Category Archives: time travel

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

This is it, folks. After 22 films in 11 years, this phase of the MCU has come to an end. As far as big budget superhero franchises go, Endgame gives the audience the most satisfying conclusion for which a fan could hope in 2019. In contrast to the haphazard agenda heavy abortions of the Star Wars universe under Kathleen Kennedy’s stewardship, the MCU was conceived to hang together as a cohesive whole from its inception. At minimum, Kevin Feige and company deserve credit for shepherding a 22 film series through one continuous storyline which resolves with a real sense of closure. Endgame wraps up several character arcs for many of the key Avengers while setting the stage for the next generation of MCU heroes. As one would expect, it’s not without flaws nor is it devoid of progressive messaging we’ve come to expect from every big ticket franchise. The main difference between the MCU and its Disney companion franchise is that you at least get the impression that Kevin Feige’s crew still likes the characters and the fans. For now. With the introduction of the thoroughly detestable Brie Larson as the ostensible leader of the Avengers going forward, I am certainly not optimistic that this trend will continue. If the blatant pandering of Black Panther and Captain Marvel are any indication of the future of Marvel, then it is indeed bleak. Given the early signals from Feige, I’m expecting the MCU to crater just as spectacularly as the vile garbage heap known as The Last Jedi.

Endgame picks up where Infinity War leaves off. Thanos succeeded in depopulating half the universe. The remaining Avengers are left to face their defeat and find a way to be normal now that their comrades and loved ones have been vaporized. Tony and Pepper finally settled down and had a kid. Clint Barton was also enjoying being a family man before Thanos zapped his family out of existence and forced him to turn to vigilantism. Black Widow has basically become a shift supervisor at the Avengers help desk. The Cap tries to make a career transition to grief counselor. In a futile attempt to score points with the SJWs, he offers comfort to a gay dude at a session. Being the ungrateful, miserable shitbags they are, the Cap gets no credit for being an empathetic ally.

Scott Lang comes back from the quantum realm with a wild idea. He thinks they can hack time travel, get the Infinity Stones before Thanos, and bring back everyone who was wasted by the snap. Cap and Black Widow are sold, but they just don’t have the scientific chops. Bruce Banner tries, but he’s out of his depth. They’re forced to make an appeal to the best scientific mind in the erstwhile Avengers organization: Tony Stark. Tony has an adorable daughter, and is enjoying the simple life that was unavailable to him as a full time Iron Man. Not only does he see major problems in hacking time, he doesn’t want to give up his hard won domestic happiness. But Tony being Tony, he simply can’t let it go. So the Avengers plot one final gambit for all the marbles. Get the band back together one last time, hack time, get the Infinity Stones before Thanos, and bring back everyone else. No problem, man! These are the mothafuckin’ Avengers after all!

The Goodbyes

As expected, we say farewell to many of our beloved Avengers. Some farewells are more satisfying than others. I’ll discuss the resolutions of the three central Avengers from worst to best.

Thor

Frigga: Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person, of a hero, is how well they succeed at being who they are.

The closure of Thor’s story is by far the most undignified and insulting to this former God of Thunder. Thor was the most regal, masculine and distinctly Nordic character in the franchise. Subsequently, we see the pathological anti-white, anti-male, anti-tradition agenda on full display. When Rocket and Banner seek out Thor to enlist him for the time heist, they discover he’s become a reclusive, overweight drunk in New Asgard. Besides being racked with guilt over his inability to vanquish Thanos the first time, he’s also struggling with grief and PTSD over the loss of his entire family and homeland. In contrast to the arbitrary decision to turn Luke Skywalker into an emotionally defeated hermit, Thor’s situation actually makes sense given all that has happened. Thor has been through some serious shit. However, this doesn’t justify the absolutely wretched resolution of his story.

During the time heist, Thor is briefly reunited with his doomed mother. She correctly surmises that he’s the future Thor and that he’s crushed by sorrow and a misplaced sense of failure and guilt. She offers the kind of consolation only a mother could give, but instead of encouraging him to shake it off and get his ass in gear, she absolves him of any responsibility to his familial legacy. Just chillax with Peter Quill and Rocket, son. It’s all good.

So what does he do? He hands over the throne of New Asgard to fucking Valkyrie! That’s right. The son of Odin, the dude who was once in love with Jane Foster, decides to forego any responsibility to the survivors of Asgard or his heritage and just go kick it with the Guardians of the Galaxy. He doesn’t want to have kids or preserve the cultural legacy of Asgard for posterity. Come on, Marvel! Adding to the blatantly anti-European sentiment of Thor: Ragnarok, Civil War and Age of Ultron, the conclusion to Thor’s story in Endgame is the MCU’s final insult to European traditionalism. Never mind that Valkyrie was canonically portrayed as a rather voluptuous Norse goddess who was romantically involved with Thor. Nope. New Asgard is woke and multicultural now. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is going to “make some changes around here”. #TheFutureIsFemale, you white supremacist, Asgardian misogynists!

Utterly reprehensible.

Steve Rogers

Steve Rogers: Avengers! Assemble.

With all due respect to pre-Gadot Wonder Woman and pre-Snyder Superman, Captain America is arguably the biggest patriot of all superheroes. He is Captain America, after all. Despite the MCU’s post-national, globalist agenda, they managed to treat the Cap fairly respectfully and give him a decent resolution. They were able to cheat along the way, but Chris Evans and the Marvel team made me believe in the MCU Captain America. Of course, they were able to pull this off pretty effortlessly in The First Avenger because it was set in WW2. HYDRA was the secret military-intelligence wing of the Nazi Party, and Red Skull was even more diabolical than Adolf Hitler. Since everyone already hates Nazis, Steve Rogers’ yearning to join the Army and fight for America and SHIELD made sense even in Obama’s America in 2011.

Fast forward to 2014’s Winter Soldier, the Cap has been unfrozen after 74 years and is still trying to get his bearings in the modern world. He didn’t have to take sides over Vietnam, Watergate, the JFK assassination or the Civil Rights movement. He didn’t have the opportunity to formulate an opinion on Roe v. Wade, The Great Society, The Pentagon Papers, the Church Committee hearings, the Kosovo War, the 2008 market crash, the Iraq War or the PATRIOT Act. Nor was he aware that SHIELD had absconded with the Tesseract or that they secretly conscripted HYDRA scientists. He just tries to get back into action by doing what he does best. Serve. The problem is that SHIELD is a multinational operation now. The threats are not nation states. They’re intergalactic. Even worse, they’re coming from HYDRA double agents who’ve infiltrated SHIELD. Despite the multinational nature of SHIELD, he still believes that it can be restored to its proper status. The only moral imperative was rooting out the HYDRA subversives. Cap’s instincts were correct and he gives a great speech, but no direct appeals to American patriotism are necessary.

In Civil War, the Cap is forced to reckon with the fact that the Avengers can’t be lawless vigilantes who are accountable to no one. They must subordinate themselves to oversight. Marvel was once again able to completely sidestep the Cap’s loyalty to America as defined place with specific customs, traditions and laws. They simply portrayed him as a generic individualist dissident who was justifiably skeptical of World Security Council bureaucracy. Cap becomes an outlaw to the organization who commissioned the super soldier program that made him in the first place. It’s appropriate that the Cap would do what he did in Civil War, but they jettisoned his patriotism again in the process.

By the time we get to Infinity War, the Cap is sporting a Ted Kaczynski beard and his formerly red, white and blue uniform is more befitting of someone in Antifa. Because of his falling out with Tony, he no longer possesses his iconic shield. In Endgame, Tony and Steve enjoy a hard won restoration of their friendship and alliance as Avengers. When Tony pulls the shield out of his trunk, and gives it to Steve Rogers, it at least feels like Captain America has been made symbolically whole again.

In the final act, Steve Rogers time travels backwards to return Thor’s hammer and the Infinity Stones to their original timelines. Upon his return to the present, we discover that he has pulled a Dave Bowman and comes back an old man. We learn that he chose to live his life in the past with his true love, Peggy Carter. All by itself, it’s a sweet resolution for Steve Rogers. But Marvel being the postmodern relativists and social engineers that they are couldn’t leave it there. Steve bestows his iconic shield to Sam Wilson and thus presumably passing the mantle of Captain America along with it.

On the surface, it seems appropriate and earned given that Sam has been steadfast in his loyalty to the Cap. But the whole reason fans bond with fantasy characters is their uniqueness and specificity. A great character is someone you feel like you know. Steve Rogers went through a unique journey to become Captain America. The super soldier serum simply allowed him to exhibit strength that was a match for the strength of his patriotism and sense of duty. If an iconic character like Captain America is just a software app that can be run on any meatsack operating system, why put any effort into crafting any character? Steve Rogers was Captain America. Sam Wilson is Falcon. But none of that matters now. We’re in the Age of the Final Revolution and the very notions of nationhood, manhood and gender are on trial in the public square. Certainly, the idea of a superhero with a fixed identity is as much an interchangeable part as the protective case for your smartphone. Does this mean Sam will undergo the same super soldier treatment that gave Rogers his heightened abilities? Or is he just going to continue to be Falcon but with Captain America’s vibranium shield?

On an even deeper level, what will Captain America even mean going forward? Unfortunately, Sam Wilson tipped the MCU’s hand.

Sam Wilson: Only thing bumming me out is the fact that I have to live in a world without Captain America.

Despite Anthony Mackie’s considerable appeal, this move is clearly more calculated pandering. If this is a passing of the torch, expect Captain America to be a cinematic leader of the #RESISTANCE from this point forward. Marvel has attempted numerous character reboots in the comics, and fans have always reacted negatively. You can’t just take a character like Captain America, Thor or Iron Man and make him a black dude or a woman just so you can score points with the SJWs. None of these failures stops them though. They are more invested in the cultural engineering than great storytelling at this point. And that’s too bad. It puts a slightly bitter aftertaste to what felt like a well earned happy ending.

Tony Stark

Tony Stark: It’s not about how much we lost. It’s about how much we have left. We’re the Avengers. We gotta finish this. You trust me?

Steve Rogers: I do.

I complain so bitterly about the MCU’s missteps because I genuinely believe that what they get right almost negates everything they bungle. Almost. The premise with which you are presented in the Avengers franchise is yet another set of archetypal misfits, outcasts, and alphas who have to learn to rise above their own limitations and petty grievances in order to work together as a team. Of all the Avengers, the person most hobbled by narcissism and grievance is also its most brilliant scientific mind.

Tony Stark.

When we see Tony finally fulfill the dream of fatherhood he shared with Pepper in Infinity War, it already feels like a happy ending. He traversed a long personal distance from the self-involved playboy we met in the first Iron Man to the devoted father we see in Endgame, and it feels like a truly heroic growth arc. The scenes with Tony and his daughter are among the sweetest moments ever captured in the MCU. Despite all the destruction porn and CGI whizbang, this is the stuff that gives the MCU a human soul. Being a leader of the earth’s mightiest heroes still doesn’t compare to the simple pleasures of being a dad.

Tony gets an even bigger emotional payoff in Endgame. Aside from his newfound fatherhood and his reconciliation with the Cap, he has a reunion with his own father during his detour into a 1970 SHIELD facility to acquire Pym Particles and the Tesseract. As he leaves the facility, he encounters Howard Stark who is anticipating his own birth. They share a brief but awkwardly touching scene in which Tony is able to express the gratitude he was never able to give while he was alive. Again, this is the stuff that gives the MCU real emotional weight, and dare I say it, a smidgen of dramatic maturity.

When Tony joins the Avengers in pulling off the time heist, the stakes are even higher because he has something to lose he never had before. We’re rooting for him like never before. The cruel joke is of course that our tech savvy savior is a proxy for the military-industrial complex. This is the guy who unwittingly unleashed Ultron on the world. This is the guy who builds military hardware, bombs, and AI powered armored suits. How can you make that character palatable? By casting the most charismatic working actor who goes through an unprecedented eight film arc and delivers all the most smartass lines, that’s how.

Tony Stark: I saw this coming a few years back, I had a vision, but I didn’t want to believe it. Now it’s true. What we needed was a suit of armor around the world! Remember that? Whether it impacted our precious freedoms or not, that’s what we needed!

Tony is a sort of military-industrial transhuman Jesus. He seeks the same thing Thanos did: ultimate power. A device which can snuff out half of the universe with a finger snap. We don’t know how the Infinity Gauntlet can filter out its targets, but we just accept that Tony will succeed in vaporizing only Thanos and his minions. His final sacrifice ends up making the resurrection of the previously fallen Avengers a triumphant denouement. It’s quite a feat that Marvel succeeded in placing your sympathies with a weapons manufacturer who acquires the ultimate weapon, but that’s essentially what Robert Downey Jr. and Marvel have achieved here. When he’s drawing his last breath, Pepper informs him the she and their daughter will be okay. That’s great, Marvel. Hooray for Pepper. Not only can she wear the Iron Man suit and run Stark Industries, but she can raise her daughter without a father, too. Yay, feminism.

The #SCIENCE

Tony Stark: Quantum fluctuation messes with the Planck’s scale, which then triggers the Doidge proposition. Can we agree on that? In layman’s terms, it means, you are not coming home.

As I’ve written previously, I don’t go into any sci-fi film expecting pure scientific realism. That’s especially true of the MCU. I’m fine with Infinity Stones, magical hammers, and talking raccoons who pilot spaceships. However, when a film spends 5 or more seconds trying to explain its wildest speculations like the way they did in Interstellar, The Martian or Endgame, you can bet your bottom dollar they’re attempting drop some metaphysics or reach for the furthest limits of established scientific thought. In other words, they’re trying to directly influence your perception of reality itself. Time travel is nothing new in science fiction. Endgame even makes some clever meta references to other time travel films. But what are the metaphysical presumptions behind all this?

  1. The deepest mysteries of the universe are physical. In order to access the quantum realm, they need Pym Particles. Essentially, matter will allow our heroes to access immaterial dimensions of time and move backwards and forwards. Similar to Interstellar and 2001, Endgame posits that metaphysical concepts like time, love and intelligence are locked inside the material substance of the observed universe. It’s a twist on the alchemist’s quest for the philosopher’s stone.
  2. Time is merely an algorithm to be hacked. The Avengers didn’t really have to face defeat or failure. They didn’t really have to own the consequences of their decisions. Some timelines can be rewritten, but most are to be left alone. It symbolizes a scientistic resurrection myth. Subsequently, concepts that were once the exclusive province of religious faith can be substituted with a belief in #SCIENCE.

But it’s just a Marvel movie, dude! Yes. That’s precisely the point. It’s a Marvel movie that happens to be the second largest grossing film of all time. These things are never made without an underlying cultural programming agenda. There are aspects of the MCU that are already a reality. AI, robotics, drones, mass surveillance and all manners of smart tech are already a reality. Even the idea of a mind controlled super soldier is closer to reality than you might think. The MCU combines the outrageously fantastical with the real world in ways that most sci-fi films only attempt. When Tony Stark injects subcutaneous nanotechnology for the purpose of summoning his suit more easily, it’s because they want the idea of tech implants to seem sexy and cool. After all, if TONY STARK uses nanotech implants, don’t you? I mean, come on! Captain America was using facial recognition technology to search for Thanos! Why are you getting so spooked by airline kiosks that use it, bro? Stop being so PARANOID! You must listen to Alex Jones or something.

Steve Rogers: We’ve been hunting Thanos for three weeks now – through face scans and satellites, so far we’ve got nothing. Tony, you fought him…

Tony Stark: What are you talking about? I didn’t fight him. No, he wiped my face with a planet while the wizard gave away the store. That’s what happened, there’s no fight…

I also have a hunch that Hollywood is trying to manufacture a resolution between quantum mechanics and relativity through movies. In Interstellar, Cooper time travels by passing through a black hole. In Endgame, they’re using Pym Particles in a device built by the Avengers. In one film, you’re seeing a hypothetical object with zero volume and infinite gravity. In another, you’re seeing an imaginary substance being used to power a machine that can do something that only exists in sci-fi films. But Tony sure sounded like he knew what he was talking about, didn’t he?

Globalism Über Alles

Thanos: I thought by eliminating half of life, the other half would thrive, but you have shown me… that’s impossible. As long as there are those that remember what was, there will always be those, that are unable to accept what can be. They will resist. I will shred this universe down to it’s last atom and then, with the stones you’ve collected for me, create a new one. It is not what is lost but only what it is been given… a grateful universe.

This quote represents the underlying sentiment animating Endgame and the entire MCU. It shouldn’t be a mystery that the MCU is one giant hymn to globalism. Mass destruction and depopulation has been recurring theme. We saw it in Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, Ragnarok and Infinity War.

Closely resembling Erik Killmonger’s monologue in Black Panther, this quote will be another interesting litmus test. How many fans are going to find this sentiment repellent? He sounds like a full fledged member of the #RESISTANCE to me.

Besides, how would Tony’s plan be an improvement? He said he wanted a suit of armor around the planet. Freedoms be damned. Don’t think he’s the only one in SHIELD who feels that way. Pick your globalist poison, proles. Mass depopulation or technocratic superstate panopticon. How about both? Heads, we win. Tails, you lose.

Captain Marvel, the WTF and Other Cringe

Bruce Banner: If we do this, how do we know it’s going to end any differently than it did before?

Carol Danvers: Because before, you didn’t have me.

James Rhodes: Hey, new girl? Everybody in this room is about that superhero life. And, if you don’t mind my asking, where the hell have you been all this time?

Carol Danvers: There are a lot of other planets in the universe, and, unfortunately, they didn’t have you guys.

Kevin Feige, thank you very much. I hope you’re enjoying this moment because your decision to bring fucking Brie Larson into the next phase of the MCU is your first major Rian Johnson moment. I’m confident it won’t be your last either.

Like many others, I saw the 11th hour inclusion of Captain Marvel (aka Captain RBF) after the cliffhanger of Infinity War as an ill omen. No one really wants or gives a shit about a jerry rigged sop to the SJWs whose undergone a gender swap and at least nine comic book reboots. This is Marvel desperately grasping for a competitor to Wonder Woman that they simply don’t have. Even worse, they cast SJW supreme, Brie Larson, to play her. The good news is that she doesn’t fuck anything up. The bad news is that even for the short time she’s there, the cringe is palpable. She even sports the Hillary Clintonesque haircut in one scene.

Naturally, Endgame genuflects to the Church of Feminism in numerous ways throughout the film. At this point, it has become its own cliché despite the pretense of “smashing stereotypes”. It’s merely matters of degree. Even Black Widow’s sacrifice for Clint Barton has a slightly unpleasant SJW aftertaste. Aside from the abominable decision to hand New Asgard over to Valkyrie, there is one major, utterly cringeworthy sop to the SJWs in the final battle. Look, I got a kick out of Eowyn dispatching the Nazgûl in Return of the King, too. Not only is this a retread of an almost identical scene in Infinity War, you just know the Russo brothers are pandering directly to the writers of The Mary Sue and Teen Vogue when they do this stuff. Writers who are simply going to bitch about how it wasn’t intersectional enough anyway.

While we’re on the subject, Captain Marvel can bring down Thanos’ ship single handedly, but she needs the Avengers sisterhood to cross the battlefield? And they all happened to be congregated there at that moment? This is Admiral Holdo grade shit, dudes. She’s been doing the work of the entire Avengers crew on other planets, but she’s incapable of defeating Thanos on her own? Captain Marvel added nothing to the film, and her presence in the final battle carried no dramatic weight because she simply hasn’t gone through the same journey the rest of the Avengers have. This is storytelling 101. It’s something Kevin Feige and company only selectively grasp, but they have an agenda that trumps common sense.

The decision to turn Hulk into a CGI-enhanced analogue of Mark Ruffalo’s real world soy latte beta persona was also a bit of a disappointment. This is a superhero whose superpower is going on Gamma radiation roid rampages. He got his ass handed to him by Thanos and his moment of redemption is putting on the Infinity Gauntlet and snapping everyone back? Whatever.

And why the fuck was Captain America able to wield Thor’s hammer?! It’s cool, but come on, dudes. Did I miss something? I know this is Endgame and everything, but this is like Rey kicking Kylo Ren’s ass with the lightsaber in the first encounter. I can buy Pepper wearing the Iron Man suit because they at least made the effort of setting the precedent in Iron Man 3. In Age of Ultron, it seemed pretty clear that no one could wield the mjolnir except Thor and Vision.

Whither MCU?

Where do Feige and company go from here? Nowhere good from my vantage point. I expect everything that’s wrong with this phase of the MCU will be amplified. Every mistake they’ve made with comics will be transferred over to the films with no lessons learned and no meaningful concessions to fans.

Brie Larson has already signed on for seven fucking films! If that alone doesn’t chill your blood, then perhaps preachy, forced identity politics are your cup of tea. Kevin Feige and the Disney Corporation will enjoy taking your money.

Endgame was as satisfying a conclusion to this phase of the MCU as I could have hoped. The actors and the writers succeeded in making me believe that they actually cared about these characters and fans slightly more than political correctness. Sadly, that’s the benchmark for success in this Aeon of #SocialJustice. Given the weight of the mandates imposed by the woke intelligentsia at Disney, it’s as as good as it can be. What could it have been if the writers weren’t hobbled by PC orthodoxy and actually were hired for their passion for the material and characters? Ironically, those speculations are now the province of real fantasy. Such is life in clown world in 2019.

Interstellar (2014)

Updated 12/29/2018

Recommended, but with caveats.

Let’s get the science stuff out of the way first because this aspect of the film relates to all the underlying editorial. I’ve been watching sci-fi films for most of my life. I’m cool with suspension of disbelief. I do not expect any science fiction to present textbook scientific realism. I like movies with dimension hopping spacecraft, AI robots, transporter machines, alien beings and laser weapons just as much as anyone. I’m not interested in “fact checking” this film. However, Interstellar is presenting itself as a next level science fiction film which supposedly extrapolates from the cutting edge of relativistic physics. Similar to other highbrow sci-fi films like Contact, this is a movie that wants you to learn something and contemplate deep shit while you enjoy mind bending special effects and gazing upon Matthew McConaughey’s dreamy visage. It wants you to feel especially smart and virtuous when you retweet Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The simple truth is that there isn’t a single Hollywood science fiction film which features interstellar space travel that deals in pure scientific fact. In fact, some of the most realistic science fiction films like Looker or Altered States involve no space travel at all and suggest actual scientific phenomena that are much closer to reality such as hallucinogenic mind control and media induced mass hypnosis. This should be self-evident, but it needs to be said in this case especially because Interstellar wants to claim a mantle of scientific legitimacy. Underneath all the CGI whizbang, nearly every sci-fi film is smuggling in some combination of scientism, occult metaphysics or eschatology. That’s especially true of this film. Subsequently, I believe that it’s important to delineate the boundary between speculative leaps of imagination and observed scientific knowledge in order to parse out the underlying agenda. When Interstellar takes its speculative leaps, it’s patently obvious that it’s trying to fill the gap once occupied by traditional theology.

Interstellar is using speculative cosmological phenomena like wormholes, time dilation and black holes because it wants to supplant the traditional notion of a Creator with the gnostic idea that we are our own gods. Much like the hero of the film, it’s using the unresolved clash between macrocosmic gravity and quantum mechanics to transport the idea that gravity, and ultimately love, are physical properties that can traverse the fabric of spacetime. And that if we continue to believe in #SCIENCE, we will transcend the higher dimensions of spacetime and learn to hack the eternal wheel of time in order to send Morse Code messages back to our progeny and save humanity. Like its predecessor 2001: A Space Odyssey, Interstellar wants to dispense with the idea of metaphysics and locate all seemingly transcendent phenomena within the physical world and under the purview of “science” and “space travel”.

Cooper: Love, TARS, love. It’s just like Brand said. My connection with Murph, it is quantifiable. It’s the key!

The irony is of course that this film is deeply spiritual, but like just about everything else in cinematic sci-fi, its metaphysics are Hermetic and gnostic. And these are revealed in the film’s symbolism. It’s not an accident that the wormhole through which our heroes travel is located near Saturn, the Lord of Time and Death. It’s not an accident that Cooper’s passage into the tesseract is a hypercube, a four-dimensional analogue of the cube and itself a symbolic reference to Saturn. It’s not an accident that the secret space program is called Lazarus as a gnostic signifier of the conquest of death and an inversion of the traditional reading. It’s not an accident that 12 ships with 12 astronauts were deployed mirroring the 12 Tribes of Israel. Nor is it an accident that the black hole through which McConaughey’s Cooper travels is called Gargantua named after Rabelais’ character of the same name. In Rabelais’ book, Gargantua builds the anti-church, the Abbey of Thélème and its parishioners adhere to one rule: DO WHAT YOU WANT. Needless to say, it’s a dictum which was refined to “DO WHAT THOU WILT” by the individual who actually built the Abbey of Thelema, Aleister Crowley.

Similar to its thematic predecessor and companion film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ideas presented in Interstellar are deeply intertwined in what is now simply being called transhumanism. It is the idea that through scientific gnosis, we will transcend our profane existence and achieve the immortality and godhood that is our one true divine purpose. This is what I believe is the central theme in Interstellar, and it is being disingenuously smuggled into the film under the banner of “science”. Where 2001 presented HAL hastening Dave Bowman’s transformation into the Star Child, Interstellar also features an AI called TARS, an anagram of STAR, which facilitates Cooper’s transition through the cosmic abyss. As Cooper’s wisecracking Alexa assistant, TARS is both physically analogous to the monolith of 2001 and another symbolic black cube of Saturn.

All of my other beefs with the film are byproducts of these basic premises.

Besides all the space travel and highbrow relativity stuff, Interstellar is also a work of dystopian science fiction. The film is set in the 2060’s and humanity is beset by famine, technological retreat, technocratic micromanagement and state enforced agrarianism. Just as we’ve seen in numerous dystopian films, Interstellar is conceding climate change as a forgone conclusion and using that premise as the reason that half the population has been decimated. Whether it’s the Terminator series or the Avengers, mass depopulation is a prominent theme in sci-fi films of every stripe. If we take the case that movies are a form of social engineering, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that this is what the global elites intend.

Also worth noting is that the film is set in eastern Colorado. Besides the numerous conspiracies surrounding the Denver Airport, Colorado was where the survivors of the biological agent made their defense in The Stand. Colorado is also featured prominently in the similarly themed dystopian science fiction novel, The Passage. With this additional reference, there can be little doubt that Colorado is very significant to the cryptocracy.

There is no visible animal life and people are forced to farm wheat and corn. This suggests that the vegan agenda has been taken to its fullest conclusion. The government has imposed proficiency test mandates through the public schools which require that the majority of the population enter into agriculture in order to meet the global demand for food. When the very idea of “achievement” or “potential” is the province of bureaucrats, the standards can be manipulated to serve those in power.

History books have been rewritten to exclude space flight because humanity simply cannot afford such extravagance. This is another eyebrow raising moment because the reason spaceflight was purged from the historical record is because it was declared to be hoax. How about them apples? Along with Diamonds Are Forever and Capricorn One, this marks another cinematic reference to the idea of a fake moon landing. This is very clever because Nolan is presenting a dystopian future, so we’re automatically to assume that the world has been overrun by right wing conspiratards who hate science, read the Bible and watch Fox News. But it’s not all bad. When the school administrators deliver the news of Cooper’s children’s test results, we learn that his luddite son is best suited for farming and….wait for it….his DAUGHTER IS A FUCKING SCIENTIFIC GENIUS WHO’S TEST SCORES ARE THROUGH THE ROOF!

Wow. Amazing. Another scientifically adept female heroine who is going to save the world with math and science. How novel. Hollywood just doesn’t write enough strong womyn characters, amirite? It’s not like THIS IS HOW EVERY CONTEMPORARY FEMALE CHARACTER IS WRITTEN NOWADAYS OR ANYTHING. I guess mass depopulation hastened the demolition of the patriarchy. Or something.

Adult Murph is played by Jessica Chastain and she’s passable in the role. With the notable exception of the loathsome Miss Sloane, I’ve found her performances in the various films in which she’s appeared enjoyable, but I’m getting a little tired of seeing her play the Strong, Empowered, Intelligent, Heroic Womyn in every goddamn film.

Played very sympathetically by Matthew McConaughey, Cooper is a former NASA pilot and engineer. Except for his Roy Neary-esque decision to fly into the depths of space, he is a positive father figure who teaches his kids to be independent thinkers, function well in the physical world, appreciate the scientific method and be self-sufficient individuals. He’s the kind of father who insists that they know how to change a car tire, but has a healthy enough irreverence for government property that he would remotely down a drone and dismantle it for parts. Of course, he’s just not meant for the farming life. His destiny is among the stars, man! Mirroring the journey of farm boy to star hero that we witnessed in Luke Skywalker and Clark Kent, Cooper is the gnostic Jesus who sacrifices himself so that his Sophia-like daughter can deliver the final salvation.

Roughly analogous to the encoded ciphers presented in Contact and Close Encounters, Cooper finds structure in the perfectly arranged piles of dust that accumulate in their library after a duststorm. As it turns out, they’re coordinates which lead them to a secret NASA installation filled with scientists and engineers hard at work planning humanity’s extinction interstellar salvation.

The government has imposed dystopian mandates around employment, the food supply and education, yet they are still funneling billions of dollars into NASA programs which are somehow completely secret. This is yet another eyebrow raising moment because it suggests the possibility that there is presently a secret space program. Also, this band of enlightened government scientists aren’t militarized, experience no budget overruns or shortfalls, are rational and pleasant people, and are quietly working on spacecraft which can traverse interstellar distances completely beyond the view of the press and the public. The NASA crew are astonished that Cooper found them and William Devane presses him on how he sussed out their location. Apparently, everyone has been banned from the internet, and since smartphones have been confiscated, no one knows how to read maps anymore.

Michael Caine’s Dr. Brand informs Cooper that there are two plans for saving humanity. Plan A involves cracking the mysteries of gravity which allows the underground centrifuge to get into orbit. Plan B involves sending a crew of astronauts through the wormhole to be an interstellar Noah’s Ark and repopulate the species on a new planet. Because Cooper’s daughter is a scientific genius, she warns Cooper not to go because she can decode the mysterious “ghost” sending Morse Code signals through the bookshelf. Since she’s kicking the asses of her teachers, Brand takes Murphy under his wing so that she may fulfill her intellectual potential and solve the mysteries of gravity.

Depending on how you want to read it, the dystopian future of Interstellar can also be considered super #WOKE. It’s evidence that depopulation finally hastened the intersectional utopia progressives have long sought. The intrepid crew includes token white male Cooper, a smart black dude, another white guy who gets killed really quickly, and Dr. Brand’s smart, capable daughter, Amelia Brand played by an annoying and generally unlikable Anne Hathaway. Cuz the future is female and shit.

The film also broaches the age old question of reconciling individual interest with collective interests. This is one of the great dilemmas ushered in by the Age of Darwinian Scientific Materialism. If all that exists is a material universe full of deracinated, atomized individuals seeking only economic gain, how do you extend a larger concern for group welfare beyond immediate blood relations? I’ll give you a hint. It may involve the threat of impending global catastrophe.

Brand: Maybe we’ve spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory.

Cooper: You’re a scientist, Brand.

Brand: So listen to me, when I say that love is not something we invented. It’s observable, powerful. It has to mean something.

Cooper: Love has meaning, yes. Social utility, social bonding, child rearing…

Brand: We love people who’ve died. Where’s the “social utility” in that?

Cooper: None.

The film ultimately reconciles this and its wilder scientific speculations by positing that love is the unifying force which transcends the barriers of knowledge and science. Sounds a little like faith, people!

Brand: Maybe it means something more, something we can’t… yet, understand. Maybe it’s some evidence, some… artifact of a higher dimension that we can’t consciously perceive. I’m drawn across the universe to someone I haven’t seen in a decade… who I know is probably dead. Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving… that transcends dimensions of time and space. Maybe we should trust that, even if we can’t understand it yet. All right, Cooper… yes… the tiniest possibility of seeing Wolf again excites me. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Apparently, Crowley felt the same way.

“Love is the law, love under will.” The Book of the Law, Aleister Crowley

Not to get too pedantic, but the film’s economics are about on par with Star Trek. Wildly speculative to put it mildly. The film presents not just one, but multiple manned flights through a wormhole which is located near Saturn. This is not a cheap endeavor nor is it one with an economic payoff on the other side. Hard to imagine when half your tax base has been wiped out and people are being conscripted into compulsory agriculture.

Don’t get me wrong. None of these gripes destroy the film. Christopher Nolan is among the most gifted directors working today and his films are so convincing because he works so hard at grounding his films in physical reality.

The visual, musical and thematic allusions to 2001: A Space Odyssey are myriad and the comparison is fully warranted. The two films are companions and Interstellar updates the ideas 2001 introduced.

Interstellar is unquestionably a Big Ideas sci-fi film that poses big questions. Some of which it wants you to notice, others less so. It claims to be a movie about Big Scientific Theories, but I suggest that the first question should be “What is the scope of the scientific method?” Sure, it’s has a beautiful rendering of a black hole and the idea of a wormhole is super cool, but have these phenomena ever been observed? Has time dilation ever been observed? Is the scientific method about building mathematical models that fit the theory irrespective of observation? Or is it the other way around? We’ve been getting black holes and wormholes in film for decades now. Part of me thinks Interstellar is just a more grown up version of Disney’s The Black Hole from 1979.

Beyond the “scientific” speculations, Interstellar is also asking big questions about Humanity’s Future. But I don’t think it really wants you to think too hard about what it’s saying. I suspect Nolan simply wants to confirm the fears and concerns that are being amplified in the mediasphere 24/7. According to Interstellar, you should freak the fuck out over climate change and accord unquestioned deference to the space program. Like, DUH. Do you even follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on Twitter, bro? It’s #SCIENCE, man!

Dr. Brand: Then get out there and save them. We must reach far beyond our own lifespans. We must think not as individuals but as a species. We must confront the reality of interstellar travel.

Wizards (1977)

I suppose I’m no different from others in that I hold the belief that the pop culture of my youth is vastly superior to today’s. I’m at a point where all I see is an odd mixture of hyper-PC agitprop and a mind numbing conveyor belt of destructathons that are bereft of meaning. Or a combination of both. Admittedly, my elders undoubtedly held the pop culture of my youth in disdain, but I still perceive a sharp contrast between then and now. Among the films for which I reserve a great deal of affection is Ralph Bakshi’s animated sci-fi fantasy epic from 1977, Wizards. In contrast to the sanitized, monolithic preachiness found in the messaging of today’s animation, Wizards is a relic from an era where liberals were trying to transgress the boundaries of cultural norms and it actually felt rebellious. That’s not to say Wizards is devoid of ideological programming, but it is remarkable to observe how yesterday’s radical vision would never see the light of day in today’s climate of supercharged cultural politics.

Wizards is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi/fantasy reimagining of the story of Cain and Abel stripped of its theistic underpinnings. As hard as it tries to conjure its own moral mysticism engaged in an epic clash of good and evil, it retains a nihilistic inertia at its core. Though it is satisfying on its own terms as a work of fantasy, the fact that it is a piece of cultural programming with a presumed youth oriented message requires that we evaluate its merits. When you open your film with a monologue which reengineers Genesis, you’re not exactly making agenda-free entertainment.

The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs. The first blast was set off by five terrorists. It took two million years for some of the radioactive clouds to allow some sun in. By then, only a handful of humans survived.

In place of some kind of creation event, Bakshi is giving us mass annihilation while suggesting the concept of eternal return. Man is trapped in a deterministic wheel of time which is marked by an inescapable struggle between the forces of technology and magic. Why bother even trying to make the world a better place if mutual mass destruction is an inevitability? The reference to five terrorists is also an interesting piece of predictive programming because Bakshi is already hinting at the world of independent acts of terrorism we currently inhabit. Whether it’s a reference to a past act of terrorism like the Munich Massacre or the Entebbe incident is an open question.

Two million years after the nuclear armageddon, actual humans remain mutated monsters. In the good lands, the “true ancestors of man”, elves and fairies, resurfaced. As humanity’s primeval ancestors, elves and fairies are apparently good by default simply as a result of their belief in magic and being in tune with nature and shit. At a big celebration, the Eve of this post-apocalyptic ancient future, Delia, is mysteriously drawn back to her home to give birth her immaculately conceived wizard twins. The moral character of Avatar and Blackwolf is apparent right away. Avatar is handsome and sweet and therefore fated to be good. Blackwolf is a surly and mean spirited mutant who apparently has nothing but hatred and malevolence in his heart. There’s no attempt to portray morality as something with an independent metaphysical reality in the divine mind. Instead, it’s simply biological luck of the draw and Blackwolf got the bad hand.

Upon Delia’s death, Avatar and Blackwolf engage in a cataclysmic struggle for global supremacy. Blackwolf is vanquished and is forced to retreat into the radioactive wasteland while Avatar presides over the peaceful land of Montagar. Just like every other piece of sci-fi or fantasy, Bakshi is solely concerned with the struggle for political dominion in this world.

Ensconced at his castle headquarters, Scortch One, Blackwolf begins his preparations for conquest. Using black magic, he summons a high command of demonic generals to lead an army of mutants who are initially enslaved through his Nietzschean will. Whether this period of research and experimentation in Blackwolf’s career of evil is Bakshi’s encoded reference to the alleged Nazi fascination with Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s mystical works is also up for grabs.

He then formed an army whose generals were called up from the black shadows of hell. Souls who waited for untold eternities for a new leader, Blackwolf’s tremendous power enslaved them all to carry out his will.

His armies lacked the motivation and inspiration necessary to carry out mass extermination so he sends his minions out to uncover the lost technology of the pre-apocalyptic world. Not only does he begin to build actual military vehicles and weapons, he harnesses the most powerful weapon of all: mass media. By unearthing the propaganda and iconography of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, Blackwolf becomes a post-apocalyptic, mutant wizard fascist. Though the usage of technology and media is presented in a one dimensional way, this is arguably the great editorial masterstroke of Wizards. Bakshi himself is imprinting the one absolute moral negative in the postmodern, multicultural, materialist consensus: Nazism. In 2018, the spectre of fascism is perhaps the one and only universally denounced evil for anyone living in a Western country. In the wrong hands, a demagogue can use mass media to awaken the racial and national consciousness of the white race and drive them to commit unspeakable violence against Jews, blacks, Muslims, LGBTQIAPP2 folx, liberals and socialists. No one else is capable of comparable levels of evil though. Especially not communists. What’s less explicit is that Bakshi is using the exact same tools as Blackwolf to promote this very one sided view of evil, propaganda and the abuse of state power.

Analogous to Vaughn Bode’s futuristic killer in name and design, Blackwolf deploys Necron 99 to carry out an assassination against the president of Montagar. Pushing the envelope of the PG rating, Bakshi portrays prostitute fairies working their trade as Necron 99 plods through the streets of occupied territories. On his journey, he takes out hapless elves and fairies simply for their belief in magic. Apparently, only certain elves are willing to take up arms in defense of people and country. After suffering a devastating loss to Blackwolf’s newly propagandized and armed mutant forces and usage of media psy-ops, the elves quickly realize that the generations of peace are imperiled by this rising threat. Bakshi is also giving a voice to the rising tide of environmentalism and eco-consciousness that now comprises one of the pillars of progressive piety.

My children, the only true technology is nature. All the other forms of manmade technology are perversions.The ancient dictators used technology to enslave the masses.

Voiced by Bob Holt and living in one of Ian Miller’s surrealist castles nested amidst the pastoral bliss of Montagar, Avatar has become a curmudgeonly, cigar smoking facsimile of Peter Falk. He is joined by the voluptuous and highly sexualized fairy princess, Elinore. Wearing an impossibly skimpy outfit that has surely triggered an angry gender studies graduate thesis, Elinore is Avatar’s MK Ultra subject training for her initiation into the Masonic Lodge of Montagar. Upon hearing news that Blackwolf’s forces are advancing, Necron 99 guns down the president of Montagar who happens to be dressed like a harlequin. Even in the idyllic paradise of Montagar, the political leader is a clown. Another piece of predictive programming? You decide.

Mirroring an idea that would be duplicated in the Terminator films, Avatar reprograms Necron 99 to be their protector and rechristens him Peace. Avatar, Elinore and elven warrior Weehawk set off to Scortch One in order to save civilization from ruin. Magic is an unalloyed force for good, and it enables those who wield it to reprogram the technology of the bad people who only believe in technology. Or something.

Bakshi’s bleak cynicism reveals itself in the little vignettes of Blackwolf’s goons interspersed throughout the film. In one scene, two of Blackwolf’s soldiers seek the charity of religious leaders to feed their POWs. As they enter the temple, what they discover are relics of pop culture. When they finally enter the sanctuary, they find two priests/rabbis asleep in front of a tapestry of the CBS logo/eye of Horus. Bakshi is essentially telling you that pop culture and media has completely supplanted the role of religion. The two priests/rabbis manage to forestall captivity by invoking the necessity for prayer. They engage in an increasingly absurd pantomime of religious rituals which leaves little doubt over Bakshi’s utter disdain for religion. Their antics lull the soldiers to sleep, and upon awakening, they resolve to move to Plan B to fully secure control of the temple. After signaling to the soldiers outside the temple to initiate Plan B, the temple is blown to smithereens. Take that, religion.

Bakshi’s handling of Blackwolf’s belief in eugenics seems contradictory. He orders his unborn child destroyed because it would be a mutant, but he propagandizes his mutant armies with the belief that they will be the new master race. So either Bakshi is saying he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying to his own armies or that “bad” humans themselves are descendants of Blackwolf. As was originally established, morality is a biological certainty. The theme of mutation has been extended and inverted in recent years. Where Wizards paints it as physical and moral deformation, films like X-Men have elevated mutation to full blown hero status.

Wizards culminates in an epic battle between the remainder of the elven world against Blackwolf’s armies. He combines rotoscoped footage of older war films with an orgy of Frank Frazetta inspired fantasy carnage and death. It’s pretty gruesome for a PG, but it looks cool and it’s yet another example of how Wizards pushed the envelope. While this battle rages, Avatar and Blackwolf face off against one another in what amounts to a rather anticlimactic showdown. Given that the this was framed as a struggle between technology and magic, the manner in which Blackwolf is killed doesn’t make this chasm as irreconcilable as he originally presented it.

Once Blackwolf is vanquished, the armies lose their will to fight and Scortch One collapses and explodes as Weehawk declares that “The world is free!” It’s an idea that would be repeated that same year in a little space opera called Star Wars as well as films too numerous to count. It’s not a proper reflection of our post-national world, but the idea of vanquishing evil and liberating humanity by killing the leader and destroying his stronghold has retained its strength. But remember. It’s only a respite before the next iteration of evil on the eternal wheel of time.

In the end, Bakshi’s final message is summed up in the beautiful but despairing final song, “Only Time Will Tell”. It boils down to little more than Let’s Hope for The Best.

Elinore: [singing “Only Time Will Tell”] Time renews tomorrow. When we’ve used today. It will find the sorrow and wish it all away. Love can play a new tune. On this carousel. It may be tomorrow. But only time will tell. Somewhere in the darkness. There must be a light. Leading us together. Through the misty night. And maybe in the new dawn. We can break the spell. It may be tomorrow. But only time will tell. There can be a new dream. One for us to hold. Made with peace and hope and built upon the old. No one has the answer. To give away or sell. Tomorrow holds the secret. But only time will tell.

Despite its flaws, Wizards retains an appeal that I cannot deny. Whether it’s the psychedelic flanged synth swells, the orchestral battle funk, or the various Ian Miller background illustrations, Wizards still occupies a very special place in my heart. Like the two other sci-fi films from that year, Damnation Alley and Star Wars, Wizards has a vitality that transcends its narrative flaws. It’s both of its time and beyond it. The allure of magic and magicians has only taken deeper root in the public mind as the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchises amply attest. But the fear of technological enslavement seems fully abandoned. If anything, the proliferation of transhumanist themed cyberpunk seems to suggest that technology and magic can coexist. I guess it’s just a question of whether or not you think that’s a positive development for civilization.