Good movies can be problematic too

I dunno what’s wrong, I just can’t make my brain do fiction today. Since I already had this post queued up for Monday, I’m moving it up, and I’ll swap Fiction Friday to Monday.

So, I saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Edge of Tomorrow. Both are quite entertaining high-concept action movies, and I recommend them both.

That said, holy crap are they incredibly white. HTTYD sort of has an excuse, in that it’s in a fantasy setting with Vikings… except not really, because they’ve already given the Vikings fucking dragons, having some variation in skin tone wouldn’t be more of a departure. Plus, I do think it says something that most of the escapist fantasy worlds our culture provides, from Leave it to Beaver to, well, How to Train Your Dragon,  are suspiciously monochrome.

Edge of Tomorrow, meanwhile, depicts a massive multi-national fighting force, in a world where continental Europe has already fallen (that’s not a spoiler, it’s established in the opening montage), and it’s got maybe three black guys and one Latino. Most notably, apparently no one in all of Africa and the Middle East is paying any attention whatsoever to the massive alien army knocking on their gates, since there’s no mention of them being involved on the Mediterranean front.

And again, yeah, we only see the forces stationed in Britain, but the accents imply that most of the forces there are American. The American military is nowhere near that white–but of course this is an escapist action fantasy, and apparently part of what filmmakers and audiences want to escape from is the existence of people of color.

11 thoughts on “Good movies can be problematic too

  1. See also Pacific Rim?

    OMFG is the American military not very white at all. Or, you know, Europe in general. Or the US in general. Or… (Gaaahhh!)

  2. Also I am reminded of this,
    because DRAGONS…

    But you don't even need to get that far, because there are famous POC who appear in Viking sagas, and become King of Norway, and whatnot. Grr, argh, fifty lashes with a lasagna noodle and don't come back til you've read the Medieval POC Tumblr.

    And if you're going to have all people who read as “white,” in a modern context, you could maybe display some understanding of the fact that way back when, Celts and Slavs and umpty different Germanic tribes were not read that way.

  3. Just to make it worse, the only possible POC in the movie (dresses and acts like a member of the same culture as everyone else, but darker-skinned and played by a POC actor) is the villain. Whose origin is mysterious.

  4. Did you just diss Pacific Rim? Why do you hate it? Also, Pacific Rim has tons of POC. Idris Elba is the guy in charge and he's black. Raleigh's partner and the main female character is Japanese. There's a russian, chinese and australian team. The film is about the nations of the world coming together in unity against natural disaster.

    PS: Lego Movie is on DVD. Will you be checking it out? I thinks its worthy of your comedic talents.

  5. I found Pacific Rim boring and brainless.

    And yes, the hero team did a good job of forming the Five-Token Band, but the extras? Oof.

    As for Lego Movie, I actually saw it in a second-run theater about a month ago. It was really good! By coincidence I happened to see the new X-Men the same weekend, and was intrigued about how both took classic action-fantasy movie scenarios and then resolved them non-violently.

  6. I'm going to promote this guy's review of it, where he names it the best film of 2013 (it's not moviebob, in case that description sounds suspicious)

    You'd like this guy, he's very analytical and he also liked Lego, X-men and Edge of Tomorrow (HTTYD 2 is not out in Britain until July, so he hasn't seen it)

  7. Watched the review. I don't think he and I watched the same movie. The ONLY things he said that sounded like the movie I saw were that the characters were archetypes rather than people, and that it's not thought-provoking.

  8. I was disappointed over the treatment of Hiccup's parents. His mom really didn't do anything. I couldn't help but feel like killing off Stoic was part of the cliche 'replace your mentor once you no longer need him' stick and done because he had the audacity to retire. Or maybe it's 'protagonist can only have one parent at a time' syndrome that seems to run in kid's movies. I was excited that they were going to defy that, but then they went and killed his father.

    For me, a big moment of disappointment came when Hiccup stopped feeling like an underdog and when I realized /why/ he stopped feeling like it; he's the chief with the frikkin special-foo alpha dragon with the great girlfriend. Admittedly this was at the very end of the movie, but the feeling was creeping in from the beginning. Very subjective, but, I think the reason why I tolerated him being whiny in previous movies despite having the glorious position of chief's son is that (a) he was clearly going to 'grow up' and (b) I kind of felt like with the way his life was going he was going to end up losing his position to Snoutlout, and when he was going to run away with Toothless he was actually giving up all his privilege to become a literal outcast on the run from everyone. I still really like the first movie. But the second one isn't quite as awesome, and Hiccup just doesn't come off as an underdog as much anymore. Of course, we're supposed to feel like he's earned his chiefdom and his special dragon, because he has done a lot of hard work, but on the other hand there's this definite undercurrent of 'he was born speciallll' and 'here we are going to great effort to make you sympathize with someone who had chiefdom dropped in his lap from birth (who purely had to not screw up too much to keep it) and show you how much the guy who was born to the position deserves it'. Kind of like Lion King; special Simba goes through great hardship, but I'm left wondering why the story couldn't have been about Nala, or, in this case, Astrid.

    How I'd have resolved it would have been, maybe, to have a more dramatic arc with the mother and focus on that, rather than 'Hiccup becomes chief and even his dragon becomes chief dragon' being the over-arc. They do this huge buildup and it just sort of peters out; on the other hand, I can see why they might not consider familial conflict 'family friendly' and I know they scrapped that (mother antagonist) for exactly those reasons. But I don't think she had to be the antagonist for her to have an interesting arc; heck, have her just go on crazy adventures with her son and actually help out, I'd love to watch that.

  9. Valka *did* help significantly, it's just that her helpful actions all occurred early in the film and their effects late in the film. Specifically, she's the one who told Hiccup that the Alpha couldn't control the babies, and she's the one who gave Toothless his maneuverability upgrade.

    But yes, a bit more of a dramatic arc would have been appropriate. Just ten or so minutes of focus on HER feelings about reuniting with Stoick only to lose him again, maybe have her take active (and angry) part in the final battle instead of just standing by.

    I also agree Hiccup isn't the underdog anymore, but, well, why would he be? “Underdog proves his worth, becomes accepted” was the first movie–now that that's happened, having him be the underdog again would be both repetitive and a bit nonsensical, since it would require the cast to forget everything they learned in the previous movie. And yes, Hiccup ends this movie in a position of inherited power, which is an innately problematic concept, but on the other hand he demonstrates his legitimacy through his intelligence, compassion, and courage, in stark contrast to the domineering and violent Drago.

    Either way, here's hoping for more Valka storyline in HTTYD 3.

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