I still believe in heroes: The Batman, Doctor Strange 2 and the 2022 Philippine Elections

I still believe in heroes; I still believe in truth. But it’s been a long couple of weeks.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Batman (2022)

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Plot in one long sentence: Two years into his mission to clean up Gotham, Batman (played by Robert Pattinson) sleuths after a clue-happy serial killer targeting the city’s corrupt politicians, and just barely makes it through dark-lit group fights, expensive car chase scenes and thrilling political mysteries with the aid of his buddy cop Lieutenant James Corden (Jeffrey Wright) and budding femme fatale Catwoman (Zoe Cravitz) –both of whom double as doses of economic realism for the uber sheltered Bruce Wayne — all while discovering what it really means to be Gotham’s Dark Knight (hint: it’s more than just VENGEANCE).

Batman is the only DC property I’ve ever consumed seriously, from the 1940s comics to the occasional Adam West episodes. I’ve watched all of the DCAU Bat-related films (and even the one with the transmigration to mechafeudal Japan). And yet I’ve never been a fan of any of his big screen live action reincarnations.

Until now. I did not expect to like a three-hour movie that much.

Also to reiterate: I’m bisexual. And in all honesty, probably so was everyone watching this movie.

Three things I loved about The Batman (2022):

  1. The Story. This is a live action Batman that we haven’t seen before. He’s still young, almost naively untested by his future gallery of rogues. This isn’t the hyper-competent Batman of the Nolanverse, or the ultra-techie and ultra-buff Batfleck. ‘Bruce Wayne’ doesn’t even exist yet, with our titular character a half-step disconnected from his social reality.

    His identity is still evolving alongside his regard for his father figures, his understanding of Gotham’s reality, and his mission –from beating up no-name bad guys in the dark to inspiring people as the sun rises. The story also satisfyingly paces through an arc of 1 vs many, 1 vs 1, and finally man (or Bat) versus nature and self.
  2. The Direction, credit to director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser. I’ve seen many people on my feed criticize the film for its three-hour runtime. To me the length seemed necessary; it felt like reading a particularly good graphic novel with several installations and chapters.

    The movie direction even utilizes creative transitions and exciting point-of-view shots (especially during that showy car chase scenes) to keep the story going. The scoring by Michael Giacchino hits the spot; it feels like what I’d want in my playlist had I been reading the comics.
  3. And cut to Reality. Speculative fiction informs our reality, just as our reality informs speculative fiction. The bone-chilling aspect of this film is its ability to capture the reality of the Philippines corruption, gang wars, and home-grown terrorist activities springing from misinformation and social media influencers.

In the end, maybe 8.5/10, would watch again when I have the time, and would definitely look out for a sequel. (Bring me Robin, or bring me Gotham City Sirens!)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Plot in one long sentence: Set in the increasingly complex and bloated Marvel Cinematic Universe, the second installment to the Doctor Strange franchise (and Benedict Cumberbatch’s 6th in-universe appearance as the titular character) features the neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer going on a visually-exciting ‘What If?’ multiversal adventure as he tries to protect America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the singular ability to traverse different universes, while facing the grief-stricken and magic-corrupted Scarlet Witch/Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), with the help of familiar faces: Earth-616 Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and Earth-838 Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

I must be one of the few people who positively and highly rate Doctor Strange (2016) among the first generation of MCU hero origin films. I rank it just behind the OG Iron Man (2008), and maybe a little on the same stage as the Shakespearean Thor (2011). I couldn’t help it: a neurosurgeon turned magician, enough CGI to satiate the eyes, Mads Mikkelsen, an androgynous Tilda Swinton, and a solidly snarky resolution.

Based on that alone, my expectations were already high. MCU hyped this up even further by tying this film directly to the critically-acclaimed WandaVision (2021) and the mega blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021).

Read: Is it worth the watch? – Marvel’s WandaVision (2021)

Somehow this film did not disappoint.

Three things I loved about Doctor Strange MoM (2022):

  1. The Direction. Getting Sam Raimi on board as the eventual director did this film justice. I cannot imagine a better treatment than classic, sometimes cheesy, horror. There’s suspense, there’s gore (or what passes for gore in a Disney film), and opportunities ripe for screaming.

    I’ve seen critics despair of the pacing, picking on the way the film never stops. But that to me makes it all the more exciting. It’s dense and action-packed. The kooky transitions were also icing on the cake.

    *Though I will admit some of the fight choreography featuring Doctor Strange could have been better. On the other hand, the scenes with Scarlet Witch were almost consistently flawless.
  2. The Acting. I enjoyed the depth of acting, or maybe I’m just a simp. Gomez plays an enthusiastic nouveau hero (I smell Young Avengers in the air), though I do agree she was sometimes flat. But she’s sixteen? Fifteen? Give her a break.

    As for our main characters, Benedict Cumberbatch flexed some more to give us three (or four) versions of the same sorcerer, boosted significantly by the creative HMU and styling team. Though his acting chops couldn’t take the spotlight away from Olsen’s bewitching (heh) performance as the menacing villain you just can’t help but stan.
  3. The Story. The characters’ interweaving storylines integrate multiple themes: the nature of corruption and desire through Wanda, the ownership of power and personal growth through America, and the truth of happiness versus contentment in Strange (the repeated “Are you happy?” did feel heavy-handed though). And I felt each of these storylines were (mostly) subtly developed and then definitively addressed.

    Another point of appreciation: the final act. Unlike most MCU films (the most recent example being Shang-Chi) that end with an overly-animated 1 vs 1 no-stakes fight or a giant CGI battle, this film ends by tying its emotional loose ends together –again, self vs self all around.

    SPOILER—— that’s Wanda realizing the true cost and selfishness of her love, America finally controlling her powers instead of the other way around, and Strange choosing to trust and let go. Yes please.

Though I am now feeling the MCU fatigue (I’m not particularly excited for Moon Knight, She-Hulk, or even Thor: Love and Thunder), I still believe in the stories these four heroes — including Wong– have to offer.

Halalan 2022: The Philippine Elections

Plot in one long sentence: After almost 40 years barred by fate from the highest seat of power in the Philippines, the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Jr has finally bought its way back to MalacaΓ±ang with the aid of mass misinformation campaigns on social media, installation of allies in the senate, COMELEC and judicial system, unholy alliances with other oligarchs such as the Macapagal-Arroyos and the currently seated Dutertes, and possible electoral fraud –or just plain luck with more than a thousand vote-counting machines malfunctioning– successfully defeating the pink movement inspired by outgoing VP Leni Robredo while simultaneously risking the stability of our nation’s future as a whole.

I only wish this was fiction.

Also yes: writing a pseudo-review is one way to process grief.

And also: there are no heroes in this story. Only people.

Three things I loved about the 2022 Philippine Elections:

Radical love and unconditional positive regard mean finding the extremely thin silver lining.

  1. The Underdog. This isn’t actually a story about president-elect BBM (though the ‘president-elect’ part is still being disputed, given the cases filed at the Supreme Court). It isn’t even a story about VP Leni. It’s a story of the Filipino people, in theory. And everyone loves an underdog.

    I didn’t post anything election-related on this blog over the last few months. I didn’t have the time. I’m also sure 90% of the people reading this blog are already aligned with my own views, or simply aren’t stakeholders. I feed echochambers.

    Even though VP Leni’s camp, and by my perception the Filipino people, are still underdogs firmly locked into second place, treated as second-rate citizens, never the priority –the story is still worth the retelling. Kakampinks, the support group aligned with the opposition, were the Davids to the Goliath that is the biggest dynastic coalition in history. We were fighting against more than a decade of historical revision online and offline, complemented by Duterte-sanctioned policies (eg Marcos being buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani) and a Duterte-endorsed culture of impunity.

    We’ve already achieved so much in the span of 6 months. What more can we do in the next 6 years?
  2. The Mobilization. The 2022 elections witnessed an unprecedented rise in grassroots mobilization. When else has hope for a better future translated to: (1) several consecutive peoples’ rallies numbering in the hundred thousands, featuring one-of-a-kind cultural presentations and star-studded intermission numbers, (2) people-initiated house-to-house campaign programs, with marketing executives at the lead and A-list stars as invested participants, (3) statements of support from multiple previously non-partisan schools, religious groups, and even the MILF.

    When we say “people power”, it doesn’t just mean a one-time show of numbers and force along the wide avenue crossing Metro Manila. The power of the people can be this varied, daring, and, hopefully, patiently persistent.
  3. The Inspiration. On the night we started counting ballots (well, not all of them), I met despair. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered leaving the Philippines and going abroad. Even through the health communication and operations crises that were Dengvaxia and then the COVID-19 response, I never once thought of migration.

    Now, for the sake of my family’s safety, and in consideration of the limits of reasonable self-sacrifice, I wanted to shrug away all my promises. The tax returns of all hardworking Filipinos, our dreams of universal health care, and my plans of being at the forefront of national health policy… What were these but ways for the Marcoses and their cronies to line their own pockets even further?

    But that fateful Monday bled into Tuesday, and then into Friday. The shared grief and the glimmer of hope it represented made one thing clear: despair is never endless, never indefatigable, never victorious, as long as hope exists.

    I may now never aspire to work for this government (at least beyond this current residency), but I will continue to aspire to work for the Filipino people.

The Filipino is worth dying for, is worth living for, is worth fighting for. Whatever. I am a Filipino.

I am anti-life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

I am hope.

Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (1989)

This has been a series of reviews on life and the universe.

Until next time! ❀️

SA GOBYERNONG TAPAT, ANGAT BUHAY LAHAT. Here’s to hoping.
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P.S. The Batman 2022’s “Unleash the Truth” tagline, Doctor Strange 2’s endless takes on reality, Imelda Marcos’ “Perception is real, truth is not” in the 2019 film The Kingmaker… this post might be on to something thematically. Or does it?

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