I began WandaVision last night, as I’ve been told you have to see it to make sense of Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which I intend to do at the weekend. (I’ve just finished a novel and am kind of hungry for movies.)
It opens as a black and white TV sitcom from the 1950s, complete with canned laughter. It morphs into a paranoid nightmare from The Truman Show, via the Twlight Zone, all by way of a set of comics I had never read. I was green with envy, wondering: who writes this stuff?
Then I remembered going to the first showing of Black Panther, in whatever city I was in at the time. Leaving, realising that if I had seen that movie at age 12, I would have been in heaven. Taking the guts out of H Rider Haggard and turning it on its head? Heroes and heroines that seemed to have stepped straight out of Excalibur? All of them beautiful, muscular and African?A hidden civilisation between the desert and the Congo with its own advanced technologies, so cool it was designed to keep itself a secret? Who dreams this stuff up?
And not only that, but directed by a young tyro talent who only a few years ago had directed a small indie movie, Fruitvale Station?
Now, I am no comic-strip expert, and I imagine at some stage in his life Ryan Coogler wasn’t either. But what can be so wrong with movies that have my grandchildren (I have to admit, I am old) salivating in anticipation, as acquainted with the history of the various characters as nerds of my generation were with the drab faces on English football league cards? They want gods and monsters, and Marvel gives them that. With a little bit of time-bending metaphysics to justify the spectacle.
Wonder Woman, another case in point. Again, a hidden civilisation. Atlantis? Lesbos? Whatever, it’s a Bechdel zone, with its own female logic, laws, that is bold enough to crash its heroine into some weird, All Quiet On The Western Front narrative? And touch on all sorts of issues on the way?
Guardians of The Galaxy. I saw a wit there, in the writing, the spectacle, the direction. And more than wit. It was fun, the kind of fun that seems to have vanished from the world of independent films. And moving, oddly enough. Using a 10cc track to propel us into some future, as a sentimental hook to memories of the 1980s? A talking tree, a scatological raccoon, planetary vistas that could have been designed by Georges Méliès, if he had the time and money?
The Avengers: Endgame? Besides being a somewhat tedious and occasionally ingenious mélange of stories, characters, other movies (intertextuality, you could almost call it) it grasped what so many movies fail to even touch. It had a villain of impeccable logic, psychological complexity, with an argument that is so convincing, it makes you doubt your own conceptions of right and wrong.
Thanos. Whose shtick is that the universe is overcrowded. So overcrowded, it is poisoning itself. His solution? Eliminate half of its inhabitants. Now you can say that his solution is evil, repugnant, misjudged, whatever. But you cannot say that it lacks logic. Which makes the character so compelling, and, as played by that dependable uncle or father figure Josh Brolin, gives it that ability to penetrate your brain and make you doubt your own moral universe.
And I know he’s based on some Grecian archetype, which gives it a strange kind of mythical charge, but still. For those who are tired of evil Nazis, neo or otherwise, and bad Adolf Hitler impersonations, Thanos is a gift.
It also had a beautiful, time-bending coda that Philip K Dick could have dreamed up. Captain America (I was never a fan) gets to live his entire life out with Peggy, in a sweet suburban house by the water, before returning to his younger self, and whatever the current fray happens to be.
Logan? A western in disguise that Howard Hawks could have directed.
Agreed, the costumes are always horrible. Dire, garish colours, unwieldy and all-round ridiculous. (So more power to the performers who manage to survive the suits.)
The geometry warps the eyes. (Why is it that, in a digital environment, all of the geometric parameters seem off? The world of models, miniatures, matte-painting of the 1970s and 1980s seems classical by comparison.)
But give credit to the storytelling.
Neil Jordan is a filmmaker and writer