My buddy Mark Simon, who does storyboards for The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and a bunch of other cool shows, put together this animatic of the opening sequence for my TV pilot adaptation of The Villain’s Sidekick. I think it’s kinda fun.
Dr. Atlas’ World’s Only Solid Light Rodeo Circus and Wet Methane Carnival was a hybrid of wild west show and science fair. Atlas, a charismatic, vibrant octogenarian, had lived and worked on the cutting edge of designer science for over half of the century. Once Dean of the College of Sciences at a large, state-run University in the Southwest, the good Dr. was hounded out of the institution and into a decade of exile when a secret, privately funded experiment he was conducting on the academic premises was discovered by prying, paranoid, unimaginative campus liberals, who brought it to the attention of the University Board, who informed the mayor, who went to the Governor, who contacted the FBI, who, as it happened, had a vested interest in busting Atlas, and in keeping the whole matter out of the public consciousness.
Atlas was able to spirit away the subjects of his research, his charges, his children, and to escape himself, along with most of his team, thanks to a healthy personal and chemical relationship with key members of the true American underground, the secret class of revolutionaries, resistors, defiers, defilers, soldiers in the war on oppression and ignorance, the ongoing struggle for the means of production and control.
The babies went to orphanages, foster homes, private care facilities established and operated by the dedicated members of the Movement. Atlas travelled the low road, a circle as elliptical, and often convergent with, that of the fugitive Yippie, Abbie Hoffman. The two even struck up a friendship, Atlas picking up where Leary left off as a guru and guide through the dualistic realm of the spiritual sciences; Hoffman provoking Atlas to new levels of understanding as to the insidious, body-and-soul-mangling reality oozing wetly through the ripped and bulging seams of capitalism’s plastic veneer. Atlas finally and formally politicized, a champion of equality, justice, and self-determination for every living being. Hoffman, and indirectly Kesey, inspired Atlas to create his carnival, a free-roving, year-round source of entertainment and edification for the Great Unwashed Masses. He also felt obligated to acknowledge his inspirational debt to Walt Disney, Spanky and Our Gang (“Let’s put on a show!”), and PT Barnum. Ten years below street level had garnered a lot of contacts, an entire invisible community of lifelong friends, extended family, fellow travelers with the knowledge and skill and spirit to aid in his offshoot of the struggle. Technicians, performers, inventors, designers, builders, promoters, producers, day laborers, ticket-takers, hand-stampers, devoted fans and followers. All his as if for the asking, all because he had a contribution that they all found worthwhile enough to sacrifice for, as long as they felt they were getting a return on their investment, if only a sulfurous flash of matchstick enlightenment.
With a Disneyesque entrepreneurial spirit and an Einsteinian level of genius, Atlas brought his fellow citizens of the world into a reality of his own creation. While many of the inventions and technological advances displayed at the Carnival over the years had practical applications, many in use worldwide as a result of his efforts, nothing gave greater satisfaction to the Dr. than to bring delight, fear, wonder, and awe to the faces of young, old, and undetermined. And oftentimes for free. One stint per year at a strategic time and place could earn enough to keep the show going for the other 51 weeks, depending on weather conditions and the sometimes lingering doldrums of the slow season.
This year’s marathon moneyfest was being held at Govt. Site #11.7b, which had once been the city of Detroit. On the eve of the thirtieth anniversary of the catastrophe which had decimated that town, Atlas and his merrily determined crew were driving stakes, raising tents, setting up camp for a week-long run in the Motor City Crater, as the location was popularly known. Advertised as the Armageddon Follies: Old-fashioned Spellbindin’ at Newfangled Prices, or Gimme Dat No-time Religion. The name led to Atlas’ first post-exile legal entanglement when a letter arrived from a man on the West Coast who called himself Leland deMand and claimed to be putting on a three-day musical slugfest that he was billing as the Armageddon Follies. Atlas was indifferent to a lawsuit, but Farley Weege knew of deMand, a son-of-a-bitch LA bigsnot, he said, who probably stole the name from them but would sue them down to sawdust if they didn’t let it go. Weege suggested renaming the show the EndTimes ReVu, and Atlas liked that, thought it sounded like a radical newspaper. Both men thought that would be the last word from Leland deMand, that their selfless consent would leave the sue-happy crew boss of corprock wannababies with nothing to do but stamp his feet like Rumpelstiltskin until he was forever wedged and enraged in the wings of some outdoor ampitheater built astride a high-stress faultline. They had misjudged the competition.
deMand showed up on Thursday afternoon, his vintage ‘Nam-era Bell Huey rising as if from the urban rubble and swooping pterodactylly down to the crusty craterbed. Bodyguards preceded him, steroid-pumped, coke-fueled, twitchy motions of weaponry and personal field phones, constant contact, brains abuzz with hive mentality, data feed readouts to and from the core consciousness to whom they answered instinctively. Catch one alone, all it can do is sting in defense and flee in terror.
Perimeter scans, radiation-level readings, X-ray specscan of all Carnival personnel in immediate vicinity. An all-clear finally signalled and deMand descended with the jaunty ‘life’s so cool and so am I’ spring-step of someone used to being constantly on, on the air, onstage, on-camera, out there in the limelit glare and vacant gaze of the public eye, taking all the credit for what went on behind the scenes, just so everyone knew that their cultural heroes, pop icons, didn’t get there by themselves, were in fact more product, an important but not essential aspect of all he was responsible for creating.
“If you ever so much as catch me in a pair of shades like his, don’t even check for a pulse. Just gut me and stuff me.”
“On me honor, Doc,” Weege replied in his rolling brogue.
“Gentlemen,” was the first lie to come motoring out of his mouth as deMand extended one professionally-manicured and recently palm-read hand.
Atlas responded with a reticent, lackadaisical handshake, and Leland deMand got down to business. Is there someplace we can talk.”
“This isn’t a place?” Atlas jibed him, gesturing at the ashen landscape.
“Truth to tell, I am in a hurry. But I wouldn’t say no to a drink.”
“Spring water okay?”
deMand sighed slightly, response otherwise inscrutable behind mirrored wraparounds.
“Won’t you join me in my tent?”
“If you’re here to serve suit, I think you’re going to be sorely disappointed when you get a peek at our tender boxes.”
“Don’t fuck with my illusions, Atlas. You’re ass-deep in gold, huckster. But I didn’t come here to pose legal threats. I mean, you don’t send a man to do a lawyer’s job, right?” guffawing at his own cheap shot.
“I suppose. Then, at risk of seeming abrupt, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
deMand went from uproarious to no-nonsense in .o6 flat.
“I’m asking you to vacate the premises.”
“For the Armageddon Follies.”
Atlas was furious. “It’s not enough you take our name, now you want our venue?”
“Chill, Doc. I’m in the middle of a presentation. Let me finish.”
A long draw of the Spring water did nothing to cool Atlas’ rage. deMand lit a Castro and continued his spiel.
“Yes, I am forced to find a new location for my extravaganza. Maybe you heard something about that little incident of civil unrest in my hometown? They blew up my stadium. And yes, I did consider grabbing this scene of unnatural wonder out from under you, just because I could, and I’ve trademarked my name by undercutting the competition.”
“Backstabbing, more like.”
“Uh-uh. Backstabbing I reserve for family and close friends. Which I like to think we will be.”
“I find it rather unlikely.”
“You’re in a really negative space, Doc. Please don’t take me there.”
“You’re scum, deMand. Pitiful, wretched, carcinogenic spawn of all the tragic, ruined masses have been trained to hold dear. Everything I despise processed, battered and fat-fried into one ugly little McNugget.”
“True enough, and you’re a semi-reformed fascist turned bleeding-heart philanthropist and New Age Mr. Wizard to make amends for all those years spent helping manufacture A-bombs and other war toys.”
“You’ve done your homework, Mr. deMand. So you see, we don’t have too much in common.”
“Au contraire, mon frere. We’re entrepreneurs, entertainment enthusiasts, and regardless of differences in method or motive, we both know that the only way to keep the show afloat is to turn a tidy profit every now and again.”
“Am I to assume, then, that I am about to recieve a proposal?”
“I hope you don’t expect me to get down on my knees.”
“The point is all I require.”
“Alright. How can I put this? I got a thing, you got a thing, everybody’s got a thing, right? It’s all showiz, to a certain extent, whether you’re putting on Woodstock 4 or just putting the moves on some babe. You gotta give em some of that razmadazzle, the ring-a-ding and bod-a-bing-bod-a-boom wham-bam thank-you-very much for coming goodnight Houston! kind of thing. You know what I’m saying?”
“Sure you do. I’m talking about butts in seats and smiles on faces, I’m talking about what you love most in the world. Making the people happy.”
“Actually, I prefer making them think.”
“I hear you, baby. That’s great, that’s noble. I could use that kind of balance in my organization.”
“You could have your people fitted for souls.”
“You’re a funny man, Doc, and I love to laugh.”
“Are you trying to…hire me?” Atlas shuddered.
“Oh no, Dr., I would never insult you in such a fashion. I am actually interested in more of a partnership. I had this brainstorm, you see, when I was considering aquiring your property lease. Why should the two biggest events of the summer be at odds with one another? Why not team-up? Why not combine our two events and really give em a show. The kind of thing they’ll be flocking from all over the globe, hell, they’ll be streaming in from other planets to check out this action. What say, huh? I can see it now: deMand Product in Conjunction with Dr. Atlas World’s Only Solid Wet Rodeo and Whatall Present THE ARMAGEDDON FOLLIES!!! How about that?”
“Forgive my shortsightedness, Mr. deMand, but I fail to recognize the potential benefits of this…partnership, as it pertains to my own enterprise.”
“Audience, Doc. You want to teach people, I can bring in students. Young, hip, deemed unteachable. But you could reach em, Doc. And believe me, if anyone in this world could use some schooling, it’s these rocknroll kids. Not to knock em, I love these kids, my bread and butter.”
“Do I detect intimations of altruism in your snake‑oil scheme?”
“You’re reading me like a press kit, Doc. It’s like we’re synched up or something. Like this was meant to be.”
“Yes. Perhaps.” Sardonic and wry.
“Are you with me, Doc? Are you in?”
“I don’t understand…”
“The location change. We’re already here. Why can’t you just bring your act here?”
“Well, I’ve given this a lot of thought, Doc, and let’s face it, the Crater’s a dead scene, totally last year. There’s a much hotter venue for our gig, perfect for a concept like the Follies.”
“And where might this be?”
“The Belt, baby. Where else?”
“The Safety Belt.”
“The whole region is off‑limits. Verboten. I hear they’re shooting people on sight. And I doubt seriously the govt.’s going to lift its ban and tear down the barbwire so that you and I can put on a show.”
“Who’s asking? That’s the beauty of it. Two outlaw venture capitalists stage a wild west voodoo millennial extravaganza in the most sought‑after getaway spot this side of the sun, you get fat, I get fatter, and you don’t even have to compromise your precious underground populist credibility.”
“Who’ve you got?”
“Are you kidding me? Fucking with me? What? This roster defies comprehension, and all laws of industry physics. I got Sham Rage. I got Godlips. The Liver Spots. Lungbutter. Shark. Bob Dillo. Kneel Jung. I got fuckin Motorcade. The list goes on. And that’s just the musical groups. This thing’s maximultimedia, full sensory meltdown. I even tried to cop some of your weird science vibe, went and did what no other major promoter has yet succeeded in doing, signed fucking Coathanger Med School. Y’know, that industrial art‑freak anarchist lo‑tech fx crew? Whatever they do, it’s wild, and I tell you, these kids, they fucking eat…What’s up, Doc?”
Atlas had gone glassy and slack somewhere around the mention of CMS, and remained so, staring at nothing, until Leland couldn’t take it anymore.
“You with me, Doc?”
“I’m in, deMand.”
Without another pause, Leland pressed a tiny button on his left cufflink, spoke into it hastily.
“Umploon, bring me the contracts.”
Happy May Day, people! In honor of the occasion, why not go and get yourself a copy of The Good Fight 4: Homefront and check out Love Vigilantes, my latest addition to the ongoing saga of Duke “HandCannon” LaRue. This one’s the wild, raucous tale of his whirlwind romance, railgun wedding, domestic disasters, and unfathomable fallout with the love of his life and one-time partner-in-crime Liza Fate. Lots of other great tales of superheroic domesticity between these covers (be they paperback or digital). If you prefer, you can always hold out for a hard copy from me, once I’ve got my order in. Thank you for your continued patronage. Both of you!
Chris Herron at Tall Tale TV has done an audio version of my HandCannon short story, “Last Dance.” Chris himself has a great personal story, having turned on to audiobooks when he was suffering from temporary legal blindness in 2015. He’s since recovered, but launched this project both as a way to give back to folks who can’t experience stories the traditional way, and to give authors like me a promotional boost without having to shell out for the expense of creating an audiobook on our own. I think he’s done a terrific job and his project deserves more eyeballs and earholes, so how about you give this, and other Tall Tale TV stories, a listen?
Back in the 1990s, when I was a flat-dwelling San Francisco Gen X slacktivist too busy falling in futile love with lesbians and smoking speed out of broken lightbulbs to do something as mundane as, ugh, watch TV, there was a live action series inspired by the X-Men comics I’d loved as a kid. Apparently, it looked something like this…
It’s as if they managed to capture the essence of everything questionable, wrong-headed and lame about the decade and distill it into a single syndicated television program. (Hopefully they later jettisoned it into the far reaches of space.) Granted, I also thought I was too cool for comics at the time, but even if I hadn’t been, I doubt I’d have been slavering at the mouth for a weekly taste of whatever this is pictured here to satisfy my cravings for supertainment.
Four years later Bryan Singer’s X-Men would arrive and upend everything about the moribund live action superhero film that the ’90s Bat-franchise had so successfully driven to the edge of its grave.
That’s a massive leap forward in less than half a decade, but it made a promise that the the 2ks would be lot more interesting for mutant-lovers and comics geeks, and it re-inspired my appreciation for those old funnybooks by using the Claremont/Byrne era I read and loved as a touchstone.
But countless superhero franchise flicks later, and after the dull thud of Age of Apocalypse, you might forgive me for summoning images of Generation X‘s ’90s-era awfulness when I heard that FX was going to do a live-action X-Men show based on an obscure character (to me, at least) from the ’80s New Mutants books (I never read those).
Of course, I had a glimmer of interest when I heard that Noah Hawley was going to be the guiding force behind it, not least because I’d had such a similar reaction when I first heard that someone was going to make a TV version of the Coen brothers classic film Fargo. After all, someone had already tried that idea years earlier, too, and it did not meet with what you might call success.
But Hawley somehow managed to nail the language and storytelling rhythms of the Coens so well, I was convinced they had a heavy creative hand in the whole endeavor, only to learn later that beyond their exec producer credits they had next to none.
So I had confidence Hawley would at least do something noteworthy with his little slice of the X-franchise. And the casting of Dan Stevens (so great as a kind of sociopathic Steve Rogers in the underseen thriller gem The Guest ), Aubrey Plaza (an out-of-nowhere sensation from Parks & Recreation who really needed to prove that she could do something more than drip dry slacker sarcasm over any and all proceedings), and Jemaine Clement (who’d already busted out of his Flight of the Conchords comedy-music box by tearing it up as a sexy vampire in What We Do in the Shadows) seemed reasonably intriguing, if not outright inspired. So yeah, I figured I’d give it a look. Maybe Hawley would give me something to look forward to on Wednesday nights since I’d abandoned Arrow. Boy, was I underestimating that mad fuckin’ genius.
The pilot for his Legion announced its intentions pretty much from the first scene, introducing the viewer to a bugfuck puzzlebox where it was hard to tell what year, decade or mental facility we were in, or whether we were ever in reality at all. I had to watch the whole thing twice just to try and decide for myself what was happening in 3D reality and what was going on exclusively in the confines of David Haller’s (Stevens) mind. Happily, as art-rocked as the episode was, there were definitive answers to those questions, and David even expressly asked, “Is this real? This is real, right?” at the appropriate moment. And the response he received was not a narrative cheat, but a direct testament to both character and viewer. Basically Hawley saying, “Yes, we’re fucking with you, but no, we’re not.” After that rewatch, I knew that this pretty, occasionally Lynchian multimedia indulgence, with its spot-on music choices and psychodelicate visuals was actually going to tell me a story, and wasn’t just yanking my chain for the sake of getting away with high weirdness on the TV (though that was a pleasant side effect).
I knew it wouldn’t be a show for everybody, but I knew most of my comics-reading friends would love the shit out of it, and even better, it was one I could happily recommend to certain non-comics friends who were more literate in things like Kubrick, David Lynch, David Bowie, and other things arty, entertaining, offbeat and good.
Much like in Logan, Hawley’s show thrives on solid writing, spinning out character beats and scenes about human connection that almost make you forget you’re watching a sci-fi suspense series based on a comic book. And the mutants they’ve contrived for this corner of the X-verse are unique and metaphorical in ways that tend to serve both story and theme. Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller, a full-bodied, full-blooded star in the making forged in the fires of Fargo, and that character name is no accident, Pink Floyd fans) can’t touch anyone lest they switch bodies/identities. So of course she and David have to fall in love. Cary/Kerry Loudermilk (the always-amazing Bill Irwin whose film career stretches back to Robert Altman’s superweird Popeye movie) is a middle-aged man with a kind of parasitic female twin (Amber Midthunder, a lovely young actress with sixteen years of work behind her already and the best surname I’ve ever heard in my life) who can leave his body at will, but generally doesn’t like to, so has aged much slower than him. She’s also kind of a badass. Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris, who can wear the hell out of some clothes) can enter people’s memories, which proves really useful in parsing out what’s going on in David’s brain (the central question being, is he schizophrenic, or a superpowerful mutant that can rewrite the world?). Ptonomy also has an awesome Thompson machine gun.
As much as I’d love to write an episode-by-episode breakdown of why this is the greatest thing to come out of the Farnsworth box and enter the center of my brain like one of Brian O’Blivion’s Videodrome tumors, I know we live in an age where even the most voracious of readers are devolving to have the attention spans of sugar-stimulated gnats, so I’ll try to just brushstroke its greatness in a few more hyperbolic paragraphs of praise.
Back in 2012, X-Men: First Class Screenwriter Zack Stentz tweeted:
“My goal in life is to get “Oh! You Pretty Things” into an X-Men movie. I think I’ve got a good shot at succeeding.”
See their faces in golden rays
Don’t kid yourself they belong to you
They’re the start of a coming race
The earth is a bitch
We’ve finished our news
Homo Sapiens have outgrown their use
All the strangers came today
And it looks as though they’re here to stayOh you Pretty Things
Don’t you know you’re driving your
Mamas and Papas insane
Oh you Pretty Things
Don’t you know you’re driving your
Mamas and Papas insane
Let me make it plain
You gotta make way for the Homo Superior
BAM! A beautiful cover, an expressionistic montage, a pointed use of this terrific song at an integral moment in the show. And that’s just one of the many examples of Hawley’s brilliant use of music to augment and underscore his high-art pop confection, which honestly has a David Bowie feeling all over it, from production design to wardrobe selection to just a general vibe. But back to the music: Pink Floyd’s “Breathe (In the Air)/On the Run” scores a crucial moment in the season finale, and they are another musical force whose artistic identity infuses the show. As musical acts, Floyd and Bowie didn’t shy from scifi concepts; rather they fully embraced them, and they’ve obviously had a profound influence on Hawley’s approach to the genre, to which I can fully relate. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did something similar in a recent episode with the Moody Blues “Have You Heard?” and it was terrific. Likewise Winter Soldier’s use of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” in its closing montage. I just wish more of these comic book shows and films would engage with deep-cut pop culture in this way (and not the wall-to-hall first-flapjack-off-the-griddle song selection of Suicide Squad).
The show doesn’t look like anything else, doesn’t cut together like anything else, says fuck-you to the idea of “where is this?” or “when are we?” It’s overloaded with style, and some might bristle at that, but it’s style worn comfortably over intriguing substance. It’s not afraid to be sentimental, hilarious, terrifying, outrageous, disturbed, distracting, profound and irrelevant, always in the same episode, often in the same moment.
In the early going, I thought Hawley was perhaps just using the Fox/Marvel franchise as a stepping-off point to indulge some weird experimental boundary-pushing televised mindscrew that would have very little relevance to or reverence for the source material. But while it definitely feels like he’s getting away with something, there’s no way that giant synergy machine would ever let him get away with all of that. So for those looking for a fullblown high concept comic booky genre show, it’s definitely there. In spades. With inscrutable government agents and spooky organizations and demonic presences and superpowered showdowns and carnage galore. For those who might watch the first one or two and think, Where is this going? It’s going nowhere, right? like it’s Lost all over again, you needn’t worry. Just as with Fargo, there’s nary an i un-dotted or a t uncrossed in the tightly plotted, flab-free eight episode arc. Why more shows don’t keep things to this manageable number is beyond me (I’m looking at you Netflix/Marvel).
Needless to say after all that emotive gushing, this is not Generation X’s Generation X. It’s post-millennial post-modern high art for lowbrow lovers of pop wonderment. If I ever get a chance to turn The Villain’s Sidekick into a TV series I’d want to do something as tight and well-defined and satisfyingly one-and-done as Hawley’s done with this flagship season. It’s like he’s taken the best lessons of indie film, art school, mini-series, his record collection and serialized soap operatic funnybook storytelling and put it in one of those blenders people pay a thousand bucks for because it can even make hot soup.
Go taste the perfection.
March 21st! That’s tomorrow! And by the time some of you read this it’ll be today, or yesterday, or sometime last year when you’ll really wish you’d known about it before all the shit went down. It’s bound to be a wildly entertaining anthology with something for everybody who likes superheroes, funnybooks, movies based on funnybooks about superheroes, TV shows spun off from movies based on funnybooks, or just enjoys slowing their roll long enough in this era of endless infotainment deluge to read crazy genre stuff on the printed and/or digital page.
A couple years back, I went Googling for ways to connect with other writers scribbling away in the strange little subgenre of superpowered fiction and came across The Pen and Cape Society, a consortium of like-minded scribes all aiming for the same thing–to shed a little more light and legitimacy on the stuff we love to create. They’re an invite-only group, so I kinda forced myself on them, hoping it would help me reach a wider audience and give me a chance to commiserate with my own kind. They were generous enough to deem me worthy, and now, with the imminent publication of the third Good Fight anthology I feel like I’m finally a full-fledged member.
I haven’t read any of the other stories in this collection as yet, but I have read the first two volumes and they are terrific. I can’t imagine this one being a big step down in quality or anything. As for my fans, both of you should be thrilled to know that I’ve written yet another long-ish short prequel to The Villain’s Sidekick, called The Henchman’s Apprentice. So if you ever wondered what HandCannon’s first real bad-guy job was like, how he adapted to his machine gun arm and other accoutrements, what kind of tacos he likes, his taste in drugs, and how his first kill went down, this is the place to read about it.
The official release date is March 21st, but The Good Fight, Vol. 3: Sidekicks is available for pre-order right freakin’ now.
I was going to title this “Holy Fucking Shit! I Just Saw ‘Logan’!” or words to that effect.
But I went a different way.
“Elegaic” is not a word I ever thought I’d be using to describe a movie set in the 20th Century Fox take on the X-Men Universe. I remember sitting in a theater seventeen years ago thinking, “Wow, that’s a better X-Men movie than I ever thought I’d get to see in my lifetime. And that Hugh Jackman guy’s a pretty okay Wolverine. He’s not the ‘Jack Nicholson circa The Shining version of Logan I dreamed of when I read these funny books in the early ’80s, but he’ll do.” I figured he’d do his three movies and be done, y’know?
A lot has happened in the intervening years since the X-Men ushered in the modern era of superhero filmmaking, for better and for worse, in my life and theirs. Rollercoaster highs and lows, creative swings for the fences and indifferent franchise regurgitations, big money hits and narrative misses. While Disney/Marvel became the fire-breathing synergy dragon, completely upending the idea of what a megafranchise could be, Fox’s X-movies stumbled in and out of the shadows, scrambling not just to keep their licensing rights but to put a creative foot down and do a little territorial pissing of their own. And while Chris Nolan was bringing dour seriousness to Batman to a degree that made it seem like he was slightly embarrassed to be associating with a comic book world, James Mangold was trying to make contemporary Westerns (Copland, 3:10 to Yuma) that felt important, even if they weren’t. But I’ll be damned if he and Jackman haven’t beaten everyone at their own game and made, if not the greatest superhero comic book movie of all time, just a goddamn great movie that happens to be about superpowered people (but is really about aging, mortality and the importance of love and family in giving meaning to a chaotic life). Seriously, Logan makes The Dark Knight look like a Porky’s sequel.
This is Mangold’s Unforgiven meets Children of Men with some No Country for Old Men and Mad Max: Fury Road for good measure, and not just because those films could be counted as influences, but because I left the theater with the same feeling those movies gave me-I just watched a masterpiece. A perfectly controlled piece of smart, propulsive, thoughtful, philosophical, near-perfect storytelling. A movie that was “about something,” while in no way shying away from being a terrific piece of comic book-inspired pop entertainment. A movie drenched in ’70s crime noir and post-modern Western mythology, but also populated with cyborg bounty hunters and borderline feral adorable badass murder children.
It’s like Alexander Graham Bell never existed in whatever perfect dimension this movie got made in, so no one could phone anything in. The script, first and foremost, is just fantastic. Every line actually means something. It’s all there for a reason. This is capital F for Fuck Yeah Filmmaking where it all matters to everyone involved and they’re taking it seriously because they love it and themselves and you.
The dialogue is great, and not only that, it never feels like it’s just there because that’s what a scriptwriting formula says you have to put in between the big action set pieces. In fact, sometimes it feels like the big action set pieces are just kinda there to sew together all the important scenes of people talking, revealing, misunderstanding and bonding, while they contemplate their histories and sort out their existential dread. And in case you miss my meaning, those action set pieces are INCREDIBLE, and as crucial to the story as anything else that happens.
And the acting is soooo good. Patrick Stewart should be up for some of those awards-type things (he won’t, because we all live in the Darkest Timeline). The young actress who plays X23, Dafne Keen, is a fuckin’ revelation. If George Lucas had looked this hard for his Anakin we’d still be kissing his ass to make more Star Wars movies. Hell, if Abrams had shown this much love for any of the franchises he inherited and got to play with, we’d want him to own all the sandboxes.
Stephen Merchant kills it so hard as Caliban (a character I never even read a book or story about) that I retroactively wish he’d always been around in the X-movies because I love Caliban so much now. Boyd Holbrook (from Netflix so-so Narcos series) is so great as the bad guy he made me forget Tom Hiddleston’s name for a second. As is Richard E. Grant (from Withnail and I!) as another bad guy who brings so much to a two dimensional character you almost forget you’re supposed to hate him.
And as for Jackman, well, the only other character/actor I can think of that’s been through this kind of narrative ringer–starting strong, getting dragged through some creative mud and raked over some narrative coals–only to finish up on a high note is maybe Stallone as Rocky Balboa in Creed. But he wasn’t even the main protagonist of that movie! Other than that, there’s no one, not Connery or anyone else as James Bond, not even Harrison Ford as Han Solo, who’s been able to take a franchise character to a place like this and against all possible odds leave on a note so high it’s almost painful in its perfection. And over the course of two decades he had to do a lot of just, y’know, showing up and being Wolverine when they asked him to to get to be able to really do one that did and said everything he could with the character.
It’s hard to even wrap my head around the idea that Mangold and Jackman took their inspiration from that piece of shit Mark Millar graphic novel Old Man Logan. This is the realization of the promise that title teased me with, and where Millar shamelessly aped the moves of Eastwood Westerns and layered it with post-apocalypse grotesquerie, these guys throw every genre in the blender and take it for a heady spin.
I could just be swimming in the pink cloud of post-orgasmic movie-joy afterglow, but not only were there little to none of the “third act problems” that plague even some of my favorite movies in this genre (I’ve watched Winter Soldier at least ten times and I’m still not sure why making everything go ‘splodey-‘splodey over downtown D.C. is the best solution there), I’m not sure this movie had problems at all.