A few weeks ago, in advance of my trip to New Orleans, I took it upon myself to re-watch Live and Let Die, the eighth movie of my problematic fave series, James Bond. I was hoping to get some sort of meta out of it, or at least be able to explain why this franchise is still a fave at all, but no. Instead, I only managed to provide a snarky, feminist recap, because the plot rather spoke for itself.
Now, I have no trip to Khao Phing Kan planned, but I still decided to watch the next Bond in the franchise, The Man with the Golden Gun. This one had to have more merit than the blacksploitation crap-fest that marked Roger Moore’s debut, right?
Uh. No. In fact, maybe just because the racism was so distracting in that movie, I felt the sexism wasn’t *so* bad, but here…holy macaroni. Again, the plot really does speak for itself better than any finely tuned analysis could. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this James Bond classic.
I feel like I should have brushed up on my Bond history before this, but for what seems like a change of pace to me, the pre-title sequence does not include James Bond at all.
No, instead we’re taking to a nice, sandy island where a dude and a girl are sunbathing while a little person in a suit brings a tray full of bottles (and later a small tray containing just Tabasco sauce?). I’ll just start calling him “Nick Nack” now, but I feel it necessary to point out since throughout the movie we’re treated to many jokes about “the midget.” Not to mention how “Nick Nack” is hardly free of any ableism. Oh the 70s.
Anyway, what’s REALLY important is that the dude sunbathing has a third nipple. There’s a close-up and dramatic music and everything.
^Shouldn’t props be able to do a little bit better here?
He’s also Christopher Lee, but I suppose I can call him “Scaramanga.” The woman, played by Maud Adams (no clue what her character name was tbh. Miss Andrews?), seems to be miffed that she isn’t getting his attention so she begins to dry off his feetsies and legs for him. I have a feeling this movie and I will get along!
A random dude shows up, and Nick Nack greets him by suspiciously saying “right this way.” Then this guy just blindly follows him into a room, where Nick Nack gives him a wad of cash. Nick Nack leaves, and the guy pulls out a gun from a little handbag, cocks it, and giggles to himself for a good minute.
Maud Adams stretches and we get more dramatic music.
Anyway, turns out Nick Nack fooled the rando guy, as we see him activate some sort of control panel, which transforms the very ordinary room rando guy was waiting in into some kind of game room.
I think the audience can infer from this that he intends to kill Scaramanga? Who, speaking of, wanders into the game room himself in search of his golden gun, which Nick Nack has hidden behind all the moving mirrors. We’re then treated to a good five minutes of these two men who we don’t know, wander around in a room we don’t understand, for reasons that we were never given, while Nick Nack taunts both of them over a microphone.
In the end, the rando guy clearly fell asleep during his kinematics lesson, because Scaramanga traveling down a straight slope befuddles him. Also Scaramanga picks up his gun and kills him. Then Nick Nack takes the money back. Why did this money exist at all? It really didn’t have to…
Oh, also, Scaramanga has a realistic wax dummy of James Bond in the middle of this room. He shoots off four of his fingers even, despite clearly having to have paid someone a lot of money to make it. How did he even order it? Did he have a photo of a SECRET AGENT on stash? Why Bond? Why not 006?
No time to worry, here’s the title sequence! Featuring sledge-hammery guns = penises imagery and dancers who may have had too much coffee before shooting.
The next scene is Bond getting called into M’s office where he’s asked what he knows about Scaramanga. Apparently everything. Including “he has a third nipple” and is “possibly Cuban.” Okay, pause. Why is a secret agent taking the time to learn everything about random hired assassins that have had nothing to do with his cases so far, and who the hell was this MI6 briefer who was able to nail the guy’s secondary sex organs, but only puts his Cuban heritage at “possibly”?
But whatever, the reason M is asking is that they were sent a golden bullet with “007” carved into it, which is apparently what Scaramanga does for his targets. Who would pay a million dollars a hit for a moron who warns his victims ahead of time?
Bond quips that he doesn’t know who would want to kill him, but M says, and I quote, “jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors. The list is endless.” Yes, Mr. Head of MI6; your man is clearly the mark of a humiliated tailor with a cool million to spare. I feel so good about you leading Great Britain’s secret intelligence agency. I also feel great about an organization that can ID a guy through fingerprints, but has no clue what he looks like.
I guess they all find this very threatening though because they decide to bench Bond. “But I wanted to work on the energy crisis!” he complains. Bet that won’t magically tie into this plotline!
Oh, and apparently this possibly Cuban, faceless assassin that everyone knows has a third nipple also offed 002 a while back, and no one bothered to follow-up on it. So Bond decides he should, because if he is able to find Scaramanga and kill him first, then he’s going to be allowed to work on the energy crisis again! He’s very committed to environmentalism! He has a schmool-proof lead too: 002 had a belly dancing girlfriend in Beirut.
Lucky for Bond, this girlfriend is still in Beirut, this time belly dancing with the bullet that killed 002 in her bellybutton. It’s her “lucky charm” and junk. Why she took it upon herself to obstruct justice for the metal that caused her boyfriend’s death is beyond me, but okay. Do you, belly dancer.
Bond goes backstage after her rocking show, where she proudly admits to stealing the bullet from the crime scene before she says “let’s forget the past!” and starts making out with Bond. I guess she has a type. He then gets the great idea to suck the bullet out of her navel with his mouth, but oh no! Random unarmed henchmen break in and smack him, causing him to swallow it instead!
They then proceed to try and beat him up, while belly dancer girlfriend shrieks about how they’re knocking over her perfume bottles. Bond defends himself with hairspray. Oh, also, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? She doesn’t seem like she knows. We as the audience certainly don’t know.
Whatever, Bond needs to exit through the window because more random henchmen are coming for him. As he’s climbing out, belly dancer girlfriend cries out “I’ve lost my charm!”
“Not from where I’m standing.”
Like a good agent, Bond goes and barfs up the bullet and gets it to Q-branch. Q and some scientist decide to look at it, whole (without taking a cross-section), through a light optical microscope, and are somehow able to determine that the nickel content is “obviously too low” to be from India. I’m quite certain there were SEMs and TEMs in the 70s. I’m also quite certain that the bullet they’re looking at is nowhere near 4.2mm (it’s at least double in width), but whatever. Then the rando scientist and Q deduce that there’s only one custom weapons manufacturer who could have made something so precise. Or rather, they just randomly start shouting “Lazar” at each other, until Bond asks what that is. He’s the “chap who made the bullet.” Lives in Macau.
So Bond pops over to the then Portuguese-controlled Macau (where was Q even? Did he meet Bond in Lebanon? Did Bond fly back to the UK?) where he proceeds to question a family trying to eat their noodles. Lazar pops out from behind a curtain and asks him to stop. Bond introduces himself, and Lazar says “your reputation precedes you.” So is he the absolute worst SECRET AGENT in the world, or just top 5?
Anyway, Lazar shows Bond some of his custom guns, like the one made for a dude with three fingers who still needed to hunt (aim is an inch too low for someone with five fingers cause of the balance). Bond asks if he’s ever designed ammunition with gold, and Lazar confirms he’s done it for a client. Then when Bond name-drops Scaramanga, Lazar gets oddly offended and says his client relationship is strictly confidential. Maybe don’t volunteer special contracts?
Bond decides to threaten him by pointing the three-finger rifle at the guy’s crotch unless he talks. Apparently this has never happened before, despite him working in a gunshop, keeping loading guns around, and selling to unsavory clients. Lazar folds and tells Bond that he’s never met Scaramanga, but he has an order he just completed for immediate delivery. That’s nifty. He’s supposed to drop them off at a casino and get paid.
Rather than like, bug the pack of bullets (disguised as a pack of cigarettes), Bond follows Lazar to a casino where he sees Maud Adams collect them through a not-at-all secure system.
Then he follows her onto a boat that goes in Hong Kong harbor (I guess that’s where they are now ¯\_(シ)_/¯), where we hear a tour guide or something clumsily exposit about the half-sunken ship “Queen Elizabeth.”
They get to the mainland, where Bond hops into a Taxi and tells the driver to follow the Rolls Royce that Maud Adams climbs into. However, he is cut off by the most empowered female character in the history of film, Mary Goodnight.
It’s clear she’s assigned to his detail, apparently because she’s had a two-year posting to Staff Intelligence in Hong Kong. And she at least knew the Rolls belonged to the Peninsula Hotel, so yay? Bond basically pats her cheek and promises they can have dinner later, but first he has a little “official business to attend to.” Goodnight immediately gets jealous because the “official business” is Maud Adams.
“Goodnight, would I do that to you after two years?”
“Yes, you bloody well would!”
Are they like…together?
Anyway, this hotel staff sucks, because all Bond had to do was order a bottle of champagne and they grant him access, even letting him go in by himself because “it’s a surprise.” Also, Bond’s idea of surveillance is to barge into this room, go to the bathroom where Maud Adams is showering, and stand with a fucking smirk on his face because he can see blurry boobs through the glass.
She spots him and clearly thinks he’s some creeper, so she opens the stall, points a gun at him (that she was showering with), and demands a towel. She marches him out and goes to call hotel security for some reason, but Bond manages to disarm her, flip her onto the bed, and pin her arm behind her back. He threatens to break it unless she tells him where the bullets go. She too folds almost immediately, confirming that she takes them to Scaramanga. She says she doesn’t work for him but that “he’s, um… I’m his…” while seeming very uncomfortable. Bond goes, “so he’s a lover too.” “Only before he kills,” Maud Adams confirms, sounding incredibly dismayed.
Pause. It’s very important to establish now that Maud Adams is basically trapped in this relationship that she hates. We get more details later that only further this, but it definitely doesn’t get less uncomfortable. In fact, she kind of reminds me of Myranda for Game of Thrones, in that scene which clearly established her as an abuse victim with no recourse. The Man with the Golden Gun’s narrative at least seems to recognize Maud Adams’s victimization, but it kind of makes their use of her incredibly problematic. It also makes me wish that she were the main character here.
But no, it’s Bond, who proceeds to manhandle her until she tells him that Scaramanga is going to be at the Bottoms Up club, and that he has a third nipple. Let’s focus on that some more. Then Bond tells her to deliver the bullets to Scaramanga and pretend that nothing happened. She asks why he’d trust her, and he points out that if he hears about this exchange, Scaramanga won’t trust her either. Because reasons.
So, yes, Bond uses her own victimization and fear of her abuser against her. Fun!
Outside the strip club, Bond gives Nick Nack an ableist lookover, while in one of the buildings nearby, Maud Adams is in bed with Scaramanga looking horribly uncomfortable. Then she looks outright upset when he tries to use his gun as a fun, phallic object to rub on her.
I’m quite certain this is rape. We learn later that the only reason she’s still with him is because she’s scared he’s going to kill her, and it’s quite clear that she’s in distress. Why is this happening on our screens at all??
Anyway, inside the strip club there’s two dudes talking. One walks outside, and Scaramanga shoots him, though it looks like he was going to shoot Bond for a second. Bond drops to the ground after hearing the shot while Nick Nack walks over for a closer look at the body. Then the police arrive. The Other Dude from the strip club runs out and arrests Bond, flashing some badge. He puts Bond in a car and we’re treated to, I shit you not, five minutes of tense driving music. Next they go on a boat for five minutes of tense boating music.
Bond makes a great escape by throwing a lifebuoy at one of the guards on the boats and then hopping onto the half-sunk Queen Elizabeth (ohhhhhh. That’s why we were given the exposition). However, a friendly British voice comes over a speaker and directs Bond inside, where he’s taken to M. We learn the dude who arrested him is Lieutenant Hip, who also works for MI6. Why didn’t Hip say anything to Bond once they were in the car? Why wasn’t Bond told about the MI6 contact in Hong Kong? ¯\_(シ)_/¯. Their composer must have just been really proud of that tense music, I guess.
Bond tells M that “Scaramanga doesn’t have a contract on me because he had a clear shot and didn’t take it.” However, it turns out the dude he did have a contract on was the “missing solar-energy expert: Gibson.” Oh yes, that energy crisis Bond wanted to work on! Good thing Bond somehow managed to ID the body in-between falling to the pavement and getting arrested.
Apparently M and this rando Professor are only in Hong Kong because of Gibson, who Hip was making contact with. M is really mad at Bond for like, existing, for some reason. I guess because Hip had to take his eyes off of Gibson’s body. Um…shouldn’t that have still been the priority? Bond could have gotten arrested and it probably would have been fine.
We learn from Hip that Gibson wanted to set-up another meeting in Bangkok to hammer out immunity details (idk, just roll with it, but sad for M to book that trip prematurely), because he maybe works for “Hai Fat” of “Hai Fat Enterprises.” And he was going to be bargaining with his invented a solar cell called “the solex agitator” which is 95% efficient. Just to put that in context, at the moment, the world record for efficiency is 46%, achieved in 2014. This is “science” worthy of a Marvel film.
“If he developed a solar cell that efficient, he solved the energy crisis.”
Yeah, no shit. Also didn’t they all know this before the meeting? What did they think they wanted with him exactly?
Then M decides to start randomly listing other energy sources and their flaws, in case we didn’t understand why a 95% efficient solar cell is a good thing. Meanwhile, the professor is all like “this is so exciting! Where is the solex agitator?” That’s when Hip has to sadly reveal that Gibson had put it in his pocket at the bar, but after he was shot, it was missing.
Yup. An energy expert invented a 95% efficient solar cell, and decided it was a great idea to put it in his pocket at a strip club.
M yells and Bond and Hip for dunking this up somehow, because they should have magically known that the dude was going to get shot. Bond then suggests that Hai Fat was clearly the one who hired Scaramanga, because he can afford a million dollars. But…didn’t Gibson…work for him? Bond also goes on to assume that Hai Fat never met Scaramanga personally because *reasons*. So he formulates this great plan to have Q produce a fake nipple that he can stick on himself, and then he’ll go to Hai Fat’s place and pretend to be Scaramanga. Maybe there were other reasons Bond had been taken off the energy crisis case?
Oh. And Bond needs to take Goodnight with him, because “After tonight’s debacle, an efficient liaison officer won’t come amiss.” That’s Goodnight for you!
Anyway, Bond and Hip warp to Bangkok and go to the outskirts of Hai Fat’s mansion, where Bond scales the wall and strolls over to a pool with a naked chick in it. She invites him to take a dip with her…good thing, because he needs to pop that third nipple out. His plan kinda hinged on it. What if there hadn’t been a pool?
Despite Hai Fat’s mansion crawling with guards, Hai Fat himself is the first one to spot Bond creeping on this swimmer and yells at him, until Bond turns around and we get more dramatic nipple music.
Hai Fat address Bond as “Mr. Scaramanga” and then is all like “we promised not to meet!” Oh and remarks on how great third nipples are.
“Some cults consider it a sign of invulnerability and great sexual prowess.”
Bond then takes this opportunity not to poke around about the solex, but to name-drop himself and brag about what a badass he is. He wants to persuade Hai Fat to fund a hit on “Bond.” Um…what is this accomplishing, exactly? He knows he’s not Scaramanga’s target, and MI6’s only interest in Hai Fat is that he may have stolen a 95% efficient solar cell. And what are they even hoping to accomplish, btw? What is this mission? “You don’t get to steal that, only we get to”?
Hai Fat kind of blows off Bond’s bizarre suggestion, but invites “Scaramanga” back for dinner at 9. Once outside, Bond, still in view of the guards, pulls off his fake nipple and tells Hip “he must have found me quite titillating.” Theory: a writer thought of that line and the only reason Scaramanga’s nipple exists was so that they could incorporate it.
Anyway, Bond’s brill plan may have kind of worked, because we see Hai Fat talking to the real Scaramanga, who he’s totally met, and he now wants Bond dead.
Before getting ready for dinner, Bond promises Goodnight that he’ll come home and fuck her, because “a midnight snack might be just the thing.” She tells him she’ll have chilled wine waiting, and he’s like “keep everything else warm heh heh.” However, then she gets angry when Hip picks Bond up in a car, because there’s two obviously underaged girls in the backseat. Goodnight, honey, the mere fact that you think Bond would be willing to commit statutory rape is a wee bit of a red flag.
Turns out the girls are Hip’s nieces, and he offered to “give them a lift” after dropping off the SECRET AGENT to his meeting with a very powerful and dangerous dude.
At Hai Fat’s, his creepy statues have turned into creepy cosplayers, and two now-alive sumo wrestlers try to kill Bond. Did I not mention the creepy statues before? Whoops. Bond defeats one with a massive wedgie, but Nick Nack, dressed up as the devil or something, knocks him out with a trident. He’s about to kill him when Hai Fat bursts out complaining of the mess that would leave. Just “take him to school.” Wait…didn’t he hire Scaramanga to kill him? Was Scaramanga taking a vacation day and wanted Nick Nack to handle this case? What the fuck is happening?
What is happening is that Bond is taken to a martial arts school, where students fucking kill each other in what looks like a normal practice. That makes sense, and is only mildly playing into offensive stereotypes (after Live and Let Die’s “Great Black Consortium” my meter might be broken). This also has to be the dumbest possible way anyone could conceive of to dispose a SECRET AGENT. Like clearly this guy would have martial skills. Here’s an idea: the winner of the swordfight gets to fucking kill Bond. With his sword.
I guess that wouldn’t be honorable, so instead they have a rando challenge Bond to unarmed sparring. Speaking of not honorable, Bond kicks him out cold when he bowed to him. That pisses off the school administration, so they order the dude in black to face bond next. He’s a popular kid, because everyone keeps shouting “Chula! Chula!” However, proving the point that this is the worst possible means of disposing of Bond, he holds his own in the fight, and when he gets a chance, dives out a window without knowing how far the fall was.
And on the other side, just pulling up (wow what timing!), is Hip, nieces still in tow. Were they driving around with him all night looking for Bond? Does he always take family members on government missions?
Bond shakes himself off, and Hip explains that they knew where he was because “Hai Fat owns this place.” He also is a billionaire running a successful company, I’m pretty sure that list isn’t short. The other school students finally realize that Bond jumped out a fucking window, so a group of the ones who are clearly not the trained masters pour out of the building and encircle Bond, Hip, and the nieces. Bond tells the girls to “stand back,” but they ignore him, jump forward, and begin to start kicking everyone’s ass.
Apparently Hip’s brother [in law?] runs a karate school. Anyway, then the school administration of this school (aka the capable fighters) realize they should fucking do something about what’s happening, so they jump out of the building to give chase. Hip starts the car and begins to drive, yelling and Bond and nieces to get in, but Bond’s chivalry demands that he shuts the car door for the girls. Hip speeds off after he hears the noise, leaving Bond behind.
Moral of the story: chivalry kills.
However, Bond runs about 3 steps and is suddenly right by a bunch of boats. He hops in one and starts the motor, which he pulls out of the water to threaten the school administration with, while saying, and I quote, “What you might call a Mexican screw-up, gentlemen!” Um.
And so begins another thrilling boat-chase scene, because we totally didn’t have our fill of that in Live and Let Die. You know what else we didn’t have our fill of in that film? Sheriff JW Pepper. He’s back, with his comical racism, and now, a comically racist wife! Why is this racist dude from rural Louisiana opting to vacation in Bangkok? That’s anyone’s guess.
Part of this boat-chase includes a little kid who is trying to sell a wooden elephant to tourists on the river. He jumps out of the loaded tour boat (holding JW and wife) after they all refuse to buy it, and hops into Bond’s boat, which slowed to a stop after a few minutes of use. He asks for a decreasing number of bahts in exchange for it, until Bond says “Sonny I’ll give you 20,000 bahts if you can make this heap go any faster.” The little boy flips a switch that does just that. “I’m afraid I’ll have to owe you,” Bond responds, shoving the kid overboard.
Then the focus pivots to JW for some unknown reason, as he is clearly amused with the school administrators failing to catch up with Bond. Because racism. In fact, he even has a new, fun racist term for us all:
“If you got your little pointy heads out of them pajamas, you wouldn’t be late for work!”
And yes, “pointy heads” is a phrase he continues to use throughout this film.
Back at Hai Fat’s, he’s really annoyed about Bond’s escape. So annoyed, that he thinks he has to “lie low” so as not to “jeopardise a project in which I’ve invested half my fortune.” Okay, wait, he funded Gibson? Then why did he kill Gibson for the solex? And if he hadn’t randomly decided that he needed to off a 00-agent, then there’d be no issues? What if he had succeeded in killing Bond? Does he think MI6 wouldn’t have found out?
Either way, he decides to take the solex out of his safe while telling Scaramanga how it’s worth billions. Then he fucking gives it to the guy, because who wouldn’t trust a hired assassin with the key to a renewable future, and tells him “Return it to the plant and don’t leave there without my permission.” Why didn’t he just like…put it there in the first place? Had Gibson stolen it? But he was the one who wanted to meet in Bangkok because he works for Hai Fat, so it’s not like he was trying to avoid him. So…what even is happening?
Then Hai Fat also decides it’s a great idea to start insulting Scaramanga, who he apparently hired as a junior partner?? Scaramanga, solex in hand, assembles his golden gun out of what looks like office supplies and kills Hai Fat. Yeah, dude I might have in that situation. Apparently Hai Fat’s guards are Dornish, because they give no shits that their boss was just shot, even when Scaramanga basically tells them “I killed him and am in charge now.”
Bond, meanwhile, is wining and dining Goodnight with a label called “Phuyuck.” They take a sip and are both disgusted, but Bond says “I approve.”
“Oh, not the wine. Your frock.”
He then goes on to compliment it for being “tight in the right places.” She seems really charmed, especially when he flat out propositions her, but apparently Goodnight once heard of something called “self-respect” and decides to try it out.
Bond blames it on the Phuyuck, but don’t worry, literally less than 10-seconds later, we cut to Bond in his hotel room, where Goodnight turns up going “My hard-to-get act didn’t last very long, did it?” Dude, he propositioned you. What did you think “hard-to-get” was going to accomplish? Then we’re treated to more feminism.
“What made you change your mind?”
They lie down on the bed and are about to get freaky when someone comes in the door. Bond, the SECRET AGENT, decides that Goodnight should hide under the covers.
Turns out, it’s Maud Adams, and now the tables have turned with her being the one to exploit incompetent hotel staffers. “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” Bond says as a greeting, reminding us all of the time he uncomfortably harassed her. They go to sit down on the bed, and Bond tells her that the obviously human-shaped lump is three pillows.
She doesn’t seem to give a shit. She’s busy trying to warn Bond that he’s in danger now because he’s one of Scaramanga’s contracts. Maud Adams then reveals that she hates him and thinks he’s a monster, but is literally terrified for her life so she can’t leave him. She says she needs 007 (I guess we can assume she didn’t know it was him earlier), and that she was the one who sent the bullet to him so that he’d kill Scaramanga. Apparently her abusive dickhead boyfriend is always talking about Bond, and that’s why she thinks he’s the only person who could kill him. Why does a random assassin know about a British 00-Agent? ¯\_(シ)_/¯. His reputation really does precede him.
But whatever, this is the only recourse she sees herself as having, and the lengths she went to and risks she took to bring that about are rather compelling. Maud Adams finally says, “I want him dead. Name your price, anything, I’ll pay it.” Then she throws in the offer of sex too, though she says it with this chilling dispassion that there’s…there’s no way Bond would take her up on this, right? She’s literally trying to escape an abusive relationship where she’s trapped and raped. Like…he knows better, yeah?
Fuck this film. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, but Maud Adams goes to the bathroom to take off some clothes for this charming quid pro quo arrangement, and Bond uses that opportunity to stuff Goodnight into the closet. She looks miffed, but settles down to sleep among the clothing.
Anyway, before schtupping Maud Adams, Bond tells her that she needs to get him the solex agitator, and then he’ll kill Scaramanga for her. She agrees, because it’s not like she has any damn choice. But like, the British government is allowed to just steal someone’s intellectual property? Wasn’t this developed in Hai Fat Enterprises? Which Scaramanga now owns? I’m just not sure this mission makes any sense…
But before we can ponder those pressing questions, we’re treated to a tense scene of Maud Adams returning to Scaramanga, who seems very suspicious of her. She tells him she went to see a double feature.
Back at Bond’s, he opens the door to the closet where Goodnight is while smoking a cigar and joking about the line of duty. She says she’s going to resign in the morning, but he tells her “your turn will come, I promise.” Bond then tells Goodnight about the quid pro quo deal that he struck, and even she seems horrified. However, it’s for the the wrong reasons; she’s just upset because she’s jealous.
Apparently Maud Adams agreed to steal the solex and meet with Bond at a sporting event, because that’s the next scene we get. Bond sits down next to her at a boxing arena, while Goodnight and Hip watch him and communicate on walkie-talkies. Oh and Hip is disguised as a peanut vendor. Maybe he and Goodnight should go for it?
Sadly for all of us, Maud Adams is actually dead. Psyche! She has a bullet wound in her heart, but was still propped upright in her seat. Which raises more than a few questions to mind, like…why did Scaramanga let her steal the solex and let her get this far? Just to see who she was meeting? Why didn’t he wait til after the meeting to kill her because then maybe he’d find out more information?
Anyway, Nick Nack is in the row behind Bond and Corpse Adams, so as Bond begins looking through her purse for the solex, he pulls a gun on him. Scaramanga sits down on Bond’s other side and says that he already checked, and the solex is not there. Apparently he didn’t realize that she might have just like…fucking dropped it on the ground, because it’s literally right under their seats. Which Bond spots. He subtly puts his shoe on it and drags it towards him while Scaramanga exposits about how growing up, his only friend was an elephant.
No really, I have no clue what this story was. Through his love of animals he discovered his love of killing? Bond totally should have asked if Scaramanga was definitively Cuban or not…ya know, flesh out that file. Instead, he orders a bag of peanuts from Hip, and very smoothly passes him the solex agitator. Hip runs out and hands the thing right over to Goodnight, telling her that she’s to keep it and can’t lose it. He has to go help Bond because “there’s a midget with a gun on him.” He also tells Goodnight to call the police.
Meanwhile, Scaramanga tells Bond, “Personally, l have nothing against you, so let’s hope our paths never cross again.” Dude, you’re like, his biggest fan. This is all you wanted out of your interaction? To tell him your elephant story? Apparently so, because he gets up and leaves. Nick Nack leaves too, which takes Bond a minute to realize, before he gets up himself. For some reason, Nick Nack and Scaramanga went in two different directions; Goodnight spots the former. Remembering Hip’s warning, she decides to follow him as he gets into a car. Then she very badly and unsubtly goes to plant a tracker.
Scaramanga walks by just in time to see this, and just tosses her into the trunk all casually. Oh yeah, and the solex agitator is in her purse. However, Scaramanga had no way of knowing this, so had she not inserted herself halfway into his car, was he just going to leave town? Nick Nack certainly seemed to think they were going somewhere. Like, he seriously almost left the key to a clean energy future lying on the floor at a boxing match?
Bond and Hip realize they need to follow that car (Hip is still walkie-ing with Goodnight), but she also has the keys in her purse. “Women,” Bond says. Then he runs to a car dealership and hops into a car, where none other than JW is waiting for a test-drive. WHY IS HE TEST DRIVING CARS IN BANGKOK? Did he like…move there?
He recognizes Bond from their Live and Let Die fun-times, which even Bond is not happy about:
So then we’re treated to yet another car chase, only this one includes JW shouting things out the window such as “pull your cars over, you little brown pointy-heads!” Did this character test well with target audiences or something?? Why is he here???
Somehow Bond and Scaramanga’s car get separated by a narrow river, so Bond drives his car over a rickety ramp while a comical looping sound-effect plays. Though it actually is vaguely funny when Roger Moore tries to imitate the guy just before it. Still, what a serious movie.
But stunts or not, Scaramanga beats them to this little run-down garage, where he proceeds to attach wings to his car, turning it into an airplane. Of course.
Bond tries to break in while this is happening, but the helpful police Goodnight called pull their guns on Bond to stop him. All this gets interrupted by Scaramanga’s car-plane taking off and everyone staring in amazement.
Goodnight, meanwhile, pries her way out of the trunk, only to discover that she’s 30,000 feet in the air, so she just pops back inside. Oh that reminds me, Scaramanga pushed her in when she was clearly bugging it…he didn’t bother to like, remove that? And again, he had no way of knowing the solex was in her handbag, so his plan was to fly away without it? Or did he only fly away because he figured Goodnight was some sort of bargaining chip? Did he even have a reason to assume Goodnight was connected with Bond? Was this just random abduction?
Some indeterminate amount of time later, we go to some kind of MI6 building, where M is appropriately pissed about all of this. He yells at Bond and Hip until some helpful MI6 workers come over with a map that says “CHINA” in giant letters. They point to some island where they picked up Goodnight’s signal. Oh and since it’s the 70s, this means “Red Chinese waters.” Bond suggests straying “inadvertently into them” by flying under their radar screen. And since the PM would never approve, Bond points out that “officially, you won’t know a thing about it, sir” to M.
Wait…why? What? Because he’s pretending he’s just joy-cruising and stumbles over the border? Is any of this legal?
This entire conversation seems moot because literally the next scene is Bond flying a plane while Chinese forces spot him. They call Scaramanga and ask if he wants them to take action (why are they protecting Scaramanga’s island????) and he tells them no, Bond’s expected, and that he won’t be leaving. Then Roger Moore treats us to some quality “I just landed an airplane” acting:
Anyway, Nick Nack greets Bond with a bottle of champagne, which Scaramanga uncorks via bullet. He at least lampshades this by calling it a “vulgar display,” but he couldn’t help it. He’s also genuinely excited to see Bond. See, this is the Scaramanga I would have expected to have shown up at the boxing match. The fanboy Scaramanga. That wax dummy couldn’t have been cheap!
Apparently he wants to bond with Bond over their “solitary” career choice because they have “so much in common.” What, mutual rape victims?
Speaking of, Bond remembers that maybe he should ask about his coworker who Scaramanga kidnapped.
“By the way, where’s Goodnight?”
“She can’t leave, so she does as she pleases.”
Don’t even bother worrying about those implications!
Scaramanga proceeds to take his new bff on a tour of his home, which is all solar-powered, fueled by the solex agitator. How did he power his home before, exactly? And again, if he hadn’t shoved Goodnight in the trunk then how would any of this be working?
It’s a really thorough tour, too. They go to the “electricity storage room” where there’s GIANT open vats of liquid helium that are cooling “superconductivity coils” (this is not how solar power is generated at all), and then go up to where the solex is housed so that Scaramanga can show him a solar-powered laser…it’s a great time!
All the while, he’s telling Bond his evhul plan: to sell the solex rights to the highest bidder. Bond seems morally outraged, but isn’t this just the free market?? Like, Scaramanga took over Hai Fat Enterprises, which was the company Gibson was working for when he made this, and I’m sure they have the rights. Is the British government seriously just sending agents to steal this? Not to mention, Scaramanga seems really proud of his clean energy; you could easily read this as an environmental advocate who happens to be a very good shot.
Oh, also, I should note that the solex works when its panel pops out of a “mushroom shaped rock” and catches the sun. Why it ever collapses or how anyone considers this “mushroom shaped” is beyond me, but…
Anyway, once Bond and Scaramanga finish trying to wow each other with their very specific scientific knowledge (did you know solar lasers are at least 3500℉? Cause Bond did. Why are two non-Americans using Fahrenheit exactly?), they go to have a nice lunch. Goodnight pops out wearing nothing but a bikini, which Scaramanga says was his doing. Rather than show any concern over her potential mistreatment or rape (he knows Maud Adams thought of him as a “monster” so it’s not like it’s a weird connection to make), Bond quips about how she’s “overdressed.”
Nick Nack decided to serve sautéed mushrooms (how filling), which allows Goodnight to drop some incredibly obvious and at this point, unhelpful, hints about the solex.
Yes Goodnight, I think he’s aware that Scaramanga found the key to a renewable future in your handbag at this point.
Scaramanga then proposes a random toast
to King Tommen because he and Bond are so similar, other than salary. Bond gets offended because he kills “for duty” and only kills killers. Sure, tell yourself that, guy. You’ve never made a mistake in this department. Somehow this entire conversation escalates and they agree to duel each other to the death! Bond will get his PPK with 6 bullets, and Scaramanga will use his golden gun with 1.
Though credit where credit is due. Scaramanga at least admits he could have easily shot Bond down, but he’s always wanted this duel because it will be an “indisputable masterpiece.” For him, this is an artform, killing 007 the SECRET AGENT whose reputation proceeds him. Which yes, is a bit thin, but at least it makes more sense then why Hai Fat stopped Nick Nack from killing Bond on the spot.
Oh, and speaking of Nick Nack, Bond insists on finishing the lunch he so kindly prepared for them.
So they head outside and stand back to back with their guns raised, while Nick Nack goes over the rules. Rules that apparently include a provision for him administering a “coup de grâce” if necessary (that doesn’t defeat the purpose?). He counts to twenty as Bond and Scaramanga walk away from each other, and when the count is reached and Bond whips around, his opponent is already gone.
Then Nick Nack pops up and tells Bond “if you kill him, all this will be mine.” So Bond decides to follow him. Nick Nack directs him through the door to the game room, before running back to his control panel and revving things up again.
I’m not sure what the hot fuck Scaramanga was bothering to do this whole time, since unlike in the opening sequence, he didn’t need to find his gun. But whatever, we’re instead treated to Bond falling for the same traps as the last moop, before he feels his way around mirrors to the edge of the room (it’s apparently a raised stage), which he proceeds to climb down, putting him out of bounds. This also puts him out of view of Nick Nack’s camera, though he loses his gun in the process so…it’s a wash I’d say.
Still, somehow, this gave Bond the time to locate the wax dummy of himself, who was conveniently given a LOADED gun (Scaramanga likes attention to detail?), drag it away, put on its shirt and jacket, and assume the EXACT SAME POSE without either Scaramanga or Nick Nack noticing. And Scaramanga was only like, 10 feet away from this the entire time, because we see him pass it:
And I’m sure Scaramanga’s game room has a very specific aesthetic, but did the guy really not consider how this might confuse him a bit when he was dueling against the ACTUAL JAMES BOND?
Oh well. Bond shoots him in the heart, and gg. How climactic. Does this mean he runs Hai Fat Enterprises now?
By the way, while all this was going on, there was an epic subplot where the dude who sits and monitors the big vats of liquid helium decides to creep on Goodnight. Like really, he keeps giving her shifty looks and then beckons her to follow him whenever he goes somewhere. She eventually “lays him out cold” by knocking him over the head with something metal, and he falls right into the open vat of the helium.
This, of course, immediately leads to an alarm going off and the panel flashing red buttons, because these vats needed to be held at “absolute zero.” Goddamn it, Goodnight, way to muck up this operation that somehow managed to overcome the third law of thermodynamics! Not to mention the set-up that can produce solar energy without the use of photovoltaic cells or steam-turned turbines. Fuck 95% efficiency—this is the real science!
Or maybe not. It’s a highly unstable system because the dude’s body heat is enough to ruin that ~absolute zero~ they totally managed to achieve, which in turn means…explosions. Like, the whole place is going to blow up now. Don’t question it.
Bond finds Goodnight and scolds her when he learns what she did, saying they have exactly five minutes before his body temperature raises the helium “above zero.” Do you mean above ✧✧absolute zero✧✧? Sorry. This does not get less stupid. Even if this was somehow achieved, it would have taken a hell of a lot less than five minutes to disrupt that. Plus the idea it would take a whole five minutes for a body submerged in temperatures like that to give off all its body heat? That thing would be cooled in that time-frame.
No really, don’t question it. Bond and Goodnight race up to where the solex is housed so that they can remove it from its housing before the entire place blows up. Unfortunately, while Bond is working on freeing it, Goodnight’s ass endangers them.
Yup. Her butt hits a button that causes the solar panel to pop out of the “mushroom shaped rock,” which in turn makes that laser beam light again, nearly killing Bond. He yells at her to hit the very clearly labeled “manual override switch,” but she’s too stoopid with her womanly brain to comprehend what he’s saying.
So he speaks to her very slowly to get her to understand.
“Now listen carefully. There’s a console up there. Now, there must be a scanner interlock button on it. Push it!”
“Computer interlock,” she answers, “ls that it?”
A conveniently timed cloud passes by while Goodnight fails to press the clearly labeled button, which stops the laser. Bond praises her on being a “good girl,” and continues his work to free the solex. He gets it in the nick of time before the cloud passes, making this entire sequence just a tad pointless.
But before you can accuse this movie of sexism, Goodnight knows where Scaramanga’s sex boat is! Feminism! They run to it as the entire island explodes.
I guess Goodnight got over her being-stuffed-in-the-closet anger, as well as any potential abuse, because the next scene is them getting ready to pork. However, unfortunately for them, Nick Nack snuck on-board the boat and springs down on them with a knife. Whether this is because he had loyalty to Scaramanga or because Bond blew up his dream home is anyone’s guess.
After a fight where Nick Nack throws countless wine bottles at Bond, who smashes them mid-air with part of a chair (scattering glass everywhere), Bond removes a suitcase from the closet and traps Nick Nack inside. I think we’re supposed to find this funny?
He carries him above deck, and when he comes back, Goodnight has magically cleaned up the thousands of glass shards already. She expresses her disgust at the idea that Bond dumped Nick Nack overboard, but don’t worry, we find out later that he just strung him up in the crow’s nest.
Then they get back to having sex, but they’re interrupted when Bond gets a phone-call from his boss. Which he proceeds to ignore. So he can have the sex.
Yup, that’s it.
The only saving grace of this film is the potential to fanfic from Maud Adam’s point-of-view. And even there, canon-divergent fanfic is strongly recommended, please. Otherwise, this is a movie that is practically defined by its misogyny and cheap attempts to tap into the success of Bruce Lee films. Maud Adams and Christopher Lee deserved better. Good thing they both found it, right?
Images courtesy of United Artists
Star Wars Rewatch: The Critic Awakens
Ah, would that we could return to that bygone year of 2015. Things seemed so much simpler then, especially with the promise of a revitalized Star Wars franchise. After the bad taste that the Prequel Trilogy (PT) left in even many mouths—even with the 5 seasons of damage control that was The Clone Wars (TCW)—it was an understatement to say that the fandom was salivating for a return to quality. This anticipation only increased when it was announced that the entire Original Trilogy (OT) cast was reprising their roles.
Still, it is somewhat difficult to gauge the quality of this film, as it is only the first of three parts. That said, with its riveting pace, numerous unanswered questions, and fantastic new characters, most viewers agree that The Force Awakens (TFA) is a solid addition to the franchise.
Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm was nothing short of monumental when it happened. What did you think of the news when it was first announced?
Ian: I’d have to say I was cautiously optimistic. After what the prequels put me through in the 2000s, it was difficult to imagine what a good new Star Wars movie would look like. As details trickled out though, like Abrams’s use of actual sets and practical effects, I warmed to the concept. I was never much of an Extended Universe (EU) fan outside of one or two novels and comics, so the eradication of the old EU canon did not affect me. Having seen Abrams’s Star Trek adaptations (which is a subject unto itself) I felt he was competent enough to get the job done.
Gretchen: I honestly didn’t think anything specific when I heard it. At the time, it had been years since I was fully invested in the Star Wars fandom. Like Ian, I’d only ever read a few EU novels, so the switch to Legends didn’t mean much to me. I think I shrugged? A lot has changed since then.
Zach: When I first got news of the merger, it was because Disney had canceled TCW on Cartoon Network. Then I learned that Disney was doing away with the EU and calling it “Legends.” To say I was “frothy” would have been an understatement. Several of my favorite characters from the Clone Wars era now had their powerful and moving stories erased completely, specifically Jedi Masters Aayla Secura and Shaak Ti, neither of which had featured very heavily in TCW. I was fit to be tied, and I promised to never watch the new series out of pure spite.
Then, from out of the darkness came Julia’s fantastic retrospective on Han and Leia’s relationship and suddenly I began to reevaluate my priorities. A few rewatches of the OT and retrospectives later, and suddenly I could not wait to see the new movie. I guess you could say The Fandomentals saved Star Wars for me.
What were your feelings on the movie going in?
Zach: Good gosh, I was so nervous going into this movie. On the one hand, it was a new series and a new generation of characters. On the other hand, I had been burned before. Although I was too young to feel the complete disappointment of the PT, as I grew up and got standards, I realized how bad they were. I was afraid to get my hopes up, though at the same time I could not help but feel excited.
Ian: Excited as f$%&! I don’t remember feeling as excited or as nervous for a new movie opening ever before, not even for The Phantom Menace. I actually took half the day off work that Friday to go see it and beat the crowd. So jazzed. So pumped. Couldn’t wait.
The feeling I had going into Revenge of the Sith was more like obligation. I guess I should see this thing. I’ve seen all the others. I felt trepidation this time as well, like should I be this excited? Am I setting myself up for disappointment? I hadn’t been spoiled on the movie, only heard some whispers that, yes, it’s good, rest easy, friends. So, excitement tempered with nervousness.
This time, after having watched it a number of times, I feel like it still holds up. It’s still exciting and funny, and I was happy to watch it again.
Gretchen: When I heard they were making more movies, I was mildly annoyed. My first thought when they announced a new trilogy was, “This again? Why can’t they leave well enough alone?” I expected to hate it, but also secretly wanted to like it. The OT was classic sci-fi for me and had formed a huge part of my childhood, so the opportunity to have that experience as an adult had me both nervous and excited. Going into the rewatch, I had a similar mix of feelings. I liked TFA when I came out of the theaters two years ago. But, the fandom soon soured me on certain aspects of it, and I spent a good portion of 2016 grumpy about it. Engaging with the books and comics of New Canon in 2017 gave me some perspective, though, so when I sat down to rewatch TFA, I wasn’t sure which side would win: the Grumpy Side or the Fangirl Side.
What did you think of the characters, new and old?
Gretchen: I’ll start with our new heroes, and the answer is I love them. While there are things I don’t like about TFA, the new trio of protagonists isn’t one of them. I unabashedly adore Finn, Rey, and Poe with all my fangirl heart. While many have pointed out that they echo the original trio in many ways, what I find fascinating about Rey, Finn, and Poe is how they switch who they’re echoing. None of them are a straight up copy of Han, Leia, and Luke despite how their story beats play off of ones in the OT.
Zach: Hell yes. I would let Rey punch me in the face and I would thank her for it afterward. I know that there was a lot of … shall we call it “inexplicable” backlash against Finn for a while, but that has mercifully died down for now. Gretchen points out that they are echoes of the OT trio, not direct copies. As George Lucas said: “It’s poetry… it rhymes.” We could do an entire article about how these characters echo each other. I think it is telling that, when people have any praise for the Prequels, it is usually for the story, while the Sequels have received their due praise for their characters. I think it is easy to tell which one is more compelling.
Ian: The new characters were what sold me on this movie the first time through. Plot holes and regurgitated ideas from the OT can’t make me love Rey, Finn, or Poe any less.
Gretchen: SAME. As far as old characters go, I’m still a bit salty about the original trio in many ways. After reading Bloodline and Legends of Luke Skywalker, I understand the intention behind the character choices better. However, I still don’t like certain aspects of it. More than anything, not getting a Han/Leia/Luke reunion on screen felt like a punch to the gut. Oh, and can you let Han and Leia kiss for the love of the Force???? They might bicker and have drifted as they dealt with their grief over losing Ben in different ways, but these two love each other goddamn it. LET MY MIDDLE-AGED OTP KISS ON SCREEN.
Ian: I’m a little bummed we never got to see Leia go full Jedi. If she’s as powerful or more powerful in the Force as Luke is, one could reasonably assume she would want to learn to use it. We get some brief flashes in TFA, but nothing more. I understand Carrie Fisher wasn’t in the best physical shape of her life, so I wasn’t expecting a big action-y fight scene, but just something that hints at her power would have been nice, like Galadriel in LOTR. I consider it a lost opportunity.
Zach: I think most of JJ Abram’s direction for the OT trio was “How can I make it as angsty as possible without any of that soft and squishy stuff.” He seems to have a mild understanding of their characters. Based on the things that the cast and crew have said when they worked on TFA, Abrams had no idea how to justify any of his choices for their direction, but he did it anyway. Just like we agreed in our reviews of the PT, the expanded canon stuff does not excuse sloppy writing in the film itself. We should not need that expanded canon stuff to understand what happens on the screen.
I feel that I should warn you all right now that I have a lot of Opinions™ about J.J Abrams.
Gretchen: Don’t worry, I do to. Very few of them are glowing.
Zach: Another of my Opinions™ about Abrams’s direction is how he writes about Darth Vader. He seems to be deliberately ignoring all the previous films’ information about Anakin Skywalker, like his motivation and redemption. It seems like no one knows that Anakin was redeemed in the end. This is especially thrown into sharp relief with Han’s comment “He’s got too much Vader in him.” What does that mean? A fierce love for people and a willingness to do anything to protect them? A feeling of constant inadequacy? Disillusionment with a corrupt system that is attempting to control him? Vader’s evil was a consequence, not his goal.
Ian: Yeah that’s a little weird. Kylo’s worship of him seems out of place as well for those same reasons. What was it exactly that Vader started that you’re going to finish, Kylo? Was it having a decent relationship with his kids?
Gretchen: This is another one of those times that Abrams love for ~secrets~ got the better of him. We all saw Vader choose Light in the end, so give us one on-screen reason why Kylo would want to follow in his footsteps. It doesn’t have to be the main reason, just one that makes sense. Even “I hate my Uncle Luke and wish Vader would have killed him instead of the Emperor” would have been better than a handwave. “…Reasons” just isn’t going to cut it.
One thing I do appreciate, however, is what the film is trying to say about this new generation of heroes lacking mentors and authority to ground them. Han and Maz are the only mentors our heroes have, and neither of them are Force wielders. Han is a former skeptic. Poe is the only protagonist with a sense of direction, and he’s given the least screen time, which I think is on purpose. Our two main heroes have very little to go on to find their way and decide between right and wrong. Rey doesn’t even have anyone to lie to her about her family like Luke did. She literally has nothing. Same with Finn. The sense of being adrift and lacking any reliable authority is a message that I think has a lot of meaning to our current generation.
Zach: TRUTH. I had not even thought about it like that.
Ian: What about Kylo? He had a mentor. He had Luke. How did that turn out? Not good. So the two characters cast adrift ended up in better shape than the one with his family intact, and a teacher to boot. He had all that and he rebelled. Hard. Now he has a new authority figure, one that’s feeding him the things he wants to hear. What does that say about the current generation’s relationship with authority?
Kylo himself I found pretty compelling. He’s my least favorite of the new batch, but I think that’s by design. I do like the way he seems out of control. His emotions get the better of him time and time again. I think that is indicative of some of the shortcomings in being a dark side user.
What do you love most about this movie?
Ian: Mostly, the sense of fun and adventure that the film brought back. The prequels were such odd things. They professed to telling this emotional story about the fall of a great hero, and love and betrayal, but it was all so devoid of emotion. Blame the acting, or the direction, or the extensive use of green screen, but those films don’t have any humanity to them. The moment–THE MOMENT– that sealed the deal for me with TFA, the moment where I sat back in my seat and breathed a sigh of relief and knew I was in good hands was that line from Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) when he is brought before Kylo Ren. They stare at each other for a beat and then he says, “So who talks first? Do you talk first?” I laughed. The whole theater laughed. After that, I was all in. We have real characters. They are allowed to be funny. They are allowed to be human. That moment I think is still my favorite in the movie just because of the memory it brings back of that first watch in the theater.
Gretchen: Same. I love that they established early on that these characters, and the films, have a real sense of humor (not one that relies on racism and stepping in poop) and adventure about them. We’d get more honest, human, and real characters rather than tropes. I adore that line from Poe for the same reason. It gave me hope that we were getting something truly good.
Zach: For me, the moment in the movie that sealed the deal for me was Rey’s introduction scene. While I do have a lot of Opinions™ on Abram’s writing of characters, I cannot fault his handling of the new characters or the cinematics. Both of them come together beautifully, stunningly, in Rey’s introduction. We spend several minutes following her around her home on Jakku. She never says a single word, but we get a real sense of who she is as a character and we bond with her immediately. I think Daisy Ridley’s portrayal of the character goes a long way too.
Ian: I love Rey. She’s fantastic. I have no problems with her seemingly quick grasp of the Force, or her aptitude in combat or piloting, or mechanics. Anyone who says she’s a Mary Sue either doesn’t understand what a Mary Sue is, or wasn’t paying attention when they watched the movie.
Gretchen: Preach. Gotta love how most of the people who complain about this don’t seem to lob the same complaints at Luke in the OT or Anakin in the PT. An unusually gifted hero just waiting to discover their power is a well-established trope in fantasy literature, yet “Mary Sue” seems to only be a complaint thrown under specific circumstances (hint: like when the protagonist is a woman). The only thing that annoyed me was the whole “she knows the Millennium Falcon better than Han” thing, and that was a minor nitpick, really. Han may not be an intuitive mechanic like Anakin, but the one thing he does know is his own ship.
Ian: I love Rey and Finn together. They are both damaged in a way that they compliment each other so well. That hug on the Starkiller base is another favorite moment.
Gretchen: They drew me from the first moment I saw each of them alone, and then again when they finally met each other. They’re fantastic as both a matched pair and foils. They’re both so lonely and aching for a real home. Both lack a family and are defined by their relationship to their past. Rey can’t let go of hers, no matter how incomplete and tenuous it is. Finn, on the other hand is desperately trying to forget who he is. Rey wants to go home; Finn wants to run away. Neither know who they are and neither has any strong heroic aspirations at the outset of the film—like Luke’s desire for adventure in A New Hope (ANH). However, together they find both family and begin to help each other find the balance between their opposing positions regarding their past. Just…this is everything I love about found family narratives and breaking the cycle of violence.
Ian: I love the whole tone of the movie, too, the way it moves from a kind of breezy adventure to some heavier action. The visuals are stunning. I don’t know, I can’t decide.
Zach: PRACTICAL. SPECIAL. EFFECTS. They saved my life in this movie. Just watching it and seeing all these beautiful creatures in the background it really, really sells it to the audience. The PT’s over-abundance of CG effects in every scene immediately pulls the viewer out of the moment. For whatever reason, our brains can know, even if everything on the screen is perfectly right, if something is fake. EVERYTHING in the PT was fake. Compare that to TFA. You have a really hard time trying to figure out what is a puppet and what is CGI, but it all feels real to you. You can believe it more easily.
Ian: God yes. That was one of the things that made this movie feel real to me. They are on location, they have sets, they have actual people and creatures to interact with. The best CGI in the world can’t compare to the real thing… yet…
Gretchen: I barely noticed the effects, and that’s a huge compliment. It’s all so seamless. God and the music! My heart soared so many times hearing those themes again.
Zach: John Williams is back! While his scores are not as good as some of his previous work in Star Wars, Rey’s Theme and March of the Resistance really do a good job at setting the tone and telling the story with music.
Ian: Rey’s theme is the best. I bought the soundtrack for that alone.
Zach: Again, say what you will about Abrams’ writing, but he has a true gift for creating thrilling action sequences. There are a lot of scenes that we could talk about, but I think the most standout among them is Finn and Rey’s escape from Jakku with the Millenium Falcon. First of all, it innovates on Star Wars’ signature space-dogfights by putting them in the atmosphere of a planet. The setting is also fantastic; flying amongst the cavernous ruins of Star Destroyers from the old Imperial days serves as both an obstacle to avoid and a grim reminder of what will happen if there is the slightest mistake. Other scenes have fantastic direction too, but that is the one I have singled out. Anyone else have any favorites?
Ian: That lightsaber fight at the end. The overwrought and insanely complicated fights of the PT are gone. We’re back to two actual characters just kind of hammering away at each other. Rey gets a lot of flack for being too good here, but she’s shown her ability with a staff. Plus Kylo is gutshot with a bowcaster, he’s not exactly at one hundred percent. Seeing that lightsaber fly past him into Rey’s hand was a jump out of your seat moment for me, and the fight after was great. (And it’s on an actual set).
Gretchen: That’s my favorite as well. Having just watched Return of the Jedi (ROTJ), the similarity in the sequence stands out so starkly. This is Luke and Vader all over again, only Rey has less training and Kylo less control. Plus, my boy Finn is there, too, and he gets his chance to be ‘Luke’ only to trade off to Rey. It’s a beautifully-shot, beautifully written and choreographed action sequence that’s brimming with thematic significance and character work.
Zach: Kylo Ren is a fun villain. We still have a lot to learn about him in the New Canon, but from what we see in TFA, at the very least he is entertaining. He is a little less murderous than his grandfather when underlings give him bad news, but he is just as extra. The fact that he just has tantrums every so often while simultaneously being an absolutely terrifying and effective villain really gets to me. Though I have difficulty imagining his redemption arc now, I am keeping an open mind about his direction until I see TLJ.
Gretchen: I can see a potential redemption arc, I just really, really want him to earn it. Star Wars is a story about hope and the presence of light no matter how powerful the darkness seems to be. However, I think the sequel trilogy has a real chance to show us how someone lives out their redemption arc rather than just making a death bed choice. Not that Vader’s turn isn’t valuable, but I want a journey to redemption and then a trajectory for life afterward. That’s how it will feel earned to me.
What do you like least about this movie?
Ian: I’ve had a problem in recent viewings with Finn. There is some dissonance to his character and what the movie tells us about him that I find a little troubling, but not story-breaking. Think about Finn’s motivation. He breaks away from the First Order presumably for moral reasons. He sees a fellow trooper gunned down, and then disobeys the order to execute a whole village en masse. Rather than go to be reprogrammed, he breaks Poe out and escapes the toxic situation he is in. One can assume from this that Finn has deep misgivings about the First Order’s methods, and about violence and killing in general. Finn is a victim of the system. He was taken at an early age and trained for trooperdom. We empathize with him even as we root for him to succeed. That in itself isn’t a problem.
The problem comes when in the remainder of the movie, after humanizing one storm trooper, the rest of the storm troopers are regulated to their position throughout the OT as simple cannon fodder. These are all presumably victims of the First Order machine, being forcibly recruited and brainwashed. Of course, there might be some actual bad guys in there, but we don’t really know or care about the rest of them because they have to get blown up by the good guys. Sometimes, their deaths are even played for laughs.
It’s at odds with the reasons why we root for Finn, who doesn’t seem to have a problem with the death of hundreds of his former peers, some of whom he almost certainly shared day-to-day life with. There is a dissonance there that is troubling, but I generally tend to whistle past it. Of course, it could be that Finn is an exceptional case, and that no other trooper has been able to overcome their conditioning, but they are still victims of the First Order military machine, and humanizing one makes it difficult to see the rest slaughtered.
Gretchen: I agree with you, and I think there’s a way to read that as meaningful. That cognitive dissonance is very much in line with what the rest of New Canon is doing. One of the goals, I think, is to humanize the ‘canon fodder’ and force us to recognize that not everyone who participates in the oppressive system does so of free will and malice. The humor aspect is out of place, and I think that’s a sign that something wasn’t executed properly because I think Finn is meant to lead us to acknowledge that there are victims within the First Order, not just outside of it.
My one complaint about Finn stems from the film not doing a good job clarifying that he’s actually a very competent and intelligent Stormtrooper. You have to read the novels to know that he was the best in his class and that sanitation was a standard shift and not a sign of his incompetence or him being unskilled at battle. I think it was meant as a joke, but it has crept into the fandom as a sign that he’s stupid, weak, and untalented (fandom racism is the worst, you guys).
Other than that, what I truly like least about TFA is Starkiller base. It was one plot echo too far, and the lampshading didn’t help at all. No matter how people spin this or how many explanations I read, I still think it was stupid. Sorry, Abrams.
Ian: Yeah, even Han’s snarky lines about Death Stars can’t save that one.
Zach: Oh yeah. Starkiller Base was abysmal. For me, the movie was fine with all its echoes until we hit Starkiller Base and the dogfight over it. It was way too similar to ANH for comfort. The first act keeps me invested, but everything beyond that read like a bad fanfic. I always say “Every story has already been told, so we’re going to judge this by how the story is told,” but I draw the line when a story plays it too close to one that has already been told.
Ian: Nothing about Starkiller base made sense. I know this isn’t hard sci-fi, but it should at least be trying to sound plausible, right? People watching the streaks of red across the sky from Maz’s place is impossible, as is the distance that beam of energy travelled in a short amount of time. It was just too much. Then once that sun is drained, what? The planet flies to a new sun? Really? Just dumb.
Zach: ARE YOU READY TO HEAR MY RANT ABOUT TFA’S ART DIRECTION!? BUCKLE IN, BECAUSE I HAVE OPINIONS™. IT WAS ALL LAZY AS FUCK AND TRYING TOO HARD TO COPY THE OT RATHER THAN IMPROVE IT.
Literally every single bit of this movie was a direct ripoff of the OT. Compare it to the Prequels; for all their numerous flaws they had their very own art style, and canonically they only happen 20 years before the OT. TFA takes place 30 years after the OT, and literally everything is the same. Compare the X-wings. In the PT, the classic T-65 of the prequels had not been invented yet, but we had the ARC-170. With its long nose and splitting s-foils, it is a definite step in the X-wing’s direction, but it has its own distinct silhouette. Compare that to the Resistance’s T-70 X-wing. The only difference is that now the wing-split is down the middle of the wings. If the other starfighters shown in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and walkers shown in The Last Jedi trailers are any indication of the future art direction, it looks like more of the same. Expect more salt after I see that movie.
Ian: Wow, Zach, you have entered a level of nerdery I could only dream about. Well played, sir. Yeah, it’s weird how samey things are there, but then the storm trooper helmets got a total redesign. Does The First Order have a marketing division? “Has Jeff turned in the concept sketches for those new helmets yet?” “Oh yeah, General Hux is reviewing them now.” Like, the TIE fighters just have new paint jobs, the X-Wings are the same, the Star Destroyers are (basically) the same. Why overhaul the trooper uniforms? Maybe the original molding equipment was confiscated or destroyed?
Gretchen: Heck, they even copied the exact same biomes from three of the planets in the OT. If you’re not going to break the “every planet has to have a single biome” rule, can you at least branch out from desert planet, forest planet, snow planet? At least we’re getting a new planet in TLJ. Though I have to admit, a salt planet has me giggling. You might have to move to Crait over the art direction, Zach.
Zach: Oh, believe me, I was actually born there. Abrams was so wrapped up in copying the feel of the OT that he forgot to justify how he got there. When the OT closed, the implication was that freedom and justice had returned to the Galaxy, and TFA’s opening crawl says that there is a new Republic, but that aside we have no idea what is going on in the galaxy. Are we supposed to believe that a galaxy-wide government had no idea that the First Order had a planet-killer just floating around? Why is the Republic not taking an active role in fighting the Space-Nazis next door, and is leaving the fight to the Resistance instead? Why is the Resistance separate from the Republic starfleet? Why does the Republic not oversee the assets that it is funding to fight the First Order? Who is Lor San Tekka, outside of being “[Leia’s] old ally” as described in the opening crawl? Uuuuurgh, I hate it.
Ian: The politics of the Galactic Republic are very poorly laid out, or not laid out at all, and I found that a little troubling. One would think if there was an Imperial uprising, the Republic military would have been mustered to snuff them out, not some rinky-dink resistance.
Gretchen: A lot of this comes up in the extended materials, like Bloodline and the Aftermath trilogy. They’re really good at filling in gaps. However, I am of the opinion that the films ought to make sense on their own. Casual fans who only watch the movies should be able to understand the basics of how to get from A-to-Space Nazis have a planet-sized wmd that no one noticed. Abrams penchant for “mystery boxes” and unexpected plot twists bit him in the ass when it came to setting up TFA. Way too much was left un-explicated between ROTJ and the sequels, and the film suffers for it.
Zach: We need more Phasma in our movies. She better be more prominent in TLJ.
Gretchen: I literally cannot wait for Finn to confront Phasma again. It’s gonna be so good. (Fingers crossed for Finn leading a Stormtrooper uprising!)
Ian: The Phasma comic miniseries and novel flesh her character out better. And yes, you are right.
The first installment of a trilogy often sets the tone. What did you think of the tone and themes of The Force Awakens?
Gretchen: Ironically, I think the films are the weakest parts of New Canon for me. A lot of my increased enjoyment of TFA this time around comes from my engagement with the novels and comics. More than either of the New Canon films, the print materials lay out the themes and direction for where Star Wars is headed as a franchise. When you engage with them, you can see the threads in the films, but they’re subdued. Part of it is medium, part of it is that the films are meant to reach a much wider audience and have to stand up to that. Part of it is Abrams leaving things out for the sake of ~mystery~.
Still, I do think that TFA fits within the wider tone and themes of the franchise, even if casual fans might not pick up on all the pieces. As mentioned above, I find the theme of disconnection from the heroes and stories of the past quite compelling (though with mixed success as to execution), same with the found family narrative. I have even more mixed feelings about Ben—too many to go into here. I’ve never found the idea of a Solo, Skywalker, or Organa child going Dark Side remotely appealing, so TFA was working uphill to get me to engage with that.
Zach: For me, the themes of TFA that I picked up on initially were a little too close to those of ANH, but on closer examination I think that they are still applicable, especially to our modern times. When TFA was released, white nationalism seemed to be on its last legs. Now, the president defends it. A group of determined individuals fighting against an implacable enemy speaks to me a lot more now.
Ian: I have no problem with the way it echoes certain story beats from ANH. Yes, it is a similar story, and yes, some of the actual story beats are very similar. This does not make it the same story or the same movie. It is not a re-make, and again, anyone who says so wasn’t paying attention. Disney played it safe with this film, and understandably so. This HAD to go well. If this movie tanked, it could quite possibly have killed the franchise. So I understand why they played it safe and went with a similar story. That’s not to say it is the same as some people criticise it for being.
Gretchen: TFA actually goes through beats from all three of the OT films, which I find interesting. That’s what tells me that while it is mixing in elements from ANH, it isn’t a straight-up retelling. On rewatch more than the first viewing I realized just how many beats from Empire Strikes Back and ROTJ end up in TFA. As with the new trio both echoing and switching up the original trio, the film itself does so, too. We get bits and pieces of all three OT films, but in different or sped up order and with different context. We’re seeing bits of the PT and OT unravel and reweave themselves together in a different way. It’s like a symphonic variation, and I really enjoy it.
Ian: I have a hard time with theme because I tend to just turn my brain off and enjoy it. The found family aspect is always there for me. I guess the tone is really what spoke to me. The sense of fun and adventure is back in the series, and that’s a good thing even if thematically it’s not quite there.
With that in mind, what do you expect from The Last Jedi?
Ian: They’re gonna kill Luke. Oh God, no, please don’t kill Luke. No they’re going to make him evil. Look at the posters. He’s in the bad guy position. He’s gonna be evil. They’re going to kill Leia and make Luke evil. No, Rey’s gonna turn evil. Kylo Ren’s going to turn her over to Snoke and then Kylo’s going to turn good. That’s wholly unearned, why would they do that so soon? Oh God, no, please don’t kill Luke. But Rey… But Luke… Leia… Oh, God, this movie is going to rip my heart out and stomp on it! At least there will be porgs.
Gretchen: Honestly? Same. Though having read Legends of Luke Skywalker, I’m less worried about Luke going evil than I was. As far as him dying, with Han dead and Carrie Fisher no long available to do more Leia scenes, it makes zero sense to kill off the other member of the OT. I do, however, fully expect to have my heart broken seeing Leia on screen again. And I have a feeling things with Luke and Rey are going to hurt me as well. It’s going to be a looooong two years until 2019, folks.
Zach: Of course it’s going to be a feels-fest. As Yoda said, “Fandom leads to feelings, feelings lead to being attached to characters, being attached to characters leads to suffering.” I’m with Gretchen in that I do not expect Luke to turn evil either, same with Rey. I think that they might up the ante on Kylo Ren’s villainy and make him usurp Supreme Leader Snoke, but that is pure conjecture. I honestly have no idea what is instore for us in VIII
Ian: I’m scared, you guys.
Gretchen: As Leia said, “hold me.”
Zach: If fear is a path to the Dark Side, I’m toast.
Gretchen: I enjoyed it more the second time around, despite my almost year long salt binge. Extended materials in the Star Wars universe have given me a lot of hope, and a new perspective, on what the sequel trilogy is doing. I love the sense of adventure, the humor, and the strong pathos that the new protagonists bring with them. Also, I adore BB-8 with my entire being.
Zach: It is a long awaited return to form after the prequels. Sure it is pretty derivative, Abrams has no idea what he’s doing with the OT trio, and there is no innovation in art direction. But, the characters, slick pacing, and adventure make it all worth watching.
Ian: I love this movie. It’s imperfect, flawed even, but it has great characters and a lot of fun and drama. It’s just the shot in the arm this franchise needed.
Gretchen’s Score: 7 – Satisfying: Fantastic! Entertaining! I would be willing to watch it again. It isn’t perfect, but it hits an emotional or thematic sweet spot that leaves you glad you spent time on it.
Zach’s Score: 6 – Good: Very watchable and with enough honey-potting it can be considered great. Leaves the viewer with a smile and a desire to see more.
Ian’s Score: 8 – Inspiring: Any shortcomings are nothing but small dots on an otherwise perfect painting. Despite some minor issues, it’s on par with some of the best. I could definitely watch it more than once (or twice).
Images courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm
‘I, Tonya’ Skates The Thin Line Between Comedy and Tragedy
I, Tonya is a breathless tragicomedy based on true events that just so happens to perfectly illustrate how woefully ill-equipped our present set of systems are for dealing with abuse. The movie barrels along with a breathless narrative and a searing sense of righteous fury. To top it all off, it dares us to reexamine a woman we helped turn into a national punchline.
Craig Gillespie brings a Rashomon quality to I, Tonya. Gillespie and his screen writer Steven Rogers based the movie on a series of interviews with Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), Tonya’s Mother LaVona (Allison Janney), and a producer for Hard Copy played by Bobby Cannavale. Each one tells their own version of Tonya and “the incident.”
“The incident,” for those too young to remember, is this: in 1994 figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a man who claimed to be hired by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband Jeff. I, Tonya however does more than just examine “the incident” it dares to indict the twenty-four-hour news cycle that all but convicted her as well as us the audience for participating in it.
The search for truth comes from the characters themselves, cauldron of unreliable narrators all seeking vindication. By the end we are only sure of our own complicity.
In other words I, Tonya does quite a lot and to its credit mostly succeeds. Gillespie and Rogers portray the emotional and physical abuse Tonya suffers from her mother and her husband mundane and laconic. The abuse has a matter-of-fact quality that lends an air of horror and immediacy to it. I, Tonya is brutally honest about abuse and the effect the cycle of violence has on a person.
I, Tonya almost methodically lays the groundwork to help clearly illustrate how the systems set in place—then and now—hinder women more than help them. Tonya gets a restraining order against Jeff, and yet still he shows up to her home with a gun. He accidentally fires the gun, grazing her head with a bullet. He grabs her and puts her in the car and is eventually pulled over. As the officer talks to Jeff, Tonya looks to the camera. “He had alcohol bottles in the backseat and the officer found him in possession of two guns. And he never even said one word to me. That’s when I learned…you can’t trust the authorities.”
Over and over again, Tonya is betrayed by the people and things she loves the most. Tonya Harding is one of seven women figure skaters in America to ever successfully pull off a triple axle. But this somehow isn’t enough.
Growing up she is told time and time again that she needs to dress fancier to be taken seriously. Her father skins a handful of rabbits and makes her a fur coat. She is mocked and ostracized. Figure skating is as much presentation as it is talent, and Tonya isn’t presenting the picture the figure skating community wants. Her ambition to go to the Olympics is hampered by the “image” she projects: herself.
Tonya skates to ZZ Top while other skaters play Mahler and Tchaikovsky. She’s a girl from rural Kentucky and the judges don’t let her forget it. She’s told by one judge that the reason her scores are low has nothing to do with her ability but the fact that she doesn’t present the image the association wants to show to the world. They want someone with a model, wholesome American family. “But I don’t have a wholesome American family,” she responds.
Tonya cusses, smokes, and shoots guns. She’s also one the most naturally talented and driven figure skaters the skating community has ever seen. I, Tonya shows us the sheer guts of a woman who yearned to be part of something that wanted nothing to do with her. She got even in the best way possible—she became a legend. The tragedy of the legend she left behind is not of her making.
But Rogers doesn’t let Tonya off the hook completely either. As much as she’s beaten down both by her chosen community and her loved ones, Tonya seems incapable of taking responsibility for her actions. “It wasn’t my fault,” is a constant refrain throughout the movie. The phrase becomes more complicated and begins to carry more weight as the story progresses.
Margot Robbie turns in a blistering performance of sheer fury and vulnerability. Gillespie tosses out slow motions, whip pans, and flashy editing, but it’s Robbie that propels I, Tonya. Robbie’s Harding has a ferocity and a tenaciousness that has us rooting for her even when we groan inwardly as she keeps taking Jeff. Her Tonya is less acting and more eerie possession.
Robbie’s performance is all the more impressive when we consider the dazzling and darkly comic manner in which the story is being told. As stated before, the structure is essentially a mockumentary from multiple points of view. This could have resulted in a fractured narrative, but instead it leads to a morbidly nuanced comedic portrayal of class. I, Tonya is never condescending; the humor comes from places of human truth. The stupidity that is mocked is the stupidity of criminals who refuse to admit the limits of their knowledge.
Take Jeff’s best friend and confidant Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser). I’ve known people like Shawn growing up, as I suppose we all have. Shawn lives at home with his parents yet boasts about his ‘government ops experience’ and ‘expertise in counter terrorism measures’. When Jeff hires him to mail some threatening letters to Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) we can see the train about to jump the rails from the next county over.
It’s clear why Jeff has Shawn as a friend though. Shawn feeds Jeff’s ego and makes him feel like a bigger man than he is. Jeff realizes too late just how unhinged Shawn is and furthermore what he’s done to Tonya’s life. Sebastian Stan never asks for our sympathies and rightfully so.
Jeff beats Tonya with such a casual frequency that it makes it all but impossible to even like him. Stan’s performance is so tough to swallow not just because it’s so good but because there’s nothing special about Jeff. You can, and have, met Jeff anywhere. He’s not particularly evil but neither is he good. Jeff is somehow the hero but also the victim of his own story which is counter-intuitive until you realize that’s how most abusers see themselves. Stan shows us how Robbie’s Harding could have fallen for him without making us do the same.
Gillespie’s style could easily be called derivative but we should also call it what it is: effective. Though the film has the look of a Martin Scorsese film, it lacks the same sort of daring musical choices that Scorsese is known for. Nor does it bubble with the same wonderful unpredictable energy that Scorsese infuses into his films. Gillespie chooses songs that tell us as what to think and feel as opposed to songs that would add anything extra to the scene or force us to think about the events in a different way.
But this is a minor quibble. Despite the obvious Scorsese influences and obvious song choices it works. It works spectacularly. Margot Robbie is effortlessly amazing despite the less-than-stellar CGI they use to show us the triple axle spin. Robbie is an integral part to I, Tonya’s dizzying momentum. Whenever the story briefly switches to Jeff and Shawn, the film begins to slightly drag.
Allison Janney, it should be mentioned, is brilliant as usual. Her LaVona is a bitter, callous woman who discovers too late that she actually loves her daughter. The violence she visits upon Tonya seems more brutal because of the rage behind it. LaVona denies the accusations while somehow also justifying them. To her, love and violence go hand in hand.
Gillespie’s greatest achievement is how much fun he’s made I, Tonya. It is dark and glaringly honest about abuse as well as classism. But I, Tonya is never a slog to sit through. This is in large part due to the brilliant and deeply joyous editing of Tatiana S. Riegel. She and Gillespie give the film the feeling of a rushed confession without allowing I, Tonya to devolve into a chaotic mass of overlapping voices. It is deeply entertaining and weirdly fun without ever taking any of its characters for granted. Along with the laughs and clever little insights into how messed up our media cycle is and how we’re partially to blame, there is the quiet devastation of a life destroyed.
I, Tonya is easily one of the greatest films of the year. It has unquestionably one of the best performances of the year in Margot Robbie’s Tonya Harding. Clear-eyed and loving, I, Tonya portrays its subject in a fair light—at least a fairer light than we were ever willing to give her before.
Image Courtesy of Neon
‘The Shape of Water’ Is A Dark, Enthralling Fairy Tale
The Shape of Water is one of the best films of the year. It is the first film I have seen that threatens to topple Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper from its perch of ‘favorite/best movie of 2017’. Whether or not it succeeds will require further viewings.
Guillermo del Toro is unquestionably one the greatest directors working today, as well as the most visually distinctive. He is a director who seems to have an innate understanding of the term ‘dark beauty.’ Del Toro’s movies are often gorgeous and haunting in the way he weaves dreamlike imagery with achingly tender stories.
What del Toro has done here is quite simply cinematic magic at its peak. He has cobbled together a love story about outsiders, for outsiders, by outsiders, but accessible to everybody. The deftness of The Shape of Water as it moves nimbly from story to story leaves us spellbound as we’re never sure which character we’re going to follow next.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute janitor at Occam’s laboratory. She lives next door to Giles (Richard Jenkins) a gay commercial artist. The two of them rent apartments above a rundown movie theater. This alone would be enough, but we are also treated to the homes and personal lives of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Colonel Strickland (Micahel Shannon).
Del Toro allows us to see every character as the hero in their own story. We’re never asked to agree with or even empathize with these characters. He is confident enough in his abilities as a storyteller to show us these characters as they see themselves.
This allows us to understand Shannon’s Strickland, a pustule of a human being with almost no redeeming qualities. We’re not meant to understand Strickland though. He’s the villain in del Toro’s fairy tale. But we do come to understand Strickland’s view of his place in the world and how it should operate.
Much in the same way we come to understand Elisa and her view of her place in the world. Hawkins has no dialogue, with the exception of a musical fantasy number, and she commands every moment she’s on screen. Hawkins’ conveys a range of complex emotions with just a flick of her wrists and eyes. She can relay her feelings about other characters by how she stands with them in such a deep and revealing way that it borders on conjuring.
The ‘Asset’ as played by Doug Jones amplifies Hawkins’ performance. Jones’s work is all the more admirable considering the amount of prosthetic and makeup he must act through. The ‘Asset’ is an enigma. We know little of the backstory of where the creature came from. What little we do know comes from Strickland as he recounts it to his superior General Hoyt (Nick Searcy).
Jones and Hawkins bring to life a relationship without a single word of dialogue. It is, simply put, cinematic poetry. What del Toro, Hawkins, and Jones achieve is a fairy tale overflowing with longing, companionship, internal understanding, and lust. The history of movies is littered with such couples as Belle and the Beast, the Creature and Kay, King Kong and Ann, along with many, many others. With these films and others, there was an eroticism which was always vaguely hinted at.
The Shape of Water isn’t necessarily explicit so much as it dares to push the word ‘imply’ to the limits of its definition. Refreshingly it’s not shy about Elisa’s sex drive. As the movie opens, we are treated to her morning routine in which she has allotted time for masturbation. Once while eating corn flakes with Giles, he states, “You know corn flakes were invented to stop masturbation.” Hawkins’ silent response to this is a subtle gem of comedic timing.
The humor is part of what makes The Shape of Water so sublime. Del Toro and his co-writer Vanessa Taylor have loaded their movie with a wonderful depth of wit and observance of character idiosyncrasies. For instance when Dr. Hoffstetler, a Soviet spy in reality, complains to his superior. Every time they wish to talk he has to go to the same remote place, exchange the same cryptic phrases, only to be taken to the same crappy restaurant. “I may change my mind one of these days,” his superior responds. “Yes, but you never do.”
Taylor and del Toro wrote a sci-fi film, a cold war thriller, a creature feature, a period piece, a comedy, an erotic love story, and a suspense story rolled effortlessly into one. All while maintaining a sense of magical realism that never veers too far into one or the other. Amidst all of this, they have the nerve, and the audacity to show how we can turn a blind eye to horrors and abuses we know are wrong, just because they upset us.
As Elisa watches television with Giles, she switches channels and lands on a news report of a race riot. Giles walks away, “Turn that off! I don’t want to see it!” Later, after a mistaking a waiter’s patter for genuine interest, he sees the same waiter kick a black couple out for daring to sit at the counter. Giles is then asked to leave himself. He may not want to see it but whether he likes it or not he is just as complicit as anyone.
Empathy and love run through almost every vein of The Shape of Water. These are outsiders not because they choose to be but because they are told they are. Zelda (Octavia Spencer), Elisa’s friend and coworker, acts as Elisa’s voice. It’s fitting that Zelda be the one who speaks for Elisa, she, after all, knows the pain of having her personhood denied. Spencer, as ever, dominates as she waxes poetic while also complaining about the ups and downs of matrimony.
Dan Lausten, the cinematographer, has shot The Shape of Water in a way that makes you feel damp. Lausten and del Toro lovingly pay homage to the movies of yesteryear without getting bogged down in re-enactments or shot homages. It is a love poem to the movies without demanding you know actor’s names or directors intentions.
The Shape of Water in some ways feels like the movie del Toro has been trying to make all his life. It is a deeply personal film about alienation. But much like Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster, it is somehow mysteriously relatable to us all.