Amoeblog

He's Lost Control Again! The UnControllable Hulk

Posted by Charles Reece, June 21, 2008 12:12pm | Post a Comment

An experimental mishap with gamma radiation transforms Joy Division frontman into uncontrollable Id.

As a young lad in Manchester, Bruce Banner discovered a love for the proto-punk music of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed.  Although possessing a high aptitude for science, Bruce dreamed of being a rock star. However, he had to pay the bills, so he took a top secret government research job in what back in the days of WWII was called the Super Soldier Project. The Project was an intergovernmental operation existing between the Yanks and Brits. What it produced was a gamma-radiated concoction called, appropriately enough, the super-soldier serum. After testing it out unsuccessfully on a bunch of minority servicemen in the US Army, the science team found one skinny white dude named Steve Rogers who was turned into the Nazi-fighting hero, Captain America (soon to get his own feature film -- directed by John Cassavetes' son, Nick -- which, in turn, will lead into an Avengers movie). Poor old Cap was frozen in ice and thought to be dead, leaving it a mystery what was so special about his cellular structure. But Bruce is unaware of the Project's history, naÏvely believing he is using his degree in molecular biology for finding a cure to epilepsy, not developing a human killing machine.


Little known fact: the name Joy Division was inspired by one of Captain America's greatest battles in Warzaw,
in which he freed women from the evil prostitution rings established by the villainous Red Skull.

While on tour with his band, Joy Division, Bruce has his first seizure. With a new wife, Betty (née Ross), and a baby on the way, he can't let a debilitating illness destroy his future earning potential. His research now has personal urgency. Already proving his willingess to experiment with pharmaceuticals, Bruce decides to inject himself with the serum. Never one to stand in the way of her husband's decisions, Betty agrees to monitor the experiment along with a team of scientists. 



We'd have no movie if things didn't go horribly awry: Bruce is transformed into the rampaging 2-ton monster, the incredible Hulk! The team of scientists is killed and Betty injured as the Hulk breaks through the concrete wall, leaping away into the night.


Eventually the monster calms down, shrinking back into the form of his human alter-ego. Bruce returns to check up on his American sweetheart who has just given birth to their child. But things will never be the same. Betty still loves Bruce, but he can't get past the danger he now presents to his family. This should be the best time of his life, with a new recording contract and a career as a respected scientist. But Bruce can no longer control the beast within, his radiated testosterone making the lure of French women irresistible. Betty is an old-fashioned gal who deserves a good, mild-mannered husband, but Bruce is increasingly drawn to the dark temptations of a groupie-succubus, who's only interested in the green glamor of his emerging super-stardom. As he writes in one of his songs:
Why is the bedroom so cold
Turned away on your side?
Is my timing that flawed,
Our respect run so dry?
Yet there's still this appeal
That we've kept through our lives
Love, love will tear us apart again
The impotency he's experiencing as a mere mortal makes him more susceptible to Hulking out, when he can release his rational moral concerns and become pure libidinal potency.  The groupie makes him feel like a superman, whereas his wife only inadequate.  But, as the song suggests, he still loves his wife, creating the kind of dramatic tension into which Ed Norton, master thespian, can really sink his actor chops.  As the tension increases, so does the frequency of the epileptic seizures.  And with that loss of control comes the Hulk.  
Betty's dad, General Ross, was already dismayed by her daughter's taste in lovers, disappointed that she tended to choose skinny, effete rocker types over real men.  But his interest in Bruce isn't purely familial. Ross is the head of the Super Soldier Project, so damned if he's going to let this anthropomorphic WMD be wasted on the British underground rock scene, throwing TV sets through hotel room walls during alcohol-induced seizures.

Local British celebrity and part-time scientist Tony Wilson promised to help Bruce control the Hulk, but with dubious motives. As was detailed in his biopic, 24 Hour Party People, Wilson had been doing his own research with the effects of gamma radiation on a group of impecunious Manchester youth. His experiments were a miserable failure, producing a bunch of shaggy haired mutants whose sole superpower was dancing like monkeys in baggy clothing. These mutants might've went on to cause a minor stir in the late 1980s pop world, but they were hardly capable of ripping a tank apart with their bare hands. Thus, Wilson needed Bruce and his band, knowing that his top secret Factory would never manufacture anything of equal military or aesthetic worth. Signing Joy Division's contract in his own blood, Wilson is contaminated by Bruce's radiated cells, setting the ground for an inevitable sequel featuring the former's transformation into the super-intelligent villain, the Leader. We even get to see Wilson's head begin to bubble up and swell before he disappears from the narrative.



With Betty wanting a divorce and Wilson nowhere to be found, Bruce seeks refuge in Brazil with his guitarist, Bernard Albrecht. Since all scientific procedures have been failures (nature always wins, after all), Bernard attempts to control the Hulk by training Bruce in the martial arts and meditation.



Things are going fairly smoothly with Bruce, who's taken a job in a bottling plant down there. But his bandmates and fans are getting antsy, wondering when he'll return to performing and recording. Joy Division's manager even tries another singer live, but it causes a riot. Hearing this, Bruce begins to tense up, finding it harder to control his urges once again. Compounding his stress, a droplet of his blood has leaked into one of the bottles, poisioning none other than Stan "the Man" Lee, who drinks the cola that has made it -- thanks to NAFTA -- all the way into his Californian home. Following the poisoning, the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. traces the bottle's production back to Bruce's current whereabouts.

Ross shows up in Brazil with a team of specialists led by the Russian expat Emil Blonsky. Blonsky is a middle aged military assassin whose best years are behind him. All he wants to do is kill, but killing is a young man's game. Not since the casting of Sean Penn's arboretum of hair in The Thin Red Line has there been a worse casting choice for a soldier than Tim Roth as Blonsky. He looks to be about 5 feet tall standing next to William Hurt as Ross, and he never shaves or cuts his hair, even when the costume people put him in a over-sized military uniform. He looks like an aging Little Rascal playing dress up. No wonder the Hulk kicks his ass -- he wouldn't be a match for Bruce.

Feeling humiliated, Blonsky becomes a guinea pig for Ross' Project, getting injected with the super-soldier serum. At first, he successfully turns into a Captain America sort of soldier, which renders the entire point of hunting for Bruce kind of moot. Why do they need his knowledge and power if the Project is already capable of replicating the effects found with Steve Rogers? Regardless, the Hulk beats the tar out of Blonsky again, resulting in his desire for more serum.


Having managed to capture Bruce, Ross is faced with an even worse problem -- stopping the Abomination that Blonsky has now become. Realizing his mistake, Ross lets Bruce turn into the Hulk to stop Blonsky. After an hour and a half of boring dramatic buildup, we finally get what the ads promised, two raging, enormous phalli cockblocking each other through the decimation of New York City (a staple of the summer movie). Why is it that in biopics and superhero films, the filmmakers so often feel like the way to make them more interesting is to focus on the most average aspects of the protagonist's life, namely love. What interests us in the artist or superhero is his or her ability to  leap miles in a single jump or create art, not having a family. Unless you're going to show the Hulk in coitus, we don't care about his problematic home life. "Hulk smash and write catchy pop ditty!" -- that's the point. And for all the attempts to market this film as a fanboyish improvement over Ang Lee's version, we still have to wait a long time to get there.

Sensing that his band, the government and groupies won't stop until they use him up, Bruce fakes his own death with the aid of his still adoring wife, and retreats from the glittery world of NME and the military-industrial complex. In a nod to the TV show starring Bill Bixby, Bruce is shown moseying off to the next thrilling installment.




This review is dedicated to Eric Brightwell.

Hegemonic Fantasies Make Me Feel Like an American, Part II: Iron Man

Posted by Charles Reece, May 4, 2008 08:48pm | Post a Comment
Just look at all that merchandising and sequel potential!

I have a special relation to the Iron Man comic; it was my first.  Due to Uncle Skeeter giving me issue 52 as a Christmas present, I developed a lifelong obsession with the graphic narrative form (i.e., it made me a comics nerd, but never this nerdy).  Despite the ablative effects of my high school years, in which I temporarily replaced my adolescent recreational addiction with one of a more illicit kind, I still remember that comic, due to a picture of me clutching it by a Christmas tree.  So, I guess it's a combination of nostalgia, the (more often than not) sobriety of adulthood and the promise of no Ben Affleck that keeps me going back to shitty Hollywood adaptations of superhero comics I rarely read these days.  Thankfully, Iron Man the movie is pretty good.

Even without narcotics, the Iron Man comic is pretty forgettable.  I only remember a few of his villains: The Mandarin, a Fu Manchu ripoff who wore a specially powered ring on each of his fingers; the Unicorn, a technological foe who shot repulsor beams from his forehead; the Viet Cong, dreaded communists who envied his capitalist knowhow and freedom (aka surplus leisure time); and the bottle, which took something like a 120 issues before it became a problem.  Mainstream entertainment isn't allowed to mock other nationalities anymore -- at least not explicitly -- so the Mandarin was out as a villain for the movie.  However, fearing foreign ideologies is still in fashion.  Only problem is that communists make better capitalists than classic liberals do these days, so Red-baiting wouldn't hold much cachet.  Ang Lee's The Hulk demonstrated that most people don't go to see superhero films for an analysis of domestic problems, so alcoholism will have to wait for a subplot in the turgid third installment.  And a guy who shoots beams from his forehead would probably look pretty stupid on the big screen, giving the screenwriters and production designers migraines trying to come up with some phony explanation for why his head doesn't snap back when he fires. 

Back when we were seeing communists in every bush, Iron Man served as a fantasy to supplant our fear of losing dominance in the world.  Not to be outdone by James Bond -- Ian Fleming's nostalgic fantasy for the fading British empire -- Tony Stark did everything better.  He slept with hot foreign girls and then discarded them (or, at least, it was implied to the degree that the Comics Code Authority would allow), played with fancy gadgets and traveled all over the world fighting the villainous Other.  Only, Stark was the gadget, and didn't need Q or the government, since he was an independently wealthy industrialist inventor, too.  His dalliances and battles were with the superpowerful.  And he got to travel throughout the universe, not just the Earth.  Talk about overcompensating for fear that your 13 inches just ain't big enough.  That's why, when Marvel gave the character his own comic in their Hollywood-ready line, the Ultimate Universe, they got sci-fi author and part-time right-wing nut, Orson Scott Card, to write it.  I haven't read Card's Ultimate Iron Man, but I bet his conservative Mormon outlook tends to frown upon the pathetic aspects underlying Stark's personal vices, and not the striding-around-the-gym-locker-room-with-your-dangling-dong metaphor that is the central focus of the character.

Not being one to shy away from America bashing, Scottish writer Mark Millar was more than willing to explore the darker parts of the fantasy with his realistic take on the the Avengers in the Ultimates ('realism' meaning here the updating of former implausibilities in a fantasy so that they seem more plausible to a contemporary audience, only to have them become implausible once again to some future audience -- cf. method acting).  Millar recognized that if Iron Man was to have any sort of realistic relation to our world, he'd have to be a tool of the military industrial complex.  The Ultimate Stark was shown making realpolitik compromises, taking orders from military officials, and establishing plausible deniability when some of the Utlimates' fuck-ups caused collateral damage (such as the Hulk eating people in NY).  Not being able to suppress his own humanist desire to see the best in people (or, rather, people's fantasies), Millar re-establishes Iron Man's essential heroism by having him reject military and government interference.  The Ultimates become independent agents, but only with the aid of Nick Fury's SHIELD.  Individuals serving the military industrial complex might be bad, but democratic values are safe in the hands of an ultra-secretive organization working outside our system of checks and balances.  The implausibility of the fantasy returns earlier than Millar probably intended.

What director John Favreau and his arsenal of screenwriters give us is Millar's paradoxically liberal humanist take on a character who's fundamentally a not-so metaphorical expression of American supremacy via technological force.  All that's left of the Cold War fear embodied in the Mandarin and Viet Cong is Orientalism and the name "Ten Rings" for the Afghan bad guys.  Only grips and corporate copyright holders fear communist countries nowadays (ripping is not a victimless crime), but everyone is afraid of terrorists. The events over the past 8 years supply the film with its realistic gravitas (recall the definition above). Thus, when Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is captured and waterboarded by the Ten Rings in order to get him to build a WMD that will allow them to take over the region, we're supposed to think of multiple you-know-whats, or at least have them resting right below the entertainment module in our brains. 

The liberal progressive critique is in having all the weapons used by the Ten Rings labeled 'Stark Industries.'  After Stark's capture, the film flashes back to a couple days before, when his playboy insouciance is still intact.  (Proving casting must be a real difficult profession: "We need someone to play a flippant, alcoholic rich guy." "How about a flippant, formerly drunk, rich actor?")  He deals with opprobrious questions from a journalist by sleeping with her.  On his way to Afghanistan to sell a new missile system to the military, he gets drunk with his pal and chaperon, Rhodie (Terrence Howard), while the stewardesses do some pole-dancing.  (Progressivism begins to strain: even though the writers make Rhodie a high-ranking military officer, he's still little more than Rochester to Stark's Jack Benny.)  Stark's drinking and cracking wise with the military brass after demonstrating how his missile can raze a mountain range.  And he's using charm and bravado on the grunts, who are in awe of his celebrity as they escort him back to the plane.  All the privileged arrogance brought on by class and celebrity drops, however, as the Ten Rings slaughter his escorts.  He barely manages to escape thanks to the sacrifice of the soldiers, before catching a chestful of shrapnel.  The last thing he sees is his name on the exploding bomb.

For a summer blockbuster featuring a superhero, that's some pretty potent social critique.  The liberal humanist fantasy comes in when Stark develops a conscience and returns to destroy all of his technology that's fallen into the hands of the Ten Rings.  This is an inherent problem with trying to proffer social critique, with its concerns of systemic problems, by way of the superhero genre, where moral resolution is personal.  Superman can beat the tar out of Darkseid, but he can't punch out poverty.  Thus, the allegory fails, not because -- as suggested by J. R. Jones -- Favreau fails to recognize the irony of having Stark battle his own weapons (what, the weapon labels are too subtle a clue?), but because cultural problems are irreducible to the individuals involved.  If everyone were a billionaire, no one would be rich.  Power requires the powerless; in a world where everyone possessed the same power, no one would have superpowers.  (Probably the best superheroic allegory for power is Mike Baron and Steve Rude's Nexus, an intergalactic hero who extinguishes a star every time he fires a blast from his hands.)  The problem isn't with Favreau's supposed ignorance, but with the genre itself.

Superheroic fantasies depend on the inherent goodness of the hero, which will transcend any structural (e.g., class, cultural, biological) limitations placed on him before acquiring the power.  Even superheroes empowered by the dark arts (e.g., the Demon and Ghost Rider) are so inherently good that they can overcome the influence of Satan.  Stark becomes a hero, because he rejects the rules of the military-industrial game in which he grew up and achieved success.  That game is what allowed him to become a superhero in the first place.  This is why Iron Man makes for a better conservative fantasy than progressive.  Conservatives tend to believe in the unerring goodness of the American system itself, rather than the people within the system.  His heroism is as an expression (I would say tool) of the system.  When he flies off to save a poor Afghan village from being terrorized by the Ten Rings against our military doing nothing, the film's allegory falls into cognitive dissonance.  In the real world, you neither gain power nor keep it by opposing the systemic differential whence it's derived, but by making the differential work for you, playing by the rules.  That's why politicians become more candid and generals more critical only after they retire.

Iron Man sidesteps this aporia of the genre in the third act by having Stark do battle with the film's stand-in for realworld power, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges).  I don't think I'm giving too much away to reveal Stane as the central villain, since he's bald and has a beard.  In one last allegorical nod to reality, Stane kills the Ten Ring terrorists in order to steal the Iron Man designs that Stark had left behind in his hasty escape.  Terrorists are propped up for crass pragmatic reasons, and they're taken down for the same reasons -- our inherent goodness having little to do with it.  Thus, the final battle between Stark and the armored Stane can be seen as a battle between the Imaginary and the Real.  This being the summer movie season, the Real is repressed once again.

Putting ideological quibbles aside (I am a proud American, after all), the writing is smarter than most summer spectacles, the CGI is about as seamless as I've seen and, with the exception of the last one, the battles are excellent.  This is the best of all the superhero films.


Method preparation for Iron Man 3

COPYRIGHT JERRY SIEGEL

Posted by Charles Reece, March 28, 2008 08:54pm | Post a Comment
After seventy years, Jerome Siegel’s heirs regain what he granted so long ago – the copyright in the Superman material that was published in Action Comics Vol. 1. What remains is an apportionment of profits, guided in some measure by the rulings contained in this Order, and a trial on whether to include the profits generated by DC Comics’ corporate sibling’s exploitation of the Superman copyright. -- Judge Larson

One for the little guys!

Still Life: Telling Time in La Jetee with Henri Bergson, The Human Torch and EC's Weird Science

Posted by Charles Reece, March 16, 2008 01:52am | Post a Comment

The prisoners were subjected to experiments, apparently of great concern to those who conducted them.  The outcome was a disappointment for some - death for others - and for others yet, madness.  One day they came to select a new guinea pig from among the prisoners.  He was the man whose story we are telling.  He was frightened. He had heard about the Head Experimenter. He was prepared to meet Dr. Frankenstein, or the Mad Scientist. Instead, he met a reasonable man who explained calmly that the human race was doomed. Space was off-limits. The only hope for survival lay in Time. A loophole in Time, and then maybe it would be possible to reach food, medicine, sources of energy.  This was the aim of the experiments: to send emissaries into Time, to summon the Past and Future to the aid of the Present.  But the human mind balked at the idea. To wake up in another age meant to be born again as an adult. The shock would be too great.  Having only sent lifeless or insentient bodies through different zones of Time, the inventors where now concentrating on men given to very strong mental images. If they were able to conceive or dream another time, perhaps they would be able to live in it.  The camp police spied even on dreams.  This man was selected from among a thousand for his obsession with an image from the past. -- Narrator, La Jetée

I hate temporal mechanics! -- Miles O'Brien, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Thanks to YouTube, I finally got around to watching La Jetée by Chris Marker. Perhaps most surprising after all the ink that's been spilled analyzing this experimental work is how much it resembles the old science fiction stories of EC's Weird Science.  These stories -- like the majority of those from EC -- featured some twist ending that followed along like fate from whatever course of action the protagonist chose in the beginning. 

Continue reading...

Paranoia, They Destroy Ya: Death Sentence vs. The Brave One, or Jodie Foster's Continuing Relevance to the Presidency

Posted by Charles Reece, February 8, 2008 12:50pm | Post a Comment
Given Hillary Clinton’s history of backing neo-liberal economic policies and war-making by the United States and its allies, her advocacy of women’s rights overseas within what is widely seen outside this country as an imperialist context could actually set back indigenous feminist movements in the same a way that the Bush administration’s “democracy-promotion” agenda has been a serious setback to popular struggles for freedom and democracy.  -- Stephen Zunes, Sexism, the Women’s Vote and Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy
These promises of morality, protection, and recognition of harm are false promises. The criminal justice apparatus is about order and its reproduction, and about maintaining the existing hierarchy of status and privilege, and only incidentally about crime or morality or the safety of individual citizens and their communities. It operates most effectively at
the level of the symbolic, by naming individual offenders as morally defective, and using them as scapegoats, and only incidentally as a useful tool for community security, although at times it is the only and the most appropriate social institution available. -- Diane L. Martin, Retributivism Revisited: A Reconsideration of Feminist Criminal Law Reform Strategies

At a time when Spider-Man still had some aesthetic worth, being drawn by the great Steve Ditko, New York was on its way to becoming a dangerous city, giving the super-powered vigilante something to do, presumedly on a daily basis.  However, looking at the crime stats for NYC in 1965, one finds that only 3% of its inhabitants experienced any sort of crime for that year.  With a population of 18 million, it's no wonder that there was rarely a cop around as the Vulture was flying off with his ill-gotten loot.  Now, if you're one lone webslinger, even with the aid of your trusty spider-sense, it ain't very likely that you'll be fortunate enough to come across a crime as it's occurring even on a monthly basis, much less a daily one.  Thus, we have one of the central absurd conceits of the vigilante sub-genre (with radiated powers or merely a stock of ammo): always being in the right place at the right time.

It's just that sort of absurdity Daniel Clowes satirizes in his parodic take on Spidey, The Death-Ray.  Upon discovering his superpowers after smoking his first cigarette, Andy is coaxed into fighting crime by his pal Louie.  The only problem is that there's no superpowered villains with whom to have one of those Kirby-inspired splash pages.  With the aid of his evaporating deathray gun, Andy does the only thing left to him, erasing the schoolyard bully, the older sister's obnoxious boyfriend, and the everyday litterer.  With great power comes the blasé acceptance of its use.

Using the same basic plot as Lee and Ditko's origin for Spidey, director Michael Winner and writer Wendell Mayes's DEATH WISH replaces spider powers with the hand gun and the death of Uncle Ben with the murder of the hero's wife and the rape of his daughter for a more versimilitudinous milieu.  As his daughter lies in a vegetative state, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) asks his pansy aka typically liberal son-in-law if all there is to do when faced with violent crime is hide in fear.  Sure, the son-in-law replies, it's called being civilized.  Well, just like Peter Parker, Kersey will have none of that.  With his newly acquired gun (which inexplicably uses bullets that can't be traced), he patrols all the most obvious places where crime takes place: convenience stores, subways and Central Park.  And, being the sine qua non of the vengeance morality play, there are ne'er do wells at every corner.  "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets," as Travis Bickle will say a couple years later.  Of course, it wasn't until the appearance of Frank Castle, the Punisher, in a 1974 issue of SPIDER-MAN (same year as DEATH WISH), that the superhero vigilante was made to face his grittier, more "realistic," counterpart.  Spidey wouldn't kill, but following the likes of Paul Kersey, the Punisher certainly would.  The conflict appears to be a way of setting up a contrast between good vigilantism and the bad kind, thereby keeping the morality of superheroes acceptable to a readership growing up, say, some time after the Renaissance.

In order to keep Kersey a hero and this right-wing fantasy more palatable to a liberal -- or, really, any morally modern audience, his actions are always reactions, brought on, like in a Western, by the villain drawing first.  Kersey starts off as a conscientious objector in the Korean War, but keeping with the old adage that a liberal is a conservative who hasn't been mugged, he begins to see the value in Deuteronomy's "an eye for an eye."  Thus we have the narrative template for the vigilante sub-genre established, with its complementary theory of justice, retributivism (an equivalent amount of punishment for the crime), firmly in place.  There are many problems with retributivism, chief among them being it's a moral code without a real concern for any practical benefits to society.  It's simply a matter of doing what's right in abstracto, regardless of whether the punishment itself might have more long-lasting deleterious effects than the individual crimes themselves.  Little wonder, then, why the vigilante film or the superhero comic is rooted in machismo; societal concern sounds too much like feminine caring.

Trying to further liberalize antediluvian morality by feminizing it, we get Neil Jordan's THE BRAVE ONE, which proves to be little more than DEATH WISH with Jodie Foster's Erica Bain replacing Bronson's Paul Kersey.   Certainly Foster's face maps a wider emotive geography that Bronson's, who  looks like some sculpted artifact from a simpler, more decisive time.  Getting art (power) house Jordan to direct the film was an attempt to bestow gravitas to what would have otherwise been dismissed by most critics as little more than a generic reiteration of a well-worn cliché.  And one doesn't have to guess at the motives of the producers, Susan Downey says as much in the documentary that comes with the film on dvd.  Both director and star are there to help deepen the emotional understanding of vengeance.  As Downey tells us, the original script by father-son writing duo, Roderick and Bruce Taylor, was too much a straightforward genre piece, only with a woman protagonist.  Brought on, in part, by Foster's insistence, Cynthia Mort revised the script, making the hero an NPR talkshow host, often speaking in a voiceover (for those who couldn't quite appreciate the message behind .Bronson's granite gaze).  The intended difference in vigilantes here supposedly being that Foster’s is one who takes on the full emotional and moral weight of her decisions (as NPR reporters sound like they're doing when reporting a story), where Bronson’s was just a force to be reckoned with.  Just look at the posters: Bronson is a man of determination and action, Foster a woman of regret and doubt.  I don't remember Bronson touching his hair once in any of the five DEATH WISHes.  Nor does he cry, which Foster does in abundance.

But these are superficial differences, taken as meritorious by a reductio ad absurdist identity politics.  By merely replacing the speaker of an argument with another speaker belonging to a neglected group, the argument is assumed to take on a different meaning, as if there's something intrinsic to that group which will just naturally affect the argument's outcome.  Having a woman willing to strap on a bomb doesn't say much about women's rights, only how little the ideology cares about gender equality.  One has but to think of Ira Hayes in this regard.  He was "equal" only so long as he served the purpose of perpetuating the American ideal within the context of WWII.  Once he returned home, and his "Indian-ness" began to re-surface, the ideology had little use for him.  Otherness is of value to an ideology only if it can be used to perpetuate that ideology.  With better cinematography and acting, THE BRAVE ONE uses the feminine body to make exactly the same points as DEATH WISH.  Like Kersey, Bain has a perfect life in Manhattan, is a devout liberal, loses a loved one in a violent act, acquires a gun,  proceeds to haunt the same locales waiting for Them to draw first, and then gets help from a cop in order to get away with it.  The substitution of Foster and the effeminate connotation of an arthouse take on the vengeance sub-genre are nothing more than rhetorical affectations to help reassert the continuing appeal of retributivism.  If THE BRAVE ONE suggests anything not already in its predecessor, it's only that technology qua gun is the great equalizer.

The feminist intent of THE BRAVE ONE wasn't lost on some critics.  Writing in Film Comment (Vol. 43, No. 5), Amy Taubin contrasts it to the "male fantasy" of MS. 45 and DEATH WISH, along with the latter's "righteous vigilantism."  Contrary to the film's being a near point for point remake of DEATH WISH, she chooses to compare it more favorably with the more critically respectable TAXI DRIVER.  Odd, since Travis Bickle is pretty much off from the beginning of his story, whereas Paul Kersey is, despite Bronson's lack of nuance, shown to go through the same transformation brought on by the power of the gun Foster evinces: from passive liberal to angel of vengeance.  If the superficially feminist tricks -- artiness and emotional NPR-employed woman protagonist -- can get a feminist critic to buy into the morality of DEATH WISH's plot (Taubin even challenges critics of THELMA & LOUISE to not be more outraged by THE BRAVE ONE), it's doubtful that she'd find James Wan's testosterone-fueled sequel, DEATH SENTENCE, any more feminist than the Bronson flick.  But, in its focus on the familial and social effects of vengeance, violence begetting violence, it is less masculinist than THE BRAVE ONE, despite its hyper-stylized violence and muscular tit for tat.

As Brian Garfield says, he wrote DEATH SENTENCE "as a sort of penance for the movie version of DEATH WISH."  The film (which was written by Garfield and Ian Jeffers) stays fairly true to his intent, even though it plays to the stylistic demands of the contemporary action spectacle, with tribally tattooed bald bad guys who look more like villains from THE CROW than any street gang in the real world.  Kevin Bacon plays Nick Hume, a happy insurance salesman with a great family until son number 1 is macheted down as part of a gang ritual.  Unlike with the two previous films, the killer is caught, but due to the nature of legal bureaucracy, he clearly isn't going to get his just deserts.  Thus, Nick refuses to testify against him, deciding instead to follow him home to exact what he feels is a more justified retribution.  Unlike Paul and Erica, he's made to pay for his revenge.  The gang discovers his identity and -- in what's surely the worst use of a pop song in cinema's history -- takes out his entire family including Nick himself -- concluding with a spiraling overhead shot of their lifeless bodies to the tune of some 90s WB-warbler about lost love.  Nick survives, says a few words of regret to his other son, now in a vegetative state (along with skulls, tomatoes prove a good excuse for monologues), shaves his head (hardly a nuanced sign of parity between him and the villain), acquires an arsenal from the gang leader's dad (eccentrically played by John Goodman and alluding to the violent upbringing at the base of the villain's worldview), and goes on to exact more retribution.

The most intriguing contrast between the three films is the moral conscience supplied by the cop role.  Each film has a cop who takes a special interest in the case of the vigilante hero:  DEATH WISH has Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia), a detective who is told by the Commissioner to let Paul go free due to the political ramifications of trying a guy who's had the effect of reducing crime in New York.  THE BRAVE ONE has Detective Mercer (Terrence Howard) who lets Erica go after killing the final bad guy involved in her rape and the murder of her fiancé, not because of bureaucracy, but because he sympathizes with her position.  He even goes so far as to let her shoot him in the arm and arrange the murder to look like it was a defense killing in the line of duty!  And, finally, DEATH SENTENCE has Detective Wallis (Aisha Tyler), who knows why the gang is after Nick and tries to get him to stop the violent cycle by opening up to her.  Tyler has a thankless role, functioning more as a "don't do that"/"see I told you so" version of the chorus in a Greek tragedy.  Yet, hers is the only role that really focuses this type of story on the familial and social damage that results from a retributivist world view -- hardly surprising that a woman was cast for it.  The character points to the realworld problem of implementing retributivism, rather than merely arguing its abstracted points in a fantasy setting.  Her outlook is confirmed as Nick sits mano a mano with the gang leader at the end of the film, both bleeding to death; whether or not the villain deserved to die becomes irrelevant, when the cost to Nick was so high in making his point. 

Substituting a woman who displays stereotypically feminine cues (e.g., crying and general emoting) into what's a particularly masculine subgenre of Action is insufficient by that fact alone for a feminist critique.  Despite Jodie Foster's claim (in the aforementioned making-of documentary) that her character is in the wrong, the BRAVE ONE demonstrates such a substitution might actually serve as an insidious attempt to broaden the appeal of a socially destructive moral philosophy, selling Old World moralism to today's wouldbe feminists.  Only Erica Bain gets away with her killing because the cop comes to feel her actions are justified.  At least, Paul Kersey's guardian detective is forced by bureaucracy to let him go, in spite of the detective's protestations.  Stylistically, both of these films are more realistic than Spider-Man, but ironically neither is as concerned with the real world as the near superheroic DEATH SENTENCE (with its implausible action sequences and Wolverine-healing abilities of its protagonist).  It manages to be both more honest about the fantastic nature of the subgenre and what vigilantism means in a realworld context.  Even more ironic that such a critique -- which I suggest is connotative of, or at least more consistent with feminism -- should come from a director most notable as the successful popularizer of what many call "torture porn."  The delicate physiognomy of Jodie Foster proves less feminist than beefy men duking it out.

Regarding the potential attractiveness of retributivism to women when it comes to the personalized violence directed at family members, it’s worth quoting at length feminist legal theorist, Diane Martin, on how that philosophy can actually demean the battered wife even further: 

The essential destructiveness of retribution-based acknowledgement of harm is particularly clear when one considers the situation of the battered wife who wants the violence to stop but who does not wish, or cannot afford (or both), to end the relationship. The criminalization approach that has become the official norm of responses to battering pits her against her spouse in a contest that individualizes and depoliticizes spousal violence, and threatens her family in fundamental ways. An immediate threat is posed by her partner’s inevitable loss of employment if the substantial prison terms called for are imposed.  A feminist response should not be to say to this woman, “You are mistaken in your opinion of the harms that may be done to you by the criminal process. You are mistaken in choosing family integrity over the integrity of the justice system. You are mistaken in relying upon your own opinion about how to deal with your situation and not that of the police or the prosecutor or the counsellor or the expert.”  These are patronizing and presumptuous attitudes that also alienate women who might benefit from discussing them further and that drive women away from the resources and help they might need. -- p. 184-5
Following Foster's lachrymose attempt at rebranding the vigilante film by a few months, we got Hillary Clinton's attempt to repackage her Thatcherite masculinity to bourgeois women voters in the New Hampshire primary.  And judging by the exit polls, the ploy worked, Clinton took back the support of women she'd lost to Obama in the Iowa primary.  The detrimental effects on Iraqi women entailed by her support for the imperialist doctrine behind the current war seems to hold considerably less cachet for middle-class women voters than her looking like them and showing that she can act just like they feel they would under the grueling demands of a presidential campaign.  Were her tears genuine?  Who cares?  Her use of BET's Ben Johnson and her husband in playing crass identity politics against Obama makes their spontaneity dubious.  Even if they were real, they function as little more than a mask for what she actually represents.  Feminist support for the one true feminist in the race, Dennis Kucinich, unsurprisingly fell on deaf ears, and he dropped out.   Should Hillary Clinton’s lead hold and she goes on to make the final bid for the presidency, we’ll be left with a choice between two candidates who supported a foreign policy agenda of vengeance that now makes Kissinger’s realpolitik look as feminist as DEATH SENTENCE.
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