Having recently finished the second and third episodes of the Inhumans figured it was time to write up the verdict post. I know we are already almost half way through the entire series, but still wanted to get my thoughts out there since the first episode is still available.
In general I have been enjoying some of the political intrigue of the show, and with some background knowledge of the characters I already had some investment going in. At the same time I can understand how if you had little to no knowledge of these characters that the dynamics might run a little flat. The show has not done enough to build up the background of who the Inhumans are and what they are doing on the moon. There does seem to be a level of expectation that you have knowledge of the characters already, which doesn’t really work.
At the same time the performance by Black Bolt, Maximus, and Medusa have been great, although some of the special effects have been lacking that is mostly dealt with by the end of the first episode. We are definitely going to finish watching this limited series, but so far nothing they have shown me makes me want more than just this limited run. (Spoilers for Inhumans after the jump.)
So I recently read an article discussing the choice of the show runners for Game of Thrones on how to deal with Bran as the three eyed Raven with being omniscient. Omniscience is a powerful ability for anyone to have and can cause problems with storytelling if not treated appropriately. On Game of Thrones they chose to make the character less relatable on a human level. Trying to make him stand-offish from other characters so they don’t simply ask him how it will out turn out I guess.
Of course this is not the only limitation that they have provided for him. Even though Bran can technically see anywhere and any when, it is so much information that he does not have it all necessarily at his finger tips. With the season finale reveal we find that Sam still had to provide information to Bran for him to ultimately see it. This means that he doesn’t have instant recall even though omniscient.
This provides some structure to a power that could ultimately destroy any potential story because the character has the power to tell people exactly what will happen. It can also be used as lazy story telling if you write yourself in to a corner.
See All Tell All
So obviously the first problem with omniscience is that because you see all, you know everything that has happened and everything that will happen. So why wouldn’t you tell people what happens? Of course this is where often storytellers bring up the fact that knowing the future can change it. So the question is if you know everything, then you also know whether saying anything will make any difference. At the same time from a storytelling perspective even if they do reveal everything the only person who might be ruined is the reader because they know that they are telling the truth when other people don’t.
Deus Ex Omniscience
The other problem is that omniscience can be used as a crutch. I don’t necessarily have an example of this, but I could definitely see it being a thing. Where as soon as you have an omniscient character then suddenly the challenge can just die, but it also means that if the writer or storyteller paints themselves into a corner it is something that they can use to pull themselves out because the omniscient character can just come in and fix everything because they know everything. Which can take a tense complicated situation and just deflate it in an instance.
Working Around Omniscience
The thing that is actually more interesting is when you have people trying to work around omniscience. Where there is a character who is mostly omniscient and somehow another character finds a way to outsmart them. Omniscience as a thing to thwart becomes more interesting then it being used to uncover everything. Omniscience is such a difficult trait to give a character because if they really know everything at all times then they are kind of boring and life can get kind of boring for them. That can make it difficult to make the story interesting if you don’t have some limits to the ability to know everything.
I mentioned recently that I had finished reading the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, and that I was trying to think of how to review them. For one thing, the books have been out for years – and it’s even a re-reading for me. For another thing, it’s a four-book series, and I’m done with all of them. So while it’s tempting to do one gigantic review, I don’t think that’s a good idea…
I think that conceptually this series has a lot going for it. It is very much so an author trying to bring a lot of modern understanding into the fantasy genre, trying to bring complex modern thoughts and knowledge both into that realm. Much of fantasy tries to recreate that medieval mindset, but Paolini eschews that.
There’s also the structural conventions of the genre – and of the hero’s journey – that Paolini both incorporates and actively works against. The most obvious is that, while the trilogy is the most common series length, Paolini takes what feels like it is starting out as a trilogy and turns it into a very compelling 4-book series.
So instead of book reviews, I think I’ll write up some musings on each of the books. I’ll think of them a bit in relation to each other, and in these larger terms. But also of course some consideration for the details of the book itself. So first up: Eragon!
The Hero’s Journey
So first up, yep, this book starts us on a hero’s journey, a chosen one who was before totally unconnected to the world he is about to find himself in. Living in a small, out-of-the-way rural village. Actually, scratch that – on a farm, outside the village. Way out of the way. Despite being located near “nowhere” on the map, Eragon the farm boy finds himself soon to be Eragon the dragonrider.
In many ways, it’s hard not to fall back on conventions like this. By having a character this ignorant of the world, the political struggles in it, the magic and races dangers, you have a whole lot of room for storytelling, world-building, and exposition.
There’s a bit of exposition one-upmanship, however, because dragons and their riders can speak telepathically with no one else hearing – thus allowing the main character and his bonded companion, the dragon Saphira, to talk through whatever is going on in the scene. It was a new way of approaching a normal sort of storytelling.
Eragon learns quite a bit throughout the book, but really just enough to be thrust into situations where he is in well over his head. He is saved on numerous occasions by the people around him, which matches with the general reality that heroes need friends, allies, and quite a bit of luck to survive and to be heroes.
There are quite a few normal sorts of elements, as well, especially a set of prophecies that Eragon receives. I do love a good prophecy, and there is a great deal of import given to these prophecies throughout all four books, which just makes them better as far as I’m concerned.
How Much of This Did He Plan?
Alright, I may have been spoiler (or at least detail) light so far, but that may change a bit here. That’s because, there are several items which you learn in later books which drastically change a re-reading of Eragon! That was my number one takeaway from this book, that it had a whole lot more meaning and significance a second time through.
To be that important, it could really only be one thing, and that’s identities. To be fair, there’s a lot of people met in Eragon, and we learn more about most of them throughout the series, all of which improves our perspective on them. But there are a couple of characters that take the book from interesting to heartbreaking. The amount of innocence contained in Eragon – that is progressively lost as the books drag deeper down until you’re in full-on war at the end – is astounding. I also didn’t remember how late it is that you actually get the most important spoiler!
I’ll avoid actually saying what it is here, although now even just saying something I’ll have new readers trying to guess things they might not have otherwise, and returning readers perhaps trying to remember (like I was) what details they were needing to piece things together at the start. Feel free to message me (@compgeeksdavid) if you’d like the full spoilers!
Much Room for Growth
Kind of like in my discussion about The Gunslinger recently, Eragon is a first book that clearly left the author feeling the need to infuse more into his story, and into his storytelling. It hits on a lot of the traditional elements. I imagine it felt safe for, say, the folks who decided to make a movie of it (I haven’t seen the movie, only a few brief moments on TV before turning away). It seems kind of ordinary.
I think the later books are where things definitely get interesting, in a lot of respects! Throughout the series, Eragon kind of remains a chosen one savior of the world character, on an over-arching quest, but he’s not the only person in the world. He may not even be the best hero they have, as that distinction might need to go to Arya. But he’s the Chosen One, which carries on additional weight in terms of politics, motivation, and war. You can’t afford to lose him. His freedom of choice is limited.
The larger political landscape that Paolini builds does a lot to frame the hero in a larger context. You really only just start to get a taste of this in this book, in its final region, the final climactic battle and fairly abrupt ending – but really, things fall apart from there!
But that’s to be continued when I muse about Eldest!
Coming soon to a theater near you, one of the biggest names in superheroes, one of the oddest behind-the-scenes franchise negotiations… Spider-Man Homecoming! After the abrupt ending to their last Spider-Man movie series 3 short years ago in Amazing Spider-Man 2, lots happened to bring us a Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s a new Spider-Man (well, the one we saw in Captain America: Civil War). It’s the third actor playing Spider-Man in recent memory. It’s only a few short years since the hot mess that was the last film. It’s still Sony’s property, even with the MCU connection. However, there’s plenty of Marvel cooperation as well. The trailers look good. There’s Iron Man. There is simultaneously a lot to say against this movie, and a lot going for it.
I mean, the most important thing in there is that the trailers look pretty good. In the end, give us a good movie.
Still, the questions I see are both, how are they going to give us that good movie? And what are they planning to do from there?
There are a number of characters that you can put on screen that really just don’t need introduction. Many of them are superheroes, with the like of Spider-Man and Batman where people know and get it. There are also literary figures like Sherlock Holmes that need no introduction and you can dive into the thick of things. Or there are characters like James Bond, who have had so many actors playing the character without an origin that when you finally try to do one – like they’ve done with the Daniel Craig movies of late – it gets a little weird.
Moreover, we’ve already seen this character on screen, in Civil War. He already had his powers, had a suit, had connections with Tony Stark, lived with just his Aunt May… One of the things that has been nice in the MCU is they have avoided doing much backtracking or ret-conning. The movies have stayed fairly chronological, even incorporating the weekly TV show Agents of SHIELD into the flow of time.
There’s a notable exception with Captain America: The First Avenger, just because his origin story happened decades in the past – but they caught you up to the contemporary moment when Cap is woken up. There have been a few other flashback sorts of moments, like the Hank Pym backstory in Ant Man, or Doctor Strange starting basically during the events of Civil War before a time jump ahead. Okay fine, also, all of Agent Carter. But the fact that I can sit here and name specific notable exceptions to this rule means that they have largely held to it.
Recently in Wonder Woman, we got thrown back to see the origin story for her after she had already been seen on screen in the franchise, in Batman v. Superman. So this is actually probably the best compare and contrast movie. Wonder Woman as a character hasn’t had a movie before, unlike the several recent Spider-Man films. Spider-Man has also had a number of TV shows in the time between the famous Linda Carter Wonder Woman and now, although Wonder Woman has shown up in plenty of animated Justice League TV. Still, one is a character who has had lots of screen time over time, and one who has not – so the argument is there for Wonder Woman to be an origin film (even if it’s framed by the present day and is technically all a flashback), and for Spider-Man Homecoming to not be an origin story.
They can really just dive into it. Please, please, I hope they do. Sure, we’ll probably see Uncle Ben die at some point. Don’t lead with that. Bring it in later. Integrate it into the story. Don’t make the origin story a checklist item you feel like you need to check off.
I mean, to be sure, there are ways they could have angled for an origin story here. A Miles Morales Spider-Man would be the top reason to do that, I think, and I’m still disappointed they didn’t go this way.
But at this point, the part has been cast for a while, they didn’t go this way, and that’s not changing anytime soon. So we’re getting yet another Peter Parker, which means again: please, we know who Peter Parker is. Don’t feed us an origin story, tell us a new story. Tell us a good story.
We had previously heard that the later movies were potentially not connected to the MCU, but were back in a Sony-run cinematic universe. I guess Sony is hoping they can keep cashing in on Marvel’s success, as they are working on talking about their next movies now with the imminent release of Homecoming.
For instance, it seems their plans of making a Venom movie are still a thing, now with Tom Hardy in talks for the lead (maybe as Agent Venom?). Venom wouldn’t be hard to introduce into the MCU, with an increasing amount of stuff happening in space. It would be much harder to introduce in an independent movie with no tie-in.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still thinking about the Sinister Six movie they were setting up to compete with Suicide Squad and Guardians of the Galaxy. Characters like Vulture and Shocker – appearing in Homecoming – have been members of this villain team-up before. And they use technology to fight Spider-Man, so there’s a source to that technology, and some of the plot for Homecoming seems to revolve around the villains getting their hands on and also selling this powerful tech. It could be an origin for this – much like they were trying to do with Oscorp in Amazing Spider-Man 2.
So these future movies – and a potential future Spider-Man film, I’m sure – could all make sense in the MCU. And I’m sure Sony is hoping to make these, because they had been previously planning a 4-movie (minimum) Amazing Spider-Man franchise along with stand-alone Venom and Sinister Six. Now it seems they’re trying to find a way to still pull that off, at least in terms of number of movies made.
But with Marvel’s plans for movies seemingly set between now and the as-yet untitled Avengers 4 in 2019, well, we’ll just have to see if Sony’s hopes pan out to be part of Marvel’s larger plans. Lots of the actor contracts end after Avengers 4, so it’s possible that might be that – or, that they’ll be looking for what to do for Marvel Phase 4 and Sony will be there waiting with a plan.
But if this movie sets up another larger movie franchise and those movies never happen, well, I don’t think Sony is likely to get a chance to do this a fourth time.
Welcome to the Comparative Opinions podcast! You know when you reach the point in a video game where you find yourself doing something very different from the rest of the game? Well, that’s what hosts David and Holly talk about this week, citing some examples of when games have done it wrong, and when they’ve done better!