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Strong Men, Strong Women – A Retroactive Review of How to Train Your Dragon

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Yes, readers, I am coming back to the subject of strong women. One cannot fail to notice how modern movies show us women who out-men the men these days. They practically hit viewers in the face with this bull-headed idea, and it has to stop.

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At first glance, Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon appears to fit this mold of “women are better than men.” Astrid, the heroine of the film and its sequel, begins the movie as the ultimate example of a girl who out-boy’s the boys. She is strong, fast, smart, and the top of her class, which is mostly made up of boys.

Now her competition is hardly the greatest; it is, in fact, a perfect example of the way Femi-Nazis want men to be perceived, by themselves and by women. Of the four boys in her class, Astrid is physically as strong as the boys. Fishlegs is a large boy and therefore relatively strong, but he is also fearful. This makes him absolutely no competition for Astrid in the arena, as he spends most of his time there running away from the dragon of the day.

Snotlout is strong, but he is so self-centered it is amazing he can even walk in a straight line. Tuffnut not only has less muscle tone than these two characters, he has lost whatever brains he had by constantly fighting with his twin sister, Ruffnut. In one of the films intriguing reversals, however, she is also no real opposition for Astrid. Ruffnut is almost as moronic as her twin brother – and in How to Train You Dragon 2, he actually shows more intelligence than she does on a couple of occasions.

As for the hero of the piece, Hiccup can barely lift an axe. He is scrawny, weak, and definitely no physical competition for Astrid, whom he adores from afar because she will not give him the time of day. So of all the young Viking warriors to whom the audience is introduced, Astrid is presented as the best, the brightest, and the strongest of the lot.Typical SFC, right?

Nope.

Things begin to change for Astrid when Hiccup secretly starts working with the Night Fury he shot down.In caring for Toothless, Hiccup learns about dragon habits, finding their weaknesses as he studies him. After a while, he outstrips Astrid in the training center by defeating the dragons sent against the trainees via his newfound knowledge. Everyone mistakes this for a sudden turn in Hicccup’s physical prowess rather than realizing he is winning these engagements through anatomical knowledge.

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Only Astrid sees how he is actually beating the dragons – and thereby her – in the training center. And she does not like it. She finally follows and confronts Hiccup in the dell where he has kept Toothless hidden, demanding answers about his sudden rise to prominence over her. This leads to her discovery of Hiccup’s secret friendship with the Night Fury.

Furious at Hiccup, but happy to be back at the top of her class, Astrid races off to tell the villagers what he has done.

Hiccup manages to derail that attempt by chasing her down on Toothless and begging her to let him explain what he has learned. Reluctantly, Astrid agrees to at least let him get her out of the tree he and the dragon set her in.

But Toothless goes further than Hiccup wanted him to go by getting Astrid to apologize for abusing his rider. When she finally does this, the dragon relents and provides her with her first real ride through the sky.

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This ride uses some of the best CGI in the film, and it is clear that Astrid is as enchanted with the beauty of the scene as the audience is. Hiccup and Toothless fly her through the clouds while the sun sets, then bring her up to see the Aurora Borealis bloom in the starry sky. Overwhelmed by the beauty, Astrid lets down the guard she has placed around her heart and wraps her arms around Hiccup’s waist – a gesture he is quick to note, though he says nothing about it.

When discussing the character, however, the critics – along with many fans and probably the actors themselves – focus not on Astrid’s reaction to this scene but on her physical skills, strength, and stamina. What most of the critics will never admit is that until Toothless gives her the first dragon ride of her life, Astrid has been living a false persona in order to get ahead.

Think about it, readers. Astrid is surrounded by fierce, resilient Vikings who have been waging a war with a local nest of dragons for three centuries. In order to fit into this world, Astrid suppresses her natural sweetness and love for beauty, focusing instead on becoming a strong, ferocious warrior in order to be the future dragon-slaying heroine of Berk.

Hiccup, who is the butt of the village jokes because he physically cannot handle a weapon, has no such recourse in his day-to-day life. He has to rely on his wits, on what he builds, to make any mark on the village – and most of those marks are more damaging than helpful. The village mantra is not eloquently spoken, but it essentially reads thus: to be accepted by the society of Berk, one has to toe the popular line. This means that the men and women of the island have to be fierce warriors with no time for, or inclination toward, study and learning.

Astrid follows this prescription from the start, more so than any of the other village children. She practices harder than they do to learn combat techniques and criticizes herself harshly when she makes the slightest mistake.

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On the other hand, though he tries time and again to fit in with the stereotype perpetuated and expected by his elders – especially his father – Hiccup cannot suppress his natural curiosity and sense of wonder. His skinny frame, lack of muscle tone, and reliance on machines to do what the other Vikings can do by hand is not accepted by the adults. His curiosity, his willingness to study and learn so he can invent a gadget to help him better his life, also marks him as different – a difference the villagers of Berk cannot accept until the end of the film.

In this way the Island of Berk in the movie serves as a microcosm of modern society. Though it is oft proclaimed that children should “be themselves” and pursue what makes them happy, there are no end of adults in official positions who will cheerfully slap down any signs of individuality and personal gifts the children under their supposed care demonstrate. Whether they realize it or not, they do this in order to maintain an expected status quo and the mantra that “girls rule while boys drool.”

Boys are routinely told through modern media that they are stupid, boorish, and disgusting. And if they are smarter than average, they mask their intelligence to avoid persecution. In How to Train Your Dragon, Snotlout exemplifies disgusting and boorish behavior with his constant passes at Astrid (who duly ignores his attempts to snare her for a date).

Tuffnut practically embodies the modern idea of the stupidity of boys. He regularly boasts about his strength, courage, and intelligence, only to be proved lacking in all of the above before the final battle. He hates learning about anything that does not involve pranking or fighting, disdains reading and other academic pursuits the way germophobes fear bacteria.

Fishlegs, meanwhile, is the trite smart boy. Bursting with facts he has memorized from the Book of Dragons, he is painted as the stereotypical geek overflowing with knowledge but who is, at the same time, short on courage. With competition like this, Astrid has no problem being the most likely to succeed at the Dragon Slaying Academy of Berk.

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Hiccup is the only boy to defy the Berkian – and therefore the modern – trope. By studying Toothless in order to help him fly again, Hiccup puts his knowledge to good use in the arena. He “defeats” dragon after dragon without killing them, and he does it so well that he unintentionally outshines all the other students for the first time in his life.

When Astrid discovers the source of his new skills and fame, Hiccup knows he has to convince her to change her mind, or Toothless will be killed. After their initial hard ride, Astrid admits Hiccup is correct about how amazing Toothless is. The three are then inadvertently drawn along with the swarm of dragons taking food to the Red Death, learning the secret of the dragon attacks as well as the location of the dragon’s nest. Upon their return, Hiccup is forced to stand up to Astrid when she asks if he is seriously prepared to forego ending the dragon war in order to protect Toothless.

In this moment, Astrid and Hiccup finally break down the barriers that Berkian society has forced on the two of them. Hiccup proves he is man enough to protect his friend at personal cost to himself. Meanwhile, Astrid takes on the proper role of the supportive friend who also happens to be developing romantic feelings for the boy she once scorned.

The scene shows the two discovering who they truly are, though perhaps only one recognizes the change in self-perception. Hiccup, distracted with his fear for Toothless’ safety and stopping a war which has lasted for three centuries, does not see in himself what Astrid now sees. Though he is skinny and not physically strong, Hiccup is strong in his will to protect his friend and to end the war. He does not know how he can do it, but he does intend to do it. While he knows it will cost him the acceptance he thought he longed for his whole life, his determination and courage do not waver in the face of that apparent loss.

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Recognizing this about him, Astrid’s hardened heart at last thaws out. Presented with a young man who says what he means and has the strength of will to see it out, she realizes that she has no need to show the perfect warrior front to him. Hiccup is already a warrior, having broken custom to discover something wonderful in the dragons all the other Vikings fear as menaces. So Astrid stops behaving like a violent-tempered Viking shieldmaiden and acts like what she really is: a girl longing for a true friend who will accept her for herself, not for her skills or her looks.

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This relationship between the two characters is expanded upon in the second film. In this story, it is Astrid who makes the mistake that leads to a deadly confrontation with the movie’s antagonist, Drago Bludvist. Her pride in Hiccup’s skills as a dragon master blinds her to the very real danger facing her and her friends. At the same time, Hiccup himself undergoes a metamorphosis as he learns that he cannot run from his responsibilities because, sooner or later, they will catch up with him and demand his attention. He becomes a “manly man” in How to Train Your Dragon 2, as Astrid embraces her femininity without losing her warrior skills.

The architects of modern society are trying desperately to prevent the children and youth of today from discovering this self-knowledge, readers. They are working hard to confuse them; they are telling boys that they must either act effeminately or behave like barbarians in order to be accepted by society. Girls are routinely told that they can do anything, that they are as good as the boys, even when it becomes manifestly obvious that they are not and cannot be a boy.

This is hurting today’s youth. The boys are growing up, avoiding college and prospective jobs and are avoiding fatherhood at an even more alarming rate. Meanwhile, the girls must juggle their natural instincts toward beauty, marriage, and motherhood with the idea that they must be something else. As a result, more young women are thrust into college, there to take courses of dubious merit, and then trying to enter a labor force with no room for expansion. At the same time more and more young men are retreating from that front because they are being precluded from doing so.

The modern world needs more Hiccups and Astrids, readers. It needs men and women who will challenge and destroy the sacred, golden cows of modern society. The world needs women who realize they will be happier when they embrace their womanhood; it needs men who will defy the stereotype that has been forced upon them. It needs men of courage, men of honor and dignity, men who recognize and love women for who they are, not for what they can or cannot do.

A woman loses nothing by being a mother, just as a man loses nothing by being a father. If anything, the roles grant them more power, prestige, and wonder than any other job in life….if only they are willing to see that truth.

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Sing: Of Hope and Optimism

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Borg.com is a really good blog to follow, readers. They keep track of all the latest news on comics, films, and television shows on this site. It was through them that I found The Librarians and Star Wars Rebels. They post trailers for upcoming movies and can be relied upon for detailed information on most of the big franchises we see everywhere today. It was through them that I learned about Sing, the animated film from the same company which gave us Despicable Me one through three.

Illumination Entertainment hit the big time with Despicable Me for most people. They followed it up with The Secret Life of Pets and Sing, as well as some other films I probably do not know about.

I have seen The Secret Life of Pets. It is long on laughs and short on story. However, Sing had a totally different effect on me. There are plenty of laughs in this film, but there is also a story to chew on here. Secret Life of Pets really was not anything to write home about, unfortunately; it was cute, but not great.

Sing was good. It is not up there with Despicable Me and its sequels, but it is above Secret Life of Pets and leagues above Disney’s Zootopia, a film that was long on amazing animation and had just a drop of story in it. That film was a flash in the pan, sadly.

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Anyway, Sing takes place in a world full of anthropomorphic, talking animals, much like Zootopia. Specifically, it takes place somewhere in California, in a city that is like a mash-up of L.A. and San Fran, according to the movie’s creators. The lead character is a koala named Buster Moon, who owns a dilapidated stage theater. Buster fell in love with the stage and the showmanship required to run it when he was six. His father worked for thirty years to earn the money for Buster to buy the theater after this.

But things have not been going so well for Buster. None of the shows he has tried to produce have been a hit with the general populace, tickets have not been selling, and the bank is calling to tell him to settle his accounts or they will take the theater.

Desperate to save his theater, Buster hits upon the idea of holding a singing competition. He barely has enough money and “goods” for a prize for the winner, but he goes ahead with this plan anyway. The one kink in the arrangement is that his secretary has an accident and the flyers advertising his competition subsequently say the grand prize is $100,000 dollars, not $1,000.

Well, this brings everybody and his brother to audition for the competition. Buster picks out a motley crew from this crowd: Johnny, the son of a thief; Rosita, a stay-at-home mom of twenty-five piglets; Gunter, a European pig who is an enthusiastic singer and dancer; Mike, a street musician with slick paws; Ash, a porcupine rock star wannabe, and Meena, an elephant with a great voice who is too shy to sing in public.

Well, by and by, Buster finds out about his secretary’s mistake. But he still moves ahead with the competition, asking a famous former star of his theater’s golden days to sponsor the concert’s prize. But things go down the drain when Mike’s attempt to cheat mobster bears backfires in his face. The theater is destroyed and Buster briefly goes into an emotional tailspin as a result.

Now I will not spoil the ending for you, readers. But one of the things that I keep running across is a description of Buster by those who have seen Sing. They keep calling him “optimistic.”

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Normally, I do not take issue with this word. Optimistic, to me, generally just means looking for the silver lining in a situation you really wish you were not in. Nothing wrong with that; with very few exceptions, we can all find a little grace in undesirable circumstances. It could be in a ray of sunshine that slips across our faces at the right moment, a call from an old friend we have not heard from in a while, or good entertainment that lifts our spirits. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

No, my problem is when people use false optimism in place of the genuine theological – and therefore real – virtue of hope. This is actually Buster’s problem throughout most of the film. He is an optimistic little fella, sure. But he relies on an optimism founded on his self-belief as though it is hope. These two things are miles apart.

Optimism will give you a reason to smile when life hits you hard, and if it is founded in hope, then you are in good straits. But optimism founded on a belief in yourself and your own powers will not – cannot – keep you going. Buster is ready to quit after his theater is destroyed. His optimism, his belief in his ability to save his property, fails after the theater’s collapse. The negative press he receives after this only deepens his depression. He has no more hope after he loses what he was trying to save.

In contrast, none of Buster’s singing competitors are truly hopeful or even optimistic. They all have very good reasons not to be. Johnny’s father is a criminal who lands up in jail when his son does not show up with the getaway car in time. His dad practically disowns him after this. Rosita is a mom of twenty-five who thinks she has lost her ability to perform, if not her ability to sing, while Ash’s boyfriend dumps her and invites another girl into their shared apartment. That is one surefire way to kill optimism, I can tell you!

Mike is a con artist who wants a big score which will get him off the streets. He is in the competition, as he is in life, to win what he thinks is ultimate happiness – the perfect materialistic life. He repeatedly mocks the others, especially Rosita and Meena, who has no optimism because she believes her stage fright will make her look foolish in front of everyone. After the theater is destroyed and their dreams appear to disintegrate with it, none of the competition’s cast is optimistic.

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Even Gunter does not have optimism. You might think that is silly for me to say, once you see him; the guy almost never has a frown on his face. He is harder to put down than Buster.

And that, readers, is the point of the matter. Gunter does not have a misplaced optimism founded on himself and his abilities. What he has is hope. Hope is a fragile little virtue we treat like a penny. It is an easy word to bandy about but it has a meaning far deeper and richer than its four letters, just as a penny is worth more than its size would suggest. Hope is anticipation of something; the longing for some good and the trust that you will receive what you desire as long as you stay the course.

Buster goes through the movie thinking that he alone can save his theater. And when his last ditch scheme unravels, destroying his prized theater in the process, his optimism is shattered. He put his faith not in Someone else, not in his friends, not in the performers he gave hope to, but in himself. And let’s face it, readers; we disappoint ourselves more often than not. We are not all-perfect or all-powerful. Too many of us think we are, alas, but the fact is that none of us are God.

Now, this trust in his own powers does not make Buster a bad guy. The proof of this is that, although he sets up the competition and competitors in order to serve his own purposes, Buster gives most of his singers what they have lacked up to this point. He has given them hope by recognizing their talents and giving them a chance to show them off.

This is proved when his cast of performers – minus Mike – comes knocking on Buster’s door to try and encourage him to put the show on somewhere else. To Buster, the competition was meant to save his theater. It was not about his reputation or the money; he just wanted to keep that old theater alive in a world that had lost its taste for the art of the stage.

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To Johnny, however, the competition meant a chance to do what he has always enjoyed. It was a chance to be who he wanted to be, not who his father and the other members of his gang assumed he wanted to be. For Rosita, the competition was a chance to prove that she had not lost her touch; that she could still dance and sing, and thereby impress the people who took her for granted.

For Ash, the competition meant achieving her dream of becoming a rock star. Gunter’s dream of performing live and hamming up his enjoyment of singing and dancing could finally come true on this stage. And all Meena wanted was to get over her shyness so she could finally sing without fear.

Buster did not see any of that because he was too focused on what he wanted. That was not an evil thing, just a selfish mistake he made out of pure stubbornness. It is only when he happens to overhear Meena singing where no one can see her that Buster gains perspective. Hearing Meena sing, he realizes that she really does have talent. He remembers all the other singers and realizes that they do, in fact, have talent as well. He comes to understand that they deserve a chance to perform, and that he has a duty as a showman to see to it that they get that chance.

Meena’s singing is what gives Buster hope. His optimism is replaced with genuine hope as he remembers that he did not want the theater simply for the theater. He wanted it because of his desire to be a showman; to be the talent scout who would bring scenes of “wonder and magic” to an audience, just as he had been given a sense of “wonder and magic” by the performances at the theater when he was a child.

And let me tell you, Buster delivers on this by the end of the film. Not only does he deliver, but he even gets what he wanted in the end; to be the manager of the theater his father helped him buy. By helping his friends achieve their dreams, Buster regains his theater along with his love of showmanship.

Sing is a good story for this reason. It is a story about real hope, not false optimism. It also reminds us that “wonder and magic” are important to daily life; Sing urges the audience to keep practicing the arts we love that brighten the world and give people hope. For without a sense of the “wonder and magic” of the world, we quickly come to see everything through either Buster’s or Mike’s filtered lens. We either fall for false hope masked as “optimism,” which claims we can get whatever we want through our own power, or we chase after a phantom “perfect happiness” in this world. The latter will never be found in this universe of space and time, and the former only leads to misery.   I will take hope and wonder over these two things any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Well, readers, this is my opinion of Illumination Entertainment’s Sing. But you do not need to take my word on how good this film is. Borrow or buy it and watch it yourself. And do not forget to Sing whenever you feel like it!

El Dorado by Edgar Allan Poe

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El Dorado

Gaily bedight,
   A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
   Had journeyed long,
   Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
   But he grew old—
   This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
   Fell as he found
   No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
   And, as his strength
   Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
   ‘Shadow,’ said he,
   ‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’
   ‘Over the Mountains
   Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
   Ride, boldly ride,’
   The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’

Captain America: Civil War – Vision

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Sometime back I was watching Captain America: Civil War – again. During this viewing I noticed something very interesting and rather disturbing.

At the beginning of the movie, as the battle in Lagos ends, we watch Crossbones blow up three floors of a skyscraper. We are treated to a view of citizens huddled in the bazaar in terror, while Cap and Wanda gaze upward in horror as they realize that people have died in a blast which was much bigger than they anticipated. Steve calls Falcon and tells him to get emergency responders on the scene as fast as possible, while Wanda collapses to her knees in grief…

And then we cut to Tony having a public therapy session with a room full of his best friends – and however many people are watching his speech on television, youtube, facebook, snapchat, and I have no idea what else.

It hit me while watching this that these scenes are very jarring in the way that real life actually is. Here, Cap and Wanda are standing amidst Crossbones’ explosive carnage. Then we cut to Tony, who is having a public psychotherapy session with thousands of his closest friends. The two scenes are light years apart. One shows mourning for the loss of life while the other demonstrates an intellectual distance from real mourning, real sorrow, and real death.

Now, Cap and Wanda did not intentionally kill twenty-six people in Lagos. This is something which no one in the movie – and no one reviewing the film – pauses to note. It was an unfortunate, heart-wrenching, horrible accident. Miles and miles away, physically and mentally, Tony is mourning a mistake he made in his teens. He did not say good-bye to his mother the day she died. There is no real comparison for the two scenes.

Allow me to explain. There is no one in that MIT auditorium – or very few people – who have dealt with what Cap and Wanda are dealing with in Lagos. This includes Tony. I do not mean that he has never seen anyone die before. He has, and he has helped some of those people die. And I mean the terrorists and HYDRA agents when I say this, not the innocents caught in the crossfire during a battle. [Author rolls eyes at the insinuation of the pack of idiots who believe otherwise.] Tony actively avoids killing innocent people on purpose, just like the rest of the Avengers do.

What I mean is that Stark has not dealt with death. He has not accepted it. This is made manifestly clear by the fact that he is still not reconciled to the deaths of his parents. He has not “processed [his] grief” over his losses. Translation: he does not want to admit that he was a total brat to them on the last day they were alive, when he could have treated them with love and respect instead. Well, yeah, Tony, you could have done that throughout your entire life, too!

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This leaves him at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with the deaths of others, such as the son of the woman who emotionally ambushes him in the back hall of MIT. Tony is insulated, just like those kids in the auditorium, from facing reality thanks to the belief – which they and Tony share – that technology can cure every problem and conquer every aberration. This includes, naturally enough, death. It is the one thing which we all run from on a daily basis. Most of us do not admit it, realize it, or are really prepared to face it someday. Only the very, very lucky are capable of these things.

Cap and Wanda do not have this cocoon. Thanks to Crossbones and other villains, they have both seen death before. Wanda lost her parents at age ten, a more tender age than Tony’s presumable sixteen, when HYDRA murdered the Starks. And she sensed her twin’s death in Age of Ultron. She has seen death up close and personal throughout her young life and properly mourned for those she has lost.

Cap fought in World War II. He saw the Grim Reaper in action plenty of times during that conflict, and he has seen him in the battles from Loki’s invasion attempt onward. He has mourned his losses and accepted the deaths of his friends, just like Wanda has. This means that neither Cap nor Wanda is insulated from death. They have seen it too many times not to know what it looks like. And so they are not insulated from the pain and sorrow that come with it, either, two other things which Tony and the MIT students have never truly faced.

I bring this all up in relation to Vision for the simple reason that, like Tony and these MIT students, he is insulated. Unlike Tony and many others in that auditorium, he is not willfully insulated. He is a new being, a child genius living in a synthetic adult body. He is, in a word, innocent, and this is because he lacks real-world experience.

This is why he backs the Accords. Having no human experience prior to this past year of his life, he has no frame of reference for such mysteries as sorrow, love, death, grief, and pain. He also has no firsthand experience with these things. The only way he understands them is through science, mathematics, theory, and the reports of others.

The former do not get you very far in this fallen, mysterious world, readers. Reports are not equivalent to personal experience, either. They are simply that – arid, dusty records.

Yes, there are things that can be scientifically identified and defined and mathematically calculated in this world. We also have theories of all kinds coming out of our ears. But – as a for instance – can you seriously look inside yourselves, readers, and say that all your thoughts are the results of chemical reactions in your brains? That the reason you are thinking about a great piece of art, a wonderful song, or this very movie we are discussing right now, is all the result of a series of chemical reactions in your bodies/brains?

That is utterly impossible, and if you are honest with yourselves, you will see that. One can say they feel hunger because the body’s chemical reactions are telling one’s brain that the stomach is empty and needs filling. But one cannot say he is contemplating a movie simply because a series of neurons are firing in his brain. The neurons firing are only an indication that he is thinking. They do not prove what he is thinking about, and anyone who claims otherwise is either being extremely unreasonable or making a complicated sales pitch.

Vision, however, has not recognized this truth. He is a totally synthetic being. His body is made of vibranium, so all its components are mere mimics of the human body. His brain and personality, although based off of the previous Stark butler, the human Edwin Jarvis, were once a computer system named after said butler. Nothing about him is natural, physically speaking. He is a synthetic, not a “real,” person.

But this does not prevent him from wanting to become a real person, just as the Velveteen Rabbit wanted to become a real rabbit. Vision is trying to learn how to be human. This is proven when he phases into Wanda’s room, thinking that the door being open is a sign that she is not in the room, is open to having guests, or something like that. He never does get to explain why he thought that, because the door was open, it was okay for him to ghost straight into the room.

Whether or not Vision picks up on Thunderbolt Ross’ thinly veiled threats is hard to tell. One would think he would have detected the belligerence in the man’s tone, but without any previous experience with bullies, it must not have clicked that the Secretary of State was being a controlling jerk. So it is not surprising when Vision decides to support the Accords, citing the modern philosophy that “strength incites challenge, challenge incites conflict, and conflict…breeds catastrophe.”

If that were the case, then no one would ever get anywhere. You cannot live without some inherent strength, readers. Babies cannot grow up to become children who become adults if they do not get stronger as they grow. The fact that some are born physically stronger than others is irrelevant; true strength comes from the will, a product of the mind, not the body.

This makes conflict an inescapable fact of life, since we are fallen creatures prone to sin. Pride, the root of all the world’s ailments, is always one of our weak points – especially if we believe ourselves “the best and the brightest” person/people in the room, and that we “know what is best” for everyone else.

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Vision has never been sick in his short life, nor has he ever been proud. And the only one he knows of who could directly challenge his strength was Ultron. Thor, along with the Hulk (possibly), might have been threats to him. No one else on Earth, normal human or otherwise, can hold a candle to him, physically speaking. Aware of this, Vision does not want to use his strength for the wrong things. That is why he is an Avenger, after all.

He also understands that not everyone trusts him. The Avengers are the exception because they know him. They may have their issues with him, but they do trust and appreciate him. The rest of the world…not so much.

This is the other reason why Vision accedes to the Accords. In order to convince the public that he is not evil, he agrees to be shackled to the U.N. as a lapdog. What he and none of the other pro-Accords Avengers realize is that he is not a lapdog. None of the Avengers are. They are all individuals with free will. They have all made a commitment to, as Vision so eloquently stated in Ultron, defend life. They are the good guys, and Vision seeks to mollify the suspicious into believing this truth.

He needs to brush up on his Tolkien. With the notable exception of T’Chaka, almost everyone behind the Accords is a Saruman. They want to control everything, to be worshipped in place of God. Some are trapped in their own rhetoric while others are megalomaniacs hiding behind the cloak of rationality. Like Saruman, they do not impose their collective will on the Avengers by absolute force at first. They impose it by traitorous whisperings through their own version of Gríma Wormtongue, a.k.a. Thunderbolt Ross. And because Vision is completely innocent, he falls for the lies because they appear coherent. They “look fair and feel foul.” (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.)

Vision is not big on feelings right now, as he still relies on science to understand the world around him. The arguments for the Accords are not sane, of course. Evil never has been sane. And do not gasp in surprise that I said evil in relation to Thunderbolt Ross and the U.N. Was or was not Saruman evil? He had his puppet Wormtongue poison the mind and will of King Théoden of Rohan and his niece, Éowyn. Then he invaded and tried to destroy Rohan when his attempt at subtlety was foiled by Gandalf. He tried to kill Frodo after the hobbit spared him, despite the damage the fallen wizard had wreaked on the Shire.

Saruman. Was. Evil. So are many of the bureaucrats and politicians behind the Sokovia Accords. So is Thunderbolt Ross.

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The next time we see Vision, he is trying to cheer Wanda up while keeping her confined in the Avengers’ Compound. The scene is cute on a number of levels, not least for those of us who know the history of the romance the two shared in the comics. (They were married for a couple of decades in the books.) In a way, this scene is reminiscent of many a high school drama story: Vision is the typical geeky science whizz kid trying to impress the most beautiful girl in school. He absolutely adores Wanda, who does not seem ready to reciprocate his budding feelings, although she definitely likes him and considers him a good friend. He did save her life, remember. It is hard not to like someone for doing that.

After this awkward, then sweet, then awkward moment, Vision disappears for a while. When Clint arrives at the Compound to pick up Wanda and take her to Germany to meet up with the rest of Team Cap, his distraction interrupts Vision’s version of sleeping. Turns out androids can sleep standing up. Or, in Vision’s case, he sleeps by hovering above the floor in an upright position.

Suitably distracted by Clint’s explosives and the resulting fire, Vision leaves to see to the problem – allowing Clint to enter the room, set up a trap for him, and try to get Wanda out of the building as fast as he possibly can.

Vision is understandably unhappy about this. I mean, friends do not set off pyrotechnics outside their friends’ house in order to lure them out on a wild goose chase. And friends’ do not steal their friends’ crush.

Without doing a full review, we already know that Clint has no romantic inclination toward Wanda at all. They are friends; mentor and student. Her brother died to save Hawkeye’s life, and he owes him for that. The best way to pay the debt is to take care of his sister. Plus, Hawkeye convinced her to become an Avenger. That makes her his responsibility in situations like this.

I am not entirely sure that Vision sees it that way. He is learning to be human by degrees, and I think part of the reason he got a little testy is the same reason that a jealous teenager with a crush would. Wanda is his idol, and that means NOBODY ELSE gets to touch her, even if she lets them.

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Getting trapped in an electromagnetic field probably did not help his mood. So when Clint has to give Wanda another pep talk, Vision has time to escape his trap and turn the extraction into a fight.

It is actually a bit terrifying – and I am not saying that simply because Hawkeye is one of my favorite Marvel characters. If Vision’s manner of stopping a friend is this harsh, then I would really hate to see him pull out all the stops in a fight with normal humans. The results would definitely not be pretty.

Vision incapacitates Clint easily, of course, stating the obvious fact that the archer is no match for him. “I know,” Hawkeye answers. “But she is.”

This makes Vision look at Wanda, who is drawing up quite a bit of power in her hands. “Vision, let him go,” she says, “I’m leaving.”

“I can’t let you do that,” Vision replies, totally ignoring the fact that Hawkeye is very close to falling unconscious in his tight, though not life-threatening (presumably), grip.

Wanda is not going to ignore that. And she shows it by making Vision drop him.

Vision is literally shocked by this. To his mind, Wanda has done the inconceivable by challenging him. Her ability to commandeer his powers notwithstanding, she has turned her back on the Accords he swore to uphold. It is likely that he feels she is turning her back on him by doing this as well, not to mention throwing away any chance of convincing “the public” that she is not dangerous. She is manifestly dangerous.

But so is Vision. So is Hawkeye. So is Captain America. So are Tony, Natasha, Scott Lang, Spider-Man, War Machine – all of the Avengers are dangerous. As Gandalf pointed out to Gimli in The Two Towers, they are “beset with dangers” because they are so perilous in and of themselves. It is the when and the where and the how they choose to be hazardous which makes them a different kind of dangerous than HYDRA, Zemo, or Ultron. They only become dangerous when it is necessary to save the lives of others or to protect their own lives. That is why Wanda decides to be perilous here and now. Vision was seriously hurting Clint, and she was not going to let him be hurt any further than he already was.

She is also done with letting “the public,” Ross, the media, and the U.N. hurt her. In his attempt to make her turn away from her choice and back (he thinks) to him, Vision tells Wanda, “If you do this, they will never stop being afraid of you.”

Wanda has one of the best comebacks I have heard out of a character in years: “I can’t control their fear, only my own!” Vision is letting the fears of others control him.

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Okay, you say, but what about Wanda going all-out in the airport battle? She does go all-out, but she does not go wild. She fights in a very controlled, methodical manner. This is because she is done being afraid of herself and what she can do. That does not mean she is going to go completely insane using her powers. If that were the case, she would have done more than throw Natasha into a trailer. She would have hauled off and seriously injured her. She did not.

As for her attacks on the other members of Team Iron, let’s face it: metal suits are great protection. That means the bar for causing actual damage to the person wearing the suit is pretty high. Remember, ten cars landing on his body only gave Tony “multiple contusions.” Those are not broken bones, those are bruises. They might be big and painful, but they are not going to rob him of life and limb. They just make it uncomfortable for him to move, as he is left really sore by the hits.

None of Wanda’s tactics when she fought War Machine, Iron Man, and Black Panther qualified as deadly because they were wearing very good protective suits. She could throw plane parts and cars at them all day long, and all they would have afterward were A LOT of big bruises. And equally sore egos.

But Vision cannot really claim the same thing, now can he?

We will get to that in a moment. For now, let us inspect the minutiae of the fight after Vision joins it. Is it not interesting that, in order to bring Team Cap to a halt, Vision ends up drawing the proverbial line in the sand? “I dare ya ta cross this line!” Bugs Bunny used to say.

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“Captain,” Vision says after lasering a line in the concrete, “I know you believe in what you are doing. But for the greater good, you must stand down.” Okay, Vision, but who decides what the greater good is? You, or the U.N.? I would think that, if you could have your druthers, you would let Cap and the others go stop Zemo. Right?

Oh, but wait. You signed away your right to choose when you acquiesced to the Accords. So I guess that means you have to do what you are told, even when it is something you do not want to do. Hmmm. You did not factor that into your equations, did you?

One of Vision’s first acts after Scott Lang grows to Giant-Man is to save T’Challa from a bus the big guy kicked. Very cool move and reminiscent of the comics, where Vision could and would use his density shifting ability to block such attacks. I always thought that was a neat power to have. But he later uses this same ability on Giant-Man’s ribs. Ow, that is kind of mean. After disorienting Scott in this way, he flies through him and out his back. Seeing Bucky and Cap running toward the jet, Vision decides to stop them by dropping a control tower in their path.

The most interesting thing here is the look on his face. For the first time ever, Vision actually looks angry. Why is he angry? And, more to the point, does he even realize he is experiencing a human emotion?

It does not appear that he does realize this. Following this attempt by Vision to stop the guys Wanda, in an astonishing display of strength, holds up the tower so that Cap and Bucky can get to the jet. For those of you wondering why she could handle this and not Crossbones’ Viking funeral, the tower was collapsing, not exploding. There is a BIG difference between those two things. Then War Machine hits her with his sonic and she lets go of the tower, which collapses all the way.

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But why was Vision angry when he shot the tower’s base?

There were probably several reasons. For one, Cap is among the most reasonable people that Vision knows. That he should persist in what Vision believes is an error to the point of engaging in combat with his pro-Accords teammates must have made the android pretty cranky. Like a teenager insisting his father is wrong, Vision lashes out at Cap without seriously examining his own position to see if he actually is in the right.

It is somewhat similar to Vision’s own comparison of the Accords to an equation. Say someone asks you to add ten and fifteen. But instead of hearing the person say ten and fifteen, you hear ten and sixteen. You therefore add these two numbers together and get twenty-six. The person who asked you to add the numbers hears your answer and says, “That’s not right.” You say it is, but you forget to mention that you added ten and sixteen, which makes twenty-six. The person who asked you to add the numbers looks at you like you are crazy and maintains that you have the wrong answer to his question.

So you do the equation again, without changing the numbers. You get the same answer and tell it to the person who gave you the equation. He still says the answer is wrong. Now you start to get mad as you redo the equation, still using ten and sixteen instead of ten and fifteen, as you were asked. The entire scenario devolves into a vicious argument as you continue to claim that twenty-six is the answer, while the other person continues to say it is not.

This is Vision’s problem right here. Although Cap states the parameters of the Accords in the plainest language possible in the Compound, Vision turns the simple addition problem into a far more complex equation. He does not do this on purpose; he does this because he is following the modern idea of rationalism. This rationalism is a false equation. But because it adds up, Vision does not realize this. He is adding ten and sixteen, not ten and fifteen, and does not see his mistake.

So the fact that Cap and the rest of the Avengers on Team Red, White, and Blue keep insisting he has the wrong answer makes Vision angry enough to stop being careful. This is why he knocks over the control tower. Although he does not realize it, Vision is acting like a young child who is too angry to listen to the teacher explain to him why he got the equation wrong.

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Next we have the scene of Vision touching down beside Wanda as she recovers from War Machine’s sonic blast. It is obvious here that the writers are going down the same road as the comics. Comments from the Russo brothers about Avengers: Infinity War have confirmed that Vision and Wanda are going to be doing the Romance Two-Step in the next film. This scene could not be a clearer hint.

Then we come to War Machine yelling in Vision’s ear, telling him to get Sam off his back. Vision turns and looks up. He sees Sam, focuses visually on the wing pack, and fires his laser.

But even before Falcon dodges the shot, Vision’s aim is off. Instead of hitting Sam’s wing pack, he shoots higher than Falcon’s previous position and hits Rhodey’s arc reactor. This results in Rhodey tumbling out of the sky to land in the dirt two hundred feet below. The impact shatters several vertebrae and leaves Rhodey at least partially paralyzed.

Vision, we notice, looked pretty angry when he fired that shot. And War Machine was the last one to attack Wanda. Was this a case of unconscious payback?

I highly doubt it, for one reason and one reason only: Vision was looking at the thrusters on Sam’s wing pack when he fired. He was not looking at Rhodey at all. So why did he miss? His concern and budding love for Wanda? That was part of it. Another, bigger part was simple irritation. How do we feel when we are getting yelled at and told to do something right now?

Here is another teenage allusion: Mom asks teenage daughter to take out the trash. Teenage daughter is on the sofa texting her BFF. She says she will get the trash in a minute. Two minutes later, Mom reminds daughter to get the trash, since daughter has not done what she was asked. Daughter shouts back that she will. Five minutes later, Mom is yelling at the daughter to get off the phone and take out the trash right now.

Furious, teenage daughter jumps up off the couch, goes to the kitchen, yanks the bag out of the trash can, ties it up, and heads outside. She wrenches open the back door, stomps outside, and slams the door shut behind her. Later, a crack is found in the older, weather-beaten door jamb, and it is deduced that the teenage daughter put it there in her fit of pique when Mom told her to take out the trash. Does that sound like what Vision did after having Rhodey snarling in his ear two or three times?

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Yep, it does.

In this scenario, Vision missed for the same reason the teenage daughter in the hypothetical scenario above cracked the door jamb. He was focusing on Wanda, on being there for her in her injured state. Then Rhodey begins yelling at him to take out Falcon. Of course, being occupied with Wanda, Vision does not automatically turn and fire at Sam. So Rhodey yells again, louder and more insistently. Like an irritated teenager, Vision turns and shoots in Sam’s general direction. It was a close shot. But close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. And in combat, close in not always good enough – especially where the lives of your teammates and friends are concerned.

There is also this to consider: up until Rhodey told Vision to take out Sam, Vision had not shot anyone in the battle. He had not shot anyone in any previous battle in the movie, either. He shot the concrete, he knocked over the control tower, he rammed Ant-Man, whom he could have shot when the other was ant-sized….

But he never actually shot any of the members of Team Cap. Then Rhodey tells him to make Sam’s wing pack a glider. He was telling Vision to actually shoot someone, and shoot to harm.

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Vision has never shot at another human being before. The only other person Vision ever shot was Ultron, and he does not count because he had no soul. He was an inhuman monster that needed to be destroyed. Sam is neither inhuman nor a monster. He is an Avenger and Vision’s friend. How are you supposed to be okay with shooting down a friend – a friend who did not attack you at any time during the battle?

This is probably one of the other reasons Vision missed. He was either planning to miss and make Sam pull away, or he had one moment of conflict in his mind about the morality of shooting down a friend. That one moment of doubt, combined with his concern for Wanda, was enough to throw his shot off course so that it hit Rhodey’s arc reactor and knocked him out of the sky.

Not long after Rhodey hits the ground, Vision flies over to see if he is all right. He is obviously shocked and horrified by what he has done. Vision really was not aiming for Rhodey, and he certainly did not mean to hurt him. But he has, just like that teenage girl did not mean to damage the door jamb, but she did.

This is Vision’s first real lesson in the fact that actions have consequences. And it is a pretty hard lesson. He has severely injured a man he considers a friend, a man who was his teammate. The fact that he did not mean to do it does not change what has happened. Vision’s concern for Wanda, his reservations about shooting down Sam, distracted him in a very human way. And that threw off his extraordinary calculating abilities, leaving Rhodey very badly hurt.

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When we last see Vision, he is sitting at the lounge table in the Compound, playing with a chess piece and staring off into the distance. Chess is a game of strategy. It is very good for the mind. There are even programs for veterans suffering from traumatic memories and battle shock – known these days as PTSD – using chess to help them get back on their feet. (Totally cool idea!)

Vision’s mind does not need improving or bringing back into balance. What he is doing here is trying to figure out where in the Sam Hill everything went wrong. Having him playing with a chess piece, a game of clear strategy with lucid moves and end results, shows that Vision is trying to retrace his steps and understand his mistake.

Now you and I, readers, could tell him that it all went wrong when he sided with Tony and signed the Accords. This is because the Accords were designed to split the Avengers down the middle and destroy them from their inception; they were never about saving anyone or preserving people’s safety. If that was the case, then German Special Forces would not have sent in a chopper with a mini-gun to turn Bucharest buildings into Swiss cheese. They did.

The Accords were never for the good of the Avengers or the human race. The Accords were designed so that the Avengers who signed them would be the only Avengers, while the rest got swept under the rug and forgotten. That was the U.N.s plan. That was Ross’ plan.

It is not working very flawlessly, is it?

The fact that this was the intended design of the Accords does not make Tony a villain. It makes his decision to sign them stupid as hell, but nobody’s perfect. And this is what is really bothering Vision; he was designed to be perfect. But he is not. And he has to come to face that fact in the most uncomfortable way possible – by hurting a friend.

So, readers, there is only one question left to ask now. Which side will Vision join before helping the Avengers gang up on Thanos in the next Avengers films?

We will have to wait and see!

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Secondhand Lions

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Secondhand Lions is a great movie starring Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, and Haley Joel Osment.  The film takes place mostly in the late fifties or early sixties.  Osment plays Walter, a young boy who lives with his mother.  Walter’s mother – Pearl – is a widow who is always on the move.  She has an unfortunate idea that she will be able to find a man who will have enough money to cure all her worries…. and Walter’s too, of course.

Pearl’s latest scheme involves leaving Walter with his two great uncles, Hub and Garth (Duvall and Caine), for the summer while she “goes to school.”  She is also hoping that Walter can somehow find his great-uncles’ money.  “They say they stole it,” his mother tells him conspiratorially.  “What do you think, Walter?  A real buried treasure, just like in all those books you’re always reading!”

Just what Walter thinks is hard to tell.  He seems most unhappy with this plan.  Then they start down the road to his great-uncles’ house, and he goes from unhappy to extremely worried.  There are signs posted on either side of the long driveway leading to his great-uncles’ house.  These signs say everything from “Turn back now!” to “Trespassers will be shot!”

And Hub and Garth can both shoot very well.  In fact, when Pearl and Walter find them, they are fishing in the lake on their property.  But they are doing it in the most unsportsmanlike manner imaginable.  Some professional fisherman would undoubtedly groan and cover their eyes at the sight of the two old men firing into the lake with their shot guns.  This is their idea of fishing.

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Their idea of excitement and entertainment is even better.  Traveling salesmen have heard the rumors about the brothers’ fortune, and these guys can smell a dollar a mile away.  They are looking to collect a little of the loot for themselves through hocking the old men some brand spankin’ new merchandise.  Most of them only stay around to get shot at three or four times before packing up and speeding away.

While settling into his uncles’ house that night, Walter finds a trunk with different postage notes stamped on it.  Finding the key (conveniently) to the lock, he opens the chest to discover it is full of…. Sand?  Soooo disappointing!

Or is it?  Running his hand through the sand, Walter finds a picture of a beautiful young Arabian woman underneath the dust.  Uncle Hub is not much of a talker, but Garth is more willing to befriend Walter.  He tells the boy about how he and Hub toured Europe as World War I began, keeping just ahead of the Kaiser’s army.  On their last night in France, the two met a couple of fellas in a bar who got them stone drunk –

And the brothers woke up the next morning to find themselves on a ship, shanghaied into the French Foreign Legion in Africa!

Hub loved it.  He took care to watch out for Garth, naturally, but he loved the fighting.  He fought “with the strength of ten men.”

After the end of the war, Garth wanted a more tame occupation.  He led safaris for Hollywood types and rich people in Africa.  But Hub, he had to have something a little more exciting.  So he hired himself out to the new African governments to help put an end to the slave trade.  (FYI, they still have it today.)

It was after he rescued the handmaiden of a princess during one of these raids that Hub was to meet his future wife:  the princess Jasmine.

Living in the web of lies his mother has spun for him his whole life, Walter is thrilled by the stories Garth tells him.  But there is always a nagging fear in the back of his mind as he listens to these heart-pumping tales:  are they real?

At its core, Secondhand Lions is about the search we all pursue for the truth.  When at last Walter finally asks Hub if the stories are really true, did they really happen, Duvall’s character says, “It doesn’t matter.  What matters is what you believe….  And that love, true love, is the most real thing in the world.”

Secondhand Lions is one of the BEST films ever made.  Duvall’s Hub is perfect, just like all the roles I have seen him play.  Caine counterbalances Duvall well, both as an actor and in his portrayal of the supporting character/brother.  The older he gets, the more it seems that we see the real Michael Caine shining through the form of the character he plays.  Haley Joel Osment, a talented child actor, proves here that he can play beside the best and deliver a splendid performance.  He portrays Walter perfectly.

These three men make the movie great.  If you have not already seen Secondhand Lions, readers, do not wait another minute to borrow or buy it.  The film is well worth your time and your money.

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