Today I’ll be focusing on two movies. One is about a government conspiracy meant to help those in power gain more power by systematically targeting the minorities of the populace and fostering tension and fear between different racial and social demographics, the other is The Purge: Election Year.
Minor spoilers ahoy for both movies.
Anyone who has watched the news recently knows that things are rough. Police shooting people needlessly, people shooting police who are only doing their jobs, cats and dogs sleeping together, it feels like chaos. Art is often said to imitate life; it reflects issues back at us through a veil of fictionalization that can make it easier to talk about difficult topics. Today’s movies tackle similar real world problems despite being on completely opposite ends of the spectrum.
Zootopia is the latest in a string of pretty darn good Disney movies. Two bright and charming protagonists work their way through noir crime thriller. No, really! A rookie bunny cop teams up with a fox con artist to find out why predators are going “savage.” See, in the city of Zootopia predators and prey are evolved, civilized, and live together as one society. That said, there are about ten times more prey than predators, and with predators going feral and violent some of the animal populace wonder if predators should be feared. Sure, most are fine upstanding citizens, but that doesn’t change the fact that maybe they’re just…well…different, and maybe inherently dangerous.
I’m sure you can see the allegory.
Disney is at its best in Zootopia. All the characters are fun, the casting of voices is spot on, the world is dynamic and interesting, and there are more laughs to be had than just the sloths that everyone saw in the trailer. (Although they might be the biggest one.) All of these tools are used to tell an engaging story about the dangers of stereotypes and racism. A predator refused service in an ice cream parlor. The police don’t think Judy Hopps can handle a “real” case because she’s bunny. People immediately don’t trust Nick Wilde because he’s a fox. Once the predators start going savage everyone wonders if something should be done about “those people.” The movie even goes so far as to show well meaning people who are not overtly racist unknowingly harboring harmful stereotypes and the importance of listening to others when you accidentally say something hurtful. All in all these lessons of tolerance and sensitivity are very positive ones for children to learn. And they’re all delivered in family friendly fur. Disney has another win here.
Ok kids, time to put on your tinfoil hats. The villain of Zootopia is finally revealed to be a government official using drugs to keep the minorities down, a conspiracy I know some to believe to be true about our real world. Our second movie this week takes the notion of a government plot against the lower classes to the extreme.
The third movie in the series, The Purge: Election Year continues to reveal more about what exactly is the state of things is in America that has allowed the annual purge to come to be. The New Founding Fathers of America (who I still can’t tell if they’re a political party or some sort of corporation) has had control of the government for years. It is the NFFA that has instituted the purge, an annual night when all crime is legal to allow people to purge their base instincts and live in peace and harmony the other 364 days of the year. Turns out the NFFA actually uses the purge lower the population of the lower classes so they don’t have to worry about housing or caring for them. After all, pesky things like welfare, low-income housing, and affordable healthcare are really expensive for the boardroom full of evil old rich white dudes.
Enter Elizabeth Mitchell playing a presidential candidate who vows to end the purge if elected, an African-American store owner who can’t afford the exorbitant price of purge insurance, an immigrant worker trying to make a life for himself, and antagonist team of thugs with military grade weaponry wearing swastikas and KKK symbols and dear lord does some this feel a little TOO real. Playing with this imagery the movie gives us a cross between a haunted house full of lunatics and a run and gun thriller. When the government goons are around we have shootouts and explosions. If they’re not nearby we have everyday people who have donned creepy masks and costumes for their annual killing sprees. Neither motif is strong enough to support a whole movie; jammed together as they are we have an interesting mix that makes a strange, but only average, meeting of genres.
I’m going to take a moment here to give Elizabeth Mitchell some love. I first saw her on Lost and quickly came to love how she can smile in a way that tells me she is kind and compassionate and will absolutely snap your neck in an instant if needed. She isn’t given terribly much to do here but has moments where her strength is in the forefront. She gives convincing impassioned speeches about how violence is not the answer and we must rise above. (And yet the movie invites us to take some schadenfreude at the brutally violent deaths of some of the bad guys, so maybe a bit of mixed message?)
Office Judy Hopps says that “life is messy. We all make mistakes. And the more we try to understand one another the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you.” If we don’t take her advice I’m worried we may end up with The Purge, and I’d much rather have a world like Zootopia.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers):
The Legend of Tarzan – A white man who uses Christian symbology for nefarious means as he oppresses and enslaves the natives of the Congo is challenged by Tarzan and his friend, an African-American who fought in the American civil war but feels guilty that he then turned around and helped drive Native Americans from their land. This movie has no business bringing up themes that heavy. The plot almost painfully straightforward resulting in a movie that is competent and visually exciting at times by ultimately rather dull. Not even Christoph Waltz or Samuel L. Jackson could save this one. My favorite part was Jackson’s epic side eye. I was incredibly disappointed that Alexander Skarsgård never goes full loin cloth. Sure, he’s shirtless and moist a lot, but he’s wearing jungle capris the whole time.
The Bourne Supremacy – Jason Bourne just wants a peaceful life but his past catches up with him! The shaky cam feels a little out of control in this one and there is a long stretch where the movie is trying to pass off fast walking and turning corners quickly as action. I did like the notion that Bourne has to take responsibility for his past life in order to have a peaceful new life, and the final car chase is pretty spectacular. Just the like the first this one feels good but not memorable.
Movie 43 – This infamous collection comedy shorts took years to make and a lot of hounding of some of the stars to agree to be in it. Most of the skits are of the super outrageous shock comedy variety. Some are painful, others have a couple good ideas in them. If the idea of Chris Pratt pooping on Anna Faris or of Gerard Butler as an angry leprechaun sounds funny to you, then you’ll be set. If not, keep walking.
Sisters – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler throw one last wild party in their childhood home before it’s sold. Wackiness ensues. Fey and Poehler bounce off each other hilariously with the same energy they showed during their best nights on Saturday Night Live. With a good mix of heart and comedy, this movie is a really fun story about trying to grow up. Even when you should have already grown up years ago.
The Hunt for Red October – Sean Connery plays a Russian with a nuclear sub and a Scottish accent trying to defect to America during the height of the cold war. Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy’s all American hero, must try to convince the Americans not to blow him out of the water and intercept him before the Russians do. I feel like this movie takes a long time to tell a short story. There is some mystery over a saboteur aboard that I was never very invested in and Jack Ryan spends much of the movie figuring out and then convincing others of what the audience already knows. I was engaged once everything comes to a head, I just think we could have gotten there thirty minutes sooner.
Zoolander 2 – Justin Bieber dies in the first 2 minutes. Recommend. Ah, I kid, I kid. Nearly all sequels have to work harder than the original did to be just as good because the original had novelty on its side. This movie falls into that trap. It is delightfully absurd and I really enjoyed myself, but it also doesn’t rise up to the original because it doesn’t try to go anywhere new. At best it’s more of the same, at worst it feels like a desperate retread. But please, don’t let that overpower the fact that I laughed a lot still.