Book Review: A Guide For Murdered Children

New year, new you, new thrillers! Coming up is A Guide For Murdered Children by Sarah Sparrow. Full disclosure, I got an advanced epub copy through Netgalley.

You are either going to love or hate this book.

The first half of the book is focused on setting up the premise; children who were murdered can possess the bodies of recently deceased adults, and exact vengeance on their murderer. They do this with the help of a Porter; a still living adult who can guide them through the process and provide moral support in a AA-type setting. Psychic alcoholic and disgraced cop Willow Millard Wylde (yes you read that right) digs up a cold case that he couldn’t forget, unbeknownst to him that the victims have returned to solve their own cases.

Some readers will be frustrated by the slow build. Sparrow takes her sweet gentle time getting to the point, and if you find her prose charming, in the first half at least it’s a fun, if macabre ride through Wylde’s scumbag past and that of the world of ghosts he refuses to want to understand. And if you don’t like it but hang on anyway, the premise is so original that half the tension comes from the fact that you haven’t read anything like this before, and you don’t know where it is going. I honestly really did enjoy the writing style in the first half, but Sparrow clearly struggles with resolution in the second half.

Unfortunately, while the premise is brilliant and new, many individual elements feel far more cliche. The villain has a unnecessarily long and utterly boring maniacal monologue, that, despite him crooning over a character I genuinely like who was at his mercy, I felt myself wishing he’d just shut up and murder the poor guy already. There are tired stereotypes about the mentally disabled that are as boring as they are offensive. The list of character names, like Willow Millard Wylde, Adelaide, Pace, etc sounds like a list of baby names compiled by a soon-to-be parent deadset on finding the most unique names possible and passed off to a panicking partner who helpfully suggests “Annie” and “Daniel” to balance things out. The way the women are written makes me somewhat suspicious that this is yet another case of a male author assuming a female name in the hopes of getting attention in the wake of Gone Girl. No one knows who Sarah Sparrow is yet, but I couldn’t help but wonder when Willow got a hot girlfriend decades younger named Dixie Rose.

A Guide For Murdered Children has a fantastic premise from an author who has real talent. The problem is Sparrow needs an editor who is willing to take a machete to whole sections of work and pluck the good parts out of the long, regurgitated mess that is the second half.

A Guide For Murdered Children will be published on March 20, 2018 and available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.

Women's Libation! Is A Tall Drink Of A Book

When I was in university, our women’s resource center would have a charity event every year called Women Who Rock. It was, essentially, a band show at a bar that featured female music groups of all sorts, and the bar also sold drinks with amazing names like Menstruation Sensation. When I finished reading Women’s Libation! Cocktails to Celebrate a Woman’s Right to Booze by Merrily Grashin, my immediate reaction was to mail a copy to each of my former volunteer mates. Finally, more inclusive drink names we could use!

Women’s Libation is in essence, a cocktail recipe book with illustrations and a page explaining the punny drink name. Feminists of yore are honored for their work, and moments in feminist history are marked. Nothing revolutionary, but it wasn’t meant to be. If you’ve never mixed drinks before, Grashin has you covered with a basic overview of the tools you need, methods to know and some common ingredients.

There are a few missteps here; not all the women in the book are exactly deserving of a cheers or a drink. Aung San Suu Kyi is honored with a twist on the Singapore sling, and Coco Chanel with the sangrita Mez Coco Chanel No 5.

Granted, that could just be poor timing as the book was likely completed months before Aung San Suu Kyi refused to speak out against the genocide in Myanmar. Still, this isn’t the first time she’s been quiet about violence against Muslims; the calls for the repeal of her Nobel Peace Prize are only the most recent and forceful criticisms against her. Coco Chanel I’m a bit more puzzled by. Now, there has yet to be any clear hard evidence that Chanel was an active Nazi agent, but there is some reason to believe that she was and at best being a Nazi wasn’t a deal breaker for her. I think if there’s any dispute about whether you are a Nazi, there’s only one drink for you.

Seriously, Chanel should have been bumped and Dorothy Parker honored with a Manhattan. That’s a huge missed opportunity!

Nevertheless, Women’s Libation! is a quirky recipe book sure to tickle your funny bone. While many of the blurbs may just be fact regurgitation, the drawings are adorable and the puns wonderfully groan worthy. As for the recipes themselves? They are twists on classics, nothing too crazy to make the drink unrecognizable and some like the Our Toddies, Ourselves are in my opinion an improvement on the standard. I didn’t get to test very many of them, but as a former bartender, so many of them looked good.  If nothing else, dear reader, I do believe this is an excellent resource for those bar fundraisers.  Why not replace all the cocktail names for the night?  I guarantee more money will be raised through drinks that way.


Women’s Libation! Cocktails to Celebrate a Woman’s Right to Booze By Merrily Grashin was published on November 7th, 2017, and is available wherever fine books are sold.

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.

Artemis by Andy Weir Is A Bumpy Ride

Some authors become notorious for repeating themselves. When you read a Stephen King novel, chances are you’ll encounter things that you’ve seen in other Stephen King novels; black people with magical powers, an average looking middle aged schlubb with a smoking hot wife, a writer protagonist, etc. With Dan Brown, well, you’re going to get Dan Browned. There will be assassinations, conspiracies, and the most dubious presentation of fact that a simple google search will refute. Artemis is only Andy Weir’s second book, but after the success of The Martian he seems to be on track to repeat a formula that makes bank.

Jazz is a smuggler living in the moon city of Artemis. After failing to qualify as moon tour guide in an attempt to set up caches outside the multi-domed city, she is offered a very dubious job of committing corporate sabotage — cutting off the city’s supply of oxygen to allow a competing supplier to swoop in and save the day.

For the first half of the book Jazz is our tour guide and explains how a city on the moon could function. This is undoubtedly the strongest part of the book. It’s fun to think about, and fun to have it explained. Jazz in this part is witty, but unfortunately her humour turns juvenile and grating halfway through.

The social science of the book just doesn’t work very well. Nothing is technically illegal, Jazz says. No age of consent, just go too far and you’ll get beaten up for sleeping with a 14 year old or beating your wife. But said abused wife is presumably left with her abusive husband, who will certainly be more careful in making sure no one finds out rather than actually stopping. The pedophile is still free to do as he pleases. And yet the one cop in town is gunning to deport Jazz for smuggling in things like cigars, and she mentions being homeless is illegal. Is it intentional, then, that cigars and homelessness are more unforgivable on Artemis than domestic violence and sexual abuse? Probably not. Weir is here to tell you how a city on the moon could physically function. How it functions socially is far less thought out.

The plot depends on all the characters being super geniuses. Jazz can learn in an afternoon what most people dedicate years of academic study to learn. Artemis’s one and only cop Rudy puts Poirot, Sherlock, and Columbo collectively to shame, solving crimes instantaneously and without effort. Side characters have graphic calculators for brains and whip up solutions within seconds of thinking. This wasn’t terribly irritating in the first half of the book, but in the second half it becomes more and more unrealistic, and then conveniently when the plot needs to thicken they overlook obvious things.

Jazz is also a bit of a emotionally stunted psychopath, almost utterly incapable of empathy. Other character’s motivations are an utter mystery to her unless it’s spelled out for her. Other character’s feelings simply aren’t acknowledged or quickly dismissed. She does not stop to question as to whether the insanely dangerous sabotages she commits might be perilous to the city (spoiler: they are). Mostly, she just snarks at the reader about how attractive she is, how the domes of the city like boobs, and how the reader can stop pretending to know what a niqab is, you ignorant uncultured swine. The whole narration is a conversation between Jazz and the reader, and while at first I was rapt with attention, by the end of her story I was tired and knew she was full of shit. Andy Weir thanks a slew of women for helping him write a female narrator, but I’m not sure why when he just slapped the personality of a male teenager on Jazz and called it good.

Artemis is an entertaining read that suffers from poor characterization and overindulgent exposition. It has an excellent start but in the end when the fate of the city is at stake, I couldn’t help but wish that the entire book was about the first caper. When you know by the third caper that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, it gets a little difficult sitting through meticulous details of welding and the 100th slut shaming joke to get there

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.

Elessar's Top 10 Movies of 2017

The end of the year is a time to take stock, look back at the triumphs and failures, and, for 2017 at least, scream like the damned for something like an hour straight. Yeah, my airing of grievances for this year's Festivus began 2 weeks ago and is still going to this day. It may go into 2018. But one place I didn't have too many grievances to air is film, since the movies were pretty good. And while there are still a few I desperately want to see (coughThe Phantom Thread cough), it's already 2018 and I gotta finish this list. So, without further stalling or waiting, here are my favorite movies of 2017.

#10: Thor: Ragnarok

I will not sing Immigrant Song, I will not sing Immigrant Song, I will not I COME FROM THE LAND

The 10th spot is always tight. Even as I sit here, I feel like I should give this to Lady Bird or Beatriz at Dinner. But, outside of Deadpool, superhero films have been suspiciously absent from my top 10s, even as their presence at the theaters become bigger. So giving this slot to what is easily the best MCU movie in years, a movie with a fantastic cast and a great script, feels like a good idea. Maybe Marvel will be inspired to make more movies like being at the bottom of a top 10 list from a Z list internet critic. Shut up, it could happen.

#9: The Disaster Artist

"Don't worry man, they cut most of your backstory."

The Room is, far and away, my favorite bad movie, and The Disaster Artist is one of my favorite books. So while the movie may not be perfectly adept at putting all of the contents in the book into the movie, it is excellent at including the emotions and themes at the core of its story, both in how The Room's creator can be toxic and cruel, but also in how he remains, at heart, a desperately intense dreamer. He may not be a great person and he's a terrible filmmaker, but its hard not to be inspired by what he's done with his failure.

#8: Wonder Woman

No, I did not get to see Professor Marston, hope to when it hits DVD.

The second of 3 superhero films appearing on this top 10 list and this one is long overdue. I mean, Daredevil has 2 seasons and a movie. The Punisher has 2 movies and a TV show. Ghost Rider, of all things, has 2 movies, but we just now got a Wonder Woman movie? But hey, if we had to wait this long to get a Wonder Woman, it's good that it's absolutely perfect. A great actress, a great director and a solid script combine to make the second best superhero movie of 2017.

#7: Logan Lucky

"No, no, Logan is the really depressive superhero film, we're the comedy heist movie."

Look, I like heist movies, I like good scripts and I like engaging characters. And while a lot of people are talking up the much more flawed Baby Driver, this really is the platonic ideal for a heist movie. Some great acting from all involved and easily one of the best scripts of the year. It even managed to make me not roll my eyes during a climactic scene at a child beauty pageant, which is honestly really impressive.

#6: Dunkirk

"Man, why couldn't I be in that Winston Churchill movie? That looked a lot easier."
For some reason a movie about resisting fascism while trying to hold on to both survival and some semblance of humanity really resonated with me this year. But even outside of the political climate, Dunkirk is a brutally intense, tightly made thriller, with a unique structure and fantastic direction. Of course, it's pretty impressive that an almost silent, almost character-less movie was not only a summer blockbuster but a massive hit, so that's something.

#5: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Bring. Me. All. The. Porgs.
To say The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars film of my lifetime is to understate massively. The only way to keep The Last Jedi from being the best Star Wars movie of my lifetime is to be alive for Empire. And as not only the best Star Wars film in nearly 40 years but also one of a handful of movies to get me to cry recently (I like Binary Sunset, leave me alone) The Last Jedi deserves a slot here.

#4: Logan

"No, no, Logan Lucky is the comedy heist movie, we're the depressing superhero movie."
Very few franchises know when to quit, and while the X-Men as a whole may not be ending any time soon, it's fantastic that it managed to give Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart such an intense send off. Add in one of the best scripts of the year, a bleak and unforgiving tone and brutal, unrelenting action and we have a formula for the best superhero (sort of) film in years.

#3: Get Out

All of 2017 was the Sunken Place.
It's become something of a tradition in the last few years for a low-ish budget, indie horror film to wind up on my top 10 and this is by far the best one. I have no idea what Jordan Peele is going to do with his career next, but managing to go from making a great sketch comedy show to one of the best horror films in years, filled with not only genuine scares but also fantastic metaphors and story beats is enough to make me follow him anywhere.

#2: Colossal

This movie is better than this poster makes it look.
I know this hasn't been showing up on many top 10 lists, but it managed to grab my attention and never release it. I've seen it four times at this point, a 2017 record and I'm still totally fascinated by it. It's sitting there on Hulu right now, so if you haven't seen it yet, get off your butt and go hit it up. After all, it's the second best movie of 2017. And what's the first? Well...

#1: The Shape of Water

God this movie has the best poster.
I've been looking forward to this movie from the moment it was announced and I was hoping it would be good. And when the buzz around it turned out great, I actually got kind of worried my expectations were too high. So what a treat it is that they weren't just met, but exceeded. The Shape of Water is the best romance, the best story, has the best acting, the best overall movie of 2017 and I want to see it again like 20 more times.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex. 

Elessar's Worst Movies of 2017

I genuinely look forward to doing my Best and Worst lists all year. It's not only a sign that a year has passed (in this case a hellish, unending year) but a chance to look back at the year and take stock. And while my Best of the Year list may surprise some of you, it's currently incomplete (there's a couple more movies I want to see) so we're kicking it off with the worst:

NOTE 1: I traditionally only do 5 Worst movies as opposed to 10, partially to reduce the amount of garbage I have to suffer through and partially because if the creators of these movies didn't put in the effort to make good movies, I'm not putting in the effort to make a full bottom 10.

NOTE 2: I have not, as of this writing, seen The Emoji Movie, because I just don't care, nor have I seen Bright, which according to the internet is a startling late entry. I might try to review that second one in January.

#5: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I had actually 100 percent forgotten this movie until a Lindsay Ellis video reminded me.
What even is the point of continuing with the Pirates franchise after this many years? The plot wandered off midway through part 2 and I never figured out where it was going. The interesting characters either left or are substantially less interesting. It still can't find any way of making good action beats. Depp is clearly just tired of being there, so why make a 5th? And more importantly, why did I bother to watch it?

#4: Victoria & Abdul

If they wrote the names in font sizes based on interest in character, Victoria would be the size of the poster and Abdul would be absent.
Even the worst Oscar bait has trouble making it onto worst lists, because it's usually got a little something going for it. But here, the small amount of goodwill Dame Judi Dench's performance buys us is overwhelmed by the bad racial politics, the whitewashing of historical evils, the boring paint-by-numbers direction and the film's complete lack of interest in the character who is the first half of the f**king title.

#3: The Snowman

Drink it in people, it's the worst poster ever.
Beating up on The Snowman feels a little unfair, since it's so clearly, desperately unfinished. But even if they had shot more than 75% of the film, they still wouldn't have been able to excuse the dumb storytelling, the boring villain or the fact that the lead character's name is HARRY HOLE. Add in one of the dumbest (albeit most memetic) posters in human history and it's no wonder this film flopped.


#2: Transformers: The Last Knight

Optimus Prime turns evil...for about 2 minutes.
A few years ago I made the fateful decision to just stop watching Adam Sandler movies, because as fascinatingly bad as they are, the added annoyance and stress they give me just isn't worth it. It looks very much like I'm going to have to adopt a similar policy for Transformers movies. The Last Knight is probably the best one in a while, but that just makes horrifically bad as opposed to inexcusably bad. So I'm checking out. Call me when they get a new direction.

#1: The Book of Henry

"Okay, I want you to make a poster like the ones for Stranger Things, but with way too many visual elements."
The Book of Henry is an insidious movie. It eats into your brain, digs in and refuses to let go. You find yourself wondering how this movie came about, how none of the many people who had to sign off on this movie had the sense to realize what a massive disaster they had on their hands, how none of them noticed the gaping plot holes, the trivializing of sexual assault and abuse or the fact that their lead character is a massive tool. And so, for being the most enduring of all the bad movies of 2017, The Book of Henry is my choice for the worst of the bunch.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex. 

Critical Hits & Misses #344

For today's musical hit, we have Katy Perry and "Hey Hey Hey"

Today's critical rolls: Blessed Be and Merry Winter Solstice to you if you celebrate it (I do). May your Hannukah have been wonderful if you celebrated that. And may your Christmas be full of warmth and happiness, if you will be celebrating next Monday. What are your holiday traditions, even if you don't formally celebrate a religious one at this time?

Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Critical Hits & Misses #341

For today's musical hit, we have "It Feels Like Christmas" from Panic! At The Disco:

Today's critical rolls: Are you ready for the holidays? Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, most likely you have some time off coming up. What are you planning on doing?

Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Ghost in the Shell Film Analysis Part V and Final: The Problem With the Ghost in The Shell film

The film has one Big Issue, and it’s racism. In fact, it’s such a big issue that it manifests itself in three ways: white-washing, Orientalism and Eurocentrism. Yes, in previous installments I spent a huge amount of time praising how believable and cool future Japan was, and yet I’m charging the film with charge being Eurocentric anyway, for reasons that will become clear when I get  to that point.

I confess that I’m not the most ‘woke’ person out there when it comes to US racial politics, mainly because I’m not from the US nor have I ever lived there, so I have a higher tolerance for racial bullshit than what people would otherwise expect from me. However, when I start noticing stuff, Hollywood, you done fucked up.

Now, I said white-washing was not something I would discuss because better words have been written elsewhere, so I’ll just leave you with these quotes by Scarlett Johansson:

I think this character is living a very unique experience in that she has a human brain in an entirely machinate body. I would never attempt to play a person of a different race, obviously. Hopefully, any question that comes up of my casting will be answered by audiences when they see the film.
Right. Because the character having a brain that originally lived through a Japanese experience erases that character’s experiences when the film you’re heading makes the exact opposite case is totally not playing a character of a different race. Alright.

I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.
Oh, Scarlett, honey. Have I Got News for You!

I understand part of her statements come from wanting to conceal the twist of the film, perhaps due some contractual obligation of  the sort or whatever, but they don’t exactly make Scarlett come off better, alright? (They also raise the question of why she accepted this role in the first place.)

This leads us to Orientalism. There are positive definitions of the term, but the one I’m going to go with is the Western tradition of outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures that feature prejudice, exoticisation, fetichisation, etc., as shaped by imperialistic narratives going back to the 18th and 19th centuries. This is not a good way to introduce the general audiences to other cultures, since it’s inherently disrespectful.

Which leads me, again, to the robo-geisha scene. Something I didn’t perceive during the preview, albeit I noticed now, is the fact that the robo geishas have the ability to interface with a human brain at all. (Brain-hacking, remember?) Later in the film, I believe at Dr. Dahlin’s lab, they are referred to as ‘companion bots’. I concede that the implication may or may not be sexual, however, I am inclined towards the latter interpretation due to the fact that the robo-geishas are based on the Hadaly robots from Ghost in the Shell: Innocence, and those robots are clearly sexual, explicitly stated to have non-essential parts as pertaining to their roles in order to function as sexdroids. This bothers me, since I find it hard to believe that future Japan would allow robots that work as geishas to be sexdroids, given the respect given to the geisha profession. To me, it reaks of the ‘geisha girl’ stereotype formed during the Allied Ocupation of Japan that underscores the Western belief that geisha are prostitutes.

gif image from Ghost in the Shell: Innocence of Hadaly gynoid
So sexy.

There’s also the fact that there’s not many Japanese people in the film, as extras or in the cast. Yes, I know, didn’t I say about a million words before now that I didn’t mind that? Incorrect, I said I didn’t mind the lack of spoken Japanese, given that it is a logical assertion that can be inferred from the setting. But for a film set in Japan, to not have Japanese people other than a couple characters here and there… Maybe six or seven years ago I read a film review about a film that had been white-washed, too, and had issues with Orientalism. Let me paraphrase one of the lines that struck me the most: This is the perfect white-people’s dream; they get to enjoy the Asian culture without all the pesky Asian people in it. (Now, this doesn’t go for all white people, of course, but that quote is seriously perfect. I believe I read it on a The Last Airbender review?)

I’m sure someone with more knowledge of Japanese culture would be able to point out more instances, but these are the two that jumped at me.

Then there’s the Eurocentrism. Eurocentrism is a term that describes notions of European exceptionality; sort of like ‘manifest destiny’ but for a whole continent. It’s another colonialist narrative.

Usually, I wouldn’t have given much thought to the fact that the Major has a brain in another body. I mean, this is a transhumanist narrative, right? However, I believe I have to take that in context of the film, and what it means for the viewer. And throughout the film, the Major is called ‘beautiful’. Kuze calls her that, Dr. Ouelet calls her that, various creeps calls her that, and certainly Scarlett Johansson herself is a fine example of conventional, feminine, Western beauty ideal. That’s fair enough. But  when this film can’t be bothered to feature a single Japanese character, aside from Aramaki and Togusa, amongst the main cast, it becomes problematic. And when Dr. Ouelet tells the Major that she’s ‘what everyone will become’, it’s skeevy.

Kuze is seen here not looking Japanese.
In-universe, Dr. Ouelet refers to her body as ‘perfect’, that the pinnacle of directed human evolution is to cast aside everything but our minds. In context with the viewer, however, given the whole white-washing thing, the subtext is that everyone will be white. There is literally no other way this can be interpreted, given that Kuze is stuck in a white male’s body, and he was originally a Japanese youth named Hideo; and Dr. Ouelet implies his failure was just another step towards the future — towards Major Mira Killian. It isn’t really helped by how the Major at the end of the film is warmly received by her mum — which is great for her character, don’t get me wrong! — but wearing Scarlett’s face, with a brain that explicitly came from Japanese runaway Motoko Kusanagi (played by Japanese actress Kaori Yamamoto). When we live in a world where, in many places, the only way to be beautiful ideal is the Western beauty ideal, this is completely unacceptable. (Each word is a link.)

The final expression of Eurocentrism in the film comes from the fact that all scientists and people associated with high-tech employment are not Japanese, whether we’re talking about the people who were fussing over Batou after he gets his new eyes or everyone who is alligned with Hanka Robotics. I have to say that this normally wouldn’t ping on my radar, if at all, were it not for all the points I blathered on above. You see, Shirow Masamune’s Ghost in the Shell manga was published in the 80s, the time where Japan was deemed the technological powerhouse of the world.  It was written in that context. Even with all the lack of Japanese people, I would have expected for there to be Japanese people working as employees for Hanka as a sort of way to pay homage to that historical context in which the work was made. But all the cutting edge tech is developed, and assessed by Europeans or European-looking people, such as Dr. Ouelet or Dr. Dahlin. It’s such a little thing, but it adds up to the snowball of ugliness.

Gif from the Ghost in teh Shell live-action film where Dr. Ouelet scolds Major for having destroyed her body.
Dr. Ouelet, seen here whitesplaining to Major.
I understand the filmmakers didn’t intend any of this since they cared so much to make future Japan so awesome, and they paid proper attention to the source material, and so on and so forth. But! And this is a big ‘but’! Intentions do not matter when they harm people or promote narratives that harm people worldwide. And these issues just described feed into each other; the colonialists narratives of Eurocentrism and and Orientalism are reinforced by the whitewashing of the casting. I can explain away a lot, however, there comes a tipping point where I cannot explain away the erasure of Japanese people from a Japanese narrative set in Japan.

And this, this is why I could not bring myself to rec this film.

Critical Hits & Misses #340

Now you listen here, Old Man.... --Rey, probably
Get off my lawn, Millenial punk! --Luke, probably

For today's musical hit, we have Christmas Booty. You're welcome.

Today's critical rolls: What side of the force are you on? By which I mean, what did you actually think of The Last Jedi. Please start your post with a spoiler tag if you're going to be talking about sensitive stuff. 

Critical Writ has a super-duper strict comment policy that specifies a single rule above all others: we reserve the right to ban you for being a terribad citizen of the internet.

Blockbusters: Thor Ragnarok vs. Justice League

Superhero movies are big business these days and during the times when a genre is big business, everyone wants to be releasing as many of them as possible. That this eventually leads to a bubble is an article for another time. No, the point this time is that eventually there starts being some overlap between some releases, and since there were two major Superhero releases and I'm desperately trying to release some content, I thought I'd compare and contrast them, in a series of categories I'm more or less making up as I go.


Thor Ragnarok

As I've said on multiple occasions, I've got a little tired of the MCU lately, which gave Thor a pretty major uphill climb to start with, especially when you consider that the previous Thor movies are probably the weakest ones in the entire MCU, with the possible exception of Iron Man 2 (and that Hulk movie Marvel hopes we've all forgotten) and Thor: The Dark World is probably the worst of the MCU movies.

That said, there were reasons to expect some good things out of this. The director of this outing is Taika Waititi, who previously directed What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt For The Wilderpeople, both of which are excellent films that deserved to be watched. So perhaps, I thought to myself, this movie could be okay, could even be pretty good.

Justice League

If there was a bar that could be lower for a movie than the one for Justice League I don't know what it could be. To start, while Wonder Woman was a genuinely excellent movie, the other movies in the franchise range from Pretty Bad (Man of Steel) to Oh My God Make It Stop (Batman v. Superman). Add in the horrifying event Snyder's family endured during production, the switch between directors and the massive rounds of reshoots and recuts supposedly happening behind the scenes, and it seems like we're lucky the movie even came out at all.

The Casts:

Thor Ragnarok

Both of these movies are ensemble focused, and Thor has an incredibly impressive one. From our long standing series greats like Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba, to our newcomers like Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson and Cate Blanchett, the cast of this movie is a laundry list of great actors. All of them very attractive.

And they all turn in great work. Yeah we knew that Cate Blanchett would be giving us a great performance (and let me be clear, she's basically perfect) and Chris Hemsworth is a perfect Thor, but Jeff Goldblum's comic timing is still completely on point and it's shocking what a massive standout Tessa Thompson is, dominating the entire screen from the first scene she's in. I really hope we get to see more of her in later Marvel films, she's fantastic.

Justice League

Obviously the major standout from Justice League is was and always will be Gal Gadot. She's the central element of easily the best film in the DCEU. She's incredibly adept at selling her character and she totally dominates every scene she's in. The rest of the holdover cast is pretty good; Affleck still looks a little disinterested in this role, but he's getting better, Jeremy Irons is still great and hey, Cavill gets to act like a human being.

The new cast is a mixed bag. Erza Miller is genuinely entertaining as The Flash and while the movie doesn't give him a whole lot to do outside of punching things, I actually really liked Ray Fisher as Cyborg. The big letdown is, surprisingly, Jason Momoa. He's certainly a big guy and kind of cool outside the movie, but something about him is just not clicking with his performance. He has shockingly little screen presence in movie and between this and his performance in Conan, I'm starting to worry his good performance as Khal Drogo was a fluke (Note: I haven't seen Stargate Atlantis).

Story and Script:

Thor Ragnarok

Our story this time around starts out as yet another Thor story: Thor is flung out of Asgard, Asgard is in peril in his absence, he must find his way back, he's got Loki (who remains a treacherous little s**t) and some other secondary characters at his back. You get the basic idea, we've seen it twice before.

But then something odd happens around the midpoint. Once the film finally gets its plot squared away, it becomes a well written character focused piece with metaphors about owning your history and making up for your family's mistakes. There's a lot of good character work and fantastic dialogue in the latter half, that really kept me involved in the final battle, something that a lot of MCU movies have had trouble doing.

Justice League

It's the plot of The Avengers. I don't want to trash it, it's a good solid foundation for a plot, but well, there's a magical square shaped macguffin that a guy from outer space is looking for so he can open a portal to a place where his army is waiting, requiring a group of heroes to team up to bring him down, even though they don't initially get along. It's just the plot of The Avengers with the names replaced a couple extra beats.

It's in those extra beats that we see the scars of the film's long and troubled production, with several moments are so tonally out of step with not only the rest of the film but the rest of the DCEU that it might as well be playing in a different theater. The film is clearly pretending that huge chunks of Batman v. Superman either didn't happen or happened completely differently than it did, and while everyone has seen the fun scene where Batman and Flash are talking about getting into a fight, that scene is in the middle of a sequence where Steppenwolf is torturing and murdering civilians. The film is clearly the result of a troubled production and occasionally seems to have been edited with a machete.


Thor Ragnarok

For a superhero film, Thor is surprisingly light on the action, preferring to spend most of its 2nd act in character work, with only the fight between Thor and the Hulk (plus occasional jumps back to Asgard) really doing most of the action. It heats up in the third act and the final action beat is incredibly engaging, but up until that point, it's pretty dialogue focused. That's not a complaint, I like that about it.

Justice League

This is one of those places where Justice League is an unambiguous success. From Gal Gadot's incredible physical presence to the way they actually manage to include Cyborg and Batman in the action scenes to even the way they manage to make Flash work. Yes, I'm still waiting for a better film visualization of super speed than the one in Days of Future Past, but this one is still pretty good... even if the lightning surrounding the Flash never stops looking silly.


I could not have gone into these two movie with lower expectations than these two, so I will say that both managed to surprise me. I expected to hate Justice League and honestly, I can honestly say that I didn't even dislike it. Heck, I may have even kind of liked it. I might see it again when it hits DVD.

But in every comparison episode, there must always be a winner, and this time around, the clear winner is Thor Ragnarok, shooting up the roster of Best MCU Movie to land near the top and giving me hope for the megafranchise yet. So if you've somehow gotten to December without seeing both of these, give them both a shot.

But go see Thor first.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.