MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_Hot off the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel is back with its second release of the year in Ant-Man. As the film’s title intimates, Ant-Man is essentially Marvel’s attempt to do a smaller film before ratcheting things back up in Captain America: Civil War. Of course, using the words Marvel and small in the same sentence is somewhat of an oxymoron—especially given its $130 million-dollar budget and Avengers-coattail-riding ad campaign (not to mention the tumultuous, widely-publicized departure of writer/director Edgar Wright). In a way, then, the publicity and buzz surrounding Ant-Man is emblematic of the irony of its seemingly contradictory aim: to embody magnitude and smallness in simultaneity. In this respect, Ant-Man speaks to the human condition in a unique way.

Striving for Smallness

Any film about a man who possesses a suit that shrinks him into the size of an ant will necessarily be smaller-scale in the obvious, thematic sense; and Marvel is keen to keep you from forgetting the fact, with numerous not-so-subtle references to the titular tiny insects scattered throughout the film. Moreover, the film’s tagline, “heroes don’t get any bigger” is there to remind you if all else fails. While Ant-Man is much more on the nose than most Marvel films, there are some genuinely impressive moments that epitomize its desire to be the smallest superhero movie ever. One of these moments takes place as an ant-sized Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) battles with his equally tiny nemesis Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) atop a Thomas The Train set. The action is filmed so that it is ostensibly as grand, epic, and world-changing as any corresponding scene in the Marvel canon, but this convention is then comedically turned on its head as a wide-angle shot shows the train set in the context of a child’s bedroom. Another, similar scene occurs as a miniature Scott Lang runs through a model-sized town while being fired upon by his life-sized enemies—the resulting effect of which smartly mimics the disaster porn sequence that is standard fare in virtually every summer blockbuster. In short, there aren’t many multi-million dollar movies that work so hard at being very, very small.

EffectinMV5BMjIxMTYwOTk0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjE2MDY5NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_g Enormity

In spite of its attempts to embrace the scope and scale of its namesake, Ant-Man is an undeniably large film that wants to be seen as such. The ad campaign made that much clear when they released a series of posters that boasted of Ant-Man’s tremendous power. He doesn’t need a hammer or shield to be as cool as the kids down the block, they said. And then there’s the film itself, which goes (way) out of its way to pit Ant-Man against an Avenger, with the former emerging victorious. In other words, Ant-Man spends too much time trying to fit into the MCU (Marvel cinematic universe) and not enough being true to itself. It is one thing to formally experiment with the themes of scope and scale (see the examples from the previous section), but it is another thing entirely to continually prod the audience and tell them how awesome and epic your protagonist is and how he is totally on-par with the Hulk.

Going to the Ant

While it is easy to attribute Ant-Man’s size problem to the departure of Edgar Wright, the awkward tension actually is quite indicative of the human condition. In a very real sense, we like to feel small. We go to the Grand Canyon, gaze at the stars, watch Planet Earth, and ride rollercoasters because we are imbued by God with a sense of our smallness, our insignificance. We all bear the imago that tells us we are small for a reason. Conversely, Ant-Man shows that our desire to feel small has limits. The sublimity that often accompanies our attempts to confront our smallness is acceptable only insofar as we can control it. Marvel’s dilemma—that they want to make a movie about being small while simultaneously controlling how and when we feel ant-like—is, therefore, our dilemma. In other words, we want to visit the Grand Canyon to see that we are tiny, but we do not want to be lost at sea in order to attain to that same end. The problem for us (and for Marvel) is that we can’t have it both ways. We are tiny … but the Lord is sovereign.

JWWhen I was 13-years-old I took a trip to the beach with my family. As any teenager headed for the beach, I was looking forward to a week of playing in the ocean. On one particular rainy day, however, my family was forced to come up with a ‘plan B’. That plan? Visit the local Cineplex.

Little did I know that this visit to the theater would be unlike any other. We went to see Jurassic Park – a film I knew almost nothing about and didn’t remember viewing a trailer prior to my entrance into this dark theater. As the images began to display on the silver screen and I was transported to Isla Nublar, I lost most consciousness of my being present in a movie theater. Rather, I bought into the notion that I was running for my life from raptors and a hungry T-Rex. I laughed. I screamed. I saw it again…and again.

Fast-forward to 2015 and not much has changed. Even though the visitors of Jurassic World have turned out for a new attraction, raptors and a T-Rex are still headlining this motion picture event. Just as Claire [Bryce Dallas Howard] states that attendance spikes with the release of a new attraction, little did the screenwriters know how true this would be of the newest installment in the franchise.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park [1997] and Jurassic Park III [2001] were colossal disappointments to the fans of this franchise, as well as critics, but the release of Jurassic World has showed us that no one was ready to leave this story. JW has absolutely shredded box-office numbers. It had the largest opening weekend of any movie ever, had the largest follow-up weekend, and reached the $450 million mark faster than any other film. The Avengers: Age of Ultron reached $450 million in 54 days, while JW reached it in 15 days…wow.[1]

While I thoroughly enjoyed this film and think it is an almost perfect summer movie, I think it’s interesting to ponder this movie in our larger cultural context. Again, no movie has accomplished what JW has. Week-after-week it continues to gross large amounts of money and remains number one at the box-office, but why? Is it because people love dinosaurs? Probably. Is it possibly because people have more time to visit the theater in the summer? I’m sure. However, could it be that in the midst of our gender-confusing, marriage-redefining culture, America still has an audience that longs for male leadership? I think so.

One of the aspects I appreciated about JW, was that it wasn’t afraid to have a leading man. Currently, filmmakers seem to unswervingly pursue strong female leads – The Hunger Games and Divergent series, are some recent examples. While I am completely fine with strong females leads, as is God, (see Esther and Abigail as a couple of examples), I was ready to see a film that wasn’t afraid to have a man as a strong leader. I was ready to see that man portrayed as a character that was right. I was longing to see a man that wasn’t made to look like a fool for the majority of the film. I was ready for Owen [Chris Pratt].

Unless you’ve been lost at sea, you’re unfamiliar with the now-household-name Chris Pratt. Even Colin Trevorrow (Director) and Steven Spielberg (Creator/Producer of Every Movie) state that they got a little lucky in the casting of Pratt. In fact, they actually cast him prior to the release of the uber-hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. In an interview, Spielberg jests that they both looked very smart for casting Pratt, even though they – as well as America – had no clue how big Pratt would become.

I’m not exactly sure what it is, but there’s a certain likability to Pratt. Even though each character he portrays carries with it that indefinable likability, he also carries a nuance that makes each character unique. Owen makes you laugh, but he also brings a seriousness to scenes which displays he’s no one-trick pony.

As we meet him in JW, it’s obvious he can train dinosaurs, is willing to take risks to save others, likes motorcycles, and has some romantic history with Claire. Even though Claire is a strong woman, his leadership doesn’t falter under her authoritative tone. As he states, he appreciates her need to make tough decisions, but doesn’t relinquish his place of authority when it comes to being a dino-expert.

Owen proves to be a constant “everyman” throughout JW. He was right about the dangers of genetically-engineering dinosaurs. He was right that setting up play-dates with the indominus rex was, “Probably not a good idea.” He was right that going after said dinosaur with non-lethal weapons would result in death. Even when he’s being attacked by a hybrid-pterodactyl and Claire must come to his rescue, he doesn’t relinquish the lead. Owen is the leader. He’s the protector. He’s bravery encompassed. In short, he’s the hero.

In fact, he’s too strong – at least that’s what some in our culture are claiming. You see, some movie-goers may be okay with a strong male lead, just as long as the female is just as strong, or stronger. But, they are not okay with a solely strong leading man. Don’t believe me? Check out some of the blogs of feminists that are destroying JW. Quite simply, they hate it!

Maybe this is a bit of a stretch, but I think JW can serve as – somewhat – of an accurate barometer for our culture. Genders are being called into question; the creation ordinance of marriage has been redefined; but humans still long for a prince in the midst of chaos. There’s something refreshing about a man entering into a broken creation and fighting to protect those under his care. Whether it’s the chaos of humans re-engineering dinosaurs, humans attempting to redefine marriage, or humans objecting to God’s rules laid out in the garden, we long for a prince to come and make all things new.

Or, maybe I just like dinosaurs…


[1] All these stats are according to boxofficemojo.com. JW currently rests at approx. $514 million after a $54 million dollar weekend and third consecutive week at #1 beating new-comers, Inside Out and Ted 2.

TOMORROWLAND Podcast

Posted: June 10, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

MV5BMTQ4OTgzNTkwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzI3MDE3NDE@._V1__SX1391_SY669_The folks at Reel World Theology were kind enough (or crazy enough) to have me back on another episode. This time, we talked Tomorrowland. It was a fun and edifying conversation, and you can check it out by clicking here.

Trailer Tuesday

Posted: June 9, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Trailer Tuesday

In keeping with the Jurassic Park theme this week, I’ve got two trailers for you today. One is a throwback, and the other is hot off the press!

 

MV5BMjM2MDgxMDg0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM2OTM5NDE@._V1__SX1391_SY669_There are a number of reasons as to why Jurassic Park is a modern classic; and since Jurassic World releases later this week, I figure it’s as good a time as any to reflect on the the movie that started it all. So, I’m going to briefly highlight one way in which I think Jurassic Park succeeded, and then relate that to one of my fears about Jurassic World.

One reason that Jurassic Park has enjoyed (and will likely continue to enjoy) such tremendous staying power over the years is that it is fundamentally more than a dinosaur thriller. Hear me out: dinosaurs eat, escape, smash, and scare in Jurassic Park, which is but another way of saying that it is not less than a dino-thriller. But at its heart, Jurassic Park is a character-centered and character-driven film.

It is character-centered insofar as it fundamentally tells a story in which characters undergo change. Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), who is first introduced to us as a curmudgeonly, kid-averse paleontologist, learns that children are people too. Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern) discovers a newfound respect for the power of nature. Richard Hammond (David Attenborough) finds out that he just might have been a little wrong about being able to control an island of dinosaurs, and Dr. Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) learns that you don’t run from the T-Rex.

Moreover, Jurassic Park is a character-driven film in that the vast majority of the dino-action that takes place is focalized through a main character. In other words, the dinosaur-y bits in Jurassic Park work—evoking fear, wonder, amazement, and terror—precisely because they place the audience in those situations with the main characters. Consider, for instance, the encounter with the Brachiosaurus early in the film. Spielberg’s camera stays on Dr. Grant in a closeup, as he marvels at the off-screen creature. This same slack-jawed look is passed from person-to-person, the camera lingering on their gaze, refusing to show us what we want to see. Then, as John William’s iconic score swells, Spielberg cuts, and the dinosaur looms large in front of us. It is an amazing scene, and I posit that it has maintained its staying power because it is rooted in Dr. Grant’s reaction. The special effects are nice (and were groundbreaking at the time), but ultimately it is the audience’s identification with a man who has devoted his whole life to digging up the fossils of these creatures that imbues this moment with such cinematic magic.MV5BMTk1MTIwNDY1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTg4OTI3OA@@._V1__SX1391_SY669_

Through this character-centered and driven action Jurassic Park avoids one of the most common pitfalls of modern action movies, namely meaningless and ungrounded mayhem. Everyone (apparently) thinks mass destruction in movies is, like, totally cool; but when said entropy is not situated in a concern for characters, it becomes little more than eye-candy and thus loses its power to stay with us long after we leave the theater. My initial fear is that Jurassic World will fall prey to this trap. However, I remain hopeful that Colin Trevorrow will follow in Spielberg’s footsteps by giving us some characters that make it worth a trip to the park.

Mad Max: Fury Road PODCAST

Posted: June 3, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

mm000I recently had the opportunity join in with the crew over at Reel World Theology as a guest on their weekly podcast. We talked Mad Max: Fury Road, and it was a blast. Click here to listen, and go ahead and subscribe to their podcast while you’re at it.

Check out this new trailer, hot off the press!

Video  —  Posted: June 2, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

A Brief Defense of Tomorrowland

Posted: June 1, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

MV5BMTQ4OTgzNTkwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzI3MDE3NDE@._V1__SX1391_SY669_At one point in The Incredibles , a weary Bob Parr (Craig T. Nelson) drives home from work and finds his little neighbor boy staring him down curiously. “Well, what are you waiting for?” Parr groans. The thing is, I feel like Parr when I read these incredibly negative reviews of Brad Bird’s latest film, Tomorrowland. Said critics are clearly not like Mr. Incredible’s inquisitive neighbor; for if they were simply waiting for “something amazing,” they would have left the theater satisfied, mouth agape, ready to return for more. Of course, the really fascinating and ironic thing about the all-too-prevalent panning of Tomorrowland is that many critics, through their reactions to the film’s optimism, substantiate the very claim they attempt to refute, namely that the modern obsession with dystopias may be doing more cultural damage than we realize.

What if an insatiable, unbridled hunger and thirst for bleak post-apocalyptic literature affects in society a pessimism that, if left unchecked, leads to fatalism? This seems to be a central question of Tomorrowland, but a plethora of film critics intimate that it is a forbidden question. Indeed, a cursory glance at reviews featured on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes makes it sound like Tomorrowland is Hallmark-esque, replete with pseudo-optimism and cheesy sentimentality, when nothing could be further from the truth. You would think the realization that children are a primary audience of Tomorrowland would be enough to satiate the critics’ fury, but I contend that these responses are an indicator of a two cultural phenomena: an increasing predilection for dystopian hopelessness and a dismissal of narrative optimism as fundamentally childish.

If anything, however, Tomorrowland is child-like in the way that Christ and C.S. Lewis used the term. IMV5BMjAzNjI1OTE3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzE2NzQ3NDE@._V1__SX1391_SY669_t was the latter who says that “[c]ritics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves.” Bird’s film, then, can be seen as an ode to childlikeness that seeks to reinstate some of the wonder and joy in life that we’ve lost and forgotten. It is—and I do not make this comparison lightly—something like Terrence Malick for kids. And even in its weakest moments, Tomorrowland is so adept at awakening its audiences’ imagination that it makes naysayers look like yet another character from The Incredibles: The Underminer, who “wages war on peace and happiness.”

That such an original, charming, and, yes, optimistic film has been deemed naive—even juvenile—is one sign that we may be marching closer to dystopia than we realize. It’s time that, as Lewis says, we “put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” And it’s time to go see Tomorrowland.

Weekend Reading Roundup

Posted: May 30, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized
Tags:

photo 3Everything You need to Know About Tomorrowland: Since we’ll be talking about Tomorrowland here on Monday, you might want to check out Oh My Disney’s guide to the film.

• Joshua Crabb lists his “Top 5 Disaster Movies” over at Reel World Theology. Also, be sure to check out the guest post he did for us a while ago.

• In case you didn’t know, which means you didn’t watch Guardians of the Galaxy or Parks and Rec, Chris Pratt is hilarious. Check out these videos of him goofing around on the set of Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-12I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to this movie.  Jurassic Park was the first summer blockbuster I remember seeing in the theater, so my 13-year-old self hopes this will be a worthy reboot.  That being said, we pretty much know what to expect from this film.  Screaming.  Running.  One-liners.  CGI.  It will be fun, but there really shouldn’t be too many surprises.

Of course, many will flock to this movie because of the action, suspense, humor and thrills.  I also wonder how many of us will flock to this film to see violence?  This is something I’ve noticed about my heart lately.  Many of the scenes I like from the previous JP films include violence.  Think of it this way, what if no one dies in JW?  Do you think you would still like it?  Now, judging by the trailer (and the picture up top), it’s very safe to conclude there will be numerous fatalities.  But, if the credits rolled and everyone walked off the island unscathed, do you think you’d be a little disappointed?  I think so.

There is part of us that’s intrigued by violence.  The emotions that often accompany violence are suspense and thrills, and these get our hearts racing and give us a certain high.  However, there’s also a darker aspect to our hearts, that longs for violence.  And, with JW maybe we just want to see people eaten by dinosaurs in creative ways?  This doesn’t mean we need to feel guilty or abstain from seeing films like this, but we should be aware of it.  I know it’s all for fun, but depictions of image bearers getting thrashed shouldn’t be taken too lightly.

I hope this doesn’t ruin your trip to see JW – I won’t let it ruin mine when I go.  Just be aware of your heart…it’s deceitful above all else.