Friday, January 21, 2022

Working for Redemption

 My kiddo, who is now 19 y.o. and isn't that much of a kiddo anymore, has loved Spiderman above all other superheroes for as long as I can remember. Wherever we went, he would climb things--shelves, walls, benches, landscaping features at shopping centers--with his arm extended, middle fingers curled for ideal web extrusion. For a long time he believed the only reason he couldn't shoot webs or wall-crawl was because he simply wasn't old enough yet. Peter Parker was a teenager, so to my young son, his Spidey abilities had something to do with puberty, perhaps. 

The point of all this is to say that when the newest Spiderman movie, Spiderman: No Way Home, came out, it was imperative for us to go see it. We've seen all the Spiderman movies together. Also, if I went with him, it meant I would pay for the tickets and popcorn, so my kiddo was willing to wait for me to organize our movie date. But I'd been reluctant, with COVID numbers on a steep increase, to go sit in a theater with a bunch of strangers for two hours. I'm vaccinated and boosted, and so is he, and I don't mind wearing a mask, but I don't *enjoy* it. Mostly we've been doing early access streaming in our own home, but I knew Spiderman would be the movie for which I would have to make an exception.

Fortunately, I had discovered a few years ago that our part of the state has a rare, vintage drive-in movie theater still in operation. When I say "our part of the state", though, I don't mean in our neighborhood. The drive-in is still an hour away--a two-hour round trip to sit in our pick-up truck huddled together on a frigid January night to watch Tom Holland bound across the screen in blue and red spandex. Was it worth it? Actually, it was. We had a really great time not only watching the movie but having a new/vintage experience.

I worked hard to avoid spoilers before we saw the movie. If you're working hard to avoid spoilers, I recommend not reading any farther because this post is going to talk about pivotal plot issues in detail. Also spoilers for the latest episode of The Book of Boba Fett.




You've Been Warned!


Spoilers in 3...



Rather than a in depth review of No Way Home, I actually wanted to use this post to talk about the theme/plot element that struck me the hardest. Based on the title, you've probably guessed that has to do with redemption. Not only for Peter, but even more for the villains. This movie was chock-full of bad-guys, ones we had seen and thought we knew very well from all the previous Spiderman movies. Yes it was a nostalgic, fan-service filled blast to see Molina's Doc Ock again. Ifan's Lizard. Defoe's Green Goblin. Fox's Electro. And Haden Church's Sandman. But to see Peter's devotion to giving them a second chance...well that was something novel.

Or well, maybe not so new. Over the years, I've come to learn as a writer and as a story consumer that there are often vast differences in the way Eastern and Western storytellers approach conflict. I found a nice summary of the difference here on  the Pulse of Asia website in a post titled "The Difference Between Western and Eastern Storytelling" by Nikol Haytova. 

In the West, the leading character is somebody who has a strong will, is exceptionally smart and chases a certain big goal. The villains are bad people who want to stop the protagonist. The clash is comprehensible — a fight between good and evil, where good should win!

 In the East, writers create characters whose main drive is to do something good for society. They’re not going usually through tough challenges for their own sake. The antagonists are usually initially good people, who are confused, manipulated or have been lied to. Some stories don’t even have an actual antagonist (nature, spirits and gods). Oftentimes, there is no actual clash in Eastern stories, because people believe that there is good in everything, and the real fight is to find this good and help it thrive.

 We see that philosophy somewhat reflected in Tom Holland's version of Peter Parker in this movie. It does seem like a much less "Western" approach to fighting villains. Against great odds and immense personal tragedy, he stays true to his philosophy of trying to cure the villains rather than kill them.

What does that really mean, though? For the movie's sake, it meant fixing a bad chip in Doc Ock's operating system, giving Green Goblin and Lizard a chemical dose that fixed Goblin's split personality and turned Lizard back into the human Dr. Connors, undoing the radiation harm that turned Flint Marko into Sandman, and giving Electro one of Stark's arc reactors to help control his electrical surges. With the help of Doctor Strange, everyone goes back to their correct timelines.

But then what?

The immediate source of the villain's motivations for evil doings is removed, but what about the harm they did before they were cured? Have they served their time, paid their penance, and are ready to return to society, or is there still work to be done?

A big part of the philosophy behind current reform movement in the American criminal justice system is not just the idea of fairer punishment, but also for reconciliation and restitution. It's about making victims whole again, if that's at all possible. It's one thing to cure the bad guy but it takes more than a little self-sacrifice to find redemption. It takes work. And I wonder what these "cured" villains did once they returned home. Did they attempt to make their victims whole again?

In this same line of thought, I couldn't help but remember Kylo Ren/Ben Solo's death at the end of Episode IX, Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker. Oh so romantically, Evil Kylo morphs into Good Ben at the last moment and sacrifices himself to save Rey from the Wrath of Khan--no that's another movie. The Wrath of Palpatine! Kylo/Ben took off his creepy mask, put on a Boyfriend Sweater™, gave Rey a big smooch full of his own life-saving life force, and then he died in her arms, his angelic face speckled with her tears.

How convenient!

Dying saved him from having to go on trial for all the, you know, GENOCIDE! I'm here to tell you definitively that his death did not undo all the harm he caused by blowing up whole planets and bajillions of people with his Super Space Laser ™. In fact, I'd even argue that by dying in her arms, he basically left all that work for Rey and her friends to do. 


Kylo Ren is not redeemed, okay? Not even close.

But, a surprising place where this theme of Redemption has been showing up again in the Star Wars universe is in the Disney+ spinoffs, The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett. The Tusken Raiders, formerly known as The Sand People, must have hired a great PR team, because their fan stock has been sharply on the rise. Originally, they were a (literally) faceless band of ruthless dessert bandits--attacking, raiding, and murdering. In the prequel movies, we learned they killed Anakin's mom (or did they?)! Horrible, right?  But Mando and Boba Fett have been working hard to redeem them, giving them language, culture, cute little Tusken children, and a sad backstory full of colonialist exploitation.

They're still violent. They're still brutal. But apparently, they're also very misunderstood. If you give them a chance, they might help you survive the harsh desert climate. Might even adopt you into their clan and teach you how to kick ass. The Star Wars Powers That Be (Kevin Feige, Jon Favreau, Dave Filoni, Robert Rodriguez, Kathleen Kennedy, and Colin Wilson) have invested in making the Tuskens do the work, and I think they have successfully earned their redemption.

They're even making Rancors into cuddly puppies, now. In the last episode, my Book of  Boba Fett watch party friends (fellow ATB contributors, Mary Fan, Christian Angeles, Victor Catano) and I feared that they might even be attempting to redeem the Sarlacc pit.  Never fear, though, not all villains need to be redeemed. Thankfully we got to keep at least one of our classic Star Wars monsters. ...And I don't expect to see the Hutt twins doing any great charity works any time soon.

No comments:

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs