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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Paige: The Jon Snow of WWE


Watching the current plight of Paige in the WWE Divas division, one can draw some parallels to the trials and tragedy Jon Snow faced in the just-ended season 5 of Game of Thrones. On Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, one of the few truly heroic characters on the show and newly appointed Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, tried to do what his brothers in the Watch considered unthinkable: unite the Night's Watch with their arch enemies of a thousand years, the Wildlings, in the wake of the impending invasion by an unstoppable foe: the White Walkers. With the best of intentions, Snow tried his best, and he failed. Worse, the Night's Watch betrayed him and ended his watch brutally; in fact, the coup de grace, was delivered by Olly, Snow's steward.

In WWE, Paige, herself a raven-haired Brit who could be described accurately as "a pretty crow" like Snow often is, finds herself in a similar predicament. Since the retirement of Paige's frenemy but best partner AJ Lee, the Divas division has been completely controlled by the Bella Twins, Brie Bella and the reigning Divas Champion Nikki Bella. They're the White Walkers of this scenario, the unstoppable foe. Try as Paige has, regardless of her talent or desire, she has simply been unable to overcome the numbers and trickery of the Bellas and their Twin Magic.

This past week on RAW, Paige did something similar to what Jon Snow tried on episode 8 of Game of Thrones, "Hardhome": she tried to unite the other Divas to join her against the Bellas.

Like Jon Snow when he traveled to Hardhome north of the Wall to plead his case to the Wildlings, Paige faced ingrained hostility, mistrust, and disrespect. Like Jon Snow, despite a logical rationale and the best of intentions, Paige failed.

And like Jon Snow, who immediately faced the overwhelming onslaught of the White Walkers and lost a devastating battle, Paige immediately battled both Bella Twins on RAW. The two Bellas defeated the lone Paige. 

And just tonight on Smackdown, Paige, facing Brie Bella one-on-one, was defeated once again when she was betrayed by "her Olly" Alicia Fox, who as we've seen on Total Divas, is actually one of Paige's best friends.

Poor Paige deserves better. Just like poor Jon Snow deserved better. Luckily, Paige can live to fight another day. She can learn from Jon Snow's example and with luck (and maybe some help from someone or somewhere) find a way to defeat the Bellas once and for all and regain the Divas Championship*. Then no one will be able to say, "You know nothing, Paige."

*To be clear: I'm a huge fan of both Paige and the Bellas.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jurassic World



"You people. You never learn," one character scolds another in Jurassic World, and indeed, there would be no Jurassic franchise if humans didn't make a terrible mistake and follow them up with even more mistakes. Dinosaurs once again bring equal parts wonderment and mayhem in Colin Treverrow's Jurassic World, following in the footsteps (as closely as he can) of Steven Spielberg. An adventure 65 million + 22 years in the remaking, Jurassic World roars as the second best Jurassic movie yet. A successful and sufficient return to form for the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World leans heavily on nostalgia for and many similar beats to the original, mega-successful Jurassic Park.  Ignoring the previous two sequels, Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the tragic incident on Isla Nublar that curtailed the opening of the previous Jurassic Park (its remnants still buried deep in World's jungles). Since then, John Hammond's dream of a dinosaur theme park destination that would capture the imagination of the entire planet has come true. Now controlled by a multinational corporation run by helicopter piloting novice and billionaire Irrfan Khan, the more inclusively-named Jurassic World hosts 20,000 visitors a day, showcasing over 14 different species of dinosaurs. But of course, if nothing ever went horribly wrong, Jurassic World wouldn't be much of a Jurassic Park, would it?

The best moments in the first half of Jurassic World are when the movie delivers the sights and sounds we came to see: the park and resort in full operation with crowds thrilling to the dinosaur exhibits functioning in the ways Jeff Goldblum and his chaos theory once scoffed at. In Jurassic World, visitors can kayak down a river alongside massive herbivores, young children can ride miniature triceratops, and they can even pilot a sphere in the middle of a dinosaur stampede while Jimmy Fallon narrates the experience on an HDTV. The coolest exhibit seems to be the Sea World-like show where a massive aquatic dinosaur chomps down on a great white shark and soaks several rows of spectators in the process. The dinosaurs of Jurassic World look better than ever, yet they are surrounded by human staffers who are dumber than ever. 

Jurassic World is run by Bryce Dallas Howard, an unpleasantly obtuse micro-manager who is the recipient of several speeches about how she doesn't understand that the dinosaurs are animals and not merely "assets on a spreadsheet." Crass commercialism was embedded in the DNA of Jurassic Park, and it's the same in Jurassic World. World's exhibits are sponsored by Samsung and Verizon Wireless with Ben & Jerry's, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and numerous other products placed front and center. Everyone sports a Samsung Galaxy phone but when the dino shit hits the fan, Dallas forgets she can simply text her dire warnings when no one is picking up. Jurassic World's hiring practices are also suspect; one ride seems to be run by a surly, bored American teenager, as if Jurassic World is a Six Flags in a suburb employing high schoolers for the summer and not in a hard-to-reach island off the coast of Costa Rica full of deadly animals that requires serious, qualified professionals.

Speaking of surly, bored American teenagers, Dallas reluctantly plays host to her two nephews, Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins. These two certainly wouldn't melt Sam Neill's kid-hating heart like the brother and sister did in Jurassic Park. Too busy and disinterested to deal with her nephews, Dallas palms them off on Katie McGrath, her snooty British assistant, who may be the most appalling person in the entire resort, and that's saying something. (The British assistant's dinosaur-caused demise is the most hilariously giddy comeuppance in the movie.) Meanwhile, InGen, the original company that genetically bred the dinosaurs, is represented by the blatantly evil Vincent D'Onofrio, who dreams of weaponizing velociraptors and dropping them into war zones like Darfur or something. The only human holdover from the original Jurassic Park is genetic scientist B.D. Wong, a Dr. Mengala-type so devoid of morality that he should have genetically engineered himself a mustache so he could twirl it.

To invigorate sagging public interest in the park, Wong's marching orders were to create a new hybrid dinosaur: Indominus Rex. Wong's a great geneticist because he did his job a little too well: with the size of a T-rex and the problem-solving brains of a velociraptor, plus the ability to camouflage itself like a gecko, Indominus Rex quickly breaks free of its paddock and gives itself a tour of Jurassic World, murdering every other dinosaur and as many humans as it can find in a bloody rampage. When Indominus Rex smashes into the park's aviary and lets loose its flock of pterodactyls, Jurassic World enters a highly entertaining zone of batshit-crazy, where pterodactyls snatch humans into the air and impale them with their razor beaks. Suddenly the 20,000 visitors are helpless dino-chow and in these moments, Jurassic World offers giddy thrills that justify the price of admission. After the park's heavily-armed security forces are slaughtered by Indominus Rex, D'Onofrio takes command of Jurassic World and sets his bonkers plan into motion: letting the velociraptors loose to hunt down and kill Indominus Rex. Needless to say, it's a horrible plan that unsurprisingly backfires.

Luckily, Jurassic World has a hero and his name is Chris Pratt. An ex-Navy SEAL who is now the park's velociraptor whisperer, Pratt proves to be the only competent person in the entire park. (When Dallas' nephews figure this out, they smartly opt to stick with him instead of their aunt.) In full steely-stare, square-jawed alpha mode, Pratt literally has to drag Dallas around the jungles of Jurassic World to try to save her nephews. Pratt is often rumored to be the next Indiana Jones and Jurassic World seems to be his audition, with Dallas playing the infuriating Kate Capshaw role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Pratt does have the single best line in the movie when Dallas assumes he can track her nephews through the jungle by their scent: "I'm from the Navy, not the Navajo!" Through Jurassic World would like us to believe there's romantic chemistry between Pratt and Dallas, the most touching (oddly) relationship in the movie is between Pratt and the four velociraptors he raised from birth, trained, and somehow "trust" him. One of Jurassic World's goofy high points is Pratt riding his motorcycle alongside his pet raptors, all of them on the hunt for Indominus Rex.

By the time Dallas decides the only way to stop a super predator is with another super predator and lets loose the classic, now-beloved T-rex from the original Jurassic Park, Jurassic World goes full-on into fan fiction territory: T-rex and velociraptors, the Jurassic Park O.G.s, versus Indominus Rex. Jurassic Park Class of '93 rules, suckas! All that was missing from their victory was a raptor-T-rex fist bump. The triumph of T-rex and the velociraptor merely cements the fact that no matter how many sequels are cranked out and how many made up dinosaurs the Jurassic franchise dreams up, you just can't top the crowd-pleasing, genetically-engineered perfection of the original T-rex and velociraptors. At this point, they deserve (and will probably get) their own stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. After Jurassic World's $200,000,000+ opening weekend, T-rex and the velociraptors must be legitimately counted among the biggest and most popular movie stars on the planet. Really, they have been for over 20 years now, and if there are still movies in the future, they will be the biggest stars in the (Jurassic) world for another 65 million years.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Holy Grail

DC Comics ushers in a new #DCYOU era this month as its flagship book Justice League launches a mega event its been building to for four years: Darkseid War. A conflagration between the Dark God of Apokolips Darkseid and the multiverse's greatest terror the Anti-Monitor over who truly is the Big Bad of the DC Universe - with the heroes of the Justice League caught in the middle. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this story by DC Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and probably the hottest artist in DC right now Jason Fabok are the real world ramifications to one iconic DC superhero in particular: Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman has been caught in a puzzle for her entire existence. As just about every other (male) superhero has found gigantic success starring in blockbuster movie franchises, the greatest female superhero of all has struggled to find a movie to star in. In 2016, Gal Gadot will embody the Amazing Amazon in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, with director Patty Jenkins slated to direct her long-awaited live action solo film. But Wonder Woman continually has issues that boils down to a simple problem: she has no real iconic story to draw from that can be adapted to a live action film. More importantly, Wonder Woman lacks what most of her male peers have: that one iconic villain to challenge her. Batman has the Joker, Captain America has the Red Skull, Thor has Loki, Superman has Lex Luthor. Who does Wonder Woman really have as an opposite number? The Cheetah? Dr. Psycho? Even Ares the Greek god of war falls short in capturing the imagination.

Enter Grail. With Grail, I believe Johns and Fabok have at last untied the magic lasso's Gordian knot, finally creating that singular iconic enemy for Wonder Woman. You can read Grail's origin for free right here.  In a nutshell, Grail is the daughter of Darkseid and an Amazon, born on Paradise Island just as Princess Diana was born to Hippolyta. In her revised origin, Wonder Woman is now the daughter of Zeus and has become the God of War. Grail is her fearsome opposite: the daughter of the Dark God of Apokolips. It's a simply elegant creation, and she is gorgeously designed by Fabok as a deadly looking yet still compellingly attractive amalgam of Darkseid's black Omega and her Amazonian heritage. Grail is the Black Adam to Wonder Woman's Shazam, the Venom to her Spider-Man. She is, in many ways, Wonder Woman's Holy Grail.

Grail, still brand spanking new, is already just begging to be in a Wonder Woman movie. Or maybe I'm the one who's begging. At the very least, asking politely. I hope there are cinematic ambitions for Johns' and Fabok's wondrous new creation, because in my mind Grail is the key to Wonder Woman's cinematic future. Think about it: the most successful female lead superhero franchise of all time? The Hunger Games.* Who is Katniss Everdeen's greatest enemy? President Snow, a sinister old man. They can never fight, have a throwdown in the grand superhero tradition. But Wonder Woman played by Gal Gadot taking on Grail played by a worthy Hollywood actress (Alexandra Daddario, maybe? She of the luminous blue eyes and who already played a daughter of a god in Percy Jackson...) would be money. You can have my money right now!

Meanwhile, I'll just enjoy how Darkseid War unfolds as I dream of Wonder Woman and Grail battling it out on the big screen.

* Yes, I think Katniss counts as a superhero.