Monday, January 14, 2019

KILL OR BE KILLED (1980), KILL AND KILL AGAIN (1981)



PHENOMENALITY: (1) *uncanny,* (2) *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*


Both of these martial-arts films were filmed in South Africa with casts mostly unknown to American audiences. Both follow the trope of the "tournament-film," in which some character, usually a villain, hosts a tournament that attracts fighters from all over the world, all of which follow in the deep footprints led by ENTER THE DRAGON.

Now, while I did judge DRAGON to be a metaphenomenal film, it wasn't because the villain organized a tournament, but because he used weird weapons like a metal hand and a maze of mirrors. General Rudloff, the villain of KILL OR BE KILLED, has nothing special in his arsenal, but he's weird in another way: he's a "perilous psycho" in that he wants to re-stage a previous such tournament that *supposedly* took place back in the 1940s, *supposedly* involved the Germans pitted against their allies the Japanese, and *supposedly* was sponsored by historical Nazi figure Albert Speer.

Though KILL OR BE KILLED is poor in terms of script and production values, I've got to give the filmmakers credit for putting forth such a brain-damaged idea. Certainly there were no martial-arts tournaments back in WWII, though the film's alternate title, KARATE OLYMPIAD, suggests that the script-writer was really thinking Olympic thoughts. One never knows what Rudloff's been doing following the fall of the Axis Powers, but apparently nothing matters to him more than the Olympiad he lost to the Japanese. After assembling kung-fu fighters from all over-- including main hero Steve Chase (James Ryan)-- Rudloff challenges the same Japanese general whose fighters devoted those of Rudloff (though the general claims that his men were bought off). Most of the story concerns Chase and his girlfriend (supposedly another fighter, though she can't fake-fight to save her life) first escaping Rudloff's tyrannical hold, and then returning in order to destroy the general's mad scheme.




KILL AND KILL AGAIN is still cheesy, but it easily makes it into fantasy-film concordances because this time Steve Chase's villain is a mad cult-leader with a sci-fi gimmick. Nasty Marduk, who has even less background than General Rudloff, kidnaps a prominent scientist who intended to create a super-fuel from potatoes, because Marduk has learned how the same formula can be used to control the minds of his cultists. However, the professor has a daughter, the coyly named "Kandy Kane," who convinces Chase to go after Marduk. Chase, having already dealt with one madman, decides that this time out he could use a little more help than he got from his former girlfriend (who is never mentioned, of course). So he appeals to four previous acquaintances to infiltrate Marduk's  compound and to liberate Kandy Kane's father. Not surprisingly, Kandy herself also goes along for the ride, and the actress playing her, Anneline Kriel, at least does some creditable if short fight-scenes.

Though Marduk is not as wild an evildoer as the Nazi with the Olympics fetish, KILL AND KILL AGAIN is a little funnier than the first film, thanks to a lot of goofy lines given to Chase and his friends, anticipating the rise of the equally goofy A-Team in 1983. Fight-scenes overall are better but nothing to write home about.


Monday, January 7, 2019

AQUAMAN (2018)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, psychological, sociological*


AQUAMAN became one of DC's best-known heroes through a weird confluence of events: after a one-season cartoon devoted to his adventures, he became a regular participant in many seasons of the long-lived ABC animated series SUPER FRIENDS. Aquaman in his own cartoon came off like a tough if G-rated hero, but in SUPER FRIENDS, he was a literal fish out of water. As a result he was often reduced to a joke, a loser who couldn't do anything unless he could find some fish to do his fighting for him.

JUSTICE LEAGUE made some minor progress in dispersing the hero's dominant pop-culture image as a waterlogged wimp, but even here he was dwarfed by more colorful characters. His first feature-film, however, makes him a beefy brawler who can get shot by ray-guns and shrug it off with an "Ow." Throughout the film, both he and other members of his people, the submarine Atlanteans, are capable of ripping through steel and falling from planes with only minor scuff-marks.

Director James Wan, who's also credited on the original story, serves up a fast-paced quest tale with a lot of sprightly comic relief, often at the expense of the tough-guy hero. Thanks to a ton of CGI visual effects, Wan also has the distinction of bringing forth the most impressive incarnation of an undersea city of water-breathers-- though the list of such movies is pretty small to start with.

As the film starts, Aquaman, a.k.a. Arthur Curry, is still something of an enigma to the surface world, and he's a loner with no one in his life but his surface-dwelling father. Arthur's Atlantean mother Atlanna had fled her native city to escape a forced marriage. However, after a few years of marriage to Arthur's dad, she had to return to the sea in order to prevent the city's warriors from attacking her husband and son.

As an adult, this Aquaman occasionally prevents crime at sea, encountering early-on the violent pirate who will become the hero's best-known villain, Black Manta. However, he receives the call to kingship from Atlantean princess Mera. Arthur's half-brother Orm currently rules one of the seven realms spawned from the sinking of the original Atlantis, but he aspires to unite all of the realms-- including that of Mera's father Nereus-- in a massive war against the surface world. Aquaman, after seeing his own father almost killed by one of Orm's forays, signs on for the campaign.

Most of the characters in the story are defined simply, in terms of loyalty to their parents. Aquaman hates Atlantis because he's been told that the city-dwellers executed Atlanna for her transgressions. Mera is loyal to her father but doesn't want to be betrothed to Orm. (Comics-readers know that she's destined to be Arthur's love-interest, but Wan and crew keep the romance from seeming too pre-ordainted.) Black Manta wants to avenge the death of his father, Orm feels shame because of his mother's crimes, and that's about it.

The essential thrust of the quest is that Aquaman can only unseat Orm if he gains a fabulous trident from the first ruler of Atlantis, though he and Mera have to follow various clues to find the thing. Though the storyline lacks any of the major plot-problems seen in most Marvel Universe movies, there are some hiccups here. Once Mera and Arthur find their quest, Mera doesn't seem to realize that it's the legendary Trench, the very place where Atlanna was sacrificed-- and if that brief description doesn't signal to the individual viewer a major revelation for the hero, the viewer's just not paying attention.

Jason Momoa and Amber Heard don't always have the best interpersonal chemistry, but they both due yeoman work in bringing Aquaman and Mera to life. In fact, Mera's in the story so much that I tend to see her as being a partner-figure, rather than a supporting type-- just as she was in some if not all of the comics-serials. The script gives all of the characters memorable little bits, and though there are no major mythic concepts here, at least Wan and his collaborators don't fall on their faces as badly as the overambitious stories of BLACK PANTHER and CIVIL WAR.


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE WOLFMAN IN 3-D (2008)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*


Here's the tagline from this 18-minute short:

"Tonight, two icons of terror will come face to face-- for the last time!"



Well, the short does OK in rendering a somewhat iconic version of the Frankenstein Monster. True, one can cavil about the idea that the Monster has somehow managed to gain custody of his maker's castle and can go into town just like any other Carpathian citizen. But he looks good, a bit reminiscent of the Robert deNiro version as well as the classic Karloff creation, and he has a good characterization, reminding one of the self-educated being from Mary Shelley's novel. Though a solitary type, the Monsters befriends three orphan kids after one of them points out that they're like him in having no parents. He also ends up saving them from the other monster of the title.



And that's why the short's hype is not so accurate. This is no "iconic Wolfman," it's just a dime-a-dozen werewolf. Yes, there's the expected werewolf lore, and at one point his mortal alter ego is called "Talbot." But whereas the Universal classic crossover fleshed out both the Monster and the Wolf Man, this time the furry fellow gets the short end of the stick.

The home-computer animation is not very good, but it's a nice script and it has its Universal-loving heart in the right place.

Monday, December 31, 2018

THE LODGER (1944), HANGOVER SQUARE (1945)



PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *good*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*


I'll probably never read the Marie Belloc Lowndes novel that gave rise to the various film versions of THE LODGER, so I've only spotty information on how close they are to the source material. I've been informed that Lowndes, though she drew upon the 1888 "Jack the Ripper" murders, renamed the killer in her short story "the Avenger," which is the name he was called in the famous Hitchcock silent adaptation, reviewed here. I commented on how exigent circumstances kept Hitchcock from following Lowndes in portraying the mysterious lodger as a killer, and how instead the same character became in Hitchcock's film an innocent victim of mob rule. A 1932 remake, THE PHANTOM FIEND, had it both ways, both indicting mob rule but providing a definite monster, in contrast to the silent work:

Hitchcock chose to diverge from the Lowndes novel by placing all of the dramatic emphasis upon the unfairly-accused lodger, and the offscreen capture of the Avenger appears as little more than an afterthought, making it possible to clear the lodger. Someone involved in the script-- possibly Novello himself, who allegedly made script-contributions-- apparently decided that the original ending didn't provide much of a payoff, and so the story is substantially altered to involve Angeloff in the capture of the Avenger. Arguably some viewers may find this development more capricious than Hitchcock's conclusion. Yet the altered ending has one advantage" the "perilous psycho" is a real presence in the film, rather than a chimera-- and for that reason the Elvey film registers in my system as belonging to the uncanny domain.

Director John Brahm and scripter Barre Lyndon dispense entirely with the victimization angle, and bring in the name "Jack the Ripper" for the first time. That said, the script doesn't seek to duplicate the particulars of the Ripper killings, least of all in his targets, who are actresses of Whitechapel rather than prostitutes. Yet from the first night that the tormented-looking Mister Slade (Laird Cregar) becomes a lodger in the private home of the Bontings, it's clear that he conflates actresses with the "scarlet women" of the Bible. To be sure, it's clear that the actresses in turn-of-the-century England are selling sex on occasion. Slade's landlady Mrs. Bonting seems to have no problems with actresses showing off their goods in racy dances like the can-can, not even when one of them is her own niece, Kitty (Merle Oberon), who resides in the same house.

Not surprisingly, while the Ripper can murder the scarlet women with impunity, it's not so easy for him once he meets Kitty personally, and begins to care for her in his demented way. At the same time, Kitty has a suitor who's a police inspector (George Sanders), following the pattern of the Hitchcock film in this regard. However, though there are references to mobs panicking over the Ripper's rampage, the film is closer to PHANTOM FIEND in emphasizing the peril of the killer. It's probably sheer coincidence, but FIEND just happens to give its lodger a twin brother who is the real Avenger. Slade also has a brother, but the brother is long dead, and Slade makes a point of showing his landlady a portrait of his beautiful but deceased sibling, as if the brother's face proved an anodyne to the charms of scarlet women. The script never explicitly identifies Slade's psychosis as arising from a homosexual fixation on his own brother. Still, if Slade is homosexual, he seems to have some hetero currents in his makeup as well. When Sanders's inspector descants on the nature of the Ripper's serial killings, the murders are made to sound much like a man satisfying himself sexually. Later, the inspector deduces that Slade's brother was "ruined" by a scarlet woman, and that after the brother killed himself, the Ripper took his first victim, the woman who brought about the adored brother's death. Nonetheless, it's not impossible, given Slade's later demonstrations of fascination with the feminine, that the motive for the first killing became subsumed by Slade's desire to kill for his (hetero)sexual pleasure.

Yet Kitty is different. As the police finally conclude Slade's true identity, they close in on him as he confronts Kitty. He clearly desires her as something more than a quick one-off, even though he wants to "cut out" the evil within her, which viewers understand to be his own evil. Recurrently Lyndon's script resorts to images of water that presage Slade's final doom, as well as his wish to escape the dark currents of his own contradictory personality.








I'm sure I'll also never read the source-novel for HANGOVER SQUARE, but then, to 20th-Century Fox the original work was merely a vehicle through which they could seek to duplicate the box-office success of THE LODGER. Purportedly this was exactly what lead-actor Cregar did not want when he lobbied for Fox to adapt the story. But once more the studio called upon the same director and scripter, Brahm and Lyndon, to convert the original thriller into the barrative of a psychologically aberrant serial killer. In addition, the setting of the novel was also changed to one much like that of THE LODGER, and George Sanders was once more tapped to play a character who eventually figures out the killer's identity.

However, if LODGER may be a little too pat about identifying the source of its killer's psychotic rages, HANGOVER avoids making any conclusions whatever. Indeed, the first killing is never really explained. For reasons unknown, classical composer George Bone (Cregar) gets into a row with a Scottish shopkeeper, later characterized as a fence for stolen goods. Bone, going into a frenzy, kills the shop-owner and starts a fire to cover the murder. After he escapes, Bone seems distracted and amnesiac, not responding when passersby see that he has a bloodied temple. Later, his friend Barbara, who knows all about his recent spate of blackouts, consoles him, even when he half-suspects that he may have done someone an injury during the recent blackout.

Little if anything is revealed about Cregar's character, except that he's known Barbara, since childhood, and that he's driven to get ahead in the musical world. Surprisingly, there's little if any sense that Barbara has any romantic interest in Bone, nor he in her. They seem more like sister and brother than anything, and they share a common love of music, as she's keen for him to finish an important concerto that can make his reputation as a composer. Bone, whose entire life seems devoted to his art, consults with Doctor Middleton (Sanders) in order to solve the problem of the blackouts. Middleton almost makes a connection between Bone and the recent murder, but the connection proves insupportable and the doctor simply recommends that Bone relax and take in some entertainment.

It's at this point that HANGOVER moves into deeper sociological waters than did THE LODGER. Bone takes in a show at a pub and becomes enthralled with a mediocre female singer, Netta (Linda Darnell). Netta for her part figures out that Bone's skill with musical composition can translate into greater money and fame for her, so she talks him into using his talents to write her popular songs.

The film doesn't spend a lot of time with this elitist theme-- that of popular entertainment sucking the life out of high art-- for its main focus seems to be that of Bone's erotic fixation upon an indifferent, conniving love-interest. It's quite as if scripter Lyndon decided to dramatize the unseen relationship of Slade's brother with an evil woman. Netta has no interest in Bone personally, finding him a bore, though she does seem to revel in her power to manipulate him. At one point, he tries to reject her, telling her that he no longer believes that she cares for him and that London is full of other songwriters. Yet Netta still tries to keep Bone within her feminine "net" a little longer, as if anticipating a better moment to destroy him.

Bone's own murderous rages aren't the result of erotic suppression alone-- in addition to the unexplained slaying of the shopkeeper, the composer also strangles a cat, though it is a creature he associates with Netta. In place of the pat psychologizing of LODGER, HANGOVER has Bone killing out of spasms of violence, loosely but not consistently connected with loud, discordant sounds. Yet Bone's own music often draws upon discordant chords, and so one wonders if Lyndon had in mind some loose parable of the artist's main problem: that of being drawn to the impure world of common life, even while seeking the sublime joys of art.

Yet. even if Lyndon's script seems slightly dismissive of popular culture, with the music-hall songs having none of the effervescence of similar numbers in LODGER, the author roots the film's most famous scene in the "pop culture" of archaic religious practices. After Bone strangles Netta, he again seeks to dispose of a body with fire, this time in a bonfire prepared for Guy Fawkes' Day. It can be fairly objected that no corpse would be more than charred by the heat of a bonfire. Still, the scene in which Bone situates the disguised corpse of the singer amidst the dummy-victims representing the fiendish anti-monarchist plotter Guy Fawkes has a special resonance. As the blaze goes up, the crowd cheers--- and even though viewers know that the ordinary citizens are not implicated in Bone's crime, the celebration still takes on the air of a pagan sacrifice, not unlike that of the Celtic Wicker Man.

The Fawkes scene, as well as a concluding scene in which the mad pianist plays his concerto in the midst of a fiery cataclysm, are the standouts, but John Brahm suffuses the entire film with a masterful use of closeups and crane shots, easily exceeding the excellence of THE LODGER. In closing I should mention that this time, in contrast to LODGER, the detective figure is more involved in abetting the madman's crimes. Middleton's recommendation that Bone take in common folk's entertainments has the fortuitous result of severing Bone from Barbara as well, giving Middleton a clear track with the young lady. Further, though Middleton is recommended to Bone by Bone's doctor, and thus the two haven't known each other long, at some point Bone conveniently reads a Middleton-authored essay on the practice of thuggee strangulation-- and this is one of the ways the mad musician uses to assault the two women in his life, though Barbara survives and Netta does not.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012), HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (2000)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical, psychological*

I probably wouldn't have given HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA a second look except for doing my "monster mash" series on OUROBOROS DREAMS. I remembered HOTEL's first entry as a dull-as-dirt example of a monster spoof, and a second viewing did nothing to change that opinion.

The franchise originated with comedy writer Todd Dunham, and clearly his only agenda was to turn his kid-friendly monsters into a multimedia phenomenon. With the help of the star-power of Adam Sandler and various other Hollywood "names," HOTEL is now due for its third bigscreen movie-iteration, which proves that the establishment in California isn't the only place where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

What will never leave me is the memories of seeing Sandler's abrasive persona crossbred with the Bela Lugosi Dracula, further crossed with Lenny Bruce's stand-up imitation of Lugosi (reputedly the source of the "bleh bleh bleh" schtick that this film so tiresomely recycles). Sandler's Count Dracula becomes the epitome of that favorite trope of kid-vid: the Terminally Uncool Father. This Dracula doesn't suck on people's necks; he just sucks generally. Since in modern times monsters have become increasingly marginalized by encroaching human culture, Drac has pioneered a hotel for monsters, where they can get away from their troubles with humans. (There's no telling what these difficulties might be; the script clearly doesn't want to allude to either monsters doing monster-ish things or humans retaliating, the better to soothe easily scared rugrats).

This Count is also a one-man vampire: he married long ago, but the wife is conveniently dead, leaving Drac with one familial problem: his daughter Mavis, who's just come into her teendom by reaching the ripe old age of 118. Drac doesn't want Mavis ever to check out of the antiseptic bubble he's created for her in Hotel Transylvania, much less to have any romantic entanglements with persons of the opposite sex. Rather than being the Overbearing Father who wants his darling daughter to marry a Monster in Good Standing, Drac wants to keep Mavis a kid forever. However, a human teenaged boy, Johnny, wanders into the hotel, and Drac is forced to weave a web of lies to keep Mavis from becoming fascinated with human culture.

This predictable storyline would have been tolerable if the Bayrham-Smigel script had managed to do anything witty with the monsters. But they too are just Uncool Middle-Agers, some of whom have lots of annoying monster-rugrats-- which I assume was something that kid-viewers found enormously appealing. For this big kid, the only half-witty line appeared when one of Dracula's zombie servants tries to sneak away with a mannequin, and Drac tells him to leave the dummy alone. Presumably the scripters knew that they could get away with one quick adult joke, as long as it came and went so quickly that the kids wouldn't notice.



For many reviewers, I'm sure it must've seemed like an exercise in futility to create a feature-film version of the venerable cartoon adaptation of Doctor Seuss's HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. Still, this is far from the worst remake ever.

For one thing, while the script is just as pedestrian as that of HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, the actors make some real attempt to enliven the proceedings, in part because the Price-Seaman script has to create a lot of new stuff in order to fill up two full hours of screen-time. This includes a "how the Grinch came to be" origin, including one Josh Ryan Evans as the green fellow at age eight, and-- in contrast to Seuss's original story-- some scenes in which various Whos, "both the tall and the small," aren't always as nice as they are in Seuss. Christine Baranski has some nice scenes as the Grinch's never-before-revealed Whovian inamorata, while Taylor Momsen acquits herself well as "Cindy Lou Who," who's a little more than two and given a lot more to do.

But of course, if one doesn't like the idea of Jim Carrey in this role, GRINCH is a dead loss. I'm not always a big fan of "Manic Jim Carrey," but I'm constrained to observe that by 2000 he'd proved that he could do more subtle roles-- notably 1998's THE TRUMAN SHOW-- and that there would really be no point in a toned-down version of a tall, furry green guy given to snarky humor (whose Karloffian accent comes and goes at a whim). Given how often Carrey is on film in full regalia-- often wearing other clothes on top of his furry outfit, or performing complicated physical stunts-- the comedian's sheer athleticism deserves some respect.

GRINCH isn't as touching as the original story or as amusing as the Chuck Jones cartoon, but it's never dull to look at-- and that makes it atypical for the oeuvre of director Ron Howard, one of the visually dullest long-term directors of all time. I tend to credit his art directors-- nominated in 2000 for best art direction-- for bringing Whoville to life, and even making it a little less sanctified than it is in the Seuss book. (In some ways, the Whos are a little more status-driven, perhaps closer in spirit to the good doctor's Sneetches.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

SERAPH OF THE END (2014)




PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *poor*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *metaphysical, psychological*


I've been finding that a lot of the fantasy/SF adventure-manga of the 2010s-- with occasional exceptions like the BLACK CLOVER series-- shows a tendency to emphasize elaborate designs over strong characterization and backstory.  SERAPH OF THE END, a two-season anime show (with one OAV I have not seen), is one of these lesser entries, though at least it's not as thoroughly incoherent as DATE A LIVE.

Possibly the original SERAPH manga expounds better on the narrative's post-apoc cosmology than the anime. In any case, I suppose the showrunners didn't think anyone cared about fine details, given that the story starts out by killing off ninety percent of the human race due to a man-made virus. However, the storytelling is so slack that initially I assumed that the story's "villains," a race of effete aristocratic vampires with jokey in-names like "Tepes" and "Bathory," were created by some mutation brought on by the virus. Later episodes indicate that the vampires may have always existed in the shadow of humankind, and that the decimation allows them the chance to emerge and make human beings into their "livestock."

The principal character, Yuichiro Hyakuya, is first seen as a middle-school youth being raised in a vampire-run orphanage, wherein all of the orphans have the same surname, actually derived from that of the orphanage. Yuichiro-- "Yu" for short-- is your typical tough-talking brat, but he's strongly bonded to his fellow orphans despite his pretense to lack of fellow-feeling. However, when the vampires decide to "play with their food," Yu is the only boy who escapes the slaughter. Though there are five other kids in Yu's "family," only one, his buddy Mikaela, gets much attention-- reason being that he's the only one the narrative keeps in a semblance of vampiric life.

Providentially Yu is taken in by the Japanese Imperial Demon Army, which is attempting to break the stranglehold of the vampires' reign. Having lost his family, Yu wants to be a lone wolf striking out at his bloodsucking foes, but the teen's mentor, Guren Ichinose, insists that first Yu must learn to cooperate with a squad of experienced soldiers. The psychological myth here is pretty simple: despite his trauma from losing one family, Yu can only prosper by binding himself to another family, this time made of peers with the power to defend themselves. Further, it's later disclosed that at some point in the past, army doctors experimented on Yu to give him special powers. The experimentation has the unfortunate effect of sometimes changing Yu into a destructive berserker, and again, he has to learn discipline to protect his squad-- to say nothing of experiencing new trauma when his former friend Mikaela, who's continued to dwell with the vampires but who does not bond with their villainous ilk, shows up on Yu's radar once more.

The matter of "special powers" is the weakest link in the SERAPH cosmology. It's loosely implied that the only reason that the Demon Army can fight the vampires at all is because the soldiers have been trained to use big, bad-ass weapons-- swords, scythes, guns, bows-- which channel the power of real, supernatural demons. How humans came to channel demons through weapons is never explained, nor is their any explanaton when the viewer starts seeing vampires use the same sort of fantastic weapons. In fact, it was only through a DVD commentary that I learned that the vampires "feed" their weapons with their own blood, rather than making soul-deals with the resident weapon-demons. This would explain why so much of the serial's melodrama revolves around the human soldiers endeavoring to empower themselves against their enemies, but without turning themselves into demon-possessed vehicles, who would implicitly be just as hard on humanity as the vampires.

Despite all the melodrama, Yu and his support-cast are pretty simplistic types. There's a Loyal Friend to Yu, who duplicates some of the appeal of Mikaela in the hero's new family; there's a couple of girls interested in the ferocious loner; there's the mentor who believes in constantly busting his student's balls to make him succeed. Only one character, a guy named Shiho, doesn't feel too shopworn, in that he's the hero's rival, always quarreling with him about one thing or the other, though inevitably he and Yu become just as strongly bonded as anyone else in the squad.  For that matter, the long-deferred meeting between Yu and Mikaeala doesn't really pull any dramatic heartstrings that I haven't felt in a hundred similar SF-melodramas.

Finally, the closing episodes toss in a handful of poorly conceived Judeo-Christian myth-references. Because of the special experiments performed on Yu, he is the titular "Seraph of the End," which just means that he can call upon a host of new powers. Oddly, he also becomes known as "the King of Salt" because he can turn people into salt or make weapons out of salt, which seems like a rather involved reference to the Old Testament fate of Lot's Wife.

Visually, SERAPH's action and costume design is worth watching. As a story, it's got no new tricks in its bag.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

MARVEL'S IRON FIST: EPISODES 6-13 (2017), 1-10 (2018)



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological, sociological*

Having reviewed just the first five episodes of this now cancelled series here. I don't have a whole lot to say about the remaining eight episodes of IRON FIST's Season 1. Though I disagreed with most of the prevailing fannish ire against the series, I would concur with many fans that the first season suffered in being a set-up for the DEFENDERS series, which was not capable of balancing so many disparate Marvel-Netflix characters-- to say nothing of the problematic idea of using the Hand as the "big bad" for both IF SEASON ONE and DEFENDERS.

Season 2 is at least an improvement in its handling of the Danny Rand identity of the titular hero. Throughout the first season, Rand varied from being a Taoist contemplative type a la Kwai Chang Caine to a hero given to extreme temper tantrums. With the Hand out of the way, Season Two concentrates on the more low-level exploits of Danny and his girlfriend Colleen Wing, attempting to find their place in New York's Chinatown.

The duo still fights various criminal gangs, but the "big bad" for the season is Davos, one of Iron Fist's former friends from the mystical city of K'un-Lun. In the original comics, Davos, a.k.a. "Steel Serpent," stole Danny's "Iron Fist" power from him, went berserk for a while, and then self-destructed so that the hero could get his power back. This doesn't exactly indicate a particularly complex villain, but it does allow for more development of the supporting characters. Misty Knight, originally partners with Colleen Wing in the comics, becomes bonded to Colleen in this season, and their alliance is at least decent if not quite as well-done as the original version. Typhoid Mary, one of the "ambivalent villains" from the DAREDEVIL comic, is transplanted to the IRON FIST milieu to good effect, though Joy and Ward Meacham remain useless time-killers.

There are also a few nice "shout-outs" to the comic-- Davos and Danny first duel wearing the cowls that the comics-character always wore-- but on the whole some of the scripting choices seem to have no real point beyond changing things up from the original to establish the TV-show's independence. The conclusion, which transfers the Iron Fist power to Colleen instead of back to Danny Rand, seems like little more than virtue signaling to feminists.