief for TWD, really. It’s just that the show fires its drama missiles at a rate that makes it way too predictable. You just know when something is going to happen because there always is something happening; it’s not a surprise anymore after the first few episodes. A good show has suspense, sure, but it allows for quieter interlude episodes, too. I need a chance to calm down, to get used to the way things are, to allow myself to believe that this time, they really are safe, that this time, they made it, before you throw another catastrophe at me. Them. Whatever. I cared about Dale’s death because I had time enough to get to like him. I didn’t care about Amy’s death because I’d seen her for about two episodes before it happened, one of which she spent whining. Sophia’s death was sad, but more because she was a child than because of me genuinely caring about her.
Overall, I feel like the writers just got lazy at some point. The first few episodes were cool, but then it just seemed like they didn’t know how to write actual human drama (I refuse to call the constant squabbling ‘genuine drama’), so they decided to go the ‘shake things up all the time’ route. They keep adrenaline levels in the viewers high with action, but can’t hold our attention with anything else, so they decided to stick to the ALL THE DRAMA! approach. And the only way they try to break up this roller coaster of zombie action is by inserting deep and meaningful (achem) dialogue on a regular basis, where characters talk about things that either have been shown already and don’t need verbal emphasis, or could have been shown better by action rather than by dialogue. It gets to the point where zombie attacks get interrupted for some conversation – one moment, there’s a walker about to eat someone, the next the same someone is waxing poetic about some stuff we could’ve waited to hear until the immediate threat of death by zombie has passed. But there’s always a convenient break in the action for discussions to happen, and that takes a lot of the threat out of for me. Because I just know those two idiots should get eaten while they argue but won’t, no matter what. It’s important storytelling, after all.


II. The characters

Oh boy. Where do I start?
Right. Main characters. I think that’s Rick and his family, with Shane and Dale being close second, and the rest are supporting characters. So far, so good. I don’t expect a specific kind of character; nice protagonists, mean protagonists, criminal protagonists, sociopathic protagonists, I can handle all of those. But the show should a) be somewhat consistent in the portrayal of its main characters and b) give me something, anything, that makes me care. TWD makes it really, really difficult to like or root for any of its main or supporting characters (with the exception of Daryl, maybe; he’s kind of a dick, but at least he’s an honest dick, and he gets a nice character arc later to make up for that).
Rick starts out okay. Confused guy trying to deal with the shithole the world has become and searching for his family, then trying to keep them alive and get them to safety. His primary antagonist, apart from the zombies, is Shane – they compete for group leadership (open, more encompassing conflict) and Lori’s affection (private, human conflict). Shane is set up as a violent, narcissistic sociopath who, in the end, has to die for the good of the group. Good, I can dig that. But then it’s a shit move to make Rick turn into the exact same person Shane was and not just letting him get away with it, but trying to make me like him that way. That is so, so weird and so, so wrong. You can’t give me an antagonist who dies for a certain ‘sin’, and then have the protagonist commit that same sin as well, but since he’s the hero, it’s okay. Shane is criticised for his violent temper, but when Rick tortures Randall, it’s okay because he’s just trying to keep the group safe. Shane tries to decide for everyone, regardless of their opinion and gets shit for it, but when Rick says, literally, that the group isn’t a democracy, it’s fine because he just wants what is best for everyone. And that’s not even touching on the inconsistencies in Rick’s character: Searching for Sophia for days even though logic says she is either dead or safely somewhere else at this point, but then dismissing Andrea as ‘dead anyway’ after the attack in the season finale. Insisting on saving Merle and later Randall, but then torturing Randall for… information, I guess? The show is rather vague about that. Before that, Rick is adamant they give Randall a fighting chance by dropping him off at some place where he’s relatively safe and can get some supplies, but when the guy mentions something about going to school with Maggie, Rick takes him back (presumably because maybe Randall isn’t so bad, then?), only to decide then that Randall will be executed because he’s a threat. Rick is doing so many 180s in the second half of season 2, I’ve just given up trying to understand it. I wish he’d just kick the bucket and let Michonne take over as the protagonist.
Then there’s Lori. She’s either an annoying, angsty bitch, or simply a vehicle for Rick’s angst; either way, she’s a horrible character, and I was relieved when she bit the dust in the prison. She’s supposed to be a caring person and awesome mother who just happened to have banged her presumed-dead husband’s best friend for comfort, but I don’t see much evidence of either. She frequently is selfish and reckless, and she keeps losing track of Carl in critical situations, like, you know, zombie attacks. The same Carl she is supposedly so worried about, but who somehow manages to wander off and end up in danger all the time, whenever it’s needed for the plot. Beyond those supposed traits, which get mentioned a lot, but aren’t really seen on-screen, there isn’t much else about her. I know her as ‘Rick’s wife’ and that’s it. No backstory, no relationships, no nothing. I didn’t really pay attention to it, but I’m not sure TWD at the end of season 2 has passed the Bechdel test (Edit: Wait, it does, with the laundry scene in episode 2 or 3). And that’s another reason why I have a beef with TWD: In a world that has gone to hell (and then come back trying to eat your face), where the top priority is surviving for another day, the roles are distributed like a bad 1970s post-apocalypse film – the men protect and gather, and the women maintain the camp and keep an eye on the kids. This is mentioned once, the question isn’t resolved and then it’s never brought up again, in a show that is supposedly ‘not about zombies, but about what humankind becomes when the old structures disappear’. The whole misery is excellently highlighted by the various characters’ priorities in Lori’s baby situation. Maggie goes ballistic over the ‘abortion pills’, Lori frets about whether or not she even should have a baby in this world, and Rick and Shane go all macho over who’s baby it is. Gender stereotypes at their finest.
Let’s move on to Carl. I’m still not sure if I’m even supposed to like him. He’s a mini-me of Rick, sometimes, then he gets all sensitive, and then it’s suddenly ‘Let’s shoot my dad’s dead best friend!’ again. Not to mention that he should have died of stupidity ten times over by the end of season 2, but magic and plot conveniences keep saving his ass. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have many aspects beyond ‘Rick’s and Lori’s kid’. ‘Sophia’s friend’ maybe, but that’s more the other way around. He never asks about grandparents, friends, or whatever else he could possibly care about other than shooting things with guns he shouldn’t have. He gets a little better in season 3, but barely.
That’s what irks me about the supporting cast as well. They have so little backstory in addition to what they do on-screen, they might as well have none at all. Dale is an exception, he’s got a consistent backstory that ties in with what we see of him in the show itself. Daryl is okay, too, but only gets his story told in season 2. The rest? Not so much. There’s Ed, the abuser, and his wife Carol, the abuse victim. Andrea, who is angry. Merle, who is a racist asshole. Amy, who is young and blonde. Glenn, who is the group’s doormat. T-Dog, who is… black, I guess? Seriously, he barely has any lines, and the longest dialogue so far has been with Merle about his being black and Merle’s racist bullshit. Glenn gets a little more personality after they arrive on the farm and takes up a relationship with Maggie, and in season 3, these two are actually my personal favourites. But that takes way too long to happen for my taste.
In season 3, we get Michonne, who I really dig, but gets very little backstory since she doesn’t really talk. She’s still one of the more level-headed and sensible people around, given the circumstances, and would make for a much better leader than Rick. But I suppose since she’s a woman, that won’t happen, ever. Also, she’s black, and TWD has a disturbing track record of axing its lone black character when the next one comes along. T-Dog dies for Big Tiny, Big Tiny dies for Oscar, that guy dies for Michonne, and now there are actually two more black characters, and I’m waiting for the next one to snuff it. Not a good sign.
Aaand season 3 also got us the Govenor. What. The. Hell. That guy is as cliche evil as they come, but of course, nobody but Michonne notices. How? How in the world does nobody know that, or then calmly accept it when it shows (as with the zombie fight club thing)? Is everyone at Woodbury nuts? But the show says no, those are normal people who want a normal life, but are somehow okay with this? The Govenor also isn’t a very logical character. He does everything he does for his own gain and judges people by their usefulness to him. But when he could gain some very skilled allies with the soldiers, he just nonchalantly has them killed for… what reason again? Because he wanted what they had? Which he could’ve gotten by letting them stay, plus their skills in potential fights? And then he does the same with the prison. He literally wants to kill everyone there just because. Because he doesn’t want another group so close to Woodbury. Which shouldn’t be an issue, since apparently, the way between the two locations is dangerous and requires a car to safely get from A to B. They probably wouldn’t know the other group was there. Yet he plans on killing all the people to… not move into a much more secure location? Because he can? Because he’s a dangerous and violent sociopath who somehow still manages to appear charming despite being clearly out of control and delusional? Nevermind that there’s about fifty people living at Woodbury, and even if we assume half of those can and will fight, that’s not ‘severely outnumbered and outgunned’, especially when the smaller group resides in a freaking fortress. I’m so not buying this character and this plot.
The rest of the (still) living minor characters are people I don’t really care about, mainly because a lot of them rotate very quickly, with lifespans of a few episodes tops. I already mentioned that I’m rather fond of Daryl, Glenn and Maggie, but those three aside, I couldn’t care less of any of the others died. I fact, I keep laughing when ridiculous stuff happens, like the ‘walker bomb’ when the Govenor attacks the prison, or the zombie heads in fish tanks. If that’s not intentional, it speaks tons about the writing, and it’s not compliments.
Who’s left? Well, all the people in fridges. Morgan’s wife; Amy; Hershel’s wife; Michonne’s boyfriend and child (I think); the Govenor’s daughter; Dale’s wife. Though the latter gets some semblance of a character when Dale tells about his life with her, and how she wanted to travel but couldn’t anymore before she died. And while some of those people gets fridged for a woman (Amy for Andrea, Michonne’s family for her), all of them are female with the exception of Michonne’s boyfriend.
In any case, TWD would really benefit from a few more fleshed-out, less stereotypical characters, both in leading and supporting roles. And if the protagonist has to be a psychotic dickwad, at least make his actions more consistent with the world around him and his own characterisation. He doesn’t have to be likeable, just understandable.


III. The pacing

I mentioned this before, when I said that I find it hilarious how there’s always time for talking, so long as it’s ‘relevant’ (your mileage may vary) to the plot, no matter how dire the situation is. That illustrates nicely how skewed the priorities of both the writers and the characters are. Sure, sometimes, it’s good to slow things down a bit to talk about issues, but not in the middle of being overrun by zombies. And certainly not several times per episode. It gets tedious, and if it happens in the middle of an action sequence, I get so distracted by it that I forget that I should be on the edge of my seat. There’s not logic to these interruptions, either, and so they happen and confuse me and more importantly anger me, and I skip ahead to when I see the next zombie being decapitated. I started doing this recently, but after enduring so much talking for no good reason, I have my doubts that the scenes I skip are any more important.
The same weird structure is applied to the rest of the show, too. The season typically starts out with some action, then slows down a little, and then starts jumping from ‘quiet’ to ‘hectic’, plot-wise, really frequently. If there is a single episode that’s mostly action, or mostly quiet, day-to-day life, it’s a miracle. The individual episodes don’t have a consistent tone; it’s not that I can’t handle multiple plots at once, or some jumps from someone running through the woods to someone huddling around a fire. But it happens so often, I have hardly enough time to focus on one thing before the next one gets thrown at me. Hence the ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude. I have so little time to get acquainted with the characters before my attention is required elsewhere that I don’t have time to develop ‘feelings’, if you will, of any sort. Very few characters get enough screen time for that. Of course, with a cast this large, that’s hard, but then don’t give me dramatic danger/death scenes for the minor characters and expect me to care. Because I don’t.
If the show could linger on individual scenes or situations for a wee bit longer, I’d be so, so happy. I don’t mind spending an entire episode or two watching the group clean the prison and figure out how to make it liveable; I see that anyway, just in little chunks scattered through the season. And if the ‘rebuilding society/creating a new one’ aspect is supposedly so important, it shouldn’t matter whether or not those episodes don’t have breathless chase scenes or whatever. But they do, and I suspect the only reason is ‘don’t make it too boring’. Well, if you think one of the main themes of your show is boring, then maybe you shouldn’t have made that theme a focus in the first place.
Basically, I wish the show wasn’t so erratically jumping around the playing field. Moving the pieces slowly, but consistently, to set up a big confrontation, works better in my opinion for a show that prides itself on being ‘not just about killing zombies’. Because for that, you sure are killing a lot of zombies, whether it’s necessary or not.


All in all, I’ll probably keep watching TWD, since it’s on Netflix and we have that anyway. But I probably won’t buy any DVDs or go out of my way to catch the new episodes the day they are released. It’s just not worth the effort and money, and frankly, if the quality keeps declining like this, season 3 might be the last for me. We’ll see.



Edit: Wooo, this is post #100 in this blog. Go me! I think…