Who Would Win? A Unified Theory

Ashok Vadal vs Harry Dresden.
Yikes, I have no idea what would happen here, except that Harry is going to run his mouth and Ashok is going to be suspicious and grumpy. Thing is, I can’t see these guys continuing to fight after they’ve both figured out they’re on the side of the Good Guys. In my opinion, most of these Who Would Win matches end with both parties having a drink and swapping yarns somewhere.

Thera and Murphy…mind you, I’m pretty sure they’d actually get along excellently, but if it’s a matter of either of them seeing their boys in trouble, they’d definitely wade right in. Normally I’d say that Murphy has the definite physical combat advantage (multiple black belts and all, y’know), but if it’s post-Skin Game Murphy with a bad leg, and if Thera can’t throw a knife worth a damn because her hands are messed up, the odds would even out a little bit more.

So, hey, maybe the boys aren’t going to fight at all, maybe they’re just busy dragging their ladies apart…

Harry Dresden vs John Carter, Lord Greystoke.
Are you kidding me? There isn’t going to be a fight. Harry is going to be fanboying so hard he gets caught off guard when the Pelluciderean Neanderthal ninjas get teleported in by the vengeful Therns of Barsoom (who allied with the insane Russian) and a bundle of hired thugs from the south side (probably ghouls in disguise) who tried to jump him earlier and are now aiming to kidnap the womenfolk.

Murphy gets kidnapped on account of being a blonde female in the company of the heroes and thus obviously a damsel.

Murphy has strong opinions about this.

John Carter, Lord Greystoke vs Conan of Cimmeria
Like I said, no matter how this begins, this is only ever going to end with them having a drink somewhere with their respective ladies (whom they have just finished rescuing.) Conan is probably going to pay, because he also pinched the jewels from under the evil altar on the way out.

Ashok Vadal vs Benedict of Amber
Oh, wow. If it did come to a fight, Benedict is going to win hands-down, and the most Ashok is going to do is make him raise a sweat. But realistically, Ashok lucked out in this one, because it’s quite obvious Benedict isn’t there for a fight. Benedict has come back, after an unavoidably long hiatus–

–perhaps he was imprisoned in Chaos; perhaps he was guarding another relation and dared not leave; perhaps an enemy or a jealous lover interfered with the flow of time and kept him for ages past his intent–

–to see how his children fare.

Ramrowan is obviously Benedict.–the greatest strategist, or tactician, or combatant who ever lived, but who has learned the value of peace through his who also realizes the horror of war and the worth of a human life. He’d have some answers for Ashok, and then they’d go off and fight the demons of Chaos together.

Solomon Kane vs Corwin of Amber
Solomon Kane, the solemn, fanatical Puritan avenger, has been on the trail of an evil man like a starving wolf follows the scent of blood. From one end of the world to the other he has been at this cur’s heels, and yet somehow stumbles into an ambush anyway. (This always happens).

Corwin of Amber pauses in his hellride when he sees a half-familiar form in a desperate fight, one man against many, cut and tattered and blooded with many wounds: staunch, undefeated. He turns aside in his journey through Shadow, even though he knows in his heart this can be but the shadow of a man he once knew ages before: in the days before the court of the Sun King fell, in the time when the days were new and the nights bright and deadly.

Kane recounts his tale of woe and vengeance and his mission of Godly vengeance. Corwin rides with him to see it done and fights with him, side by side, one last time.

Kane invites the stranger to stay and ride with him a while, but Corwin demurs. He has a brother to murder and a multiverse to conquer, and, with a courteous salute and a reckless laugh, spurs his horse. And yet the words his once-companion calls after him ring on the wind, strangely to his ears: “What profitteth it a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

The Lord of Castle Black – Steven Brust – Repost Review

TLDR: Even if this one is pretty good, I have lost all patience with the Dragaera Cycle.

It’s difficult to read Steven Brust’s books at all now–even ones I previously loved liked found okay, like Issola and the very first Jhereg–because now I know the dirty secret. He’s not interested in his own story, his own universe, or making it all fit together. Dragaera isn’t a tightly-woven narrative tapestry, it’s a collection of very bright and colorful threads in a loose knot. Now and then Brust may tug a couple of threads taut, just to show off how shiny and pretty those strands are. But there’s no overall, well-thought out picture that can be salvaged from the tangle at this point (well, not without extreme and conscientious effort which I highly doubt will be made).

Brust’s interest in Dragaera lies in…I can’t say the characters, because he seems painfully uninterested in them, but he does like gourmet food, philosophical digressions (AKA, why socialism is good and mafia aren’t), and….I guess, Devera. And this is a problem, because klava and gourmand fried chocolate-dipped garlic and roast asafoedita-stuffed dormouse have left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that even after reading half of this book and enjoying it, I was extremely reluctant to pick it up again–and I still can’t bring myself to actually read The Baron of Magister Valley (AKA, The Count of Monte Cristo IN DRAGAERA.) Why should I read a book in a series that the author doesn’t even want to finish and doesn’t like any more? Why should I expect to be pleasantly entertained when that’s not the purpose of the story, anymore? Why read a well-written and enjoyable prequel to a series that the author doesn’t want to finish?

Brust does not want to tell stories about swashbuckling but hard-edged heroes, noble but ruthless warriors, sorcerers who are as powerful as gods, and gods who are as petty as men. He doesn’t want to tell a story of criminals or of empires, rebels or righteous war. He doesn’t really care about excitement any more, and adventures are downright distasteful. Much better to drink egg coffee in a corner cafe. His stories are the stories of an old man who shares little in common with his younger self (who at least tried), or with younger audiences (who came on board for the swashbuckling, capeswishing, rapier-flashing, epic fantasy stories written on a narrative backdrop that is a richly-woven tapestry, etc…AKA, people like me who stuck it out for fifteen books but have at this point noticed which way the wind blows.)

That said, and with it in mind, Brust is at his best when he’s riffing off a better author and doesn’t have to come up with those tedious narrative beats himself. As in Paths of the Dead, which I own but haven’t read in several years, this is one of those instances.

This subseries is a prequel to the main Vlad Taltos books, covering the fall and rise again of the Dragaeran Empire. It’s also a riff off of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers–D’Artagnan, Portos, Aramis, and, uh, whats-his-face, Oliver Reed played him in the movie…whatever–becoming Khaavren (the main hero), Tazendra (the dumb but loveable ruffian), Aramis (the sneaky Yendi), and…I dunno, the other guy. (WHAT IS HIS NAAAAME?!) So, I had it wrong, this is actually book 2 of a sub-trilogy within the Khaavren Romances subseries of the Dragaera Cycle. Eh, whatever.

The plot is: Khaavren, formerly the swashbuckling hero of a previous generation, has decided that he needs to get back in shape and take to the road again. His timing is good, because meanwhile, Zerika has re-emerged with the Orb from the Paths of the Dead–making her indisputably the new Empress. Problem is, there really is a dispute going on, because there are at least two pretenders to the throne, and they have quite a few more men than she does. (She’s got about twenty-five, including Khaavren’s son Piro). Meanwhile, young Dragonlord Morrolan has set up shop in a ruined castle and begun doing what he is assured Dragonlords do, which tax the local civilians and use the money to assemble an army. He’s got about three thousand soldiers. Meanwhile, immortal sorceress Sethra Lavode is…well, she’s in her mountain doing whatever she does that is of deep mystic import and is never actually explained to the audience. And, since this is book 2 of 3-ish, that’s about it. There’s a couple of battles but they don’t resolve the Pretendership conflict, and on the personal level, the book ends with a near-tragedy as Khaavren’s old-school values and personal prejudices end up pushing his son away into a life of banditry (whee!)

So the main attraction the Khaavren Romances have is that the writing style, as well as the plot, homages Dumas–that is, it’s wordy, literate, and full of narrative filligree and little stylistic flourishes which ironically help flesh out the world and the characters far, far better than plainer prose. It’s a bit stilted, but it’s charming, often amusing, (“Oh bother,” said Tazendra, “I’ve lost the reins.”) and sometimes actually quite witty. Actual action is treated in classic style: with many flourishes and little detail and as much posturing as is necessary to show our heroes in a heroic light.

The characters are less of an attraction, mostly because they’ve already been established and the narrative convention is to keep them on a bit flatter of an arc than we’d normally see. Mostly the only development is between Piro and his love interest Ibronka, culminating in a highly amusing scene wherein their friends basically lock them in a closet to resolve the UST. Morrolan, the second lead, amusingly gets slighted by the biased narrator, who regards him as an unsophisticated country (human-raised) bumpkin who wavers between dangerously airheaded and just plain dangerous. Needless to say, Morrolan’s actual actions put a lie to everything but the dangerous bit.

So, overall: this is a good book, and it’s part of a series that once showed great promise. Unfortunately, given that the rest of the series fails signally to live up to that….I honestly can’t enjoy it anymore.

Rated: One half-exploded sorceress out of…well…one.

ReReview: Tactics of Mistake – Gordon R. Dickson

tctcsfmstb1981Trouble not the scholar among his books, for if he also has a pulse rifle and jump troopers, Mark V underwater bulldozer tanks, favorable local terrain, and an incompetent commander, he can make things very hot for you indeed.

So, the book begins with the introduction of Cletus Grahame, a new-bird Colonel with three months’ active duty under his belt–and a Medal of Honor–testing out theories for the fourth volume of his series on tactical applications. He plans on writing twenty of them. He does not explicitly plan on becoming the founding father to a nation of warrior gods, but, y’know, sometimes things just kinda happen….

This book is about his manipulations of the socioeconomic and social cosmos to provide both the material for his next sixteen volumes, and to guarantee that they will be used and read…by people who can use them and know how to read them. Cletus Grahame’s goal is to create a world of people who can think thoughts the same way he can does, fight the same way he fights, and plan the same way he plans. A world of warrior-scholars, invincible.

Yep, quite an ambition. No, no one else takes him seriously either….until he starts winning.

What’s the secret? Quite simple, really. Cletus’ titular tactics are a way of applying tactical logic to a broader strategic goal. It’s pulled from Scaramouche’s game-breaking fencing strategy–engage your enemy in a series of conflicts, not with the aim of scoring a kill on any of these, but simply to focus his mind on those engagements while simultaneously drawing him further and further out of his defenses–until you have prepared the strike. Yeah, it takes a damn’ good fencer and a damn good general. You have one guess as to what Cletus is. (Hint: he’s the protagonist.)

The overwhelming question I am left with is: why? Why Cletus? Why Dow deCastries? What the heck is the Alliance or the Coalition? Or Earth? Why are the Neumann colonists attacking, anyway, that the Exotics need to hire mercenaries? I don’t think I’m being unfair to point out that the worldbuilding isn’t all that great. So that’s a small mark against it. Mind you, most people aren’t reading the book for details on imaginary history or clever linguistics. They’re in it for the Mil-SF action, and this is one of the classics for a reason.

I may have mentioned this in the Necromancer review, but Gordon R. Dickson is one of my own personal Big Three SF authors. I read his stuff extensively and absorbed a lot of his characteristic tropes. The loner hero–who is not alone because of some personality quirk, but because he holds an identity or point of view entirely separate from the rest of humanity. The Leader who can impose his will on others because he combines the intelligence and erudition of a scholar, a warrior’s martial prowess, a poet’s eye, and a psychologist’s ability to understand and exploit of human nature. The Danger: Human attitude–that there is nothing in the cosmos so great as a human, and no force on Earth or among the stars that can can stop a Man who has accepted its challenge.

All of these are showcased in this book, and it’s a damn good book.

(Now I kinda want to read the crossover fanfic, terrible as it inevitably will be, of Cletus Grahame and Lelouch vi Britannia playing chess together. Or perhaps rock-paper-scissors (jumptrooper-mecha-dropship? Ohhhh boy, I wonder what havoc Miles Vorkosigan could wreak if he went up against Cletus. Or worse…if they joined forces….)

Other notes:

– Cletus spends considerable time of this book passed out.

– Cletus is kind of a smug bastard, isn’t he?

Rated: Soldier, ask not. Especially for more jump troopers.

The Shadow Magazine #192 – The Invincible Shiwan Khan

shadow_magazine_vol_1_193So….

I have thus far been highly and remarkably unimpressed with Shiwan Khan. In each of three outings so far, he’s had a predictable pattern: 1) arrive in New York, purpose: World Domination! 2) hypnotize white American girl into thinking she’s Chinese and serving as his messenger, 3) attempt to bribe, steal, or inveigle goods or services that, WITH YOUR LIMITLESS ORIENTAL WEALTH OF MYSTERIOUS ORIGINS YOU COULD VERY WELL HAVE LEGITIMATELY PURCHASED, HELLO, 4) get caught by The Shadow, 5) run away like a little bitch.

The pattern gets set in The Golden Master, Shiwan Khan’s first appearance, and I mentioned how underwhelming an antagonist he was there. It’s reinforced in Shiwan Khan Returns, the ending of which features the Kha Khan completely failing to accomplish anything except the manufacture and theft of a piecemeal helicopter, which he uses to, as previously indicated, run away with his tail between his legs. The pattern continues in The Invincible Shiwan Khan, although it does get switched up somewhat with the addition of Dr. Roy Tam and the likes of Vic Marquette. Shiwan Khan also switches tactics yet again from using flashing lights or even distinctive sounds as a method of mental resonance for contacting his victims. Now he uses…smells. Yeah, smells. Seriously.

Yes, Shiwan Khan–with his ability to telepathically overwhelm weak or unprepared minds–is personally dangerous. But when what he’s up against is The Shadow he’s also just….so damn outclassed. He’s rather pathetic and I’m not sure how this guy ended up as “The Shadow’s greatest archenemy.” I mean, aside from Walter B. Gibson hyping it up on purpose. It really doesn’t come across nearly so well when an author deliberately writes a character to be The Archenemy, honest-to-whiskers it’s gonna be so awesome when they meet next time!!!….as when it happens naturally. One feels that Doctor Moquino was a bit more of a natural case, because each time when he died, it was with an appropriate sense of “I shot him and he fell into a river, off an exploding barge,” or, “I shot him a bunch and left him inside an inescapable death maze of a house, which exploded.” And finally, “I shot him a bunch AND saw him fall down a bottomless fissure into a cavern that has no exits or way back up.” At least those deaths weren’t punctuated with breathlessly smug narrator informing us that Shiwan Khan would meet his fate! One of these days. Next volume. Somewhere along the road. Also, Doctor Moquino didn’t ever cut and run: he stayed to fight it out each time, which, y’know, I can respect.

All that being said, Shiwan Khan actually does manage to escape with his life, though this is not  particularly impressive (see: “like a little bitch”); and he does take a bunch of unwitting victims along with him. Part of this is lies with the fact that The Shadow of the 1940s is no longer the invincible, unknowable, alien figure of dread, bravura, and the night itself. Apparently, the editorial decision was made to tone him down and make him more….unimpressive. He still wields .45s, but now he largely “clips” thugs (Thuggees?) rather than dropping them; and that’s when he’s not just pistol-whipping them instead. His laugh tends to be more of a narrative device, not to mention a long-range communication method (no, seriously), than a genuine expression of challenging, or ironic, blood-thirsty, or ghoulish mirth.  Almost all of the clever/mastermind-level crooks have identified Lamont Cranston with The Shadow, even if they don’t really know the whole secret of that particular dual identity. And it takes him two whole minutes to wrestle a naljorpa into submission.

While The Shadow does outwit and outmaneuver Shiwan Khan at every step of the way (except the steps that involve not sending Harry Vincent to uncover vital information), he also misses his shot by a fraction of an inch due to (I am not making this up) the oriental fiend’s cunning construction of his new Throne Room as a slant-floored funfair-type crazy room. (That being said, an inferior Shadow is still superior to basically any other hero out there, because he still retains the essence of his character: knowing at least as much as the audience does, and pure, raw, undiluted will.)

Anyhow. Plot. 1) Shiwan Khan arrives back in New York, now styling himself Shiwan Tulku and while still employing what’s left of his Mongol horde, now also assisted by a gaggle of skeletal Tibetan naljorpas, mystics who have seen The Other Side and are now amply content to pass the veil of this life for the next. He intends on 2) stealing, not riches or weapons, but people this time. 3) Shiwan Khan hypnotically recruits Lana Luan (nee: Beatrice Chadbury, and yes, he takes the same frikking girl under control as his pawn again), to serve as a messenger. Which promptly leads to 4), because you do not mess with people whom The Shadow has rescued.

I mean, aside from Harry Vincent: professional rescuee.

Anyhow, 4) continues with The Shadow deftly outmaneuvering Shiwan Khan’s first attempt to eliminate him and also exposes him–and an inkling of his methods–to the New York City police. Commissioner Weston, once convinced, promptly calls in the FBI. The Shadow susses out Shiwan Khan’s new game–luring suitable disciples with the promise of their uttermost desires in Xanadu, a city the likes of which Shangri-La has got nothing on–and, while losing the requisite Random Mad Inventor, gets a bead on Lana Luan and a direct line to whatever Shiwan Khan’s next move is going to be.

Part of the reason Shiwan Khan is just, as mentioned, so damn outclassed is The Shadow’s organization. We’ve seen his agents–Moe, Hawkeye, Burbank, Cliff Marsland, Jericho Druke and (sigh) Harry Vincent–at work so many times before. We’ve seen them respond instantly to a low-toned whisper in the dark, seen them fling themselves into hopeless danger with only the trust in the mighty fighter who is their chief to rescue them, seen them lay down enfilade fire and rally to the mysterious blinks of a tiny, changing light. We know how well the team works, and here, they’re a well-oiled machine, amply aided by Dr. Roy Tam and his modernized Chinese-Americans. (Yat Soon, the Arbiter, one surmises, has been forgotten or perhaps has joined his ancestors.)

There’s also, because wouldn’t it come in useful if there was someone we could use as bait for the guy who likes to hypnotize beautiful women into thinking they’re Chinese and using them as minions, the linguistically-gifted Myra Reldon, an FBI asset. Myra has popped up before, generally with the alias of Ming Dwan and yellow-toned pancake makeup, in various ventures in which The Shadow plays a starring role. The adventures she experienced make her someone who responds instantly when a note arrives, written in fading ink and showing for a crest and signature the fleeting outline of a hawklike profile, topped with a broad slouch hat! (A previous volume shows that The Shadow producing the effect by twisting his hands together in a strange, supple fashion. Which, well. Okay, that is kind of cool. Do Deformed Rabbit now.)

Anyhow. Lana Luan is neutralized and Ming Dwan placed as a mole inside Shiwan Khan’s organization, The Shadow maps out the entire underground lair and the FBI is notified. Vic Marquette, who has worked with (for) The Shadow before, obeys implicitly. Dr. Roy Tam’s organization provides cover (dragons make everything awesome), and the countertrap is faultlessly sprung! However, since we are only at about 70% of the way through the novel, something is bound to go wrong and it promptly does with the aforementioned funhouse trick throne room and then, also, a firebomb.

And so on until we get to 5) which, dude, really….how can you say The Shadow–who had plenty of time to map out the entirety of the evil headquarters–seriously didn’t take thirty seconds more to stick his head inside the throne room itself? But anyhow, there’s also the matter of Harry Vincent still stuck aboard a yacht along with lots of other innocent (dumb) people who stopped to sniff the roses….

So it ends, rather frustratingly, with 6) the rather unenthusiastic promise that Shiwan Khan will return and This Time it’ll be the last one.

One would hope so, anyway.

Anyhow.

I don’t really feel like discussing how the 1990s movie pulled its ideas really heavily from the Shiwan Khan arc and this story in particular (there’s a phurba in this one, but it is actually given its deadly ability via a trick mummy case and a really skinny guy hiding in back…)

Rated: Fractions of an inch won’t cut it. Kill him already!

Postweekend notes

So Friday I was posted to an out of town conference that happened to be about half a state closer to my family than my usual stomping grounds, so I just drove the rest of the way there.

– “I had my friend’s birthday present sitting by the door, under my backpack, and I forgot it.” “That makes me feel better about forgetting a flash drive.”

– The local bookstore produced:
Doomstar – Edmund Hamilton
When The Green Star Calls – Lin Carter
Outposter – Gordon Dickson
On the Run – Gordon Dickson
To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis

– The new Dune movie is for normies. That’s fine. That’s actually [grits teeth] a good thing.

My problem with it is how the filmmakers deliberately and consistently took away opportunities to show Paul, Leto, and especially Jessica, being commanding, cool, decisive, intelligent, or even competent. Jessica spends 80% of her screentime blubbering. Paul spends about half of it being called “boy” and spoken down to. Even Leto’s big scene–rescuing a stranded sandharvester crew at the risk of his own life–falls completely flat. Its impact is diluted by, well, not letting it be impactful. There’s no sense of non-artificial danger, no clear proof that the Harkonnens are sabotaging the spice mining; no moment where the character–or movie–acknowledge that the characteristic action of a brave and decisive leader is to act to save the lives of his men.

Take the scene post Leto’s death where Jessica and Paul come to terms with it. In the novel, Paul gives his mother a posthumous message from his father, knowing that she’s going to utterly break down on receiving it–and does so deliberately, knowing that now is the only time she can afford to do so; and that they both need to be on their game going forward. In the film: Jessica just huddles up and starts (again) crying.

Take Jessica’s confrontation with the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. In the novel, the Reverend Mother is uncompromising in pointing out to Jessica that a) she has chosen a path, b) there is no escape, c) there is no more help to be had, and also D) THE MISSIONARIA PROCTECTIVA EXISTS, PSST, THAT’S KIND OF IMPORTANT TO THE OVERARCHING PLOT, DON’T YOU THINK? But, after all this, when she turns to go, Jessica sees tears on her old teacher’s face. Here…there’s nothing. There’s not even the explanation that the Reverend Mother is the Emperor’s Truthsayer, or a clear reveal of what hold they have over Jessica, or why. AND KNOWING ABOUT THE MISSIONARIA PROTECTIVA WOULD REALLY, REALLY HELP EXPLAIN THE REST OF THE PLOT.

All the characters are flattened, and while it’s in an attempt to make them more “relatable,” it comes at the cost of cutting out the core of who they are. And I don’t like being told that I can’t relate to people who are intelligent, competent, stoic, commanding, and cool.

– “Who is that?”
“It’s the same guy it was the last five times you asked, Mom.”
“Oh. Aquaman?”

QuikReview: Gunman’s Walk (1958)

gunmans-walok-still
(reposted from: Watchlist Update)

This one was actually kind of hard to watch: it’s about a strong and headstrong man who goes his own way and raises his sons to do the same…and how his sons, well, do the same.

Van Heflin is solid and by turns charming and unpleasant as patriarch Lee Hackett, who considers himself one of the boys, except for when he doesn’t, and don’t you forget it, kid. He owns the biggest spread in the state, and built every bit of it up with his own hands at the barrel of a gun, wrestling control from wrestlers and Indians. Only….

…only, that was a long time ago and the place is civilized now. It’s illegal to wear guns in town. (It’s illegal to shoot people, too.) Lee himself skirts around issue #1 by having a thorough understanding of issue #2, but his eldest son…

Tab Hunter (also seen as a juvenile in the George Montgomery flick Gun Belt) is Ed Hackett: handsome, ambitious, sullen, resentful, and generous by turns. (Except the handsome bit. He hangs on to that with great prowess throughout the entire movie.) He’s grown up in the shadow of his father and wants to move out of it, but at every turn keeps finding that Dad is–and indeed, all the other authority figures in town are–just a little ways ahead of him. Like, twenty years ahead of him. And when you’re playing with fire and loaded guns, and even if Dad does keep bailing you out of trouble–you don’t get a whole lot of second chances.

Hunter gives an excellent performance–he considered it his best role, apparently, as it gave him a chance to show he wasn’t just another pretty face. He also rides impressively well, so he’s got that going for him, too.

James Darren as the Good Son and Kathryn Grant as the half-Sioux but entirely civilized love interest whose brother was killed…semi-inadvertently…by Ed, have less material to work with but still serve their parts well as the immovable moral centers around which the rest of the characters circle, orbit, and/or crash.

Another reviewer pointed out that this movie might also be read as anti-gun. I suppose you could make that argument, but I find it more of a condemnation of the people who take on a deadly responsibility, perhaps themselves with a clear understanding of what it is–but who fail to teach their children the same. Lee carries a gun as a statement of power, independence, and self-reliance, not quite understanding why this statement is out of fashion in the modern day, but still somewhat understanding that it is. On the other hand, his son, who has absorbed that wearing a gun means standing apart from people who don’t, is violently confused as to why there still seem to be constraints, and so many conflicting rules about his behavior…when he’s the man with the gun.

The ending is standard and a bit pat, but it’s also what the audience, having grown to understand the characters and know their ways, knows is coming–and wants to see.

Rated: four white mares out of four.

Movie Review: Interceptor (2022)

interceptor-208051131-largeImpressively not-dumb….for the most part.

Even though it features a strong female immigrant protagonist who has suffered from a sexual assault from a commanding officer and has had her career derailed as a result, who is aided by a very beta immigrant brown male and opposed by white males, one a resentful uber-loser with a Southern accent who calls himself a patriot as he murders his fellow soldier, of course, and one an all-Midwestern boy with enormous resentment for the failings of capitalist America and also his rich daddy…..it’s kind of still good? (Oh, and even though the lead’s hair does somehow go from being in a bun to being in a ponytail with no explanation, there is a good reason for her to be in a singlet the entire time: acid. Yep. Acid. ‘Cuz acid burns things, duh.)

This film was written and directed by an Austrialian (and stars a bunch of Aussies). As a matter of fact, the writer/director is Matthew Reilly, who I know from Ice Station and his apparent penchant for writing modern-day pulp action thrillers. All I have to say is in that case he should keep his whore mouth shut about America; and additionally, that the movie was about twenty minutes longer than it should have been. Also, boy oh boy are those some of those slowest Navy SEALS ever.

That being said, the good really does outweigh the bad, because need I mention there’s also a random ninja? Honest to God, there’s a random Chinese ninja guy who shows up, does a couple of kung-fu poses, and then gets blasted out of the hatch with a shotgun. (Turns out the emergency command center shotgun only has one bullet and hasn’t been fired in a couple of years, which provides a neat reason for the heroine to get blown backwards across the room when she fires it, and it’s now dangerous to fire again. But then, everyone in this movie doesn’t have very good trigger discipline; they tent to burn through their ammo immediately on full auto.) There’s a happy ending. Good girl Captain Collins gets a tip of the hat from the Russian sub captain, a promotion directly from the President, her dad survives, even the turtle survives. That’s not a spoiler by any stretch of the imagination.

Oh, and also there’s the fact that the heroine’s struggles end up getting shown on the Emergency Broadcast System (which she can’t turn off), and we also get some random San Francisco hippie guy who looks unnervingly like Discount Chris Hemsworth commenting on the action (“Oh c’mon, give her some guns, man!”) (On further research, turns out it was Chris Hemsworth: he’s her husband. Womp womp.)

Plot? Oh. It’s Die Hard with an army girl, on a missile base. There you go.

Elsa Pataky is all cheekbones and sleek ponytail, and looks to have some actual muscle on her frame. She’s by no means a great actress, but she’s game, gung-ho, and does her best. The fight scenes are…okay. Yeah yeah yeah, 100-lb woman vs 250-lb men unrealistic, we know already. What the movie does right is to show that Collins is winning because she’s a smarter, more determined fighter than those she’s up against. I’m definitely not buying the crossing the monkey bars with one arm scene, though.

There are some rather nice flourishes, too: head villain drawing a sad face in the blood of a man he’s just killed on the door the heroine refuses to open, “If’ you’re going to kill me, just kill me. No mansplaining,” “She took that photo for charity, by the way.” “My daddy woulda made me open that door. Noo question!” “Please stop taping the window….[lame grin] for me?”

Rated: This is the last day of my vacation and I refuse to do anything productive in it.