Review: Their Finest

Their Finest

Trailer

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Oh what a lovely war

And back into the Blitz we go. After the somewhat underwhelming Allied of last year failed to really get the heart racing with its depiction of wartime London, I was bit more interested in this, a look at British efforts to craft engaging, morale-raising, American enticing films during the Second World War, and all through a sort of dramedy lens. While the director, Lone Scherfig, isn’t a mainstream name (mostly Danish work, then the Oscar nominated An Education, and 2014’s forgettable The Riot Club), she’s a woman directing a World War Two film, a rarity that deserves consideration. Backed by the BBC, she’s gathered an impressive cast too: the continually under-rated Gemma Arterton, rising star Sam Claflin and the ever-great Bill Nighy, along with a host of others in minor roles. So, was Their Finest everything it potentially could be, or another dour trek through the grim surrounds of broken mortar and bland sentiment? I saw an advanced screening of Their Finest during the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

In the darkest hours of the Blitz, Catrin Cole (Arterton) takes a job at the Ministry of Information writing “slop”: women’s dialogue for propaganda films, under the supervision of cynical Tom Buckley (Claflin). The two are soon the driving force behind the Ministry’s most ambitious project yet: a film about civilians rescuing soldiers from Dunkirk, that reluctantly draws in a past-his-prime veteran Ambrose Hilliard (Nighy). While dealing with their own burgeoning relationship, Catrin and Tom must deal with a host of different pressures: the government that wants their film to be a rallying cry to an American audience, Catrin’s struggling artist husband (Jack Huston) and the constant chance that the next bomb is for them.

It’s not rare that I see a film that is trying to be many different things at once, with differing plotlines, themes and messages attempting, and more often than not failing, to have all of the cake and eat it too. But what is rare is a film that does this, and actually pulls it off, for the most part. Their Finest, to my surprise and delight, is one of those rare films, a film about the war, about filmmaking, about women, about death, about getting older, about comedy, and about romance, that manages to pull it all off, mostly. Adapted from the novel by Lissa Evans, Their Finest is a sleeper hit in the making.

In terms of being about the war, and this mostly well-explored little section of it, Their Finest is an engaging success. Scherfig eschews showing any actual fighting on distant fronts, in favour of an almost exclusively civilian focused framing. It would be east for Their Finest to turn into a maudlin, sentimental portrayal of the “Blitz spirit”, but instead we get a film that focuses mostly on the randomness of the violence, where one never knows if the building they are in is going to be rubble in a moment. The bombs go off and people just have to pick up the pieces, literally, in a film of subdued colours and restrictive lighting. The “C’est la guerre” spirit of sexual liberality and gallows humour abounds, in line with awful tragedy: a particularly striking moment sees Catrin start laughing when the bodies she sees after a bombing turn out to be shopfront mannequins, until she happens upon the one real corpse.

In terms of being about film-making, it’s a really fascinating tale. Catrin starts off re-dubbing short films urging the citizens of Britain to grow their own carrots, but soon jumps into The Nancy Starling, a romantic tale about twin sisters who steal their uncles boat to go and rescue a boyfriend and an American journalist at Dunkirk. It’s supposedly based on a true story, but the real sisters broke down halfway there (and there was no American): when the obvious untruth is pointed out, Tom retorts that instead it will be based on 338’000 true stories, making the prescient comment that you should never let “facts get in the way of truth, and truth in the way of a good story”: a phrase that makes one think of more than one current news story.

Catrin is caught up in a game of constant re-writes to accommodate every need: a love story, an American in Dunkirk, a comedically drunk uncle with a serious side, a rescued dog, a British boat that isn’t allowed to breakdown (bad for morale): watching her and Tom jump through the hoops and square the circles is an entertaining movie in itself, helped by the multitude of supporting players, not least Bill Nighy’s magnetic Hilliard, once a legendary screen detective, and now a deadbeat seemingly out of decent roles: when he finds out he’s tapped to play the drunken uncle he despairingly reads the description in an hilariously horrified tone: “A shipwreck of a man; Sixties, looks older!”

But there’s heart aplenty and the creation of a film I sort of wanted to watch: when Catrin transforms Uncle Frank into a tragic figure, who, dying, thinks the male leads are his sons lost in World War One, I actually felt sad for the fictional creation inside a fictional creation, Their Finest capturing how something as rigmarole and straightforward as scriptwriting can conjure up audience emotions from words on a page. Tom gets to the heart of why it is so, commenting that stories with structure narrative and a (usually happy) ending are preferable to the complicatedness of reality. The film isn’t so much a love letter to that era of film-making in the same vein as Hail, Caesar! or La La Land, but is content to showcase both the power and the pitfalls of propaganda in a free society, combined with a lot of laughter and tears. Scherfig delights in shining a light on production details, like matte paintings, windowed backgrounds and basic miniatures, that give you a nice feel of what film-making at the time was like, without ever becoming overly-praising.

In terms of being a film about women, Their Finest also succeeds admirably. It never turns into a soap opera in its portrayal of female characters taking on male jobs, but makes its point briefly and succinctly about how the role of women in wartime isn’t something that could be altered easily once the fighting stopped: as one character puts it, men are worried women “will refuse to go back into our box” after the guns cease firing. The crisis over The Nancy Starling comes down to who will be the hero who saves the day at the end: the reliable British Tommy, the chiselled handsome American, or, as Catrin wants, the twin sisters. The argument flows back and forth, about gender roles in film, in line with the balance of power in the Catrin/Tom relationship. In the end, the power of women in Their Finest is ever present: from making bullets in the opening scene to making movies by the end.

Their Finest Hour and A HalfDirected by Lone Sherfig

Nighy’s Hilliard is a real scene-stealer.

At the heart of all of this is that romance plot between Catrin and Tom, which, if the film has a significant weakpoint, might just be it. It isn’t that the romantic element is unwelcome in the surrounds of this narrative, but it is a little forced, and it is a little by-the-books: until it spectacularly isn’t, in a third act swerve you might not see coming but that is utterly fitting in the kind of story Their Finest is trying to tell. Gemma Arterton has yet to really grasp the kind of role that will elevate her beyond drek like Hansel And Gretel or the beauty-centric stuff that saw her get an extended cameo in Quantum Of Solace. But she can act: Byzantium showed that spectacularly, and she’s done some Shakespeare in her time too. Here, she really imbues Catrin with this aching sense of struggle. She isn’t the kind of feminist icon to make big speeches (the films look called to mind the disappointing Suffragette, but there is a large contrast between the two otherwise), but has a quieter assertiveness to her. Her mission is to make a film both accurate and optimistic, and she’s trying to be ever-optimistic in her private life too, despite the struggles of her distant wounded husband. Trying to be a doting housewife and the feminist forefront, Atherton’s Catrin is torn in two, and she portrays that division with aplomb.

The romance equation is completed by the surprisingly enjoyable Claflin, moving beyond his Hunger Games heartthrob phase and the sickly sweet You Before Me in a charmingly cynical role that displays real maturity, the downbeat but irrepressible Buckley, who struggles with growing feelings for Catrin. It could ruin the feminist leanings the film portrays at times, but Their Finest manages, just about, to make it fit: the romance between Catrin and Buckley is an addendum to the drive for greater female parts to play in society, not a replacement for it.

Nighy’s part deserves some attention all of its own. He gives the film some of its very best humour as the bombastic, arrogant and utterly charming Ambrose Hilliard, still caught thinking he’s the same man who wowed audiences decades previously when he’s becoming just another also-ran. It would be easy for him to just be another comic foil to more serious characters, but Their Finest, in line with a general tone of mixing bleak reality with black comedy, makes him a much more interesting figure, who faces of choice between irrelevancy and evolving himself into something more than just a pompous artist. A striking scene occurs when he is obligated to identify a friend killed in a bombing: his duty done, another air raid starts, and the morgue nurses invite him to stay: “We have plenty of room” they gently offer, to his horror. Hilliard’s story is of getting older in a world where the young are dying at a more frequent rate: it’s effectively tinged with melancholy, but not without some British-style optimism, brought brilliantly to the screen by the ever capable Nighy, not too far-off his Love, Actually turn here, enjoying a nice back-and-forth with Helen McCrory’s Polish agent.

Most importantly, the film is largely about death: how it happens, how we approach it, and how we move beyond it, both its immediate effects and the crippling fear of it. Tom outlines his belief, upon hearing that a college has suffered a loss, that death is never “for anything”, it’s just something that happens, a sentiment that flies in the face of the propaganda message he’s trying to instil onscreen. Their Finest takes that idea and runs with it, George R.R. Martin style, showcasing instances of death and loss as randomly as possible, be it from German bombs or random misfortunes. But where with Martin it frequently comes off as hackneyed and lazy, in the world of Their Finest that of Blitz and of bombs, it fits, and ties in with the general tone of C’est la guerre I discussed earlier.

Gaby Chiappe’s script is a fine one: full of dry British wit mixed with suitable amounts of wartime drama, dramedy in the finest sense. A special treat is Jake Lacy’s enthusiastic but artistically deaf Carl Lundbeck, the American RAF pilot conscripted into being The Nancy Starling’s resident Yank, who delivers his dialogue in run-on sentences while smiling directly at the camera, but there’s also recurring scenes with a dog (both in the film and without), Nighy’s loquacious sneering and Richard E. Grant’s baffled expression as Jeremy Irons’ Minister of War (two brief, but effective, cameos), rambles out Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech in a secret briefing. There’s a warmth amid all the black humour, that exemplifies the reaction of a people under fire.

While Scherfig lacks great panache in her visual direction, Their Finest is still a good-looking production, bridging the gap between humdrum reality with its bombed-out buildings, grey skies and brown offices and the world of film with its sepia tones, soft light and production fakery. Catrin’s reaction to a recent bomb detonation is an inspired sequence, as is her finally taking the time top watch her creation towards the end. It’s interesting to look at how the world of film closer to the event treated Dunkirk, now that we are only a few months away from Christopher Nolan’s modern take on the subject matter (stay tuned): Scherfig maintains her distance from the event in question, satisfied with Devon coastline recreations.

Their Finest has relegated itself to the festival circuit thus far, and apparently will see a wider release soon enough. I don’t know how much of a success I can reasonably expect it to be. But it really does deserve a bigger audience than the kind of numbers festival darlings usually get. It shines a light on an interesting portion of the British World War Two experience, and resonates with effective sub-plots and overall themes. The cast is uniformly great, the script is wonderful and the visual direction does what is required. This should be next step in the ladder of Arterton’s career, a suitable lifting-off point for Claflin and another feather in the cap of Nighy. For Scherfig, it’s something that should give her a lot more mainstream attention, if there’s any justice. Highly recommended.

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Well worth watching.

(All images are copyright of Lionsgate).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Royal Irish Regiment In The 19th Century

We’ve rapidly run out of expressly Irish topics to talk about when it comes to the 19th century, and the next time we turn back to the island of Ireland, we will be on the approach to the twin conflicts of the revolutionary period and the First World War. But in terms of the last two dozen or so entries, one thing we haven’t really touched on is the Irish experience within the British military. As noted here, I’m fairly selective when it comes to the study of the “named” regiments and divisions, because it’s all too easy to get lost in the confusing morass of defunct units, merged units, split battalions, name changes, government reforms and a truly epic succession of colonial wars of different sizes. Before we take a look at the way things stood with the named regiments post 1881, I thought it instructive to take a look at a few examples of what Irish regiments were up in British service, from before and after the end of the Crimean War to the last decades of the 19th century, an approach that will take a great deal less time than if we were going war by war.

Service in the British military still had all of the attractions it previously had, and for a country that suffered so terribly during the famine, the choice to “take the shilling” could be as much a matter of survival as actually engaging in combat on the battlefield. Aside from that, military service offered (somewhat) steady pay, the lure of adventure and, in the case of some, the possibility of social advancement denied in other areas of life. Irish would have joined up to get experience in warfare so they could fight the British for Irish freedom in the future, as much as they would have joined up to expand and solidify the great Empire of Queen Victoria, that took in Canada, large sections of southern Africa, Egypt, India, Australia and New Zealand.

When we last mentioned the Royal Irish Regiment (better known at the time as the 18th Regiment of Foot) they had taken part in the defence of Great Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, though they failed to gain the same renown or merit as entities like the Connacht Rangers. Service in Canada meant they had missed the opportunity to be at Waterloo, and they would have to wait nearly 30 years for the chance to march into battle again, in very different circumstances. That conflict provides a decent example of the kind of conflicts the British military found itself fighting throughout the 19th century.

What we call the “First Opium War” today is a classic instance of British imperial reach and “gunboat diplomacy”: namely how having a strong, modern navy could allow a European power the chance to throw its weight to great effect halfway round the world, in conflicts based around trade and commerce. As the name suggest, the Opium Wars between Britain and China were primarily about the drug trade in and out of China and the Qing Dynasty’s efforts to dispel it by clamping down on commercial trade routes, something the British government decided to overturn by force. In a larger sense, the war was about showing the Chinese who was boss, and inflicting the kind of decisive military defeat that would lead to preferential trade agreements in the future.

The war was mostly fought at the mouths of several of China’s great rivers, most notably the Pearl – the area of Hong Kong and Canton (today Guangzhou) -, the Qiantang and the Yangtze. British fleets roamed the Chinese coasts, attacking enemy ships, bombarding enemy ports and landing troops sailed from British India: among them was the 18th Foot.

The ground combat of the Opium War was what you would mostly expect if you had any passing knowledge of the colonial wars of the 19th century. The British were organised, relatively well-led and armed with the most up-to-date guns, namely rifles, while the Chinese forces they faced were the opposite in most respects, if not lacking in courage, lacking in everything else.

The British regulars, including the Royal Irish Regiment, were engaged in multiple confrontations and assaults. At the Battle of Canton in May 1841 the 18th was placed on the right flank of the force that took the city, pushing through limited resistance from the Qing forces and greater tenacity from armed locals. Three months later they were part of the successful effort to storm the city of Amoy, from which a famous painting of the regiment was made, a standard seaborne assault carried off with few casualties sustained.

From there, the 18th worked its way up the coast with the fleet, helping to take Chauzun and Tzeki, and winning battles at Ningpo, Woosung and, in the last act of the war, Chinkiang. Everywhere they went, the poor-quality defenders were overwhelmed. Of the 19’000 or so British military personnel committed, only 69 would die in combat, while the Chinese were dying in their thousands. The Treaty Of Nanking, that ceded Hong Kong to the British, was the first in a series of diplomatic agreements that radically re-altered the Chinese strategic position after the First Opium War was concluded.

From there the 18th was briefly engaged during the Crimean War, assisting during the brutal Siege of Sevastopol, before its 2nd Battalion was sent back into the service of British colonial pursuits, this time even further afield than China: in the British efforts to grab more and more of New Zealand from the native Maori tribes. In the 1860’s the local colonial government, backed by newly arrived British regulars, was pushing out from the Auckland. The campaign had its difficulties – operating on the forefront of the British Empire, in the rugged terrain of New Zealand’s North Island, meant that supply problems and the slim chances of reinforcement were issues – but eventually the 18th, in line with other regiments, was able to force Maori opposition back, grabbing 12’000 square kilometres of extra land for the British colonial government in New Zealand.

Brief service in the Second Anglo-Afghan War and the Anglo-Egyptian War brought the 18th up to the latter part of the 19th century, and its official name change to that of the Royal Irish Regiment. It’s experience of the 19th century is fairly typical – small campaigns against mostly under-developed opponents, where British technology, leadership and experience all proved key. At no point, save maybe in the Crimea, did the RIR come up against an opponent that truly threatened its existence. There would come a time soon enough though, when British regiments, the Riyal Irish included, would face the maelstrom.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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The Villain Checklist: Distinct

Let’s continue with our look at what makes the best movie villain, and our stroll through the introduction phase of that process.

We’ve talked about the exact circumstances of when an antagonist is introduced to the audience, it’s place in the narrative, the other cast members that share this moment, what this scene is trying to tell the audience about the story or the character. But now let’s take a close look at the actual antagonist in this moment, and how the filmmakers and production team endeavour to get us to notice this pivotal character right from the off. In essence, we will briefly look at the importance of distinction:

“Distinct – The antagonist must be distinct in some way from others, whether it be some physical aspect, or some action in the moment that we meet them, that marks them out as different.”

This is Character Building 101 of course, something that is true for any person of note in any story ever. And it is something that is remarkably hard to mess up, to the extent that this may well be the shortest entry of this planned series. Even the worst villains in movie history had some element of distinction to them, something that made the audience look at this character and understand that they are important to the story being told, that they are above the rank-and-file of the cast at large.

This can be done in a number of ways of course, most notably through some manner of physical distinctiveness, something we can actually see with our eyes immediately. Maybe it’s something as simple as the villain wearing a glaringly contrasting color to the other cast members and set:

intro_vader

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Maybe the antagonist is suitably big and impressive looking, even if the framing of this is designed to cover up other flaws of the character:

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Or maybe it’s just a look in the eyes that actually draws you past other bizarre details of their physical image or deportment:

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Maybe in a film largely populated by kids or teens, their distinction is their age:

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And sometimes it can be something as simple a comical juxtaposition of someone’s sense of self-importance and their actual physical dimensions or gaudiness:

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Either way, they all work to mark the character out, and, if done with an extra bit of skill, they can actually tell us something about the character as well. In the case of Vader for example, we can see immediately that he’s probably the guy in charge considering he’s the sole man in black when everyone else is in white. We can see that Immortan Joe is a man obsessed with appearances to a certain extent, who doesn’t want to betray any weakness to his followers. We can see that the Joker is a bizarre but grotesquely intelligent man. And we can see that Lord Farquad has a bit of a Napoleon complex before he even opens his mouth.

This part of the villain process – as it exists for any major character in any story – is so hard to mess up that I struggle to think of any negative examples that I can use. Often when a villain seems indistinct it can emerge that they aren’t the main antagonist of the story at all: take the example of 2014’s Robocop, where the villain initially appears to be “Antoine Vallon”, the criminal who blows up Joel Kinnaman’s Murphy:

distinct_robocop

He’s a nothing character, both in characterization terms and in distinctiveness, just a hoodlum that the camera happens to focus on a bit more than the other hoodlums. But, as the film progresses, he fades from the narrative, replaced by the real main antagonist, Michael Keaton’s Raymond Sellers who only steps up into proper villainy in the third act.

Similarly, the previously mentioned Dominic Green of Quantum Of Solace fails to really jump out at the audience in his opening scene, looking physically unimpressive and dressed in the same casual clothing as everyone around him, but there isn’t a better villain coming along later in the production to save him.

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Distinction is thus of obvious importance. But it’s far from the only thing, and what I have described here is essentially just that initial hook, that first sight that makes you perk up and understand that the character you are looking at is the antagonist of the story. But what is just as important, or more so, is the early statement that defines the antagonist, and that is what I will discuss next.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Plan Of Campaign And Parnell’s Fall

The “Kilmainham Treaty” had alleviated some of the land crisis in Ireland, but the issue was far from solved. Amid the increasing tension and occasional hysteria that accompanied events like the Phoenix Park Murders and the Dynamite Campaign in Britain, the fractious political situation in Ireland, tied to the ever-present social inequality, meant that the Land War would rumble on well into the 1880’s.

In the aftermath of his release from Kilmainham, Parnell flung himself into the work of making the Irish Home Rule movement the pivotal force in British Parliamentary politics. Transforming previous entities into the IPP, Parnell instituted stricter selection procedures for election candidates, who would be obliged to follow the party line, when required, in Westminster, what we would recognise as a “Whip” system today. By the time of the next election, in 1885, the IPP fielded mostly middle-class Catholic candidates, largely dispelling the large amounts of Protestants that had stood under Isaac Butt’s tenure. Parnell toned down some of his rhetoric in line with agreements previously made, but still maintained a near-radical position on the possibilities for Ireland’s future, giving his famous “Thus far shalt thou go” speech in January of 1885. British politicians toyed with ideas to advance Irish self-government without giving in whole sale to the IPP’s demands: when Gladstone’s government fell in June of that year, Parnell urged Irish voters in Britain to vote against Liberal candidates, knowing that with enough success in Ireland, the IPP could claim the balance of power when Parliament sat again.

That 1885 election was a landmark success for the IPP. Parnell’s party won 86 seats, an increase of 24, mostly at the expense of the Liberals. With Gladstone’s party winning the most seats but failing to secure a majority, that gave Parnell all of the leverage he needed. He initially supported Lord Salisbury’s Conservatives in forming a government, but fell away from this position when decreasing agricultural prices set off more agrarian disturbances in Ireland, that the Conservatives reacted harshly to. In February of 1886, with Parnell’s support, Gladstone’s Liberals were back in power, but at a major price: namely support for Irish Home Rule, a bill for which Gladstone introduced in April. Conservative and Unionist opposition was rallied instantly, with a resumption of the Orange Order’s popularity and the founding of the Irish Unionist Party as a new political entity. The Liberal Party was split on the issue of Home Rule, and this first bill was defeated despite Gladstone’s best efforts. A new election was a disappointment for Gladstone and Parnell, as the loss of an IPP seat and the schism within the Liberals paved the way for a majority Tory government, backed by strong unionist feeling.

It was shortly after this that the agrarian crisis in Ireland really came back to life. 1885 and 1886 had seen some poor weather that left harvest yields reduced, and a general drop in the price of cattle and dairy products resulted in many tenant farmers being unable to pay their rents, even with the 1881 Land Commission reducing many rents by up to 25%. The Irish National League, headed by men like Timothy Healy, Timothy Harrington, William O’Brien and John Dillon, devised the “Plan of Campaign”, which was essentially a collective rent strike in areas where poor harvests were affecting a tenants ability to pay. Until the landlords agreed to reduce rents, the tenant would pay what rent money they had to the INL. The initial campaigns were concentrated in Munster and Connacht, and achieved a large amount of success in reducing rents on smaller farms, but ran into trouble ion larger estates, especially in Ulster. A large scale test case was launched against the Earl of Clanrickarde’s estate near Portumna, County Galway in November, with the intractable earl effusing to budge on the request of thousands of tenants to reduce their rent.

The Conservatives described the Plan of Campaign as a criminal conspiracy, and soon the clashes between tenant and police that had characterized earlier stages in the Land War were occurring again. Parnell was left in a bit of a bind, dedicated to the legislative course and not wanting the quest for Home Rule to flounder amid a sea of agrarian militancy. He was able to convince the INL to limit their activities to land on which the plan had already been implemented, but the undercurrent of schism was already evident.

In 1887, Lord Salisbury’s government appointed his nephew Arthur Balfour as the Chief Secretary of Ireland. Fresh from combating similar problems in Scotland, Balfour was a pro-active administrator determined to put an end to the agrarian unrest, through the use of a new, harsher, Coercion Act, which aimed directly at rent strikes, boycotting and unlawful assemblies. Mass arrests followed, including up to 20 MP’s who had sought to help tenants. The INL was declared illegal and suppressed, and greater powers given to police to enact evictions and break up protestors, frequently through resort to force. At Mitchelstown, County Cork, in September of 1887, a crowd that had assembled to hear William O’Brien and others give anti-Balfour speeches pelted police with stones. The police opened fire in response, killing three people, an event that was soon known as the “Mitchelstown Massacre”, and became a rallying cry for Irish nationalists and the Liberals alike, Gladstone coining the phrase “Remember Mitchelstown!”. Balfour defended his and police actions to Parliament, but soon had gained the unwelcome nickname of “Bloody Balfour”.

Balfour tried more subtle tactics, attempting to get the Vatican involved (they duly published an encyclical that condemned the Campaign, which immediately backfired) and helping with the creation of an anti-tenant syndicate for landlords. Bizarre incidents occurred, such as when a large proportion of Tipperary Town attempted to found a new town nearby in dispute with one of the local landlords. Many looked to Parnell and the IPP for support, and while Parnell was able to organize some financial assistance, he was distracted by the events of the “Parnell Commission”, an 1888-89 investigation into claims that Parnell had been involved with the Phoenix Park Murders.

Parnell was ultimately vindicated by the Commission, with the letters purporting to show his involvement proven to be forgeries. However, the Commission’s remit had expanded to include the general level of violence in Ireland, that IPP MP’s were shown to be more involved in than they cared to admit, justifying, in the Tory governments eyes, the measures that had been taken in Ireland to subdue the violence. With links between the IPP and perceived established, Parnell was on shaky ground.

Even as he prepared for a resumption of the Home Rule battle in Westminister, negotiating with Gladstone in the expectation that the next election would produce a Liberal government that could enact nationalists aspirations, Parnell’s political career was living on borrowed time, not because of his ties to the IRB or the INL, but because of the situation in his personal life. Parnell was engaged in an extra-marital relationship with Catherine “Kitty” O’Shea, wife of William O’Shea, the man who had negotiated the Kilmainham Treaty, and whom Parnell later pushed into being an IPP candidate at a by-election. The O’Shea’s were separated but not divorced: Parnell lived with O’Shea and the two had three children together, and among certain circles of the IPP the situation was even known about. But that didn’t really help when William O’Shea filed for divorce, naming Parnell as a co-respondent. The resulting court case turned the situation into a national scandal, and led to the downfall of Parnell and a decisive drop in the IPP’s power and influence for a time.

Even as the Plan of Campaign kept fighting in certain areas, despite the ever diminishing amounts of funds, Parnell was struggling to keep the IPP together, the party split into pro-and anti-Parnellite factions. Despite being warned by Gladstone that Home Rule was dead in the water if Parnell remained as leader of the IPP, Parnell refused to resign, let alone admit that he had done anything wrong in regards the O’Shea’s, with Parnell marrying Kitty after her divorce was finalized.

The IPP broke into pieces, and Parnell worked himself to exhaustion on the campaign trail of several successive Irish by-elections that his chosen candidates lost: in one, in North Kilkenny, Parnell was supported by Fenians, further ruining his public persona. Parnell hoped that the 1892 general election would restore his fortunes and bring the IPP back together, but he would not live to see it, dying on the 6th October 1891 of pneumonia, contracted after he endured a severe soaking in Creggs, County Galway, where he was giving a public speech. He was only 45.

The scandal diverted a lot of attention from the Campaign, and it slowly petered out over the following few years as the money dried up, with Irish nationalists more concerned with getting the IPP cobbled back together and Home Rule back on the agenda. The Land War entered another quiet phase, but the issues surroundings the question of land and the Catholic underclass would remain a major part of the Irish political landscape for many years to come. Another Land Act in 1902 – ironically introduced by then Prime Minister Arthur Balfour – did much to alleviate the problem, allowing tenant farmers to buy freehold titles to land with affordable government loans.

As for Home Rule, the IPP was able to get it back on the agenda relatively quickly, losing a few seats in the 1892 election but finding themselves again in a position to hold the balance of power between Liberal and Conservative. Backing Gladstone again, the IPP was able to see another Home Rule bill brought into Parliament in 1893, which passed the Commons but was then defeated in the Conservative dominated House of Lords. Home Rule would not be on the Parliamentary agenda again for another 20 years, but it had shown its potential to fuel militancy in Ireland, from both sides of the nationalist/unionist divide.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: The Lego Batman Movie And iBoy

Two shorter reviews for today.

The Lego Batman Movie

Trailer

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Na na na na na na na na na

The Caped Crusader (Will Arnett) is at a loss: despite his universally praised badassery and success at foiling the likes of the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) he still feels an emptiness in his life that not even faithful Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) can fill. When new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) essentially declares Gotham doesn’t need vigilantes, Batman is launched on a quest to prove his worth and stop the Joker again, this time with his newly adopted son, Richard Grayson (Michael Cera), in tow.

If there is one property out there ripe for a good parody, it’s Batman, a superhero who, like no other, has entered into the popular consciousness in the modern age as a grim, serious and altogether humourless character, whether it be Christian Bale, Ben Affleck or David Mazouz. Only in animation has a lighter side of the Bat come out in things like The Brave And The Bold, but it is only with The Lego Batman Movie, a follow-up to the riotously successful Lego Movie of 2014, that we have actually reached the territory of all-out parody, perhaps last traversed properly with Joel Schumacher’s Batman And Robin in 1997.

And a great send-up it is. Lego Batman takes every cast-iron trait of the Dark Knight and plays merry havoc with it: the gargantuan Batcave, the playboy mystique of Bruce Wayne, his effortless defeat of a succession of awful villains (the obscurity of which is nodded to brilliantly as the Joker describes the Condiment King as “worth a Google”), his many toys and that almost infantile sense of self-darkness. And that’s before the film really kicks into gear, becoming as much a love letter to Lego as it is to the Batman mythos.

The creativity on display, from a visual stand-point, is as enthralling as it was a few years ago. As soon as Lego Batman breaks out of the superhero genre and into a general free-for-all of fantastical heroes and villains – not to spoil too much , but a certain flaming eyeball voiced by Jermaine Clement provides a wonderful sideshow to the main action – every frame is filled up with more and more well-constructed creations, that makes Lego Batman less of a CGI affair and more stop-motion.

But the film would be nothing if not for the actual characters and the talent voicing them. Arnett’s takes his well-honed tongue-in-cheek parody of Batman from the Lego Movie and carries on here, and God knows his throat must have been in bits by the time he was through. But it’s the people around him who steal the show more so: Michael Cera’ delightfully enthusiastic Robin, Rosario Dawson’s no-nonsense Batgirl (“Can I call you Batboy then?” she justifiably muses) and Ralph Fiennes all-business butler. Galifianakis is great as the easily wounded Joker, who despairs that Batman denies the depth of their “relationship” and the horde of other VA, voicing every hero and villain that DC van muster up from the depths of their back catalogues, is also putting in a good shift.

While the emotional beats of the story are nothing to get too worked up about, and the humour is off the nod nod wink wink variety tailor made for the nerd community at larger, it still works within those confines, a real homage to creation and to the source material being amply cherry-picked from. Previous versions of the character are easily mocked (Alfred remembers “that time with the parade and the Prince music”) and the conceit of the lonely billionaire playboy too, who spends his nights eating reheated lobster thermidor and playing electric guitar in the Batcave.

It lacks a certain punch, but is still fun, and visually stunning in a manner that builds on the manic energy of The Lego Movie. For that, Lego Batman is a definite recommend.

iBoy

Trailer

i1

Bill Milner and Maisie Williams carry iBoy in several great scenes.

Teenaged Tom (Bill Milner) major worries mostly involve passing his exams, avoiding being jumped in his run-down council estate and his awkward crush on fellow student Lucy (Maisie Williams). But after witnessing a brutal assault on Lucy and receiving an unlikely wound to his head, Tom begins displaying abnormal powers over electronics, that he soon puts to use as a digital vigilante.

Looking at the promotional material for Netflix’ latest original movie, I immediately called to mind Attack The Block, Joe Cornish’s excellent sci-fi adventure set in similar surroundings. But iBoy, despite the rather bad title and young cast, is a decidedly darker tale than Attack The Block in many ways, with a better comparison being with Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown. Both films are essentially following the archetypical superhero narrative within this poor urban environment, just from opposite ends of the age spectrum, and both deal with the crushing theme of modern male youths easy slip into animalistic behaviour when little in the way of positive opportunity is around.

As that kind of superhero origin story, iBoy is nothing particularly special in terms of the plot beats, and even as a vigilante film it isn’t going to set the world on fire (even though there is something to be said for how the film takes the modern ages dominant form of technological advancement and turns it into a superpower genesis device, not unlike how radiation had such a role in the 50’s and 60’s). But the setting saves things somewhat, the poorer parts of rundown London an excellent setting for the story presented here, as the criminal underworld is brought to life in a way that mimics, and occasionally even beats, the lurid and haunting cinematography of Welcome To The Punch or the aforementioned Attack The Block. We’ve had so many superhumans on-screen recently that aren’t all that easy to relate to, either because they are already exceptional people – billionaires, demi-gods, miracle surgeons, etc – or because, in the case of people like Peter Parker, we’ve seen so much of them it’s hard to stay focused.

Here is a really in-depth warts-and-all depiction of a teenage superhero, balancing his after-hours vigilante activities with his awkward courting of the girl he likes, occasional drug use and the visceral reality of secondary school life, where the bullies are less comic and more brutal. Those seeking the Marvel recipe of witty one-liners every 15 seconds will be disappointed here, as the film matches the grim traits of the author of the original source material, Kevin Brooks, whose The Bunker Diary more recently strayed the line between “Young Adult” and torture porn. Milner, while not exactly being relatable, and indeed obligated to not talk all that much in the course of iBoy, can be a little hard to engage with, but still manages to draw our sympathy with a well-presented, but subtle, sense of justice without being over-wrought. The contained nature of the narrative, which barely strays outside that council estate, helps focus our attention on the characters: no planet-ending threats are to be seen, and even Tom’s more outrageous actions appear to get little notice by the wider world.

The key to a proper vigilante film is to explore how the person carrying out the vigilantism is affected by what they do. If you just want to be a bland Death Wish style adventure, the answer will be “very little”, but iBoy is a bit smarter than that, with Tom propelled by events as much as he shapes them, very quickly getting over his head, director Adam Randall adequately exploring the knock-on effects that occur when such an unlikely outside source upsets the established social and criminal order. Suffice to say, it isn’t all dastardly villains getting their comeuppance and the council estate being wiped clean of crime – Harry Brown’s one serious flaw.

Milner is matched by Maisie Williams’ Lucy, the Game Of Thrones veteran easily the most famous person in the cast, though I wasn’t sure how to feel about her character’s role in the story. After being gang-raped by some local hoodlums, she spends the majority of the film in her bedroom trying to work up the courage to go outside, and it is only in the finale that she begins to exert some agency on the story. If vigilante films are often, justifiably, accused of being semi-fascistic fairy tales where female characters exist primarily for sexual and hero reward reasons, then iBoy probably doesn’t do enough to buck the trend, even if Williams plays Lucy with the proper sense of hurt, outrage and general nuance: a late in the film monologue when facing her attackers oozes with tangible rage and frustration. She and Milner light up the screen, despite the grim surrounds, whenever they are in the same frame, most notably in a dialogue-less moment where Lucy exchanges text messages with Tom’s titular alter-ego.

iBoy also delivers in its supporting cast, with a plethora of young and never seen before seen cast members giving it all they’ve got, most notably Jordan Bolger as Tom’s friend/gang climber and Charley Palmer Rothwell as the brutal frontman of the worst of the local hoodlums. And, just when required, the veterans are around to give the film the right sense of gravitas and experience, with Miranda Richardson as Tom’s grandmother and Rory Kinnear in a suitably delicious act three role as the piece’s criminal mastermind.

Lacking the scope or all-out star power of other superhero films, and with a setting that may not attract the notice of many outside the United Kingdom, it’s unlikely that iBoy will stay very long in the popular consciousness, which is a shame really, because it works as a superhero film, as a vigilante action movie, as a relationship drama, albeit that it can’t quite get any of those three branches completely right. Milner establishes himself quite well here, and Williams shouldn’t have any problems evolving her career when Westeros finally closes its doors. In the meantime, I recommend this, an engaging Netflix original.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures and Netflix).

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Ireland’s Wars: The Fenian Ram

The submarine isn’t quite as mysterious today as it was when it first began to make headlines. But, rest assured, when these underwater predators first began to make appearances in warfare, they had as big an impact on thinking as gunpowder, machine guns and airplanes did, despite the fact that it would take a long time for them to actually become effective weapons. A surprising amount of people aren’t aware that an Irishman was at the heart of their evolution, as were the Fenian Brotherhood.

A brief history of the military submarine concept may be instructive. As far back, potentially, as Alexander the Great, armies have used diving bells and other apparatus to gain advantage under the waves. Numerous theorists proposed and even built such craft in the 15th and 16th century without major success, until a Dutchman, Cornelius Jacobszoon Drebbel, made a working model, oar propelled, for James I of England, which he felt would be able to devastate enemy fleets by means of a battering ram, though it was never employed for this purpose.

Construction of submarines continued in the following centuries. Tsar Peter the Great bankrolled the building of a submarine armed with primitive flamethrower devices in 1720. In 1776 an American inventor, David Bushnell, designed a one-man craft with the aim of using it to attack British ships, but this never came to pass. In 1800, the French Navy built the Nautilus, which doubled as a sailboat, and demonstrated that it could be used to plant mines and sink ships, though it never got anywhere near an actual enemy. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, numerous other nations, especially in South America, experimented with such craft, but without any worthwhile success, many of the prototypes sinking with the loss of all on-board.

During the American Civil War, the science of submarines took a great leap forward. The Union constructed the Alligator, while the Confederacy, seizing the designs of private enterprise, came up with the Hunley. The Alligator would flounder without renown in 1863, but the Hunley, in 1864, demonstrated the potential of the submarine as a weapon of war, sticking a barbed torpedo into a Union sloop-of-war that was blockading Charleston, which sunk within five minutes. The Hunley was lost in the aftermath, the remains of the vessel recovered in 1995, the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel.

Into this portion of the story now comes John Philip Holland, an engineer and native of Liscannor, County Clare, who emigrated to the United States in 1873. While working as a maths teacher in Cork, Holland read accounts of the first ironclad warships that had experienced a brief but famous bit of combat during the American Civil War, that forever altered the landscaped of naval warfare afterwards. Holland, a man beyond his time and surroundings, realised that conventional naval tactics against such ships would be difficult if not counter-productive – as the initial fight between the Monitor and the Virginia demonstrated, the two ships firing at each other for hours without result – and theorised that the best way to attack such vessels would be from underwater.

Unable to get any support for his ideas or his designs in Britain, Holland tried again stateside, but the US Navy, now over a decade after the end of the Civil War, was no longer as interested in speculative projects with little chance of substantial end product. Holland’s story should probably have ended right there, in terms of what the history books would consider notable, but then the Fenian Brotherhood, of all organisations, stepped in.

We’ve already seen that the Fenians in American had a taste for both the overly-ambitious and the theatrical in the raids into Canada, which had the nominal goal of using the northern territory as a bargaining chip to gain Irish freedom, a rather ridiculous notion, the unlikelihood of which was borne out by the limited extent of what the Raids actually achieved. In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, with the Fenian Brotherhood being overtaken by Clan na Gael and close to extinction, elements of its membership were willing to turn to extreme projects.

Thus, Holland found himself being bankrolled by the Fenians, to the extent that he was able to dedicate himself, full-time, to his submarine designs and prototypes. What he created was initially simply known simply as the Holland Boat, which in 1878 he successfully demonstrated to his Fenian backers, staying submerged underwater for an hour, operating the craft himself. This led to the Holland Boat II, better known as the Fenian Ram.

The Ram was bigger and stronger than the Holland Boat. Based somewhat on the torpedo of English engineer Robert Whitehood, just bigger, it was 30 feet in length and just under 6 foot in height. Three crew could fit inside, an operator, an engineer and a gunner. Unlike previous designs, the Ram was somewhat innovative in that it was not designed to simply add ballast until it sank, but instead to use its horizontal planes and positive ballast to force itself underwater when it had forward momentum.

In order to be useful as a military craft it had to have some manner of armament of course. The Ram’s was a nine-inch pneumatic gun, which was mounted on the Ram’s centre line, firing forward. The gun fired dynamite filled steel projectiles with the aid of air pressure. It was hardly the kind of thing we popularly associate with submarines, but at the time it was a weapon that could easily account for wooden ships.

Which brings us to what exactly the Fenians were going to do with a working military submarine. The answer to that question is not easily found. Entities like the Fenians, especially when they were in a bad state financially, are often prone to grab at whatever straw they can, in this case the kind of wonder weapon the submarine symbolised. I’m sure Fenian leaders enjoyed wild thoughts of terrorising British shipping and the Royal Navy with their trump card, perhaps not realising that even the most well-built submarine in the 19th century was prone to breakdown, sinking and general haplessness, even if they managed to sink an enemy ship (for example, it is theorised that the Hunley’s crew may have been knocked unconscious by the detonation of their torpedo, set off too close to the submarine).

By 1883, Holland had moved on to the Holland Boat III, a scaled down version of the Ram only 16 feet in length, which he planned to use in experiments to improve the submarines navigational abilities. But by the time Holland had finished the III, relations between him and the Fenians had soured. Maybe they were no longer satisfied with the return they had gotten for the investment they had made, or maybe they just realised that the submarine was decades away from being a potent weapon of war. Either way, payments were slowed or stopped, and Holland ceased working for the Fenians.

In response, members of the Brotherhood made the foolhardy decision to steal both the Ram and the Holland Boat III from their slip in Jersey City in the Hudson Basin. Heading towards New York, with both of the submarines tied up in sequence behind their own boat, the Fenians lost the III as they neared Queens, the newer submarine breaking free of its tether and sinking, never to be recovered (to this day).

You may have spotted a flaw in the Fenians plan. Nobody in the organisation had the skill to work the Ram, or, apparently, the aptitude to learn. Holland, naturally, refused to have anything more to do with the Brotherhood. Unable to find a buyer for the submarine, the Fenians were forced to hide it in a shed on the Mill River.

The Fenians in America had little time left, but Holland had plenty of accomplishment ahead of him. Working on a private basis afterward, Holland further perfected his designs, and finally sold a submarine, the Holland Boat VI, to the US Navy in 1900, the Navy’s first commissioned submarine. This design was later adapted in the submarines of the Royal Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy, with the Holland Torpedo Boat Company being the distant ancestor of the modern day defence contractor giant General Dynamics. Holland died in August 1914, on the eve of a war where submarines would play a pivotal role for the first time. While sometimes inaccurately dubbed the inventor of the submarine, he certainly did more than most to turn it into a viable weapon. When a memorial for him was unveiled outside his former school in 2014, representatives from the United States, Britain and Japan were present, in recognition of his role in shaping their navies.

As for the Fenian Ram, it’s history didn’t end there. In 1916 it was displayed in New York as part of an effort to raise money in the aftermath of the Easter Rising and from there moved back into official hands, currently residing in the Paterson Museum in New Jersey, a rather well-preserved example of early submarine designs.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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The Villain Checklist: Introduction

We have to start somewhere, so let’s start right at the beginning. The other week I outlined my checklist, divided into five sections, the first being “Meeting The Villain”[i].

A wise man once said “You only get to make one first impression”[ii], and he was right. It doesn’t matter what it is in film – the hero, the villain, the key plot point, the main theme: if you mess up the introduction, you might never get the audience back. When it comes to “Meeting The Villain”, we’re going to be looking at every aspect of that meeting: the exact introduction, the distinctions of the villain, their defining statements and early villainous actions.

Here’s part one of that, summed up thusly:

Introduction – The moment that the villain is introduced to us must be noteworthy in some way, to single out this individual.

The key thing about what I am going to talk about in this post is that the moment of introduction is not as much about the actual villain, as it is about the scene that is happening when they are introduced. The things that are important here are what the exact point in the narrative you are at, what other players are in the frame and what the scene itself is trying to accomplish.

-Narrative point

Obviously, my preference is for villains to be introduced early, and I’m a big believe in the bad guy making her/her appearance before the hero character, as several of the examples I will talk about later will attest. But there’s no real need for it, as long as the introduction scene happens relatively early, that is if you want your antagonist character to have a suitably important role in the unfolding story. Anything past the first ten minutes is a serious mis-step as far as I am concerned, a sure sign that whoever is behind the story being told is treating their villain as an afterthought.

-Who else is there

Introducing a villain on his/her own is as pointless as doing the same for the hero: who shares the screen with them at that crucial first impression can decide much, both in terms of how the audience will react to the villain and in how we are expected to consider them. Are they surrounded by lackeys? Are they surrounded by innocents? Are they surrounded by superiors?

-The point of the scene

It’s important that the scene where the villain first appears is about them in some way of course, but it doesn’t have to be about them directly. As above, what the audience is being pulled towards is also a major thing: is the antagonist starting out as a small fish in a big pond, or are they at the centre of their own universe? Are they a bit player struggling for the limelight, or are they letting others bask in their reflected glory? In other words, do they come off as important in their introduction, or unimportant? Both can work, depending on the exact manner of the story being told, but you have to be careful with him. You could portray the villain as too powerful right from the off, straining suspension of disbelief that anyone could defeat them. Or you might showcase them as too unimportant and insignificant, straining suspension of disbelief that they would ever be an adequate threat to the hero.

Talking about this is one thing, but let’s look at some examples.[iii]

“We’re doomed”

intro_vader

Yes, Darth Vader. Think “movie villain”, and it’s rare you’ll find someone who doesn’t have an image of the Dark Lord of the Sith in their heads almost immediately. The opening scenes of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope are justifiably legendary, but beyond that utterly enthralling sequence of the Star Destroyer gliding over the entire frame and our first glimpses of R2-D2 and C-3PO is Darth Vader’s introduction.

The point in the narrative is fine: Vader will be only the third “named” character seen, just a few minutes in. Who else is present? Just nobodies, Stormtroopers and some rebel corpses, once the droids have fled, leaving the black clad Sith Lord the ability to capture the moment easily. And the point of the scene is perfectly set-up for Vader’s entrance: we witness a scrappy, chaotic gunfight in a narrow corridor where the Imperial troops were literally stumbling over each other to clear a path, before the rebels were obliged to scatter backwards in a disorganised manner. The scene is set for someone in command, with authority, with presence, with that vitally important sense of order to arrive and take over. And so he does, wordlessly, but with no little amount of menace in every movement. You don’t know his name, you don’t know his role, but you know that he is someone to be feared.

“No wonder they call him…”

intro_joker

Yeah, we’re going down the obvious route, but The Dark Knight would have been nothing without Heath Ledger’s final gift to the film-watching community, his magnificent portrayal of the Joker. In the opening scene of Nolan’s masterpiece, the Joker, incognito, leads a raid on a mafia-owned bank, gunning down his compatriots one by one. The point in the narrative is fine, it being the first scene, and since it’s a sequel, several of the central characters are already familiar to the audience anyway: Nolan understood that focusing on the villain first was important, something a lot of sequel directors don’t get. The others present are nameless henchmen easily dispatched, and the bank manager, a slight step up from the Star Wars example. This works with the point of the scene, which to showcase both the Joker’s capability – in how he ruthlessly plays his henchmen off against each other, and kills them himself without a moment’s hesitation – and his warped mindset. The bank manager, played by recognisable character actor William Fichtner, adds a little bit to the scene as this maligned voice of reason who might as well be talking to a wall when it comes to the Joker. This sets him up admirably, and we’ll come back to it at another point.

“My grandmother had an island.”

intro_silva

Skyfall plays it a lot differently than the other two examples in a lot of ways, but still does s great job introducing its antagonist, the imminently threatening Raoul Silva. We’re a fair bit into the narrative of Skyfall here, Silva first appearing onscreen at the hour and ten mark, to offer the above-linked monologue to a restrained James Bond. The length of time it took to get here isn’t too much of a problem since Skyfall made its first act into a mystery revolving around Silva’s identity: the climax of Bond’s investigation comes here. This relationship is to be of two very similar men of similar backgrounds but of diverging paths clashing over M, therefore it is fitting that only the two of them share the scene. And the point of the scene is to act as an introduction to Silva’ twisted genius: his ability to plan, his way with words, his intimidating manner: this one on one interview accomplishes that.

That’s three great examples of the introductory villain scene. Now, how about some not so great ones?

“…”

intro_maul

Yeah, that’s right, I don’t like Darth Maul. I mean, I did when I first watched the film. He had the cool red and black colour, the horns and that double-bladed lightsaber. Also, I was 11. This Lego movie scene probably captures what they were going for with Maul more accurately. I’m a bit older, and wiser, now, and I can tell you that Darth Maul sucks.[iv] His introduction comes way too late in the film, without the benefits of time that Skyfall had to set up the identity of the villain. He’s just a scary looking addendum to an in-progress meeting between hologram Sidious and the racist aliens. And the point of the scene, like so much of Episode I, is a ham-fisted effort to propel the plot forward without doing the requisite work of subtle plot exposition and effective characterisation. I’ll be back to Maul again at some point.

-“More like, thrilled”[v]

intro_yellowjacket

Here’s the first of what I am sure will be many “Marvel Cinematic Universe” entries on the wrong side of my analysis. We start with Ant-Man, and Darren Cross, aka, “Yellowjacket”, played by Corey Stoll. The problem with this introduction isn’t its place in the narrative, though it is a tad late. It’s who else is in the scene, and the larger point that the scene is trying to make. In the moment that we are first introduced to Yellowjacket, the scene is more about Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Diem, the father and daughter pair whose apparent estrangement is a major plot point in the first act before it is later revealed to be at least a partial deception. Cross is just a third wheel on that. The next scene is one he will command of course, but that first impression is one marred by the scenes focus on Pym and Van Diem. Cross’ very first line is a fawning acknowledgement of another character’s presence. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that, when filmed, this wasn’t meant to be Cross’ first scene.

“I knew we shouldn’t have slept together…”[vi]

intro_greene

Ah, Quantum Of Solace, the awkward middle-child of the Craig-era Bond movies, after the sublime reboot that was Casino Royale and before the rip-roaring return to traditional form that was Skyfall. Our villain for this all too rushed endeavour is Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene, and you better believe I’m going to come back to this weasly excuse for an antagonist again. Focusing just on the scene where he first appears, well, it comes late in the narrative, and without the air of mystery that Skyfall had: Greene is just the latest human face on the larger “Quantum” threat. The scene is dominated by Olga Kurylenko’s Camille, screaming at the comparatively meek Greene, whose chance to establish himself as the kind of man you can buy going up against James Bond – who has already been in a car chase and a rooftop chase by now – goes up in smoke. Indeed, the circumstances of this scene do not even help you to reliably know that Greene is the bad guy of the film: the more physically impressive general who turns up shortly fits the bill a little bit better.

In summation, the introductory scene of the villain is hard to mess up, something that we will explore as a general constant in terms of the larger introduction traits to come in this series. That makes it all the more disappointing when that introductory scene is bad and fails to welcome the antagonist to the story in the proper way. With correct narrative placement, character direction and depth, the bad guys can start being bad with the best possible foundation. But aside from the scene that they are in, they also need some distinction of their own, and that is what we will talk about next.

————————————————————————–

[i] I say villain here, and in this post series, we are going to be looking almost entirely at primary villains, as judged by myself. Sometimes this is clear, sometimes it’s not, but I’m just going by common sense.

[ii] Then again, as Lemony Snickett said ““I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.” Sometimes, after a bad introduction, a villain character can be brought back to a good level of quality. Sometimes. I don’t claim to have bulletproof arguments here, only generalities.

[iii] If the Youtube videos here break down at some point, well, these things happen. In here, screenshots are better.

[iv] Someone is straight away going to say that Darth Sidious is the real villain of Episode I, but that’s wrong. Sidious is barely involved in the story as a shadowy figure (a menacing phantom you might say) while Maul has a more direct impact. If Maul isn’t the real bad guy, then Nute Gunray has a better shout than Sidious really (God help us).

[v] An intro scene so poor nobody has ever out it on Youtube.

[vi] In lieu of the actual scene, enjoy this, only slightly more wooden, cutscene from the Quantum Of Solace video game.

(All images are copyright of 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer, Columbia Pictures and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures).

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