Monthly Archives: May 2014

X-Men Days of Future Past: A Review (spoilers, but just read it.)

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If you’re a fan of the X-Men comic books this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you’re a fan of the X-Men TV show this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you’re a fan of the other X-Men movies this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. If you’re  a fan of the X-Men line of chia pets… you get the picture.

If, however, you don’t like time travel, you’re not going to like this movie. If you don’t like the X-Men, you’re not going to like this movie. If you can’t suspend reality enough to enjoy a Sci-Fi/Fantasy action film, you’re not going to like this movie. If  your favorite X-Men movie was “The Wolverine” because of it’s much more character driven and has a somewhat realistic plot with only three mutants in it… you’re not going to like this movie.

I started my understanding of the X-Men with the 90’s cartoon on Fox TV. It was a controversial show among Christian mothers; I think someone at Focus on the Family had probably written a article about it. The issue that my mom had with the show was that it wasn’t always clear who was good and who was bad. For me, I never had trouble understanding that X-Men wasn’t as much about the typical super hero plot, represented recently by The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reviewed here), wherein the Superhero gains powers, encounters tragedy, makes a vow to fight for good, fights bad guys – usually one to three individuals at a time who also has super powers and by defeating that one bad guy he saves his city who is typically very grateful. I like this formula, but the thing that is appealing about the X-Men is that it isn’t about that formula. It almost isn’t accurate to classify the X-Men films as “superhero movies” as they so totally break the mold. The X-Men stories are about the larger society, prejudice, fear, and how to be diplomatic in complex situations.

The Morality of X-Men is confusing and often changing according to who is a greater threat. Here’s my own take on it with a little help from our friends over at Dungeons and Dragons. Putting Magneto at “true neutral” is because of the aberration in the pattern of his actions. Half the time Magneto seems to be a team player, joining up with the X-Men to fight a greater evil, but the other half he’s trying to destroy humanity in an effort to establish mutant superiority. When you see his history, you understand why this seems logical, and it is done out of a sincere desire to help mutants. He also comes around in the end, as we see in this movie.

xmen morality

I don’t want to over-hype it. It’s certainly not perfect. I’m not slapping any hyperbolic labels on it like “best superhero movie ever” or “best movie of summer.” But I might call it the best X-Men movie so far, if for no other reason than the fact that it bridges the continuity (or lack there of) between the original trilogy and First Class while paying it’s respects to the Wolverine films. Undoubtedly there will be many questions about this film as it relates to the others, but those details aside I think anyone who has seen and enjoyed the other films can enjoy this one. If you haven’t seen any of the X-Men films I want to say now DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. It will confuse the daylights out of you. It will probably confuse you a little if you have seen the X-Men movies, but at least you have some idea of who the characters are before you launch into multiple time-lines and young/old versions of characters. Rewatching X-Men 2, 3, and X-Men First Class would be helpful, though it will raise a few questions that I’d be glad to discuss with you at length because I don’t have anything better to do.

Before I launch into a synopsis, I want to emphasize that if you’re not a fan of time travel tales that you will not like this movie. This is a film that hinges on time travel and I know there are some people who are simply bothered by the impossibility and seeming arbitrary rules of time travel in any given movie and this film is no different. It is very wibbly wobbly. By contrast I know many people who love time travel movies. I’m one of them. Part of this has to do, honestly with my view of God as being outside of time. I see God as a being for whom everything is currently happening, everything has already happened, and everything will happen soon. I often like to think about the possibility that heaven exists outside of time and what does that mean for our eternity with Christ?

wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-o

It’s a ball of wobbly wobbly…timey-wimey…stuff. #DrWhoReference

As much as I would love to break down all the issues that time travel creates for this and the other six movies, both time-line and continuity wise, our buddies at Entertainment Weekly are paid to do this stuff, so if you want a fairly comprehensive article on the time line as well as some othe details of the plot you can read their article here. Aside from the usual illogical hatred for X-Men 3, I agree with most of the theories there. But let’s talk about the movie by itself and what actually happens.

The Plot

 

Xavier's ALIVE?

Xavier’s ALIVE?

Ok this is going to be confusing. We open in the not-too-distant future where we see several of our friends last seen in 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, Shadow Cat (played by the now much more recognizable Ellen Page), Ice Man, Colossus, and a few new faces including a more obscure X-Man named Bishop. The first fight is just a couple of minutes in, and it might actually be the best fight in the film. Sentinels show up and kill almost everyone except Shadow Cat and Bishop who run to a back room where shadow cat uses her secondary mutation (made up just for this movie) and she sends Bishop’s mind back in time and everything disappears. At this point if you’re watching for the first time and don’t just know that’s what’s happening, you’re just not going to know what’s happening, especially when we go to the next scene and all the people we just watched die are still alive. While you’re still confused a new version of the Blackbird lands somewhere. Out of the jet comes Old Magneto, Storm, Old Wolverine, and Old Professor X. If the last thing you saw was X-Men 3, it might be a surprise to you to discover that Xavier is still alive.

If you’re worried that they’re going to give some half-baked comic book explanation of exactly how Xavier survived after being vaporized by Dark Phoenix in X3, don’t worry, because they don’t try to explain it at all. Instead they rely on you to have watched the after credits scenes in both X-Men The Last Stand and last year’s The Wolverine. Which gives you the detail that Xavier apparently transferred his consciousness into the body of a brain dead man and then reveals himself to Wolverine. They never bother explaining why the brain dead man looks like the old Xavier or why the legs of this body don’t work either. Oh well. You’re just going to have to accept that he’s back.

when listing the two things that get him out of bed in the morning...

when listing the two things that get him out of bed in the morning…

What’s even more confusing is the X-Kids’ explanation of what happened in that first scene. Apparently every time the Sentinels (giant robots that operate like the T-1000 from Terminator 2.) find them, Shadow Cat sends bishop back in time a couple of days to warn them. They then move their location so that they’re never found. If you followed that, you should have no trouble with the rest of the plot. Xavier then suggests they send someone back in time further and stop this war from starting. Shadow Cat says that she can only send someone a few weeks back in time without scrambling their brain. That’s when the movie-making machine at Fox stepped in and said, “yes but our big star is Hugh Jackman and he has the ability to heal.” And we, the public, have no problem with that because everyone but Dr. Cox loves Hugh Jackman.

That’s Right, because Wolverine can heal faster than anything can kill him, he volunteers to have his mind sent back in time into his younger body (conveniently played by Hugh Jackman because, as Shadow Cat reminds us, Wolverine doesn’t really age.) So after it’s made clear that if they’re caught by the sentinels this time that they’ll have no way out (as Shadow Cat will be occupied with Wolverine’s brain) they send Logan back in time.

There’s a random scene in which Wolverine is naked and we see his butt. I mention this because for one of my friends this was the reason he was worried about taking his kids. So there you go. It happens. It’s like four seconds.

Logan goes to the X Mansion where we find out that the young Professor X is depressed and is taking a drug that allows him to walk, but suppresses his powers. Beast is there also – he had developed said drug to hide his own mutation which actually kind of neatly alludes back to the Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hide reference made in X-Men First Class. Somehow Logan manages to convince professor X, not only that he’s from the future and needs their help, but also that they need to break young Magneto out of jail for… you know… reasons… Ok so, story-wise it doesn’t totally make sense except for the fact that this is what future Eric and future Charles tells him to do.

They go get Quicksilver, who is actually Magneto’s son – as is revealed in a small offhanded comment by Quicksilver. After wolverine says that they’re trying to break out a “guy who controls metal” Quick Silver says “my mom used to know a guy like that.” Which just gives enough of a nod to make us aware that Brian Singer is going with that version of the story. (Something that was lacking in X2 in the scene between Nightcrawler and his mother, Mystique – who doesn’t seem to think it necessary to mention to anyone that Nightcrawler is her son.)

X-Men-Days-Of-Future-Past2-300x200Quicksilver gives us an awesome scene in which they break magneto out of prison. Perhaps the most visually impressive scene in the movie is when we see Quicksilver’s point of view as he dispatches with a room full of guards by running around the walls while fire sprinklers have been set off. The scene is in slow motion except for Quicksilver. The water is falling slowly, bullets flying slowly and everyone reacting slowly as he darts around the room, knocking over several guards and pushing bullets out of the way. Then Quicksilver leaves because this movie has too many characters to spend any more time with him. Don’t worry we get one little clip of him watching TV with his little sister (Scarlet Witch?) And undoubtedly he’ll be in the next movie.

A trivial aside: many of you will be confused at this so I’m going to say it now in hopes that maybe you’ll remember it later. In Avengers 2 there will be a totally different iteration of “Quicksilver” and “Scarlet Witch.” They were introduced post credits after Captain America: Winter Soldier. These are the same comic book characters, but they are in different cinematic universes and are played by different actors. That is because there is a difference between movies made by Marvel and movies licensed by Marvel. All the characters in X-Men are licensed to Fox. That is why it is very unlikely that we’ll ever see Wolverine in an Avengers movie. Quick Silver and Scarlet Witch are shared properties in this agreement, however, so they can appear in either film. Because the studios are separate, though they are being interpreted differently and played by different actors. FYI Spiderman is licensed to Sony, which is why you’re not going to see Spider-Man in the Avengers. If you’re wondering why you won’t see Batman or Superman in the Avengers, please wear tinfoil on your head so we can all know who you are.

Then we get down to business. The whole goal of traveling back in time is to stop Mystique (“ooh ooh ooh! That’s Jennifer Lawrence! We’ve Got Jennifer Lawrence in that part!” Shouted the Fox execs) from killing Bolivar Trask. Trask is a weapons contractor with the military who is recommending to a congressional subcommittee that the US go on the offensive against the growing mutant threat by building enormous robots that are capable of detecting the “Mutant-X gene” and wiping out all mutants. It is explained to us that In the darkest time line, Mystique is successful in her assassination of Trask, but this leads to a public outcry against mutants. Mystique is captured and experimented on. Presumably she escapes before the events of the original X-Men but not before the new leaders of the Sentinel Program harvest Mystique’s DNA and use it to make Sentinels that can shape shift to beat any mutant.

shape-shifting Sentinel seen in the future.

shape-shifting Sentinel seen in the future.

We see Mystique in the midst of her various activities leading up to her Assassination attempt. We meet a young William Stryker (the bad guy in X2, and Wolverine: Origins) who is played by yet another actor, a Seann William Scott look-a-like named Josh Helman. This, in addition to the fact that Wolverine didn’t wake up in the Vietnam war, just solidifies the fact that we all have to basically ignore everything that happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine… anyway… of course we meet Trask who is played by Peter Dinklage. I have to say that part of me was distracted by Dinklage, who of course has (say it with me) achondroplasia – a common form of dwarfism. The character of Trask from the comics is listed as being 5’10” so this was kind of a bold casting move, but Dixmen-days-of-future-past-trasknklage has such an intimidating voice and such a large presence that it only took a scene or two before I was more than cool with having him playing the major bad guy. Though, as one friend pointed out, achondroplasia is a real-life mutation… seems kind of ironic.

While they are successful in foiling Mystique’s initial attempt on Trask’s life, they make things worse as a camera catches the fight immediately following it which shows the world how dangerous Mystique, Magneto, and Beast all are. Magneto decides that it’s too risky to keep Mystique alive, so he tries to kill her, but she escapes into the crowd while Beast fights with Magneto. At the same time Wolverine is thrown for a loop when he sees young Stryker (who is responsible for giving him his indestructible skeleton and metal claws) and freaks out for a minute, causing us to see the future X-men toiling over Logan as he trashes about, accidentally stabbing Shadow Cat. The rest of the film we get cuts between the 1970s and the 2020’s to remind us of the ticking clock of the pending sentinel invasion upon the future X-Men.

The final confrontation takes place around the White House as Trask unveils his Mark-1 Sentinels – he doesn’t realize that the giant robots have been reprogrammed by Magneto. Upon their unveiling they attack the crowd watching. Xavier, who has over come his depression and is back in a wheelchair with his powers, is in attendance with a disguised Beast and Wolverine. At the same time Magneto uproots a local ballpark – I’m not sure which one – and drops it around the White House. This might be my biggest issue with this movie. The ball park around the White House thing seems totally unnecessary and does seem like just an attempt at some big visual at the climax. If someone had said “he wouldn’t attack the White House, the army would stop him!” right before he dropped the stadium around the white house it might’ve at least explained the logic, but even so – it’s not like the stadium doesn’t have doors. Or they didn’t have jets and paratroopers. It’s just easier to suspend reality around the White House battle.

At the same time, in the future the Sentinels have shown up and the real visual climax takes place as all the surviving X-Men battle to protect Shadow Cat and Wolverine from the shape-shifting Sentinels. Back in the 1970s Wolverine is sent to drown in the Potomac with several pieces of rebar stuck through his torso. Magneto is about the kill the president. (It was Nixon, so this would’ve been the best possible outcome for his career) when Mystique stops him. The whole event is on live TV and everyone sees a mutant save the president’s life. She then looks as if she might kill Trask, but instead drops the gun and walks away. In the future, everyone involved in the battle disappears. In the past we see Stryker later fishing a still-alive Wolverine out of the Potomac, but at the last minute it’s revealed that it’s not Stryker, but Mystique. This raises lots of questions regarding Wolverine’s origin story that I don’t have time to get into.

This is where the real spoilers are

I thought the movie might end after the battle.  If it did it would be a fairly satisfying ending, but instead we see Logan wake up. We know it’s the future, not only because of the white stripe in his hair, but also because his alarm clock radio is holographic. He’s in the X Mansion and he gets up and walks into the hallway. He sees adult Beast (played by Kelsey Grammar) and Rogue (Anna Paquin). He sees Shadow Cat and Colossus teaching a class. Then he walks towards Xavier’s office to see… Jean Gray still alive. WHAAAAAT? She of course isn’t at all surprised to see him, as no one in this timeline knows about the darkest timeline. Then from behind the door comes Cyclops. What-what? And finally he sees Professor X who quickly realizes that this is the Logan he met as a young man, now returned from their first adventure together. So basically Bryan Singer just rebooted X-Men, but with the same cast. They could go anywhere from here. They could make more sequels starring the original cast, they could tell another Wolverine origin story. OR they could do what they’re going to do and keep going with the First Class cast and do a movie about the baddest bad guy in the X-Men cannon. The after-credits scene isn’t all that surprising given the name of the next X-Men movie: X-Men Apocalypse.

The after credits scene may not be a shock, but it is, however, a huge treat to a long-time X-Men fan. It starts in the desert sands, so even without the title of the next movie, we have a pretty good idea of where they’re going with this. As the camera moves up we see thousands of people worshipping a hooded figure who has his back turned to us and his hands raised. We soon realize that the figure is using some kind of telekinetic ability to build a pyramid. The camera swoops around him so that we can see his gray face and in the distance – four horsemen. Boom.

In Conclusion

For an X-Men fan, this might be a five out of five stars, but for a more casual fan it’s going to be hard to follow and there are several issues. As such I’ll take the average and give it four out of five stars. Really really fun for the 8 year-old in me, but I’m aware of the fact that it’s not the best film ever made. So far it is my favorite comic-book movie this summer and that is saying a lot as I really did in enjoy Captain America. Is it good for kids? It’s pretty violent and, as I mentioned you do get a glimpse of Hugh Jackman’s best side. Also the themes are pretty mature (I mean that literally by the way, some people use “mature themes” to really mean “juvenile themes that you don’t want your kid to hear about.”) with blurred lines of morality it is something you’d want to consider. I’d say definitely not for kids under 10 and pG-13 is probably a pretty good guide for this one.

Hope you enjoyed the review, if you did please like, and use my facebook comments below to add your thoughts. And, if you’re in the mood, please share it with your friends.

Do you want to get well? Trapped: A Victim Mentality

Introduction from May 2014

This past week at Frazer UMC, where I work here in Montgoemry, Levi Garnder, our minister of outreach, brought a great message from the text of John 5. This year we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of John and this past week we talked about Jesus healing the man by the pool. Here’s some of the Scripture from John 5:

After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

John 5:1-15

This scripture is so poignant to me because of the seemingly silly question Jesus asks in verse six: “Do you want to be made well?” You’d think that would be a no brainer, that anyone would see this man and know that just by looking at him that he would desire nothing more than to be made well. Jesus knew enough to know that it wasn’t the case. I think the detail of that question and the answer are in scripture intentionally to teach us about being victims of our circumstances, because even more interesting is the man’s answer. He doesn’t say “yes. of course. duh. what kind of question is that?” He makes an excuse as to why he can’t be made well. He says “I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up and while I’m making my way someone else steps down ahead of me.” In this answer is his honest answer: “what I really want is for you to feel bad for me.” Because this man had a hard life. He had been sitting by this pool begging for 38 years. It’s quite likely that he survived on hand outs from the others who came by to step into the pool. It was likely that the people walking by felt bad for him and he realized that if he actually were to be healed that as wonderful as it might be, then he might have to do real work. So did he want to be healed? Deep down, of course. But the false-self that he had created depended upon his sickness to maintain his way of life.

1d4d5f9f87d6b0c527e5ff55dcf1592d0c82d9639438a72081b4d6a1dfd65cad If we’re honest, we like to use their painful history as a tool, or worse, a weapon. We lord it over people or try to use it to further our careers and social standing. In reality this kind of use of our pain is almost always toxic and usually won’t create any sustaining foundations on which these structures can last. This is why many popular musicians have such tragic lives. They often start off with the usual issues we all have: issues with their family, faith, & finances. Once they’ve worked out their finances they have a choice to move onto their family and faith or they can start inventing new problems. They don’t want to be made well.

One of my family’s favorite movies is film based on a book by the same name Cold Comfort Farm. It’s rich comedic satire of Jane Austin’s writings – and it cleverly lampoons many of the common plot devices she and other similar authors use. In the story a young woman goes to live with her strange relatives. Her great aunt is up in her room all the time and never leaves. When asked she says “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.” And as comical as this might sound it’s become a reference that my whole family understands. If one of us refers to someone who “saw something nasty in the woodshed.” It means they’re hanging onto something unfortunate in their past. They don’t want to be made well.

Ken Roach and Jerrod Dorminey Captured it well in their original Blues Song “the Bethesda Blues.” Featured in this past week’s worship service.

The rest of this post I wrote three years ago. It was one that got several comments on my old blog, including one asking me how someone can get out of the victim mentality. I was surprised at the question but also frustrated that I don’t have a good answer that would fit every situation. The best thing I can offer is this: If someone wants to get better, they can get better. That’s why I believe the man by the pool truly wanted to get better, even if he was playing the victim. But there are those who want to be victims their whole lives. I really believe that prayer is the only thing that can help someone who doesn’t want to be made well. Divine intervention then counseling either from a professional or a wise mentor. Some people just want to cling to their sickness and make excuses when they should cling to Christ and defy everyone’s expectations.

Original Post from June 2011

A great way to stay trapped Perhaps the greatest lesson that my father taught me about life from a early age is that a victim mentality gets you nowhere. Likely everyone that regularly reads my blog would agree with me, but recently I saw some posts on Facebook that reminded me that some people earnestly believe that it is perfectly acceptable for individuals to rest on the excuses generated out of whatever unfortunate circumstances their life has given them. To those people I’d like to say: that’s perfectly fine. From a secular point of view it is totally acceptable for you to use your past as an excuse for your current behavior, if you wish to stay trapped your whole life. That’s perfectly ok, no one will force you out of captivity. A person in a victim mentality is much like a person who has been beaten, bruised and forced into a cage. Later, whether days or years, the bruises heal and someone will come to them with the key to their escape. Most will not use the key, however. Why? Because once you’re free you no longer have the excuse, you have to take full responsibility for yourself. Most people would rather be able to lean on the excuse of what has been done to them; garnering sympathy and demanding that people be sensitive to what has happened to them.

Before I continue, I should specify that I do believe that there are many reasons for a person to be a victim that they truly cannot help. Mental Illness or chemical imbalances caused by genetics are among them. But just as those people must choose to submit to therapy and/or medication; those who have chosen to be defined by their most tragic and painful moments, they need to eventually lay it all down to be truly free.

I also should say that I do believe in being as sensitive to people as is reasonable in every situation. I can’t begin to imagine the tragedy through which some people have lived and I would never deny them grief, anger, or mourning; all three of which are holy emotions expressed by Jesus himself. However, there is a massive difference between feeling and expressing a holy emotion and allowing yourself to fall victim to your emotions. The difference is in this phrase: “Because ______ happened to me I must always react by ______” When you say that you are becoming victim whether in a small or large way. By contrast each time you say “Despite the fact that ______ happened to me, I will choose to ______” you are choosing to not be victimized.

The Bible tells me so

Please understand that I’m not so arrogant as to say that people shouldn’t be affected by the tragedies of life. I don’t pretend to understand all of the different causes of strife in the world or the pain that people have experienced, but I do know that from a scriptural worldview its impossible to say that a victim mentality is acceptable.

I think you ought to know, dear brothers, about the hard time that we went through in Asia. We were really crushed and overwhelmed, and feared we would never live through it. We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead. And he did help us, and he saved us from a terrible death; yes, and we expect him to do it again and again. 2 Cor 1:8-10 Living Bible

Or, Perhaps more to the point. . .

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake Col. 1:24a

There are many many more scriptures about rejoicing in suffering. So from a scriptural standpoint, we see Paul – beaten, tortured ‘doomed to die’ and what does he say? “That was good.” Wait, what? “Powerless to help ourselves” “that was good” “overwhelmed” “that was good.” “crushed” “that was good.” seriously. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve come to realize this. Christians are blessed with the hope in Christ and the ability to say that our suffering only brings us closer to Him and by suffering for Him, we take part in the fellowship of His suffering. We go from “that was bad” to “that was hard” to “that was good.”

Is this some kind of sickness? Perhaps masochism? By no means! Looking back and saying something was ‘good’ is far different then deriving pleasure from it. Again, there is nothing wrong with anger and mourning. The only reason why Paul is able to look back at the bad times and call them good is because he realizes they brought him closer to Christ. He realizes that Christ’s resurrection power is at work in our lives, but to access that power we have to die. Think about that for a minute. Its easy for us to think of Christ’s death on the cross as the great tragedy of history and his resurrection as the restoration of that tragedy. Christ’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible without His death. A Christian view of suffering is simply realizing that without death there can be no resurrection.

On the practical end of things…

Even if you’re not looking at this from a scriptural perspective, say you’re an agnostic or a secular humanist, then look at it from the purely practical end of things. If we decide that there are some things in life that a person cannot be expected to recover from, some wounds that cannot be healed; that’s fine, but do you really want to work with someone who’s single greatest aim in life is to make sure everyone is sensitive to their life’s tragedies? After a while there must be a reasonable expectation of growing from your past, and becoming responsible for your present. I don’t say ‘moving on’ because I think that insinuates that you must ignore your past, not at all, instead you grow from it and become stronger than ever.

Steven Covey, the writer of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about this in the first Habit. Which is “Be Proactive.” He simply states that a part of being proactive is taking responsibility for yourself and your behavior. He suggests that the main meaning of being responsible is being able to choose your response.

Most people who have a victim mentality get angry at the insinuation that they are somehow to blame for their attitude. They act as if that’s tantamount to being told that they are to blame for the tragedy in their life or their genetic make up. That’s a huge leap in logic.  Between stimulus and response there is a narrow space where you can choose. You’re not Pavlov’s dog, forced to salivate by every bell that rings. You’re not a programmed machine, who’s brain will always produce the same reaction given the same set of circumstances.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Ben Carson. Dr. Carson is the preeminent pediatric neurosurgeon active today. He’s participated in several firsts in his field including the first separation of siamese twins that were conjoined at the head. This is featured in a movie called “Gifted Hands” starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Dr. Carson. In 2008 Dr. Carson was awarded the presidential medal of freedom, the highest civilian honor in our nation.  That’s impressive, but what’s more impressive is that Dr. Carson came from a low-income single parent household in Detroit. At a young age his parents divorced and his mother struggled to find employment as she couldn’t read – the only work she could maintain was that of a house keeper where Ben would later say “She observed that successful people spent a lot more time reading than they did watching television.” And she implemented a rule that her two sons would read two books a week from the library. You can read more about 
Ben Carson’s upbringing on NPR’s website
.

The reason why the victim mentality is so pervasive is because there is only one alternative: work. It takes work to overcome the setbacks, the emotional stresses, the tragedies of life. No one would’ve blamed Ben Carson for being a  below average student, he had a number of things against him. But his mother chose to fight that and later he chose to fight that as well, working hard to get into med school and then working hard to become the best doctor he could be. That’s because they chose not to be victims of their circumstances. Most people can’t even admit that they’re choosing to be victimized because If you admit that you can do something about it and choose not to do something about it, it becomes your fault. I wouldn’t be writing about this if it weren’t a struggle for me also, but one thing I’ve realized is that once you are real with yourself about where you are choosing to be victimized then you can start to allow the solution permeate throughout your life.

Personally…

I’ve struggled with having a victim mentality about many different things. There are some ways in which I continue to deal with it. One small example is the fact that I’m not an athletic person and most of my growing up years I allowed myself to be victimized by that, but as I grew up, I began to fight the impulse to feel victimized and I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried new activities. Now I have a whole list of sports and activities that I really enjoy, even if I’m not the best at them. Stepping out in this manner has opened so many opportunities to me that I would have never had if I had rested on the laurels of victimization. I think the message paraphrase of the Bible phrases paul’s words in Philippians well:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. Phil 3:12-14

I think one of the mistakes we make when trying to overcome our victim mentality is the idea that we need to have it all figured out, that we need to somehow be totally fixed before we relinquish our victim status. In reality, we just have to admit that we don’t always know exactly what the path to healing is going to look like and we need to trust that it ends at the feet of Jesus. Whatever your excuse is for not living a full and healthy life, that’s not God’s will for you. I can tell you he wants you to take hold of you inheritance now. Yes you have eternal life in terms of length, but you also have abundant life in terms of height and depth, so stop making excuses and grab hold of the abundance that Christ has given you.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: A Review (spoilers are marked)

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Preamble (a brief review of the Amazing Spider-Man):

It was midsummer 2004 when I went to the midnight showing of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 Starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. I was a huge spiderman fan starting when I was eight with the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon. I still have a copy of “The Sensational Spider-Man #0” which has appreciated in value by an impressive 98% making it worth almost $3. I really enjoyed the first Spider-Man movie, so I was primed to be a huge fan of Spider-Man 2. Many think it was the best of the original trilogy. It was one of the few examples of a sequel being arguably better than the original.

So here we are, ten years later – what about this new second installment? You should first know that I didn’t dislike the first Amazing Spider-Man movie, but that It didn’t knock my socks off either. I so identified with Tobey Maguire; he was so perfectly uncool – so totally nerdy that I identify with the guy far more than Andrew Garfield. But the biggest issue with the first chapter of this new Spider-Man is that we basically knew what was going to happen for the at least first half of the movie because we’d already seen it. Getting bitten by a spider, gaining powers, not stopping the guy that would go on to kill uncle Ben – that was all necessary to establish the “new universe” but we as an audience didn’t need to see it again. It was good. It was well done. It was arguably better than the first time around, but since it had been done well before (and just a short ten years before) it made the movie feel boring to me.

I recently re-watched it and found that I enjoyed it much more the second time around. Emma Stone is really what makes the movie. Andrew Garfield is great, but seeing a love interest that is as invested in Spider-Man as the hero himself is the strength of the movie. Andrew Garfield is also better at the comedic quipping that I do especially love about the character of Spider-Man. So you know that I enjoyed the first movie, but not as much as the original trilogy.

Down to business

So how did I like the sequel? Basically I found it to be exactly what it had to be, but that doesn’t mean everyone will like it. The movie opens with the same scene that the first movie opened with, only instead of being told from the perspective of young Peter Parker – it’s told from his father’s view. We then follow him after his disappearance to find out about what happened to him after he dropped peter off with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. There’s a high adrenaline scene in which we find out that Richard Parker has some kind of information on his laptop that he’s transferring to a secret location as he and his wife are fleeing the country. I won’t totally spoil how the scene ends, but it is action packed and I will say (possible spoiler) it is still unclear as to exactly what happens to Richard Parker, though we’re certainly lead to believe that he may not be alive. paul-giamatti-could-be-the-rhino-in-the-amazing-spider-2-2

Back to the present day and Spider-Man is in the middle of stopping Paul Giamatti (who I love for not being above this bit role) from stealing some plutonium that, surprisingly, has nothing to do with the rest of the movie’s plot. I thought this was odd because to paraphrase Chekov, “If you show weapons-grade plutonium in the first act then it must make someone a super villain in the third act.” But I suppose to paraphrase the mis-quoted Freud, “sometimes weapons-grade plutonium is just weapons-grade plutonium.” This scene is basically just setting up how life normally is to Spider-Man/Peter Parker these days. Meanwhile Gwen Stacy is giving her valedictorian speech at their high school graduation, for which Peter is running late. He makes it just in time. Shortly after we have a little teen angst as Peter and Gwen re-break-up because peter keeps on seeing Gwen’s Father everywhere. At one point they’re even nice enough to roll the clip from the last film of the dying Captain Stacy making Peter promise to not get involved with Gwen.

Here’s where things get complicated.

Here’s where the plot effectively splits into four different mutant sub plots. electro-amazing-spider-man-2-comparisonAt the same time we’re introduced to Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx. Max is saved by Spider-Man and develops a pitiful obsession with him. We’re shown that Max is a nobody who was cheated by his employer, Oscorp, when they stole one of his ideas for a power plant that is now powering all of New York City. He’s such a sad person that when he falls into a vat of electric eels and gains electric powers we’re almost on his side. The-Amazing-Spider-Man-2

 

Then there’s the on-going love story with Peter and Gwen. The fact that he checks on her every day even though he’s not maintaining contact with her is not at all creepy because it’s Andrew garfield. Though if Paul Giamatti had been in the role of Spider-Man I think they would’ve called this “stalking.” When they finally go on a date again (less than 20 minutes of screen-time after they broke up) we add the tension of the fact that Gwen is considering going to Oxford for college. (The one in England.) There is always the underlying tension of Peter’s promise to Gwen’s father to stay out of her life.

 

dane-dehaan-harry-osborn-in-amazing-spider-man-2Plot number three comes in the flavor of the movie’s most interesting new Character, Dane DeHaan playing the new Harry Osborn who, of course, is a mixture of Harry Potter and Jason Bourne. This iteration of Harry Osborn immediately has more pathos than James Franco’s Harry. Because 1) He’s not James Franco. 2) –possible spoiler– His dad dies at the beginning of the movie 3) We find out he is dying of the same thing. Harry wants to pick up where his father’s evil company left off in trying to discover a cure for the made-up disease that’s killing him. For some illogical reasons Harry believes that Spider-Man’s blood might be the answer to his problems. Because. . . spiderman. This is complicated by the fact that Harry and Peter were childhood friends. While DeHann has more gravitas as a performer than Franco, he sounds and looks like he’s about 15 which took me a while to get over since he’s promoted to CEO of a large company after his first scene.

 

Plot four involves Peter’s discovering the truth of his father’s involvement in Oscorp and what his research actually resulteScreen Shot 2014-05-07 at 9.52.01 PMd in. This also answers one of my biggest problems with the first “Amazing Spider-Man.” With the first movie I was bothered by the fact that Peter entered into an easily accessible room full of thousands of spiders and was bitten by one and got powers. I wanted to know why no one had been bitten before or since by these spiders and gotten powers. Well it turns out that when Richard Parker created these “Human/Spider Hybrids” he used his own DNA so only someone with his same genetic makeup could reap the benefits of their genetically enhanced venom. So there you go. That’s why peter was the only one who could get powers.

If that sounds like a lot…

Smythe…that’s because it is. It’s a little ridiculous and really it probably would’ve been fine without one of the plots. Many people will find it too long. Many people will find it too convoluted. In many images-2ways it could be compared to The Dark Knight in that it is darker, than the first and has a villain that doesn’t show up until the movie feels like it’s already supposed to be wrapping up. But the thing I liked about it is that it felt more like a multi-part story within the ’94 Spider-Man series. Because there were several seemingly unrelated bad guys. It’s also fun because they introduce us to other characters we haven’t seen before on the big screen, but are long-time Spider-Man regulars, Like Alistair Smythe, played by BJ Novak, who later goes on to become “The Spider Slayer” and Felicia Hardy, played by Felicity Jones, who eventually becomes Black Cat.

 

The point where this all comes to a head is after Spider-Man tells Harry that he won’t give him any of his blood, and Oscorp tries to oust Harry just as he’s been told that some of the genetically enhanced spider venom was kept after the spiders were destroyed, and Harry discovers that Max (now Electro) is being held at Revencroft, the Arkham Asylum of the Marvel Universe. After Harry unleashes Electro and forcibly takes Oscorp back, he then enters a secret room at Oscorp that basically has the power sources of all the remaining spider-man villains; Doc Oc’s arms, Green Goblin’s glider, the Rhino’s suit, and some other things. When harry finds the remaining venom and injects himself with it he turns into the Green Goblin and hops on the glider like he’d done it a million times before. That part seemed a little rushed to me. amazing-spider-man-2-electro-fight All the while Electro has pulled the plug on the entire City of New York. We’re reminded of how terrible this would really be as incoming planes can’t contact the tower and Aunt May is struggling at a hospital to care for patients. Then we come to the final battle with Electro, but it’s really pretty amazing how little we care about him at this point,  considering he’s played by the most famous person in the movie. Gwen shows up to help and actually comes up with the idea that finally defeats electro. At this point a normal movie would end, but not this film. We’ve still got another bad guy to defeat. hqdefault

And the biggest spoiler of all

You’ve been warned, the next few paragraphs contains the biggest spoiler of the movie. After the green goblin shows up and puts together the fact that Peter Parker and Spider Man are the same person because Gwen Stacy is hanging out with Spider-Man. (a stretch, I grant you.) they fight a while. Here’s the issue with this: We didn’t care as much about the battle with Electro, because Harry had been established as the main antagonist. Now we’re a little battle-weary by the time Harry actually shows up as the Goblin and so we don’t care as much about the battle that we were more curious about in the first place.

 

Then we come to the conclusion of the fight as the Green Goblin drops Gwen off from a high place. Spider-Man finally manages to dispatch with the Goblin, knocking out so easily that you question why he didn’t do it before. Gwen is falling  amidst the debris as Peter shoots a web down to her we shift into that combination of slow-motion accompanied by a particular dramatic theme that tells you someone is going to die. Gwen hits the ground milliseconds before the web makes it to her. She hoists up and Peter lands by her. For a few moments I was convinced that she was going to wake up. I’m rarely really shocked by a movie – especially a superhero movie, but this one surprised me as I realized – they killed Gwen. Matt Williams reminds me that this is canonical, that Gwen died in a manner very similar to this in a issue of the comic in the 70’s, but it still is a bold choice for the mood of Spider-Man.

 

The following scenes show peter staring at Gwen’s grave across multiple seasons. We’re told that Spiderman hasn’t shown up for five months. You read that right. The movie’s timeline continues five months after the climax of all the plots. The final scene is actually quite fun, as Spider-Man finally shows back up in a tear-jerking moment and fights Paul Giamatti again, now in the Rhino battle suit.

 

The denouement feels a little like Return of the King because it has multiple endings. But that is a better alternative than concluding on the note of despair that it could’ve closed out with. Marc Webb chose to not end the movie in the dismal hopelessness that we were left with at the end of The Dark Knight. I’m very glad he did. Spider-Man isn’t about indulging in the darkest moments of life. Even though he has some marked similarities to Batman, I appreciate the fact that this installment of Spider-Man, while the darkest one ever, sticks around long enough to leave us with some hope. 096

So what of it?

Ultimately in spite of the issues I have with it, I find it to be a fun movie. It over-stays its welcome by about 20 minutes, but I care enough about the characters to hang on. The character of Gwen really does carry much of it for me still. I did really enjoy Spider-Man’s quipping and antics in this one. It feels very much like the recent cartoon “Ultimate Spider-Man” which takes place within a similar continuity and is a lighter fare than most incarnations of the web-head. So while it does go darker than other iterations, it maintains an appropriate level of humor to relieve the tension.

 

Things I would’ve like to have seen: The deleted scene featuring Mary Jane meeting Gwen Stacy would’ve been fun. It’s pretty well known that Divergent star Shailene Woodley filmed a scene as Mary Jane Watson that was cut. It would’ve been fun to see this set up for the next movie. I hope Woodley isn’t too busy for the next Spider-Man, but it seems likely she won’t have time with her current schedule filming the Divergent sequel movies.images-1 I also would’ve been glad for them to bring back Norman Osborn at the end, revealing that he faked his death so that Harry would try the serum on himself. It seems like something Norman would do and also it would open up some interesting possibilities for the next chapter.

 

I’m going to give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars, but only because I’m rounding up. It’s definitely enjoyable and definitely worth seeing, but not without it’s issues. The pacing is awkward – the first half felt slow as it was spent setting up the four plots. The second half felt rushed in resolving them, the final few minutes felt somewhat superfluous after multiple battles had been resolved. But the battles are lots of fun and in comparison to the supremely awkward pace of Spider-Man 3, it was a paragon of storytelling. Go see it for yourself and if you already have seen it, do you agree? Do you disagree? How’d you like it?