Have you ever noticed that there are almost never any Jews in outer space? While I was watching the surprise sci-fi blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, whenever my mind wandered, because I couldn’t remember the names of any of the planets or their evil overlords, I began to focus on the intergalactic cast: there was a sly blonde hunk, played by the totally adorable Chris Pratt, there was a sexy, svelte green alien babe named Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, there was a talking raccoon, a lot of people painted purple, and even an ambulatory warrior tree named Groot, but there were no Libbys, Davids, Estelles or Murrays. It’s as if in the future, Florida and the Upper West Side have ceased to exist. Would it be so hard to name a starship the Nebula Ben-Gurion, or maybe the X-15 Nev Shalom?
Going to see yet another Marvel franchise superhero movie is like trudging off for Labor Day with my in-laws: no one really looks forward to it, the experience is always pretty much the same, but for some reason we keep doing it. Guardians of the Galaxy follows the standard Marvel gameplan: there’s an all-powerful bad guy who wears a helmet which covers most of his face, and who speaks in a low, raspy Darth Vader-type voice, which is like listening to a heavy smoker on a respirator; there’s a precious ancient orb or cube which must be stolen, retrieved, tossed through the air in slow motion, and finally restored to its rightful owner, who will keep it safely stored until the inevitable sequel; the main hero is a cocky white male who becomes his best self; there’s a feisty female in a skintight bodysuit who kicks ass; and there are at least three endless battle scenes too many, all involving grungy, brave little spacepods that soar to the rescue and blow up the massive death-cruisers. Some of the CGI effects, especially the talking tree, are fun; any time the movie starts to get sloggy, the director cuts to the chatty tree for a reaction shot, as if it was a puppy. By the end of the movie, all of the cranky, yet ultimately good-hearted characters have learned to band together, as a team and a family, and then they’re able to slaughter their enemies, because that’s what being a family is all about. Of course, all of the Marvel movies are really about watching a band of wisecracking superheroes save the jobs of the Disney executives, who paid billions for the Marvel archive.
I asked my 12-year-old son Mitchell Sean, who’s a big fan of video games and comic-con lore, if he liked Guardians of the Galaxy more than, say, the last Ironman or Spiderman movies. Of course he just rolled his eyes and made one of those exasperated verbal fry noises in the back of his throat, and said, “Mom, you’re not supposed to like those movies. You’re just supposed to go see them, to make sure the universe is protected. You are just so old.” Which is true, and that’s why I especially liked Glenn Close, who was playing a high-minded authority figure called Nova Prime, which sounds like either a new drug for erectile dysfunction, or a gourmet item at Zabars.
I also saw Snowpiercer, which is a much more downbeat futuristic movie that actually makes sense, which is probably why it’s only been screening in two or three art theaters. Snowpiercer takes place after climate change has frozen the planet and killed everyone, except for a select group of humans onboard a supersonic train which keeps circling the globe, like a Carnival cruise with better plumbing. The movie is the lovechild of directer Joon ho-Bong, who’s a master at keeping the movie exciting and amazing to look at it, even though it’s all set aboard that train, which has cars at the back, where the grimy, downtrodden workers service the engines, and increasingly more luxurious cars up front, for the rich folks who dye their hair and cavort decadently, just like the rich folks in the Hunger Games and every other movie about a peoples’ rebellion against injustice and the extreme use of eyeshadow. As the movie progresses, the workers, led by a determined Chris Evans, push forward, through the many levels of onboard society; it’s sort of like what would’ve happened if Che Guevera had used his miles to book a revolution on the Orient Express.
I loved Snowpiercer, even though not only did the always-dreamy Chris never take off his shirt, he never even took off his coat. The movie is gorgeously designed, so it looks like a German Expressionist musical. The plot is filled with genuine surprises, and when the embattled supporting characters, played by people like Octavia Spencer and Jamie Bell, got maimed or killed, I actually cared about them. And while there are special effects and there’s plenty of bloodshed, Snowpiercer gets its most shocking moments from simple stuff, like suddenly having all the lights go off on the train. There’s also something romantic about train travel, even in a dystopian tommorrow, and the more upscale cars feature a swimming pool, a beauty parlor and a disco, because even downtrodden workers can appreciate an Ambassador Lounge.
A the end of any Marvel movie, the good guys have always triumphed, and they stand tall in the rubble, as the pounding theme music tells us that all of the movie’s stars will now be able to upgrade their second homes. By the conclusion of Snowpiercer, we’ve been through an almost biblical debate on the tragic nature of humankind. But I’m still waiting for a cinematic epic called Space Shtetl or Don’t Use The Sonic Transporter Until At Least An Hour After Eating, because the universe needs a few Libbys, and maybe a Sophie or two, if you ask me.