Guest Post – Prometheus: A Study in Villainy

Always 10 steps ahead.

This piece is written by my good friend Uday, and I’m thrilled to have him contribute the first guest post on Soggz Blogs! Uday Mehta is an engineer, columnist, podcaster, and aspiring author. He writes for ‘Eudaymonia’, hosts ‘Coming Soon’, and in his spare time works with radioactive waste management at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He has a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering from UC Berkeley. Be sure to check out Uday’s podcast over at this link! A familiar name may or may not be appearing on it soon…
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A show like Arrow is fundamentally designed for different audiences than any other show on television – coming before its Arrowverse counterparts, it had the luxury of picking its niche. The Flash has its roots in nerd-dom and comic book storyline that fuse with a soap opera relationship vibe. Legends of Tomorrow is a fun ensemble show where you can watch a single standalone episode and enjoy it. Supergirl is a fresh, pleasant escape.

But Arrow attempts to satisfy the most difficult demographic – the generic superhero fan. The fan that can range from a die-hard comic book consumer to a middling cinematic admirer to a casual action aficionado. These are the same group of fans that are uniquely split on the primary love story, the same ones that argued the merits of the villains while also somehow agreeing on the need for a better protagonist arc. And this season, it’s that second point of debate that turned from just that – a debate – to acclaim. after 1.5 to 2 (depending on which of those fans you ask) lackluster to mediocre seasons, the consensus is that the show has offered up a contender for its best season yet.

Prometheus – the throwing-star killer – serves as this season’s big bad, a villain that on the surface seems to hold no more or no less appeal than Ra’s Al Ghul or Damien Darhk, the respective final bosses for Seasons 3 and 4. In terms of history, he’s somewhere in the middle of Ra’s famed comic track record (including a headlining villain role in Batman Begins and an upcoming appearance in Gotham) and Damien Darhk’s relative obscurity. With respect to ability, he’s once again right in the middle, his shurikens likely more than a match for Ra’s’ fighting prowess and Darhk’s magic. But it’s not like executive producer Marc Guggenheim just struck gold with this actor or his ability – Prometheus serves as an example that when the show defines the character, it creates a far superior product than when the character defines the show.

Think of all the great villains in movie and TV history – Vader. Moriarty. The Joker. Even Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. Throw in Loki since we need a Marvel representative (we see you sitting on that damn chair, Thanos). Every one of these characters, if written slightly differently, could have been antiheroes. But the way they are, they’re a little bit more ‘anti’ than ‘hero’ and it’s because they’ve managed to follow this archetype to a t.

Through the 23-episode gauntlet, the curtain is slowly drawn back on Prometheus. Shrouded – literally, with his scary black garb – in mystery from his first extended appearance a fifth of the way in, more is gradually revealed about him all the way through ‘til the end. He isn’t dragged out for public consumption from the beginning, a la Darth Maul, nor does he end his arc by remaining an unknown quantity. From the explanation of his name (a reference to challenging the Gods), to his literal unmasking – which the show doesn’t play around with, considering Prometheus’ identity is revealed to Arrow not too long after it’s revealed to the audience – to the final control of his own destiny, Prometheus maintains a firm grip on how the protagonist and the audience see him.

Prometheus was truly formidable, but more importantly he was consistently formidable. Damien Darhk’s totem powers were flexible dependent on the plot, and his organization H.I.V.E. would conveniently ‘go to ground’ when Team Arrow needed a few episodes to recoup. Ra’s could seemingly ‘kill’ Oliver effortlessly halfway through his season, but was killed just as easily in the finale with his weapon of choice (a sword, as opposed to Arrow’s… arrows) and hundreds of years’ more experience. It was one of the defining marks of the Jason Bourne franchise – Bourne was so much better than everybody else, and they never strayed from that. It stands in stark contrast to the Flash’s powers – where the show changes the rules to fit whatever villain they’re fighting, letting the character define the show. Prometheus was never solely a physical adversary, but one strengthened by motivation, something that can’t be said of the previous two.

Many writers make a genuine effort to make villains ‘relatable’, but end up conflating that term with ‘vulnerable’. We don’t need to see that the bad guy can be defeated until he’s actually defeated, because then he stops being bad. He goes from Agent Smith from The Matrix to Agent Smith from The Matrix: Reloaded, where they just copy him a hundred times, effectively making him faceless. While Prometheus doesn’t get a win every episode, the losses he takes avoid uncovering any true weaknesses that he’s had. The true standard of relatability is when you can see the character’s point of view and think, ‘yeah, I could go for that’ – akin to Khan from Star Trek: Into Darkness. By not overplaying the dead-father cliché, coupled with his connection to Arrow’s fundamental premise (Prometheus is to ‘You have failed this city’ as Game of Thrones’ Petyr Baelish is to the death of Jon Arryn), the show is able to cultivate relatability without making him seem like ‘just one of us’.

None of these elements had anything to do with the plot, or the character’s actions, or even his dialogue, but how he was portrayed thematically throughout. His character was developed on a level akin to that of a hero’s, perhaps more so than Oliver himself. Which was necessary, because pure, unadulterated evil is at its core somewhat boring. It’s a good thing that Prometheus – and Arrow – didn’t stoop to such a level.

Welcome back, kid.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Movie Review

Turns out Michael Bolton is a major cinephile?

[THERE WILL BE NO MAJOR-PLOT DETAILS SPOILED IN THIS REVIEW. ONLY WHAT WAS SHOWN IN TRAILERS]

So they FINALLY decided to name one of their movies after the line that’s been dropped in the theme park ride forever?

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the 5th (yes…5th…I know, I tried to forget about “Stranger Tides” too) installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series and once again stars Johnny Depp as the pirate heartthrob of the 2000’s, Captain Jack Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush also reprises his role of Hector Barbossa, and Javier Bardem joins the cast as the evil Captain Salazar.

As far as how much I care about the Pirates franchise: I, like many, saw the first one and to this day it stands as one of my favorite adventure movies. That first time we saw Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swann do their whole thing and we saw the Black Pearl, Port Royal, Tortuga, the curse of the Aztec gold, etc…that movie was nothing short of epic. I remember being pumped for the second one and even though that got super weird with tentacle/fish monsters, I was still really in to it and had hype for the 3rd one! That’s when it got TOO weird for me with all the sea magic, Calypso, the odd Pirate version of the UN they had, etc. Still, I felt like everything got resolved and maybe the 3rd one was just hard to stick the landing, so I was fine with it. Then they made a fourth…which I couldn’t even sit through without groaning. I wasn’t really going out of my mind to see this fifth one, but I figured “hey, Orlando Bloom is back as Will Turner, Javier Bardem as the villain, and Kaya Scodelario is gorgeous, so why not?”

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While I don’t think that anyone took a really hard “L” for making “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, at the same time I can’t say that this movie is…well…that good. Maybe I missed something, but lets get into details to explain myself.

First off, this is a really pretty movie. The effects are cool, the shots of the sea and sailing ships are pretty satisfying, and the animation for Javier Bardem’s character works pretty well. As much as I love Bardem’s acting, I will say that he becomes somewhat comical in this…like he’s about to drop a deuce every time he says “Jack Sparrow”. He has his moments where you see “classic Javier Bardem”, but this definitely isn’t a performance I would remember over “Skyfall”. The two newcomers that fill the trope of “we’re young and pretty and we’re not pirates but we need pirates for this thing” actually shine and their characters, Henry and Carina, get their own arcs that don’t deviate too far away from the main story…which brings me to my main point.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is an unwatchable movie, but there is nothing spectacular or unique about the story, writing, or directing. The storyline is really simple to follow, nothing seems consequential or urgent at all, and the direction is aggressively mediocre. I’m glad they’re not doing the typical pirates thing where every character has to double-cross everyone else a billion times, but regardless it just felt like nothing was fully fleshed out. Despite being on the shorter end for runtime nowadays, the movie felt long and really dragged until the last half of the 3rd act.

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There are two sequences I really liked in this. The one I can’t really talk about is the last 20 minutes, because that was where all the fun was and there’s a treat at the end for fans of this franchise. The ending we got in “Dead Men Tell No Tales” was the ending to the Pirates series that we deserved, and it was really oddly satisfying (probably because I felt nostalgic).

The other sequence I enjoyed was the flashback where a young (cgi) Jack Sparrow outsmarts and defeats Captain Salazar, because it reminded me of the kind of Pirates movie I would enjoy. It was a fun little battle between two ships, the pirates seemed ready to be conquered, Jack shows his famous wit, and there was no insane ocean-magic that took me out of it. But even with this enjoyable scene, they dug a massive plot-hole (which I’m surprised I actually remembered) and it made me a little disappointed.

In the flashback scene, Jack inherits his special compass from the previous captain (now killed by Salazar). We find out that should Jack ever part from this compass, Salazar’s crazy undead army will rise and rule the seas. That’s fine and all…but remember “Dead Man’s Chest” and Tia Dalma? In the first act of that particular movie, Tia Dalma asks Jack why the compass he bartered from her can’t lead him to the dead man’s chest. So Jack inheriting the compass from his old captain doesn’t match up with him trading for it, and it kinda poops on the Pirate lore we loved from the first three.

Speaking of Jack, he might be my biggest disappointment for this movie. Not only does he seem kind of unnecessary for the story in general, but Johnny Depp here is almost a parody of himself. This movie is Henry and Carina’s story, with Barbossa as a supporting character, and Jack as a drunk plot-device so that there could be a villain. They do mention that Jack is supposed to be washed-up…but dear lord this just didn’t even feel like him anymore. There is no charm or wit to go along with this Jack Sparrow, there is only stupidity and “ha ha, look at what Jack is doing now! Silly Jack, stop putting our lives in danger!”

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Again, I didn’t hate “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, because I do like the Pirates movies and I liked some choices that were made (which I couldn’t really disclose because of spoilers). However, I think this should be it. There were some good swan-songs, the crew fought the THIRD undead army of its series, people got some closure…and I think this is the best place to end it. Obviously the only way to guarantee that it will end is if people stop seeing it (currently projected to do just under its goal of an $80 million opening weekend), but as far as being a series of movies go..probably a good place to quit while you’re slightly ahead.

Edit: oh wait, they aren’t stopping…because there’s an after-credit scene setting something up.

I’m recommending “Dead Men Tell No Tales” to anyone who liked the first 3 Pirates movies and cares enough to see some cool callbacks to those. As for being a movie on its own, I’m giving the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean a 6/10.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Movie Review

I’m Mary Poppins, Y’all!

[THERE WILL BE NO MAJOR PLOT DETAILS SPOILED IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS ALREADY IN THE TRAILERS]

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is the sequel to 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the 15th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It features the infamous bunch of jackasses in a very different situation than the last time we saw them. After saving Xandar from Ronan the Accuser and establishing themselves as a rag-tag team for hire, we end up learning a lot about where each of our Guardians are coming from and what they’ve dealt with beforehand. Specifically, Star Lord gets to finally meet his father and discover more about himself and what makes him special (aside from the fact that he’s Chris Pratt).

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Since I saw this movie on the red carpet in the middle of April, I’ve been thinking about this one and seeing other reactions/reviews for a while now. If you have been seeing other reactions too you might be aware that things are kind of mixed, although generally positive. What I mean is that some are saying they liked it more than the first/didn’t enjoy it as much, thought it was forced/thought it was hilarious, etc.

As for where I stand, I personally enjoyed this one more than the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” because writer/director James Gunn appealed to my love of character study and made a very thematically consistent movie. I will say that I thought the first one was a little funnier, but that doesn’t mean the jokes didn’t land for me on this one. I genuinely loved this movie…so lets get in to details!

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This movie is ALL about its characters, as all of our Guardians get a bit of an arc and some depth with each other/their backgrounds. I would say Drax was a little underdeveloped, but he more than makes up for it by stealing the show whenever he’s on screen and interacting with another Guardian, specifically Star Lord. Seriously, Dave Bautista delivers even more than he did last time and I can see him walking away as the favorite for many moviegoers…just below Baby Groot, that is. Unfortunately, talking about the development with Star Lord and his Dad would be giving away a ton so I can’t say much about it. What honestly surprised me wasn’t even the father-son relationship, it was what we get between the sisters: Gamora and Nebula. Not only is Nebula more important in this and the two actually act like feuding sisters, but we get some juicy insight to their upbringing and we find out that Thanos is…well…kind of messed up. Sure, those familiar with Marvel before the MCU already knew that, but hearing about some specifics and not having Thanos appear in the movie at all really worked in terms of establishing him for later. It somewhat reminded me of the “Godzilla” thing where you hear/see the gruesome things he can do without actually seeing him in action until much later, which i’m not usually a fan of…but in this case it was a good little detail since this guy is supposed to be this “Mad Titan” and we’ve seen him do literally nothing but sit in a chair and pick up a glove.

Something that totally came out of a left field for me was how much time the movie spends on Yondu Udonta (the blue guy who whistles from the last movie…for those who forgot). Yondu is HUGE in this movie as a character, and surprisingly makes quite a fun pair with Rocket. Michael Rooker absolutely kills it as Yondu and it was very pleasant to see him on screen. The focus on him actually helps the audience understand some of our other characters better, and I hope making Yondu more important gets better reception from audiences than the whole “Hawkeye is suddenly a big deal” thing in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.

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My other huge reason for liking this movie a lot was because you can tell exactly what vision Gunn had in mind while writing the script. I mentioned earlier that this is thematically very strong, and the theme that Gunn keeps throughout the movie is a simple, yet important, one: Family. As cliche as it sounds, the Guardians go from being “a bunch of Jackasses” to being a real family (insert Fate of the Furious joke here) by the end of the movie. Before the movie played at the red carpet premier, Gunn specifically mentioned that he made this for his parents and that he loves them, and that really showed throughout his work…and isn’t expressing something important to you the point of creating? The fact that he was able to make that come across so well in a comic book movie only helps fans like me justify that comic movies aren’t simply shallow, formulaic popcorn-flicks.

Despite how much I loved Gunn’s direction here, I do have some negatives. Pacing issues were a little prevalent in the first and second acts. The Sovereign (the gold people in the trailers you see) might be the most bland MCU-villainous-henchmen army I’ve seen..maybe even more one-dimensional than Ultron’s robot clones. I get that they’re going to be more important later, but some of my least favorite parts of the movie were when they were on screen. Additionally, subtlety isn’t really a strong suit in the script. If the last comic book movie you saw was “Logan”, it’ll definitely feel weird being hit over the head with subtext rather than figuring it out for yourself. The soundtrack is good, but isn’t as “iconic” as the previous movie for me (my friends still break out into “Hooked on a Feeling” on road-trips)…then again, I listen to drugged-up-RnB so I might not be the best person to ask on that one. This last one is a personal complaint (because he’s kinda my hero and we share the same birthday and same height) but Stallone is very sparingly used in the movie, do not go in expecting him to interact with any other protagonists/antagonists much. Still more screen time than Jared Leto’s Joker, though.

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Lastly, thought I’d rip this band-aid off quickly: Yes, there are 5 post-credit scenes. No, none of them have anything to do with Infinity War, Spiderman, Thor, Black Panther, etc. They’re all confined to things relating to the Guardians, and there’s no set-up for any future MCU titles except the likely “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3″…and even the set-up for that isn’t too obvious. These are just fun things to see after the movie and nothing more (the one with Groot had me laughing uncontrollably, so stick around for that).

To wrap this up, I really enjoyed seeing the Guardians have a stronger foundation and some solid growth. Thinking about it long term, making them more “human” and solidifying their friendship will definitely be interesting once they meet the Avengers, who are super divided right now, next year to take on Thanos. Gunn has done it again for me, taking this incredibly obscure group of D-list superheroes that maybe 0.5 in 10 people knew about beforehand…and making them awesome, hilarious, and relatable.

I’m giving “Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2” an initial Soggz Blogs rating of 9/10.

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