Riddick: Movie Review

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****Spoiler Warning****

I’ve been kicking around this review for almost a week because I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about one of the subplots.

Here’s the nutshell.

  1. Good B monster movie, I’m going to shy away from great because while the dialogue is much snappier and better written than most, it fails to live up to Tremors or Predator (my top two B monster movies). I did have a good time. Enough that I’ll forgive Diesel for the hot mess that was Chronicles.
  2. Like Pitch Black, it remembers to develop characters – both in Riddick’s journey and in the mercenaries who for the most part are allowed stories in addition to memorable moments that make them more than dead meat.
  3. Continuity that enhances the story and our expectations of characters. Boss Johns gets a special shout-out. I think I love this man. Instead of being the cartoon realm that most of the mercs inhabit, Johns is a real man with professionalism and a keen understanding of the world he works in. This makes his ultimate realization of the truth work.
  4. There are a few moments of cheesy cgi, budget constraints force this, and a few predictable beats (when the dingo-dongo dies – I warned you about the spoilers – the cg for the dingo-dongo is pretty fantastic though, I’d take one even if he would eat my actual dog) but my audience laughed out loud at more than one moment.

***Heavy spoilers from here out***

Image Let’s talk about women, or just one really in Riddick.

   Dahl (Doll)

Her entire character is written more tongue-in-cheek than true misogyny and I think I forgive Twohy for this, because at the end of the day, Dahl is a bad-ass.

She is a sniper and Johns second-in-command. He does not reflect on her gender when he relays this to the other merc captain. She just is.

Very quickly Dahl also relays that she is not sexually interested in any of the men and when Santana challenges her ability to give him orders, she does not tie this refusal to her gender but his unwillingness to take orders. The audience knows that his refusal is all about her gender, but her team is above that. They are professionals who need to do a single job: find Riddick.

This fails slightly in the following scenes where Dahl bathes topless (of course this is a shout-out to the male audience but it is an obviously voyeuristic moment as she knows that at least one man is spying on her, possibly two.

The hiccup is, of course, Santana’s attempted rape. The scene cuts with him in the dominate position which implies her failure to survive against a male opponent. We learn a few minutes later, this was not the case, but Twohy backs off from letting us watch Dahl dominate Santana (I’m guessing this would be too emasculating in the context of a movie geared towards men). But we are led to understand that Santana failed spectacularly.

Dahl is the one who takes Riddick down when the mercs and their technology fail.

The scene (teased in the trailers with Riddick in chains) is not as much about Riddick being sexual with Dahl as it is him pissing on the ground (a la his dindo-dongo) and letting the mercs know who exactly is the dominate male. Although all of his dialogue is directed at Dahl’s lesbianism and his assertion that he will ‘have her’ in the end. It intends the same purpose as his threats of violence. It is Riddick posturing and waiting for the others to back down.

But equating painted toenails with heterosexuality is….. sigh…..

The last scene with Dahl made me laugh. She is lowered to Riddick and clips him to his harness, straddling him, and thus finalizing his desire to be between her legs ‘balls deep’ as it were. But Dahl is in on the joke as well.

In the end, her sexuality does not matter. Whether her lesbianism is a defense mechanism or a real world choice, it doesn’t matter to Riddick or to the movie. She is a competent soldier who remains with Boss Johns and has been an equal partner in the movie itself. Sackhoff is no waif designed to be pretty and completely unrealistic (any movie starring Kate Beckinsale or Jessica Biel has this failing). Her Dahl is an active participant in this world.

Twohy gets more right than wrong, its a welcome change in this genre. Hopefully this collaboration will give us at least one more journey with Richard B. Riddick.

dingodongo

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Oblivion: Movie Review – Part 2

***Spoiler warning***

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“Are you an effective team?”

This is what Sally repeatedly asks Vika regarding her relationship with Jack. What is an effective team? By the terms of Oblivion, it is a heterosexual relationship where Vika is unwilling, refuses even, to leave the confines of their palatial home while Jack explores the world below. Even when Jack is in danger, Vika remains in place. She longs for his return but is completely without agency.

In this future version of Earth, we have regressed to the 1950s. Take Jack’s return. He works in the ‘garage’ on the repair of a drone while Vika prepares dinner. She, in fact, comes downstairs to call him up. Like Donna Reed, she remains impeccably attired and in high heels. Following dinner she initiates sex via a naked romp in the pool.

But Jack dreams of another woman. And conveniently the hand of God intervenes to bring her back into his life.

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Julia crash-lands in Jack49’s space and he manages to save her from the drone in the nick of time. Although these moments stretch credulity. What happens next is poor scriptwriting at its worst.

What was Julia’s rank/occupation? I gather that she is an astronaut, but of her actual job that earned a spot on the shuttle? Nothing.

The information we gather about her character is that she loves Jack and he loves her. That’s it. Nothing else about them is offered except for the house on the lake. She does not question his character nor offer him information about what is going on. Not once does she ask what the hell happened between going to sleep and the insanity she has woken up in. Being with Jack becomes her new central focus.

As I noted in Part 1, Vika’s partnership with Jack is now the threat. For him to retain his ‘true’ wife the ‘other woman’ must be removed from the story. This is obvious in the next scene in their home. Jack could tell Vika what he’s found on the planet. Instead, we get his half-hearted attempts to draw her out. He provides zero evidence to Vika to justify his requests, but the story can’t sustain her survival. She is eliminated and he can now return to Julia without the distaste of adultery on his conscience.

(A wise eye might notice that Melissa Leo (Sally) is the actress closest to Tom Cruise’s age (she’s 2 years older than him), while both Vika and Julia are played by women in 31 and 34 respectively.)

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The only other female character is unnamed in the movie (Zara on imdb.com) but she has no speaking parts and instead of utilizing Zoe Bell’s stunt prowess, she is saved by Jack in a fight with the drones.

But back to Julia.

Jack loves Julia and Julia loves Jack. The audience hears this ad nauseum, but they do not exist as people. Once Julia accepts Jack as her husband, creating an ‘effective team’, they make love and return to save the day. Instead, the resistance is ambushed by drones (more realistically they open the doors and let them in). The faux drone is damaged and it is obvious that someone will have to fly the bomb to the Tet.

Julia offers. Why? Because she loves Jack. A woman who was smart and successful enough to be an astronaut will now lay down her life for her husband’s clone because she loves him. Oblivion can’t even dress it as saving the Resistance, this is all about Jack. We’re drilled this in when Julia introduces herself as Julia Harper, accepting her husband’s last name and affirming his dominance over her. I have no problem with taking a spouse’s last name. I have a problem with the narrative shoving the agenda in our face as her complete and ultimate submission of a woman followed by her locking herself into a Sleeping Beauty casket for love.

Vika has died for Jack and now Julia shows herself willing to do the same.

And when Jack saves her, where do we find Julia? In the home he built her, as content to remain there as Vika was to remain on the station. Sally as the requisite Big Bad is dead. But Julia now awaits the return of her husband to his home, a mindset validated by the appearance of Jack52 a clone who only caught a single glimpse of her. Vika’s gilded cage was too artificial, Julia’s is supposed to be more natural, more desirable, a return to simplicity and the domination of man, or of this man.Image

This may be the first science fiction movie that tempted me to vomit a little upon its ending….and I’ve seen Battlefield Earth.

Oblivion: Movie Review – Part 1

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Oblivion (2013) Starring Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

***SPOILER ALERT***

This movie exemplifies the horrible paradox about science fiction in the movies. There are great movies that use story, imagery, music, and technology to tell amazing adventures that go on to become classics. Then there are movies that get two or three elements really well and fall down so dramatically on one that its difficult to appreciate what is left.

If you hadn’t guessed, Oblivion is one of those movies.

I’ve split this review into two parts. The first will deal with the story/plot failure. The second with the role of women in this version of post-apocalyptic Earth.

1. The Hero’s Journey

Jack Harper is presented as an Everyman. He has a blue collar job. It is a task that requires self-sacrifice on the part of himself and his fellow team member Vika (Victoria). Despite their fantastic glass-walled house high above the Earth, they are a dispatch-repair team charged with supporting the Tet and the colonists to Titan.

That’s fine and a nice momentary subversion of the super-gifted, superhuman role that is usually assigned to the hero of a piece. Along his journey he discovers that his true purpose is support of the aliens who are still exterminating the humans on Earth (Scavs). Jack has been lied to, but his real value to the resistance is his job, he is a repairman who can reconfigure the alien drones.

The premise of this story is great.

Then the shuttle crashes down with the obligatory mysterious woman, Julia, who conveniently turns out to be his wife. The journey skews sideways at this point to address the marital infidelity with Vika and his reunion with Julia. I’ll deal with this later, but the Journey fails when we discover, not the truth of his existence as a clone, but the fact that Jack was always special. He was a Space Shuttle Commander sent to make first contact.

It is an epic fail. Instead of this being an ennobling journey of the everyman, we learn that Jack was always exceptional, and thus needed no journey if the inherent nature of his clone meant that he had the qualities of the original. The subversion of expectation was pointless.

2. Alien Purpose

Sometimes we don’t need to know. The aliens, via Sally, have created a fictional Earth populated by cloned pairs in lovely settings that make me wonder who manufactured them to be so perfectly human. Between the human repairmen and the drones, they are subjugating what is left of the Earth while harvesting our water. The explanation of why they wanted the water is to power their fusion reactors which immediately led other reviewers to suggest other locations within our galaxy that also hold substantial water reserves. We’re now into a problem. Either the aliens keep explaining their purpose to us via Jack, or the viewer is left with a huge ‘Why?’ that deepens as we explore the scientific ramifications of what we’ve been told.

Why would an alien race justify anything to those it was exterminating? Or had utilized as a functional element of its oppression? The moment a story has to have a character explain their actions to those watching, it loses the impact, the importance, and the believability.

Better to leave us with nothing but the images of water funneling upward into the sky. The horror of an Earth without water is reason enough to resist.

3. Scavs

I do love a good resistance, but you won’t find one in this movie. Here they have such a minimal role in the story as to be cut out entirely as a people. Imagine if Morgan Freeman’s Beech was a hermit in the desert who accomplished the same purpose. The supporting characters of Sykes and Zara do not propel the plot and the others are cannon fodder. Other than existing in the moment that Jack shows up, they have no character, no world building, no actions to differentiate them. Beech monologues their point, but again, there is no investment in their desires or eventual deaths.

4. Character Development

There is none. Not a single character has any growth or change. Several make stupid decisions to advance the plot. (Julia in the box – you get a special call out.)

It was as though the writers assigned character traits to each person (Ie, Vika – rule-bound, infatuated, unwilling to take risks) and held those traits so firmly during this story that the characters are unable to think or breathe within the confines of their character. Take Vika again, her rigidity is so unquestioning that I wondered how she made it into the space program. The military and NASA value military service, but one doesn’t rise in officer ranks without a brain. Even if she were a scientist officer as his co-pilot, the assumption still is that this is a highly intelligent woman. Not here. Perhaps this would work if we saw Vika more in the final flashback where we learn their original fate. Instead, in this moment, we get her grumbling wife-like about his love of football and taking a creepy ambush shot of the two of them together implying that she is in love with him even then.

Sigh….

I need more out of a movie than for the participants to fit a stereotypical role and look pretty.

Tom Cruise – Jack Harper – Hero

Olga Kurylenko – Julia Rustova – Hero’s love interest

Andrea Riseborough – Vika – Hero’s false love interest and obstacle

Morgan Freeman – Beech – wise and noble Magician character

5. The Clones and Resolution

Oblivion does struggle in that it is nowhere near as psychologically mature a picture as Moon. There is no desperation in Jack’s realization of the thousands of copies elsewhere on the planet. It is disturbing, but his refusal to save Vika52 is just as disturbing. He knows she is unwilling to see, yet he will not save her. Assuming that the clones are people too, why not? Why save those on the planet but not those who were similarly deceived? The answer is, of course, that Jack only cares about Julia who he loves, and not the woman who loves him.

Then there is the final moment, bomb delivered, Jack49 and Beech trick the Tet and free the Earth.

But the denouement leads us back into madness. I understand that Julia’s existence with Jack49’s child is idyllic and exactly what he wanted to save. Their clothes made me wonder where she had found the shopping mall. No post-apocalyptic chic for the love interest, Jack must have been scavenging off-the-shelf supplies in her size. They have an extensive garden and lovely home. Ostensibly she has made no attempt to leave the home he built for her.

Then Jack52 arrives and we learn that he had been looking for her. And the only thing I can think is, what happens when the rest of the Jacks (or even a few of them) stumble onto this mini-Eden. How many men will poor Julia be expected to service? I know they meant this to be romantic and a realization of happiness for Jack and Julia, but seriously, all I could think about were his legions of clones roaming the Earth dreaming about the same woman.

And that’s it. A shallow, glass-like movie with beautiful images and a great soundtrack.

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