A Not Terribly Brief Review of 28 Weeks Later

In the wake of the catastrophe on the Isle of Dogs, this committee strongly feels that some important lessons need to be learned about effectively containing the so-called “Rage” virus and its victims, the “Infected.” Simply put, this disaster brought to light an alarming number of strategic deficiencies in the US Army’s approach, deficiencies that must be addressed if Great Britain is ever to be successfully re-inhabited or if other similar outbreaks are to be managed.

First, intra-service communication was appalling, and can be blamed as the immediate cause of the disaster. Our investigation has revealed that the “Patient Zero” for the second-wave outbreak was a survivor who had been recently brought into the safe zone who was, in short order, identified as a non-affected carrier of the virus, directly analogous to Typhoid Mary from over a century earlier. She was, in short, both incredibly valuable and incredibly dangerous. Multiple armed guards should have been with her around the clock; instead, the only security in place was a single locked door to which civilian contractors had the key. She infected a single person — her husband who, predictably, kissed her upon learning she was alive — who then set in motion the chain reaction that led to horrific carnage. Literally for want of a single bullet, over 15,000 lives could have been saved.

Second, procedures for containing the likely inevitable recurrence of the Rage Virus were revealed to be inadequate to the point of incompetence. All the civilians were relocated to a single shelter — a hastily converted “car park,” to use the parlance of the nearly extinct British — where the surprise appearance of a single Infected would prove catastrophic, which is precisely what happened. Furthermore, the safety measures in place were defeated by a single Infected victim. This utter failure to provide even rudimentary security from a predictable threat is simply unconscionable, and led directly to a staggering death toll and quite possibly the end of England as a social entity. If the persons or persons responsible for this disgraceful lapse in judgement survived the events of that night and have not yet taken their own lives, a firing squad seems the only sensible response.

In the event that future infection zones are targeted for re-settlement, this failure hammers home the grotesque inadequacy of establishing a single emergency shelter. The best solution would be for individual homes/living quarters to be fortified to stand as shelters of their own; while expensive, fortifying a civilian structure to stand against unarmed assailants is a challenge that can be met, no matter how numerous or angry those assailants are. This would permit civilians to get to a safe place in a fraction of the time a single shelter requires, comes with the facilities needed to survive a lengthy stay cut-off from outside assistance already built-in, and eliminates the possibility for a single security failure to lead to genocide. While homes are being fortified, multiple smaller shelters should be established as an interim solution.

Third, the civilian population should be kept appraised of security emergencies while they are happening. At this point it can safely be assumed that any Britons who survived the initial outbreak are well-versed in crisis management. Herding them into a garage with no indication of what’s happening and then turning off the lights would be an unacceptable way to corral maximum-security prisoners into a shelter, let alone a population of civilians.

Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, the so-called “Code Red” protocol failed to meet every stated aim, and did so in a way that will stain the US Army’s reputation in a way unmatched in modern history save for events of premeditated genocide carried out by the likes of the Schutzstaffel or the Khmer Rouge. Commanders on the ground interpreted the last-resort order to fire upon the infected with no regard to civilian casualties as an order to actively hunt and kill friendly civilians, even when the civilians in question were exhibiting no signs of infection and were under no immediate threat of being infected. Mass insubordination should have been expected. Indeed, this committee was alarmed that the breakdown in discipline and chain of command was not even more prevalent than it was, as the Code Red protocol had devolved into what any reasonable tribunal would immediately classify as a war crime punishable by death. These men, women, and children had entrusted the US Armed Forces with their lives. It will likely be several generations before another foreign civilian populace does so again except at gunpoint. Should, God forbid, the Rage virus appear on American shores, we should expect American citizens to regard the military with an extreme and highly justified degree of skepticism and trepidation, which will only complicate containment efforts.

And despite the draconian measures taken, containment failed. A sizable number of “Infected,” despite possessing only rudimentary problem solving skills and exhibiting extraordinarily predictable behavior and threat response patterns, escaped into London, making any efforts to repopulate within the next six months even more dangerous than they already are.

The abject and utterly predictable failure in London will haunt the US Armed Forces for a long time, as well it should. May God forgive us, and have mercy upon our souls.

A Brief Review of Guardians of the Galaxy

Dear DC Comics,

How’s it going, fellas? Look, we know making movies based off of comic books ain’t easy. Shoot, you know that better than anybody! I mean, you have some of the iconic characters at your disposal, including the first and most successful superhero of the modern era, and you still struggle to make decent movies out of them when neither Christopher Nolen nor Richard Donner are directing. Sure, that Zack Snyder fella has his charms, but let’s be honest — watch his Man of Steel back-to-back with Donner’s Superman from 1978, and tell us which one you’d actually wanna watch a second time.

I’m not gonna say we’ve got this thing licked over on our end. But we figured, maybe, just for the hell of it, while you’re floundering around trying to find a way to make people interested in characters they’ve known since they were children and try to fish a story worth telling out of damn near a century of material, we’d give some of our C-listers center stage. You know, a bunch of characters that make most of our die-hards go “Wait, who?” But no superheros this time; we’re gonna take a stab at space opera, a genre that’s awesome in theory but generally tends to fall into one of two categories in practice: Star Wars Original Trilogy, and Bitter Disappointment. Also, two of our main characters are going to be a violent, smart-alecky talking CGI raccoon, and his best friend, a CGI tree who can only say his own name. And then we’ll round out the cast with a sitcom goofball, a professional wrestler, and a hot chick.

And … hey, whaddya know? The resulting movie is FACE-MELTINGLY AWESOME. It ain’t easy making a movie that hits this balance of dazzling and exciting visuals, playful comedy, and emotional impact — we just make it look that way. Not to brag, but Guardians of the Galaxy is a rollicking fun time, an absolute blast, and easily one of our best movies so far. And we both know that’s saying something.

What can we say? We felt like we had to raise our own bar. Christ knows you weren’t going to. From here on out, Internet smart-asses are going to compare the emotional depth of your characters’ relationships to the friendship between a cartoon fucking raccoon and a cartoon fucking tree, and will sincerely find yours wanting.

Your move. Assuming you want to pretend you’re still in the game.

Sincerely,
— Marvel

PS: If we can put together a Black Widow movie before you give Wonder Woman her own star turn? Seppuku. It never completely goes out of style. Just saying.

A Brief and Not Timely Review: Twister

It wasn’t at all what I expected.

It’s the story of a woman (Jami Gertz) engaged to an addict (Bill Paxton) who is trying to hide from his compulsion to seek out mortal danger without actually confronting it. The success of their relationship depends entirely on Paxton not being presented with the temptation to indulge in idiotic, poorly thought out risk-taking for the resulting adrenaline high.

The movie opens with Paxton meeting his estranged wife and fellow addict (Helen Hunt), ostensibly to get her to sign the papers finalizing their divorce. By way of “coincidence,” Paxton encounters Hunt and their familiar coterie of enablers just as they’re about to indulge their usual brand of reckless stormchasing.

After offering up token resistance, Paxton allows himself to get drawn back in to his old habit, using the preposterous excuse of an “evil rival” storm chaser (Cary Elwes) who has the temerity to have “stolen” a piece of technology Paxton developed, which is essentially a garbage can filled with ping pong balls that, as the movie demonstrates at every turn, is impractical and wildly ineffective. Paxton’s need to frame his own thrill-seeking as courage and integrity runs so deep that he openly scorns Elwes for being a corporate sell-out, oblivious to the extraordinary achievement of getting corporate sponsorship for an activity that, as Paxton’s haphazard crew demonstrates, is normally funded on a shoestring.

Gertz tries to understand her fiance’s compulsion, but only winds up enabling it and can only watch helplessly as Paxton and Hunt goad each other into worse and worse decisions. Spurred by their insatiable need for that next fix, their recklessness nearly gets them killed by the very first tornado they encounter and destroys thousands of dollars worth of equipment they can ill-afford to loose. But rather than take a sober inventory of the mistakes that led them to this place, Paxton and Hunt are giddy with glee, their hangers-on patting them on the back and supporting their incompetence.

Gertz tries to accept her beloved’s disease, but it’s useless. She’s an outsider in this world, this fellowship of addicts. She at last realizes that Paxton will never even admit he has a problem, much less confront it, and leaves him.

The rest of the movie is spent validating her choice. In a surprising turn, the movie ends with Paxton and Hunt being killed when their need to manufacture one crisis after another puts them in the path of a monstrous F-5 tornado. The denouement is an extended hallucination sequence as they lay dying from injuries, letting their fantasies play out within their own terminally savaged brains. Their rival dies in the most cartoonish tornado-related event ever filmed that doesn’t involve sharks, Paxton’s ill-conceived gadget works, they get to see the inside of the obsession which has consumed and ultimately destroyed them, they kiss to the adulation of their hangers-on, fade to the sweet release of death.

It’s honestly kind of brilliant. Seriously, there are people who don’t like this?

A Brief Review: The Fault In Our Stars

The problem with going to see the movie version of a popular YA novel on its opening night is all the YAs that will be in the audience. Five-year-olds may be annoying, but at least they 1) don’t know any better, 2) generally have parents trying to shut them up, and 3) may generally be avoided by going to see later showings of the movie. Teenagers have none of those mitigating factors, but are old enough to know rudimentary theater etiquette and to be at least vaguely aware of the existence of human beings outside their immediate social circle – in theory. In practice, they’re fucking teenagers.

So, yes, The Fault In Our Stars, John Green’s novel of a teen girl with cancer who falls in love with a teen boy with cancer, manages to be very good by virtue of avoiding many of the tropes suggested by the setup and by confronting the often bleak world these kids live in head-on, while still retaining a sense of wit and humanity. I was very curious to see whether the movie could retain the book’s strengths while shoring-up some of its weaknesses, and yes, you’re very daring for sneaking gummy worms into the theater, now could you please shut up about it already? You saved two dollars. You’re not some kind of criminal mastermind.

It was a mixed bag. Jasmine felt like our male lead, Augustus, was a bit too Manic Pixie Dream Boy for her liking, whereas I felt that was actually one of the flaws in the book the movie managed to correct, and yes, of COURSE he’s “cute.” Seriously, even if you hadn’t watched the trailer like fifty times already, this is such a surprise that you need to comment on it? Hollywood has pandering to teens down to a science; it’d be comment-worthy if he WASN’T a “hotty” and JESUS CHRIST do you REALLY need to know what Kristy thinks about this? She’s sitting nine seats away from you! If it was that important to share your trite observations in real time with Kristy, why the fuck didn’t you sit closer to her?

While losing some of the emotional nuance is inevitable, I did feel like there were some moments that could have had a lot more depth than they did. In the book, the scene where Augustus gives his grieving friend Isaac permission to smash his old basketball trophies had an undercurrent of sadness and letting go, while the movie plays it as more or less straight comedy, and YES, she KNOWS that was funny, because she laughed! When somebody laughs, you can pretty much assume they found it funny! Who the fuck cares if Kristy laughed? Maybe Kristy is sitting nine goddamn seats away from you by choice! Maybe she’s sick of your bizarre compulsion to share every thought you have the moment you have it! Maybe I’d like to have a beer with this kid and see if I can’t give her some ideas for trolling you when school starts back up!

The inevitable sad parts are quite effective, and FUCKING HELL, of COURSE that just happened! Even if you hadn’t read the Wikipedia summary so that you don’t sound like a fucking idiot when your friends talk about the book, it’s a movie about teenagers with cancer! Seriously, every teen with more than two lines of dialog in this movie has fucking cancer! Did you think unicorns were going to shit magic healing rainbows onto everybody? And for FUCK’S SAKE of COURSE your friend is sad! She’s crying! You were honestly concerned those might have been tears of joy?! AND WHY THE FUCK DO YOU CARE IF KRISTY IS CRYING?! Ask her in like ten minutes when the fucking movie is over! Are you so terrified of social deviation that you need Kristy on-hand to validate your own feelings? Or has Kristy been showing terrifying signs of emotional independence lately that require constant monitoring? I’m imagining YOU with cancer RIGHT FUCKING NOW and this movie just got a whole HELL of a lot funnier!

Recommended for SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!

Yeah, Pretty Happy These Didn’t Become A Thing

X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

It’s a love story. Between an indestructible superhero and Explosions. Explosions loves Wolverine, and is trying to hug him. But Wolverine just isn’t feeling it, and runs away from Explosions every time. Poor Explosions. Explosions just wants to be loved!

This is basically a live-action cartoon that opens with a killer piece of efficient visual storytelling and then spends the rest of its runtime pandering to thirteen-year-old boys — badly. If you’re going to pull blatant fanservice by including a character like (popular violent wack-job) Deadpool, shouldn’t you at least make some effort to understand just why the fans you’re pandering to like the character in the first place? Maybe hit-up Wikipedia?

“Bad” doesn’t cover it. This movie is exuberantly stupid, gleefully thick-headed. It has a bunch of boxes to check off, and checks them off with as many bullets, blades, and booms as it can manage, with a heavy dose of fanwank Marvel cameos just for good measure. I have no idea how a movie this over-the-top ridiculous can exist with neither Nic Cage nor Paul W. S. Anderson having had anything to do with it.

This movie is like an adorable, excited, incontinent puppy who sprays the room with shit whenever he’s hyped-up, which is always. Yes, the little devil is kinda fun to play with, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that he’s covered everything you care about with a layer of dog feces.

The movie has an energy to it that’s actually kind of appealing. Not appealing enough to overcome its own awfulness, mind. But, still. It’s unique. And awful. But nevertheless, unique.

Luckily, The Franchise Resurrected Itself

Jasmine and I are taking a personal day, and just crossed X-Men: Last Stand off the to-do list, and I get it.

I get the outrage and disgust. I simply don’t share it.

This was a very ordinary movie — it is, I suspect, the movie fans feared the prior two would be. Weightless, silly, and flashy, this was a Comic Book Movie made for and by people who really don’t care that much about comics and think they’re fundamentally for kids.

And I didn’t care for it. Whatever depth and humanity the prior movies possessed largely evaporated, making it a hell of a lot less interesting to me as a movie watcher. But to be properly outraged, you need to be invested. You need to have spent a lot of time appreciating the depth of Magneto’s convictions and the truths behind them, contemplating his role as Malcolm X to the professor’s MLK, to be properly disgusted by the way he discards Mystique when she’s suddenly nerfed, or treats his Brotherhood of Mutants as disposable mooks. You need to have earned an appreciation for Scott’s qualities as a leader, his ability to get the most out of an extremely limited and limiting superpower, to be appalled at how shabbily the script treats him. You need a long-standing respect for Professor X and his deep sense of humanity to be bitterly disappointed at his role as a font of clumsy, wooden exposition.

I’m unfamiliar with the Dark Phoenix storyline, don’t know what it is that made it so beloved and iconic. I’m willing to bet, however, that it wasn’t a weird and superfluous B-plot tacked-on to a fundamentally unrelated story. And I bet the pain of watching a favorite story get thoroughly botched has only deepened with this new generation of Marvel movies, which you know damn well would have been laying the groundwork for Jean Grey, Unstable Uber-Mutant right out of the gate.

It has its moments. Kelsey Grammer was a very enjoyable Beast, the action scenes were lively. I can’t bring myself to truly hate it.

But I definitely respect the opinion of anybody who does.

X-Time

Jasmine wanted to catch up on the X-Men movies before seeing X-Men: Days of Future Past this summer. And since I quite enjoyed the three I’ve seen, I was game to grab the lot at Exchange, even the ones that are alleged to be terrible.

Thus far, we’ve watched the first two: X-Men and X2: X-Men United. X2 is reputed to be the much stronger movie, but I recalled my own reaction as being fairly contrarian: that it was perfectly fine, but actually fell a bit short of the first movie overall.

Having now recently seen them both back-to-back, my opinion was, weirdly enough, both affirmed and challenged.

If you haven’t seen it in a while, X-Men is probably not quite as good as you remember. Action-wise, the recent Marvel movies drink its milkshake right up. With the exception of the climactic battles in and on the Statue of Liberty, the action setpieces are all flashy curb-stomp battles where one side is completely overwhelmed and the outcome feels preordained. The final scenes remedy this, but do so at the expense of fight choreography that often looks distractingly hokey.

But it ain’t bad. The script has a light, deft touch that does a good job of humanizing its characters, and a lot of the quotable one-liners remain quite good in context. (“I am psychic, you know.”) Hugh Jackman owns as Wolverine, making his grumpy loner qualities come off as human and interesting when they could easily have been dull and tedious. And, of course, you have Ian McKellan as Magneto, who I tend to unjustly forget when discussing great cinematic supervillains. (Seriously, given the problems they’ve had with their own antagonists, Marvel Studios would probably kill to let Magneto be the baddie in one of their movies.) It deserves to be remembered as the strong foundation on which most modern superhero movies are based. Released today, it would come off as a worthy addition to the Marvel movies, just one that doesn’t particularly raise the bar — and given that, in the real world, it actually helped set that bar, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

X2 definitely tries to raise the bar over its predecessor, and in many ways it succeeds. The plot is bigger, more ambitious, and more interesting. The action scenes are (mostly) far superior. Alan Cumming and the special effects team absolutely nail Nightcrawler, who seems to have been quite well written to begin with. Halle Berry doesn’t embarrass herself, and raises her game to “Unfortunate non-entity where there’s supposed to be a strong, iconic figure.”

But … here, let me quote MightyGodKing’s Christopher Bird on how this movie is generally remembered:

“Everything about this is good and nothing is bad.”

Nope nope nope nope noooooooooope.

The climactic fight scene between Wolverine and Lady Deathstryke may be the worst third-act showdown in superhero movie history. Going into the full details would double the size of this post and obscure the fact that on the balance I quite liked the movie, but the short version: no buildup, no stakes, horrifying ending that makes the “hero” out to be every bit the monster the villain claims he is — and then some.

Jean Grey’s heroic sacrifice was probably the worst heroic sacrifice in superhero movie history until Man of Steel topped that shit. Again, short version for exactly the same reasons: contrived, very low stakes, completely ignores the mutants who would have had a fighting chance at getting everybody to safety but who inexplicably sat on their hands the entire time while Jean got herself killed apparently for the sake of a misplaced callback to an iconic X-Men storyline that most people watching the movie (including me) couldn’t have cared less about.

Of course, that sacrifice happens during a ridiculously drawn-out ending (topped only by Return of the King) that keeps on going and going a solid twenty minutes after the movie should have ended.

And the dialog and character interactions don’t even touch what the first movie accomplished. In their place are thudding moments like Professor X’s clumsy-playful threat to make Wolverine think he’s a six-year-old girl, or that ghastly “We like what you’ve done with your hair,” which deserves to be as reviled as Storm’s “You know what happens to toads when they get hit by lightning?” reading, and isn’t because Ian McKellan is otherwise so freaking fantastic. (Seriously, list all the villains who would be so cruel and tasteless as to taunt a sixteen-year-old girl dealing with the aftermath of their unsuccessful murder attempt. It’s a short list. The Joker and King Joffrey “Baratheon” would be on it. Magneto and Mystique shouldn’t be anywhere near it.)

No, X2 gets a lot of things right, but fucks-up more places than I think movie nerds like to admit. It’s still a good movie. And I definitely respect the effort to raise the franchise’s game. But on the balance, I don’t think it’s any better than its predecessor.

Next up, possibly this weekend, are X-Men: The Last Stand, on which I hear opinions raging from “Eh, actually not that bad” to “No, really, that bad;” and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, for which my expectations have been set as low as you can get without digging into Manos: Hands of Fate territory.

A Brief Review: The Raid 2

I went in expecting a high-octane wall-to-wall action movie, and definitely got it.  If you’ve seen The Raid: Redemption, you know what to expect:  intense, creative, brutal, bloody fights, and lots and lots of them.  If you like extended martial-arts smackdown, you’ll dig it.

This movie operates on a much larger canvas than its predecessor, and I’m not completely convinced it actually served the movie that well.  The first benefited from an admirable sense of focus:  Here’s a bunch of heavily-armed cops looking to arrest some bad guys, here’s a high-rise filled with even-more-heavily-armed bad guys who would just as soon not be arrested, go!  Rama, the rookie badass from the first movie, now does the deep-undercover cop thing, and enters a world of corruption and deceit and blah blah blah blah you’ve seen this before.

I appreciate that the sequel is trying to add more depth and context to the explosive fight scenes, but it’s only sporadically effective.  This is a tough movie to follow; I’m reasonably confident I got most of it, but there are some key plot points I’m very, very fuzzy on.  The police corruption angle felt strangely grafted-on for something that was ostensibly central to the plot.

It’s more ambitious than its predecessor, but doesn’t fully realize those ambitions and is actually a small step down; it’s just not as good as the movie it follows.  But, still, you can be not as good as The Raid: Redemption and still be a damn fine movie, and The Raid 2 is.  For fans of epic fisticuffs, recommended.

A Treatise on Giant Robots and Their Efficacy Punching Giant Monsters in the Region of Their Giant Monster Faces

So here’s MovieBob both explaining WHY Pacific Rim is awesome and getting you into the exact right mindset to appreciate its awesomeness.

Here’s the deal: Originally, Guillermo del Toro was going to direct The Hobbit. But then one day, Guillermo had to send an unfortunate email to executive producer Peter Jackson. “Sorry, dood,” the email probably said, “but ur taking waaaaay 2 long putting this 2gether. I got another thing that’s all like move it or lose it. Sorry, but I have 2 go work on a movie about GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE. Wish this hobbit thing coulda worked. Sorry!!!! :( :( :( ”

Peter Jackson went on to make the okay-but-bloated-and-visually-bizarre Hobbit Trilogy, of which only one third has yet come out. (Seriously? The fucking Hobbit NEEDS to be a trilogy? Really?) Meanwhile, Guillermo del Toro has made the best movie about GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE humanity has yet produced, and you need to go see it in the biggest, loudest goddamn theater you get get yourself to.

Because, seriously. The PROLOGUE to this movie covers all the territory that a lesser director would have turned into an entire move — a movie that’s not as good as this one, because there would have been less GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE. Here’s a thing that appeared one day. Monsters started pouring out of it. Shooting them with tanks and airplanes proved inefficient. So we built some GIANT ROBOTS with which to PUNCH said MONSTERS right IN THEir monster goddamn FACEs. Begin movie!

This is a movie that understands the best way to convey tragic, traumatic backstory is to do it with GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE. This movie believes the best way to introduce supporting characters is by showing them in GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE. This movie understands what it does well, so it’s really a series of build-ups to GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE and, when said face-punching starts happening, makes the GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE as spectacular, creative, and fucking epic as it possibly can.

Which, for a director like Guillermo del Toro, is quite spectacular, creative, and fucking epic indeed.

Jasmine and I saw it in IMAX 3D last night. We’re probably going to see it again. In IMAX 3D. Because watching it on our home theater (which we’re going to, at least as often as The Avengers) just won’t be the same.

Look, you already know whether the trailers intrigued you. And if they left you cold, sit this one out. This movie is exactly what it looks like.

But if your inner 13-year-old perked-up at the trailers, THIS MOVIE IS EXACTLY WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE. It’s GIANT ROBOTS. PUNCHING MONSTERS. IN THE FACE. And it is AWESOME. Go get some.

Lincoln

So Jasmine and I saw Lincoln a few weeks ago. I was very interested in seeing it; I’m fascinated by that period of American history, and the movie’s been getting great reviews.

The movie warns you with its first scene that it has no patience for how the American Civil War normally gets presented on screen. Union troops, mostly black, are doing battle with the Confederates in a shallow river during a pouring rainstorm. There’s no misty-eyed “Brother Versus Brother” tragedy, no haughty “Lost Cause” revisionism cluttering things up. These guys are going at it with bayonets, rifle butts, knives, fists, boots; this is dirty, brutal, and personal.

We learn how personal in the very next scene, where Lincoln is chatting with a couple of the soldiers (both black) who’d participated in the battle. It was payback, you see. Not too long before, the Confederates had won a battle and declined to take any prisoners, simply executing any blacks who’d either surrendered or lay wounded. The troops who’d lived to fight another day were eager to return the favor.

Yeah. Fuck your Lost Cause. For Lincoln, the war has become what it had always been for America’s black residents: a crusade to put an end to a monstrous injustice.

From there the movie turns to Washington, and the fight to pass the 13th Amendment — the one abolishing slavery in the US. And that’s where it stays, up until a few scenes at the very end. And that’s where problems start showing up.

Jasmine hated it; she was bored stiff. My reaction was somewhere between Jasmine and all the Oscar buzz. I enjoyed myself, but is it overrated? Unfortunately, yes.

Jasmine’s issue (please correct me if I’m wrong, love) was that it was so interminably talky. She compared it to C-SPAN as a costume drama. She’s not wrong; the movie focuses on all the political wrangling and arm twisting behind the passage of the 13th Amendment. I thought this was very interesting; I was not aware it was such a contentious issue even with the South no longer participating in the debate. (Well, not participating in the debate in Congress, anyway. They were arguing their case with rifles and cannons.) I didn’t realize the Emancipation Proclamation was, from a legal standpoint, based on insane troll logic and would almost certainly have imploded under the scrutiny of a peacetime court.  And I thought the parallels between the politics of then and now (partisan loathing, favors pushing the boundaries of legality, purists bitching over the compromises being made) were clear enough to be interesting without beating you over the head. If none of that sounds interesting to you, sit this one out; whatever the movie’s other strengths, they won’t be enough to keep you engaged.

But here’s where I thought the movie went wrong: it never decided whether it was about Abraham Lincoln or about the passage of the 13th Amendment.

There’s a scene late in the movie after the amendment passes (spoiler alert: slavery is illegal now) when Lincoln is sitting down with a Confederate peace delegation. Their leader, Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens, thinks he knows what this “13th Amendment” nonsense is all about. It may have passed Congress, but it still needs to be ratified by the states. And if the South surrenders and is allowed back into the Union soon enough, they’ll have more than enough votes to squash it. It’s a threat, a negotiating ploy: end the war, or your worst fear becomes a reality. And given that the war is going badly for the South, he is indeed ready to discuss surrender if it means preserving slavery.

Except he’s wrong. It’s not a ploy. It’s not a threat. Lincoln doesn’t so much as hint at budging: the 13th Amendment is going to happen. Slavery is about to be abolished in the United States. Also, the South needs to surrender.

The movie misses one hell of an opportunity. A mere two years earlier, Abraham Lincoln would have taken the deal. He’d been adamant, from the beginning, that slavery was a price he was willing to pay if it meant the preservation of the Union. Hell, the Emancipation Proclamation itself contained an olive branch. It specified that if any of the rebelling states would lay down arms before January 1, 1863 — more than three months after it was issued — it would not apply to them.

None of the Confederate states took him up on it, and no wonder; at the time, they were winning. But that’s not the point. The point is, something changed. Was it a function of the North now looking like it was going to win? Or had Lincoln gone from a slavery-tolerating pragmatist to True Believer?

Showing that journey would, I think, have been fascinating, and would have added real impact to a gut-punch moment late in the movie when Lincoln is touring a battlefield and witnessing the thousands of mutilated corpses who might all still be live men if he’d been willing to compromise.

That’s not a journey the movie is interested in taking — and, if you accept that it’s about the 13th Amendment, that is indeed outside the movie’s scope. But if that’s what it’s really about, why do some of the key figures in that fight sometimes seem so cursory? Tommy Lee Jones steals damn near every scene he’s in as fire-breathing abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens. I could watch an entire movie of him verbally curb-stomping his pro-slavery colleagues in Congress. Yet his final scene, where we get a look at what’s driving the man, is the most touching and human in the movie. “A gift for you…. Read it to me again, my love.”

He is, in short, a fabulous character. I wish we’d seen more of him. But the movie’s not about him, it’s about Abraham Lincoln … except it’s not really about Abraham Lincoln, it’s about the 13th Amendment … except….

Yeah. It’s a muddled movie.

It is, to me, still a very good movie, and Daniel Day Lewis does indeed completely vanish into the title role. If what I’ve described sounds interesting, by all means check it out.

But if it doesn’t, give it a miss.