Election Night Update: Galadriel vs Sauron a toss up.

Ok, so in all seriousness, I wish that I was a US citizen right now so I could vote in what appears to be the most important election in recent times. I was going to write about how the presentation of latest wikileaks was all smoke and mirrors, but this is not the place to lecture my fans on such things three days before the bug event, especially since I am not an american citizen. You all know how I feel about Trump, and if I am stressed about the election then no doubt a person who is living through it might feel worse.

So instead, I though I would lighten things up with an election that is a little easier to understand.

Live from Middle-Earth

Melitot Took, Female Hobbit, Shire: This election cycle has been terrible. Orc raids and Nazgul on fell-beasts everywhere. How am I supposed to decide anything with this madness going on. Both candidates are terrible. I’m undecided. Sauron is an amazing jeweler and owns most of Mordor. He could really put that expertise to use and create jobs and no place has a stronger border than Mordor let me tell you. Still some people say that he has associations with Melkor. Meanwhile Galadriel has been running around Rivendell for a thousand years and what has that gotten us? Bottles full of light — how does that grow tomatoes in my gardens? Plus she held the ring once and got all scary! I think I’ll just stay home.

Thorin Mcguffinluvr, Male Dwarf, Lonely Mountain: Galadriel is an elf. Dwarves cannot vote for elves. My third cousin Gimli said he was going to vote for Galadriel and so I sent him an anonymous death-threat via grudge pigeon. We don’t vote for elves. They betrayed us once a long time ago and I am still personally offended. We don’t vote for elves; how bad can Sauron be?

Eowyn, Female Rohirim, Horseback: Really? REALLY? I killed one of his most trusted henchmen. Sauron is worse than Saruman. Why are we even pretending these two are equivalent? Wait is that a ring on your finger?

Spleenripper, Male Uruk-Hai, Raiding on the border of Rohan: I am pumped about this election. Finally we have a candidate that represents what I am feeling. Sauron will solve all of our problems and make Middle-Earth great again. I mean look what he has done with Mordor!

Scatt At’Thems, Male Half-Troll, Avoiding the sun: Sauron is a master of manipulation. I know this because, I too, am a master of manipulation. Once you understand that how the world works, you realize that only a few people are truly awake and understand the power of manipulation. Galadriel is obviously asleep. Sauron, on the other hand, literally made the Rings of Power; he understands manipulation. Only someone who is awake to the power of manipulation can truly rule effectively. So what if he casts the land into eternal darkness, that won’t harm me .

Bloodtusks, Female Orc, Mordor: So the eye of Sauron can’t penetrate the voting booth, right?

Saruman, Male Wizard, Corrupting the Shire: I have seen the power of the One Ring. Neither candidate can be trusted to wield it. I personally tried to keep it from Sauron and know he wishes to see me hung from the gates of Mordor and flayed. He will likely end the world as we know it and cast us all into eternal darkness and Torment. I know, because that was my plan as well.  Still, I must endorse Sauron because of Galadriel’s stance on Ents.

Treebeard: Sauron hates Ents. Galadriel does not. Ents don’t mind waiting in line.

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A Review

Often, when sales are down, or when a new book does not quite meet expectations, I wonder if I am doing the right thing by continuing to write. I suspect that this is something that almost writers struggle with from time to time. Surely the 20+ hours a week that I spend writing could be put to better use making money for my family. I have children and a wife to think of, and all the adult practicalities of life to bow to. Usually these thoughts are put down with me realizing that I have drunk too much coffee that day, or thinking of the positive reinforcement that I have received from readers, or family.

The thing is, even if practicalities demanded that I stop writing, I am not certain that I could. I have kept writing through some fairly rough (for my life) stuff in the last few years. I am nearing publication of my eighth novel in spite of it all. Its pretty fucking crazy, really. But, I do it because writing is one of the things that I do to feel alive.

It took me a long time to come to this realization.

And that is where Walter White comes into this. If you have never watched Breaking Bad, you should. I came late to the party, finishing the show well after the final season and well-deserved the glory that came along with it. I loved it despite the fact that I do not like outlaw stories, prefer not to watch TV for the most part, and really dislike grim stuff. Breaking Bad rose above all of that, implausibly in my case, and I am glad that my wife prevailed on me to watch it. It is the first TV show that has given me the same feeling, when it ends, that I have when I finish a great book or video game. That is something special.

I cannot offer you any new insight into the show. The acting is amazing from all sides. The characters and the writing are legendary. The descent of Walter White is both gratifying and horrifying, but no matter how you view his morality, it is a satisfying tale. It is cited as one of the best shows of all time for good reason. I have been replaying the last episode and some of the highlights of the show for a week now.

It is a masterwork.

What I can add is what it taught me about myself. I see a little bit of Walter White in me. In the end, he realized that being Heisenberg made him feel alive, and everything else was just an excuse. It was his art, as writing is mine.

Through art we come to know ourselves…

Disclaimer: I do not intend to use my writing for evil… 😀

Kingsman Review

On Saturday we were a little too tired to game after a long, emotional day, and so we decided to go watch Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is getting good reviews. I have to admit that the trailer drew me in. Watching Colin Firth teaching some thugs about manners in a spectacular fashion won me over easily.

Spoiler Free

If you enjoy old school spy movies, or action movies in general, I can recommend Kingsman without reserve. The pacing is good, the action is crisp, and the characters are fun. Most fans of action movies will also enjoy it.

Here Be Spoilers

Going in, I had three worries.

The first was that the movie trailer showed off the best action scene and that the rest of the movie would be comparatively dull.

The second was that the young male lead would be annoying when paired up with Colin Firth, like some sort of idiotic Watson created to provide “street cred” for his more aristocratic, intellectual mentor.

The third was that Kingsman is a Mark Millar piece. Mark Millar is the creative force behind the comics that led to Wanted and Kickass. He follows a fairly standard formula in those pieces, taking a mundane, everyman protagonist and putting them in an unlikely situation where they blossom into a badass in increasingly spectacular action pieces. Along the way their mentor dies and the come into their own, saving the day. Pretty much standard, if well-presented, male empowerment and escapism. I was worried that Kingsman would be too similar to the other movies.

The action sequences were excellent all around, although the climactic fight did leave something to be desired. I was pleased at the pacing throughout and glad that the trailer did not give away everything.

Taron Egerton does a good job as the punkish “Eggsy” who eventually blossoms from a young punk with a broken family to a superspy. He manages to carry the film well enough enough that when Colin Firth, Samuel L Jackson, or Michael Caine were not on screen I was not immediately annoyed. Better yet, although “Eggsy” was portrayed a being lower class and a thug, he was not, at any point portrayed as stupid, nor did his “street smarts” win the day, both of which are annoying tropes. Instead he is a young man with real promise which is dashed against the hopes of poverty and a broken family, but manages to rise up with a little help. He even goes back and helps his mom. Much better than I was expecting, to be honest.

As for the third point… well… if you filed the plot down to an outline it would be almost exactly the same as every other movie based on Mark Millars work. And yet despite my fears in this regard being fully realized, I still enjoyed the movie, which is very interesting.

The thing is Kingsman manages to break the Millar formula in an unexpected fashion. Despite the underdog protagonist escaping his horrible life into this secret world of ultra-violence and awesome empowerment, this movie manages to be Charming in a way that neither Wanted, nor the Kickass series were. Here is my take on how:

  • Old School British Charm: I am beginning to think that the idea of the gentleman is coming back into fashion, albeit nostalgically. Call it the Downton Abbey effect if you want. The thing is in a world full of bloodthirsty, visceral protagonists someone with manners stands out. With the increasingly shrill screaming coming from 24 hour news channels I have to say having someone with a little subtlety in an action movie is refreshing.
  • The Kingsmen: The idea of the Kingsmen is very interesting. I enjoyed the little rituals they enacted and the unique ways in which they presented themselves. The organization itself is charming, especially since they did not try to gloss over the flaws inherent in a spy agency run almost like a gentleman’s club.
  • A Nod to Class Warfare: The idea of class is dealt with very cleverly in Kingsman, including references to My Fair Lady and similar works. I enjoyed the idea that the Kingsmen are a very traditional, conservative organization with all of the baggage that develops with that. I also enjoy that the main villain decides that he has to “save the earth” by engaging in eugenics along class lines without even making a big deal about it. Nicely done.
  • Smart is cool: I have always felt in many Bond movies that intelligence is presented as a form of aberration. in the newest Bond movies this very purposeful. On the other hand all of the main characters in Kingsmen, good or evil, are smart. There is little evidence of anti-intellectualism. Even Eggsy, a street thug with an attitude problem, turns out to be very smart and not just an adrenaline junky. Colin Firth and Michale Caine have the brains as well as the suits, of course. And, Samuel L Jackson, as the villain is quirky but his strange personality is presented as problems separate from his brilliance rather than the result of it.
  • Family Matters: Last but not least, they make a real effort throughout the movie to show that family matters. For me the high point of the movie is not Eggsy saving the world, it is him arriving home, telling his mom he has a job and getting her away from her abusive boyfriend. It is little family moments like this that humanize the movie and help it show a lot of heart.

In all, I enjoyed Kingsman. My criticisms are mostly with secondary characters. I felt the female characters were pretty sub-par for Millar, who is known for creating bad-ass female characters like Fox and Hit Girl. I also found the trio of upper crust students who mock Eggsy during training to be utterly devoid of personality and unworthy of screen time. That’s it. Watch it.

Thoughts on evil in fantasy fiction

“Great People talk about ideas, small people talk about other people.” Tobias S Gibson, paraphrasing an old saying attributed Eleanor Roosevelt (Ideas > Events > People) or maybe even Socrates.

The days when Fantasy fiction limited its portrayal of villains and heroes to purely black and white are long gone. While unfathomable evil still has its place, and we all love our elder gods and zombies, these are rarely the enemies that take centre stage in modern works. Instead we might focus on the high priest who dooms the world by re-awakening great Cthulhu or the compound of survivors who do unspeakable things to others after the undead uprising. Partly this is the maturation of the genre: the language has solidified to and extent that it no longer needs lengthy exposition (one barely needs to define what a zombie, and orc, or a spell are any more). Perhaps more importantly, modern entertainment is fixated on characters over story and setting, arguably more than ever before. We like complex, rich, interesting characters, and while the elder gods and zombies are awesome and very popular they do not have the greatest “voice” when thrust centre stage as main characters (though some books do just that).

Of course the best works of modern fantasy manage to layer a more complex set of ideology and commentary above the character level. The clash of ideas is truly elevating and interesting, and can work with almost any tale in the hand of a skilled writer. Of course, some writers have no desire to move beyond Jersey Shore Fantasy, focusing entirely on characters who have little meaning behind the interactions. Myself, I like putting characters in situations where grand, crumbling systems and powerful influences lurking behind the action act as the true villains. Evil still has a place in even the most down to earth Fantasy fiction, even if it is only a shade darker than the protagonist.

Here are a few of the better versions of evil in modern Fantasy and my thoughts on them:

  • Evil is the unknowable outsider: It used to be that the outsider as evil was uncomfortably close to racism. Orcs, savages, and barbarians raiding civilized peoples occasionally strayed uncomfortably toward certain world views about closed borders and nationalism. Now the Orcs and Barbarians are more often the hero and the outsider is presented as something well beyond our understanding or ability to communicate with, such as zombies. The Zerg from Starcraft and the Tyranids from 40k, are other favoured examples of unknowable evils — these are forces more akin to sentient natural disasters than understandable beings. This trope works well, but as I noted above an evil that is unknowable is best used as a background element, since it is by definition hard to characterize in a compelling fashion. Its not a bad trope, as long as one does not stray into xenophobia.
  • Evil is what is at the bottom of the slippery slope that begins with selfishness: Extreme selfishness, the hoarding of vital resources, the taking of what belongs to others, disregard for life and freedom, and so on harkens back to the a more traditional view of evil. This view of evil is fairly simplistic, but still capable of nuance. A thief that steals bread, for example, is far better than a rich man who takes food from others to control them. Again, if well done, this sort of evil can avoid entering mustache twirling land, but I think the author would have to work in some views of how the society and systems create the conditions for this kind of selfishness for it to catch my interest.
  • Evil is the apathy/indifference of good men: Apathy is one of the great modern evils. In societies where everything is compartmentalized it is easy for everyone to deny personal responsibility. After all, if someone is being murdered, that is a matter for the police, right? Of course, the denial of responsibility was used as a defence for people who ran the death camps in the Holocaust. “Just following orders,” turned out to be a poor defence when complicit in genocide. This is one of my favourite evils, but understandably it is very, very hard to work this into a character driven fantasy narrative. For one, apathy and indifference are usually boring qualities for a protagonist and not exactly exiting as forces to fight against. More power to those who can actually make this idea of evil actually work in their novels.
  • Evil is the purposeful promotion of ignorance: (rant warning) I despise Fox News and, to a lesser extent, the other 24 hour cable news shows. These channels purposefully promote large scale ignorance in order to simply push their ratings higher. In world of complex, fun, entertaining media from books to computer games it is really difficult to fill a channel with meaningful news 24/7  and get viewers to tune in. The truth of things is that beyond our areas of interest most of us are only interested in the news, beyond staying informed, when something important is happening. To compensate the 24 hour news channels overinflate the importance of almost everything. The worst of them purposefully obscure the facts or outright lie to get ratings. The same is true with climate change deniers funded by oil billionaires, men paying to obscure the facts so that they can continue to reap record profits. There are more examples everywhere, but the central idea here is that the people who promote great ignorance for their own ends are doing something evil. This is an idea I love seeing explored in genre fiction, because we can remove it from the hyper-politicization that characterizes modern discourse on most subjects, and examine the consequences of promotion of ignorance in an of itself.

In general, I think evil in modern Fantasy should remain on the idea level, influencing the actions of the characters. Characters who are evil personified are too simplistic for the most part, and readers who want complex characters are unsatisfied by that kind of characters, be they villain or hero.

Classic Villains: Jack the Ripper.

A Political Cartoon about the Ripper, circa 1888

A Political Cartoon about the Ripper, circa 1888

I am not a huge fan of fantasy murder mysteries, unless the murder works alongside/into a larger plot. I feel that this is because much of the focus of more modern mysteries is on the procedure and police-work, which would not work well with medieval notions of justice. Part of the true brilliance of Game of Thrones is in how a certain Stark follows a path very similar to the modern police/rational detective stories but is violently derailed by the notions of medieval justice and a very medieval crime; it is Mr Martins way of driving home, very effectively, that modern notions of justice, fairness, and law do not apply in his world.

Meanwhile it is hard to find a killer that holds up well to the scale of fantasy, or the magic. What are mere criminals compared to the likes of Smaug, Elric, The Bloody Nine, Conan, or Arya Stark? Only a few killers seem worthy of a fantasy stage, which usually deals with a grander scale and more spectacular action scenes.

One real world killer who fits the bill is Jack the Ripper who holds still inspires a macabre fascination, even over a hundred twenty years after his crimes. Just today I was shown an article about how they finally, potentially, sort of, may have “solved” the mystery with DNA evidence (link). The Ripper murders make for very compelling modern fantasy fare, and the Ripper himself would make an excellent villain in a fantasy novel with little allowance. Here are a few reasons why:

1) The Ripper is Bloody: Modern fantasy tends to be fairly violent, and the Ripper murders fit right in with this trend. Grisly evisceration, performed with surgical precision in some cases, was the hallmark of the Ripper. The Ripper was, above all, brutal, which makes for a good villain in any genre.

2) The Ripper preyed on Prostitutes: Modern fantasy, at times, seems obsessed with prostitutes, particularly those who work the streets and who lead troubled lives. As a villain you could do far worse a person who preys upon unfortunate women who are forced to sell themselves to survive. The connection between poverty and street prostitution is pretty clear, and a villain who preys on the poor hits home in days of growing inequality. Score that for the Ripper as a good villain.

  • Interestingly enough the cartoon that I included at the beginning of this post comes from a period piece trying how Jack the Ripper was symbolic of the “social neglect” problems surrounding places like Whitechapel. Some feel the Ripper murders helped galvanize support for early social justice movements. They certainly shone a light on the seedy underbelly of they city.

3) The Supernatural Element: The Ripper was never caught, and over time, his abilities and prowess became exaggerated to the point that supernatural traits and great skill were attributed to the killer. Partly this is because forensics at the time were still iffy — many of the coroners and investigators could not agree on the man’s surgical skills or which victims were his. The list of suspects was also enormous, all with varied skills and reason. Eventually all of this got packed in and blended into a legendary character who grew larger than life. A legendary murderer makes for an excellent fantasy villain, one that may require epic means to track down and confront.

4) The Taunting Letters: A letter, with part of a Kidney was sent to the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee. The letter is often assumed to be a hoax in modern times, but became a canonical part of the Ripper’s character. Taunting the police is a frequent trope in serial killer stories, and certainly would not go amiss in in a fantasy novel. However, it would be much better to add an interesting twist, such as a duel of wits a la Moriarty, or perhaps something magical like a necromantic Ripper animating his victims and sending them to carry the letters to the watch (I may do this for my next Shadow Wolf saga).

5) The Missing Organs: Several of the Ripper’s victims were missing organs. At the time this fact led to both scientific theories, and occult theories. The occult view lends itself well to Fantasy. What if the Ripper is a powerful sorcerer out harvesting ingredients for a particularly nasty spell?

6) Politics: Several of the Ripper theories have taken the view that the murderer was never caught because of his political connections. Some even point to a Royal connection. This is perfect fodder for a Fantasy villain, of course. Imagine, the Queen’s son, a Necromancer, stalking the downtrodden, with royal agents covering his tracks to prevent embarrassment…

The Ripper character fits so well as a modern fantasy villain that I am surprised that he is not mined for inspiration for more often. Of course it may also be that mainstream fantasy is currently dominated by books where the hero is essentially a Jack the Ripper type, a cloaked figure with strange powers who kills with impunity from the shadows.

Classic Characters: Roland, the original Paladin

Roland's last, defiant act.

Roland’s last, defiant act.

Roncevaux n many ways the Frankish king, Charlemagne was the King Arthur of the continent. He was a real historical figure, a man of great accomplishments, both military and civic. Those can wait for another day, however, since for discussions about the Frankish hero, Roland, the body of legend that surrounded king Charlemagne is more important. In these legends Charlemagne is a figure of surpassing benevolance, the king who saves all of Christendom from the Saracens, and establishes a shining perfect court that is every bit as impressive as Camelot. Roland is one of the figures who spring from from this legendary court, immortalized in his own epic cycle, the Song of Roland.

The Song of Roland is loosely based on  Battle of Roncevaux (778). Very loosely. In the real world it was a battle between two Christian forces, in the mythic version it is a grand conflict between Christian and Muslim. The Mythic version is far more interesting, especially to Fantasy enthusiasts. Here is a basic outline of the Song of Roland.

  • Roland is a mighty, fearless warrior, one of the twelve peers of Charlemagne. Interesting side trivia, the term Paladin originally refers to these exemplary knights (first as companions of Roland, then Charlemagne), but comes from a later work than the Song of Roland itself.
  • Roland has a great horn, called the Olifant, and an unbreakable sword called Durendal. Both of these names crop up in fantasy fiction. In Michael Moorcock’s work Elric seeks out the horn to signal the end of his age, IIRC.
  • Roland also has a treacherous stepfather, Ganelon.
  • When Roland nominates Ganelon to bring an important message to the Muslim King of Spain, Marsiles, seeking peace. Ganelon accuses Roland of trying to gte him killed. Ganelon then uses his position as messenger to plot with the Saracens and ambush that pesky Roland.
  • After the peace is signed, Charlemagne’s army leaves. Roland leads the rear-guard, with a hand picked force of kinghtly badasses, including the Archbishop Turpin a warrior-priest who wielded a mace to avoid shedding the blood of his foes (And thus doomed Clerics in many versions of D&D from ever enjoying the awesome might of the d8/d12 longsword).
  • A huge horde of the enemy attack the rear guard, but Roland refuses to blow the horn to signal Charlesmagne, feeling that his men are more than a match for the Saracens.
  • Roland and his men fight with unsurpassed valour, but in the end they are overwhelmed. Roland recognizes his mistake, and blows Olifant so hard that his temples burst, killing himself instantly. His body is born away to heaven by angels.
  • Marsiles, wounded by Roland in the battle, later succumbs.
  • Charlemagne arrives to find his rear guard dead and sets upon the Saracens who killed them, killing most and winning a tremendous victory.
  • Ganelon is put on trial, convicted of treason, and pulled apart by horses

From the Song of Roland, other authors added details to Roland’s early life, fleshing out his friendships with other characters in the tale and adding to his deeds and adventures. Eventually mythical enemies began to appear in his tales, such as Ferracutus, a giant who is invulnerable all over, except the belly-button.

As a historical character we know almost nothing about Roland, other than his listed death at Roncevaux, perhaps this lack of lore unfettered the imaginations of all those who ended up embellishing his tale. Who knows?

Roland, aside from being an example of how a popular character can grow throughout the ages, exemplifies several interesting features of classical characters.

  • Duty & Virtue: Not all knights are virtuous in the old tales, but the good guys shine far more brightly than modern heroes often do. Rolan embodies the virtues of the aristocratic warrior.
  • The fatal flaw:  Unlike Lancelot, who is undone by his vices, Roland is actually defeated by what is arguably a strong point. His courage boils over in over-confidence, and his predictable adherence to duty allows Ganelon to set a trap for him. This is a little more modern, but it is presented with a great deal less cynicism than one might expect.
  • Certainty: Like most pastoral heroes Roland is possessed of certainty. His faith and his loyalty to the King are unshakable. Even his realization of his mistake is quick and he does not angst over it. Of course his certainty might seem like prejudice if viewed from an outside perspective, but that is another trait common to pastoral fantasy.
  • Martial Perfection: Roland is a peerless fighter, nearly able to overcome a terrible trap simply through strength of arms.
  • Sacrifice: Roland unflinchingly sacrifices himself in the name of faith and duty, the antithesis of more modern heroes. The symbolism of his last act, blowing Olifant to warn and summon the King, defiant unto death is perhaps what seals him in the ancient imagination.

In comic book terms Roland is more of a Superman figure than a Batman figure. In direct confrontations he cannot be overcome, and thus his enemies are reduced to scheming and treachery to defeat him.

The influence of Roland extends deep into gaming culture. The term Paladin has be synonymous with the kind of good, divinely inspired knight exemplified by Roland. You can find Paladins not only in Dungeons and Dragon, but in World of Warcraft and other computer games. Always, they follow the same archetype, making it one of the more consistent Fantasy tropes out there. Roland is at the heart of this, firing imaginations even in an age when the assassin is a more common protagonist than the knight.

P.S: the use of Roland in Borderlands II is quite excellent, both using the tropes, adapting them, and subverting them.

Roland from Borderlands, as Roland...

Roland from Borderlands, as Roland…

Why I think Captain America: Winter Soldier is the best Marvel Superhero movie thus far (spoilers)

Watch this Movie

Watch this Movie

This post contains spoilers. The specific spoilers begin after the red text.

As a Canadian, I have never been a huge fan of cap. I don’t hate the character especially, but if I am honest the idea of a nationalistic superhero bothers me, no matter what the nation may be. Marvel manages to skirt around the issue quite well, especially post ultimates with cap acting as the man out of time, that ultimate allied soldier who is more of a representative of the distilled ideals of a generation than a particular country — you know those people who survived WWII and fought against the Nazis.

The First Captain America movie was entertaining, and much better than I expected it would be, but not on par with the Avengers or the first Iron Man. I went into the theatre for Captain America: Winter Soldier knowing very little about the plot and no spoilers. I came out of the theatre more pleased with the movie that I watched than I have been in a very long time.

In general the movie was good. The action scenes were crisp and varied. The banter was a nice mix of humorous and dramatic, with a surprising dose of heavy subject matter (more on that later). The effects were excellent. The acting was also very, very good, much better than I would ever expect from a comic book movie, even in the age of Robert Downey’s Iron Man. I would heartily recommend this movie to anyone at all, perhaps even those who do not like comic book movies.

Very specific spoilers begin here.

Here are five reasons why I think that Winter Soldier is not only worth watching, but actually kind of brilliant.

1) Black Widow: The marvel movies, despite bringing in Joss Whedon and some a-list talent to play female characters are not the best when it comes to female empowerment. I don’t blame comics for this, I blame the marketing department at the movie studios. I was happily that Scarlett Johanson’s Natasha Romanov got a lot of screen time with some serious action scenes, decent banter, and an integral part of the plot. I ma not the best judge of these things, but I did not find Black Widow to be overly ‘sexed up’. She wasn’t even involved in any romantic sub-plots. Which leads me to my next point.

2) No romantic sub-plots: There is a very tender scene in the middle of the movie where Cap visits the aging/dying Peggy Carter to talk about the past. It brought a tear to my eye, reminding me of recent visits with my grandparents who are part of the same generation as agent Carter, and suffering through the same, slow, brutal dance with age. That is the extent of the romance in the movie, and it is there to serve as a reminder of who Captain America is and what he values, not to titillate or tick off another item on the movies feature list. Cap does not date anyone and his only kiss in the movie leads Black Widow to make fun of him, with only a slight bit of sexual tension, if any. It is damned refreshing to have a movie this long with so little  attention paid to Romance. But then again, Winter Soldier is a damned serious movie.

3) The plot was predictable, but I didn’t care: Winter Soldier doesn’t really try to throw any curveballs. This is one thing I respect in most of the marvel movies. The writers know that the audience knows the source material well and aren’t watching for great new stories so much as to see their favourite characters and favorite stories retold on the big screen. The Winter Solider story, from Fury’s (fake) death, to the Winter Soldier being Bucky, to the various betrayals was not mean to surprise, but rather to emphasize the experience. The story, in the end, gives way to a discussion about philosophy, generational values, and the whole issue of security that is currently the western world, from drones to Edward Snowden.

4) The Winter Soldier has something to say, and it is fairly deep: I often feel that the politicians and thinkers who current dominate the Western world suffer from a James Bond complex. Security had become such a concern for some that it threatens the privacy, freedom, and quality of life for many. In the movie when Nick Fury and Cap argue about “neutralizing enemies before they become a threat”, I am immediately minded of the rhetoric that surrounds drone based missile strikes in countries like Yemen, where we redefine the dead as potential enemy combatants to avoid the sticky moral issues of killing people “who might be dangerous, but we aren’t really sure, and you don’t need to know about it anyways”. The movie wants you to draw this parallel, with huge carriers with automated weapon systems that can lock on to distant targets and eliminated them thousands at a time from on high, reducing the decision to destroy down to an algorithm and a moral view. In particular I found the use of Hydra to be quite good, as the people who take that ideal one step beyond where it is in reality and show us the naked possibilities of the slippery slope of the current security apparatus.

5) Generational Values: When Cap and Fury argue early on, Fury brings up the view that “The Greatest Generation”, which Cap belongs to is not necessarily as good as people seem to think. From then on, the interplay of generational values becomes a deep and resonant thread in the movie, tying in very neatly with the theme of security and freedom. Falcon and Black Widow are explicitly called out as millennials, making it interesting that Natasha has the final word on Shield while Fury sort of retires. It is something that I have been thinking about quite a bit lately as we slowly lose the Greatest Generation, and the millennial generations make themselves felt. Currently the world is dominated by the interests of the Boomers —  that whole James Bond complex is part of their zeitgeist in many ways, having its roots in the Cold War. It is certainly a deeper discussion and a deeper point than I ever expected from a comic book movie and it may lead the curious into those discussions, which I think need to be had. It is a complicated and difficult and messy issue, and it is amazing to see a pop culture movie actually did into it in a meaningful fashion.

In a way, the movie speaks to me. These are things that I think about a lot. I am deeply worried about the people who take our freedom in the name of protecting us. Who spy on us for our own good and kill people in far off countries in our name with remote controlled death toys. I see the roots of this conflict in the zeitgeist of past generations. I am worried about what will happen when it all boils over. It is nice to see  movie that isn’t afraid to go there, explicitly.

Pretty good for a silly movie about dudes in spandex.

PS: also kind of cool that they are willing to drop Shield. That has real ramifications.