I’m really sad that I didn’t enjoy this more. In theory, the ideas are all great: mermaids as an extension of the Sea; the Sea as a larger-than-humans entity with real awareness; witches who tell stories; pirates; a feisty young noblewoman; genderfluid characters and multiple races and discussion of imperialism and colonialism!
Sadly, the execution does not quite match the ambition.
It felt like there were too many ellipses. Too many gaps where it seemed like the author skipped a step in the narrative – it was in her head but it didn’t make it to paper. I’m pretty sure there was at least one mention of the storm having passed, with no prior mention of the storm. And this applied to some of the characters and relationships, too. Evelyn and Flora are both pretty well-developed characters, but their relationship really isn’t. Mermaids are explained – how they exist – and this is probably my favourite part of the whole book; but witches aren’t, nor how their magic works (is it innate? can anyone learn? no idea).
Moving between Evelyn and Flora as POV characters was fine – it made the narrative much more interesting than just one perspective, given the context. But all of a sudden introducing new perspectives quite late in the story was just weird, and put me quite off balance; and not in a good way. One of them made sense, narratively; it could have been added much earlier and would have added interesting complexity to the whole thing. The other, though, felt utterly superfluous.
On a positive note, the issues brought up in the story are dealt with well, and that’s something I was impressed by. This is a world dominated by a Japanese-influenced culture (kimonos, etc); they have largely taken over the known world (this is another problem: there are these portentous ‘oooh, the Red Shore‘ comments, without much explanation of what that place is). The brutality of colonisation and imperialism are bluntly on display and are an essential part of the world – not gratuitously, but as reality.
Excellent ideas; I was engaged enough that I kept reading the whole thing; ultimately, not very satisfying.
This is a weird movie. Not that the narrative is odd, or that the characters are out of character, or anything like that. No; it just feels… like a bridge.
It’s a far-too-long prologue for everything else that’s to come.
It took me a while to figure that out, and now I’ve got it in words it makes complete sense of my feelings.
I’m not saying it’s all bad. Not at all. The good things:
- I love James Spader. Have done ever since Stargate. No, I haven’t seen Boston Legal, but I have seen The Blacklist. I think he was a great choice for Ultron: he doesn’t have a booming megalomaniac voice (well, not naturally) – which is kind of the point.
- Hawkeye has been a bit of weird character for several movies and we finally get some context for him and some nice character moments, especially with Wanda.
- I like Paul Bettany, although I’m kinda unconvinced by Vision at this early stage.
- In the context of the later films, the fact that pre-existing rifts just get worse here is interesting – and also shows that they are fundamental issues which apparently none of them were adult enough to have a proper discussion about?
- Every moment involving Thor’s hammer.
- The Hulk / Iron Man fight is Just. Too. Long. Get on with it already. We get the idea! Move the narrative along!
- I understand the point in the narrative but I find Wanda’s manipulation of people’s minds deeply, deeply unsettling. This isn’t a negative of the narrative, but it’s not something I enjoy watching.
- Thor’s whole dip in the pond thing. It seems so completely outside of the narrative. Its sole purpose is to set up Thanos, and have Thor be the catalyst of Vision’s creation. But it really doesn’t fit.
- I hate, I hate, everything about Natasha’s discussion with Banner about whether they can run away together. I hate it. I hate Banner’s assumption that Nat’s only reason to run away with him is to have a cosy house with kids. I hate the suggestion that not being able to bear children somehow makes Natasha monstrous. This scene infuriates me.
- And finally, I am unconvinced by Ultron himself, which is completely devastating for the film. The idea that someone moves from ‘save the world’ to ‘destroying the world is the only way to save it’ isn’t a new one, and thorough villains can even make a pseudo-logical explanation for why that’s true. But Ultron’s leap from saviour to destroyer is too fast, largely unexplained, and… just frustrating. It’s relying on the notion that AI must automatically be evil (otherwise why destroy Jarvis at the outset?) rather than properly demonstrating how a baby AI gets to that point (because let’s be honest, if you were an AI, wouldn’t you be tempted to destroy humanity and start over?).
So the film creates Vision, shows us Thanos, properly flags “infinity stones”, solidifies serious rifts within the Avengers, and gets Wanda on their side.
Like I said. It’s a 2.5-hour prologue.