Choices…at the movies!

I decided to blow off the work for the night and go to the movies. But now that the local theater coop has put in a second screen I’ve had to make decisions every time I go. Two choices! Oh boy!

The first option was The Eternals, the latest Marvel franchise entry. It’s another mob of superheroes, with immortality added on top of the ability to fly, to punch really hard, to shoot lasers out of their eyes*. That did not appeal. I did not go. I will predict that the ending of that movie is going to be another CGI slam-fest. Plus it’s another example of dredging the bottom of the IP barrel to come up with an obscure comic book that they can pump up into a big blockbuster. I hope it bombs.

The alternative was Lamb. Yes! That looked weird and surreal, and it was.

The story: Ingvar and Maria are an Icelandic couple (the whole movie is in Icelandic, with subtitles) who run a remote sheep farm. It’s beautiful, even though much of it is shot in a gray fog and mist, with the Icelandic scenery peeking through. It’s lambing time! They deliver several normal lambs, and then one brings them up short — we don’t see the lamb for quite some time, but for some reason Ingvar and Maria are enchanted by her, naming her Ada and bringing her into the house to raise her as their child. A good part of the surreal nature of this movie is how the couple are perfectly comfortable with, and even loving as their own child, a baby who has the head of a sheep and the body of a human child, as is eventually revealed. There’s something about Ada that makes people fall in love with her. I’ll say no more, except that the movie culminates in a bloody revelation.

I entirely enjoyed it. No punching. One semi-magical mystery. Good acting. People who were human and interesting in an extraordinarily unusual situation. Also, less than two hours long, while The Eternals goes on for 2½ hours, and another prediction: I bet it ends with a teaser to persuade you to watch the next movie in the franchise.

Go see it. Send a message that we want more unique movies, rather than more of the same ol’ same ol’. I think most people would enjoy it.

*No. Just no. Eyes don’t work that way. I hate it, it’s one of the worst conventions** of these kinds of movies.

**The worst is how “mutations” are handled. Somehow, single point mutations, or maybe insertions/deletions, are powerful enough to induce metaphysical powers that break all the laws of thermodynamics? I can’t accept it. Flies, mice, and cockroaches have comparable physiology and genetics to ours, so why aren’t there one-in-a-billion Drosophila variants buzzing around zapping everything with laser beams? Why aren’t there mice levitating? Why no rare cockroaches punching through walls with their super-strength? It’s all nonsense***.

***Nonsense is OK in the movies. The problem is when it overwhelms the human story. I enjoy Spider-Man or Captain America**** because of the themes of responsibility and sacrifice that I can relate to.

****But not Batman or Iron Man. They’re just rich assholes.


  1. gijoel says

    Batman and Ironman both have some serious guilt issues which leads them to make some spectacularly bad decisions. The problem is that fanboys try to cast IRL billionaires as these comic book heroes. Billionaires are only really interested in making another billion, and not atoning for any of their fuckups.

  2. weylguy says

    Genetic mutations that allow a man to control fire, a woman to control the weather, a man to transform into a wolverine. All superheroes who want to save mankind, and the American public eats it up. So how’s about a mutation that results in an all-powerful and eternal God or Savior who loves humankind? No, that’s just too weird.

  3. cartomancer says

    Technically speaking something is only “eternal” if it exists beyond time. If it exists within time, and has existed for the entire duration of time, it is “sempiternal”.

    The correct term for something that began to exist but will not cease to do so is “perpetual”.

    When the film is re-named “The Perpetuals” I might think about seeing it.

  4. etfb says

    Since you already hate laser vision, it should cause you no extra pain to learn that Superman’s heat vision, the ur example of generic laser eyes, came from some writer’s belief that his x-ray vision was caused by him emitting x-rays from his eyeballs. In theory, that radiation could melt things, therefore… heat vision.

    In an artform full of magic rings and flying men, that always struck me as the Nope for suspended disbelief.

  5. Extinguish Humanity says

    So much talk about the “human story”! Human stories suck, all of them. Stories about superhumans (or even subhumans!) are the only ones worth telling. Go “Eternals”, down with “Lamb”! Everyone who worked in that movie should kill themselves (though we all should. I’ve already scheduled my own suicide).

  6. azpaul3 says

    Everyone who worked in that movie should kill themselves (though we all should.

    If you are so inclined then go at it. No one’s going to stop you. But not for me. There are a lot of people like Dr. M, here, that are fascinating fountains of facts made fun. I think I’ll stay a while longer.

    Besides, climate change has already doomed humanity in the long run, so at least you have that to help boost your self-destructive pessimism.

    The mood feels good doesn’t it. Enjoy.

  7. azpaul3 says

    And another besides. There are too many human stories of allure and enchantment yet to be experienced. For the intellect, there are no greater stories. I want to experience as many such stories as I can while I’m here. I’d like to go visit the movie theater in Morris.

  8. WhiteHatLurker says

    Well, if I could still stay up that late, I certainly would have picked Rocky Horror … but that’s passed.

    Of the others listed – Ron’s Gone Wrong looks more about my speed today. Oh, and Dune, when I have patience for it. Every person I’ve talked to are all ga-ga over the photography and scenery, which is always a bad flag for me. I expect it to be pretty, but having major issues otherwise.

    Congrats on having choices. Right now, my choice is to avoid going to crowded spaces like that.

  9. HidariMak says

    @2 – If there was ever a massive movement insisting that a superhero or superheroes were actually real, and that a percentage of our personal wealth should be paid to people who claimed to be directly associated with said superheroes, and laws dictating that specific laws and rights and freedoms should be denied to any who didn’t accept the existence of these superheroes within the real world, then you would have a point.

  10. Walter Solomon says

    Are you tired of superhero films or do you just hate Jack Kirby’s work?

    Don’t look now, but I hear there’s a New Gods movie in the works and it will be directed by none other than Ava DuVernay — yes the same woman who directed the acclaimed Selma.

    Personally I think it’s a good thing Kirby’s solo work is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

  11. says

    Yeah, the mutant shtick is getting old. But “eyes don’t work that way”? Physics don’t work that way! Once you throw out the rule book anything is allowed… I think lack of internal logic and …scalability?… is a far greater crime.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    etfb @ # 4: … his x-ray vision was caused by him emitting x-rays from his eyeballs…

    In an artform full of magic rings and flying men, that always struck me as the Nope for suspended disbelief.

    I first saw that when too young to know otherwise, so I always just took it for granted. But then, several years ago I read a story in which…

    Superman found out the bad guys had had a planning meeting a week before. So he flew seven light-days out into space, looked back to Earth with his telescopic vision, saw through the BG hideout’s walls with his x-ray vision, and read their lips to learn the dastardly scheme.

    At which point I finally realized that even with only my occasional pop-sci reading, I knew too much science to ever become a comic-book writer.

  13. says

    Are you tired of superhero films or do you just hate Jack Kirby’s work?

    Oh, please. All this stuff is so far from what Kirby created that this is just silly. Characters have been transformed, killed, resurrected, reworked, phased out, brought back, reconceptualized so many times that any resemblance to Kirby’s work is scant at best. Kirby was highly creative in a space that had few rules and little history to constrain him, and I can appreciate that imagination, but the characters realized on the screen simply aren’t very Kirbyesque.

  14. Walter Solomon says

    Kirby was highly creative in a space that had few rules and little history to constrain him…

    Well, that’s not true at all. He had editors to deal with who often didn’t share his vision. The Eternals was controversial when it was released because many fans didn’t believe it fit with the rest of Marvel.

    He had similar problems at DC when the editors didn’t care for his “Fourth World” series.

    The Eternals weren’t mutants nor did they gain their powers by accident, they were created by the Celestials who had a hand in humanity’s evolutionary history. They didn’t have a traditional villain. Apparently that was too much for many comic fans to wrap their heads around. It seems like it’s still too much.

  15. says

    Also, I’m still anti-DC. Superman is boring because there are so few ways to defeat such an overpowered being that they simply tell the same stories over and over. Batman is … unlikable. I’m not much on Wolverine either because I don’t go to movies or read comic books for blood splatter. My favorite Wolverine is from Wolverine & Kitty Pryde limited series where he functioned as a mentor to the nascent Shadowcat rather than the much beloved by others Wolverine limited series that expanded on his backstory in Japan by having him snarl and shred ninja flesh. Antiheroes just aren’t my thing.

    And DC has characters between the good but boring Supes and the anti-hero Batman, Raven, for instance. But they don’t make those the focus of their canon, so DC tends to be, well, not for me. On the other hand, Thor, while a complete, privileged dipshit at times is both good and not living primarily on earth, where there are no serious challenges to his power, so it’s okay that he’s a god. Wolverine is largely kept within the X-men movies where I’m not subjected to Wolvie 24/7 (I skipped Logan and the movie where Wolverine goes to Japan. Should have skipped X-Men Origins:Wolverine as well, b/c I didn’t enjoy it). Black Widow could be played as too dark for me, but hasn’t been so far (and wasn’t in the comics I read as a child). She-Hulk is amazing, and I’m glad she’s finally about to get some screen time.

    Just overall, superheroes tend to be cardboard and two dimensional, but I can deal with that so long as there is something else there. But the something else has to be more than (or different from), “I’m gritty! I’m so very adult! See how adult themed I am? Watch me slice this throat! Now see me torture someone for information! Yay! I’m a comic, but for adults! I’ve crossed over!” Spare me.

    Luke Cage, She-Hulk, Jessica Jones, Captain Marvel from Avengers in 1980 (the Monica Rambeau character), Cloak & Dagger, these are the characters I liked. Iron Man was made to work in the MCU, but I’m glad he’s done. I want more of those other 6, please.

  16. says


    Sure, but if you accept Supes’ comic book abilities as they are, that scene (flying 7 light days out and looking back) is exactly what Supes should be doing all the time. As someone interested in the stories and willing to suspend disbelief, what bothers me much more than antiscience bullshit is when the writer of a story doesn’t take their own premises seriously.

    Don’t make your hero the strongest human on the planet, then have her losing a knock-down, drag out fight with normal-strength but very skilled ninja. No.

    Don’t make your hero able to travel through time and fly faster than light (without traveling through time, wtf?) and subject the hero to the “dilemma” of the bad guy holding hostages. You move faster than light in an atmosphere without destroying everything around you from the shockwaves all the fucking time. Why is it different when there is a gun in view?

    I can handle almost any premise, as long as the writers take it seriously and maintain its consistency. They just gave Supes too many powers to do that, because he could never, ever be challenged by a human (yes, even Batman) ever again if they took their premise seriously. He could only adventure in other dimensions or outer space. Having earthly villains for Supes is just stupid to begin with.

  17. Walter Solomon says

    With all that being said, it seems PZ may get his wish since Eternals is turning out to be Marvel’s least successful movie so far. Ironically, this is likely because it didn’t follow the same routine as other superhero films.

    A snippet from The Hollywood Reporter sums it up:

    For as much as critics and some audiences complain that “all Marvel movies are the same,” the response to Eternals is a testament to how much of those complaints are just lip-service for people who crave the familiar and have no interest in interrogating the subjects of popular culture and being asked to take part in an uneasy look at what heroism means and what we truly value. I’m not disappointed by the Eternals. I’m disappointed that even with superhero movies still being the most popular form of entertainment in the world, we still fail to understand and appreciate how vast these movies can be in accordance with their source material. Eternals is an achievement, and I fear it will be too long until we see another like it.

  18. stroppy says

    It’s not just super heros’ weaponized eyeballs, it’s the glowing eyes of evil that turn up everywhere. I get that mutations, x-rays, etc. were a black box for fabulists back in the day, but the active eye theory of vision was debunked centuries ago. I mean, come on already.

  19. says

    Wait, lemme guess…lamb-baby charms everyone into thinking he’s the Lamb of God, but actually turns out to be the Antichrist Goat and starts taking over the world while his human owners wrestle with their conflicting feelings…?

    PS: I agree about Batman and Iron Man; though Bruce Wayne is more of a self-consciously-Dark-and-Tortured Soul — I got tired of that shtick years ago, along with the rest of the DC-verse.

    As for all that other laughably-impossible shit in most superhero movies, I’d just advise going with it and enjoying the characters you like most (while never confining yourself to the superhero genre, of course).

  20. Snidely W says

    …single point mutations, or maybe insertions/deletions…

    PZ, your hunch is correct: these gene actions can not explain such powers.
    Of course, it has to be massive gene duplication.
    Pseudopolyploidy™, clearly.

  21. says

    I’m not disappointed by the Eternals. I’m disappointed that even with superhero movies still being the most popular form of entertainment in the world, we still fail to understand and appreciate how vast these movies can be in accordance with their source material.

    For what it’s worth, Singing in the Rain is a superhero movie. No, hear me out: the point of going to those musicals was to see human shaped characters do seemingly human impossible things in a convincing manner, with a slow build from barely impossible to the rousing, concluding set-piece of titanic impossibility splashed over every corner of the screen, with the viewer unable to guess where the next impossible feat might come from next, or what shape it will take. And while some of the things they did were possible for a few truly exceptional mortals (this is what makes the umbrella dance so memorable) in other scenes they deliberately splice separate takes together because it really was impossible, even for the greatest artists of the age, to put together all those moves, flawlessly and on cue and sync’ed to the music in any and every single take. But of course the actors failed more times than they succeeded, and seeming improvisation was actually carefully rehearsed. Still, the movies creates the illusion that humans could be more than human.

    Hong Kong action flicks with seemingly impossible fight scenes were the necessary precursor to our modern superhero films, and filled most of the interregnum between the demise of the hollywood musical and the rise of the 2000s era superhero films. The culmination of this was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which helped inspire a new generation of directors and storytellers to believe a new kind of superhero movie was possible. Meanwhile, there was a shorter lived dominance of sci fi movies, from Star Wars to The Matrix that developed various special effects technologies, including CGI.

    In the end, we got the MCU: complicated, choreographed superhumanity from the Hollywood musical, the idea of conflict resolution not from a dance off, but from beating the bad guy into submission DURING the choreographed dance from Hong Kong, special effects from Sci Fi.

    Hollywood musicals with punching and a plot resolution through physical victory over a bad guy instead of emotional victory over a woman: that’s what was packaged and wrapped in CGI to create the Avengers.

  22. says

    #20: Nope, not a religious movie in the slightest. I’d actually be very surprised to see a religious movie come out of Iceland.

  23. birgerjohansson says

    “World’s End’ is part of the film triliogy with Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead.
    Ordinary people literally save the world.
    If you want a story about a superbaddie, read John Gardner’s “Grendel”, a story about Beowulf from the point of view of the ‘monster’.
    Very entertaining, there are even study guides written about this book.
    Film. “John Dies At the End”.
    Friend of the protagonist temporarily achieves a kind of superpower.
    -don’t worry, John dies but it doesn’t take. A very weird but fun film.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    If you can set aside three hours for watching a film in a proper film theater, pick one by Tarkovsky.
    My favourite is Solaris, where the astronaut Kris Kelvin has to confront his bad conscience in a very real sense.
    The first half if the film is set om Earth and sets the relationships in context.
    The second favourite is Stalker (title based on a misunderstanding of the English word, the correct word would be “sneaker”)
    The first half of the film is in sepia, the other, set in the ‘Zone’ is in color.
    Loosely based on Wayside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers.
    (The abandoned industrial site used for the film was so polluted that several of the team including Tarkovsky died of cancer)

  25. birgerjohansson says

    A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
    -set in Iran but filmed in USA, this girl has enough “superpower’ to be unafraid.
    The film version of Cowboy Bebop. Part SF, what makes it stand out is the relationship between the complex characters.
    Drive Angry with Nicholas Cage is much better than its reputation. My favourite ‘superpowered’ character is The Accountant.
    There is a film from 1998 that deserves more attention: Six-String Samurai
    ‘Robot and Frank’ is described as ‘warm and moving’.

  26. Walter Solomon says

    Crip Dyke @ 23:

    I’m not sure if you’re being facetious, but this is a pretty in depth history of this particular of genre of film.

    It’s like reading about how film noir eventually evolved into cyberpunk. Essentially the same noir elements set in a futuristic, crap sack world.

    I will cite your work in the future if you don’t mind.

  27. John Morales says


    We humans have a need to believe we’re capable of great things, including great physical feats.

    Some humans do.

  28. microraptor says

    Personally, I think that the best superhero movies are some of DC’s animated works.

    Justice League: Gods And Monsters, for example. It stars Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but they’re not the characters you’re familiar with. Superman, for example, was not found by the Kents but instead was raised by a family of undocumented migrant workers (in other words, he’s an illegal alien). As such, he has a substantially different outlook on life, including massive distrust for the police and the US government.

    Harley Quinn: The Animated Series is another gem. It’s an incredibly gory comedy but it actually takes a look at some of the implications that comic books usually ignore. For example, a great deal of the first season especially revolves around Harley’s attempts to deal with just how abusive her relationship with the Joker was and what the long term effects of that are. It’s surprisingly deep.

    As far as the MCU goes, Spider-Man: Far From Home was the last movie in it that I saw and stands a good chance of being the last MCU title that I’ll ever see.

  29. John Morales says

    I know, CD… but phrasing it as you did opens the door to claims such as ‘and you’re human, so you have that need’, which is not the case with my reformulation.

  30. Pierce R. Butler says

    Crip Dyke… @ # 17: They just gave Supes too many powers …

    Yes, DC painted itself into a corner with that (and realized it decades ago, flailing around rather unsuccessfully ever since to escape; we’ll see if the current “next generation” Kryptonian/Earthling half-breed (“He’s bi!”®) works better than the retcons.

    CD @ # 23: … the point of going to those musicals was to see human shaped characters do seemingly human impossible things in a convincing manner…

    More entertainingly and plausibly than the never-misses cowboy with 24 bullets in a six-shooter, but conceptually the same. Vide Ulysses, Gilgamesh, Krishna, et alia.

    Walter Solomon @ # 29: … film noir eventually evolved into cyberpunk.

    Just following the written-word genres. William Gibson used Neuromancer to bring Raymond Chandler into sf, complete with direct quotations (or plagiarism, according to some). How long will it take until movies catch up with, say, Ann Leckie’s gender-benders?

  31. says

    A sheep-human hybrid? Are you sure its not set in New Zealand? This Aussie couldn’t resist taking a shot at his mates “across the ditch”, (a.k.a. the Tasman Sea), and their fondness for sheep. If I was Maria I would keep Ingvar away from the sheep.

  32. says

    You know what mutant-superpower I have a problem with? Magneto. He has unlimited power to move metal, but nothing else. So my question is, which definition of “metal” are they using?! Is it just hard shiny things like cars, guns, bullets, swords, etc.? Or is it the chemical definition of “metallic” substances, which includes roughly half the elements known to exist? Is hydrogen a “metal” that Magneto can play with? Because that’s in just about everything, so that would mean Magneto’s power of telekinesis is pretty much unlimited.

  33. John Morales says

    Raging Bee:

    So my question is, which definition of “metal” are they using?!

    Same as the rest. Whatever the plot requires.

    Me, I wouldn’t mind seeing Bill, the Galactic Hero.

    (or better yet, Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers. Or Deathworld)

  34. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Stroppy: I have yet to see Eternals, but yeah, I was actually going to say what while PZ may end up being narrowly right, broadly all the reviews are pretty polarized precisely because it’s really trying to break from the formula.

    I don’t like being too much of a Marvel apologist, despite really loving the films, but I will say that an upside of their producer-centered Disney-backed model is that they can spend real money on letting good directors try to break their formula and in so doing tell some stories that would actually not otherwise get told. They can afford to eat a few divisive entries, and are actually doing that. Hopefully the Eternals experience doesn’t cause them to ease back too much.

  35. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @35: One of the biggest things that people tend to ignore in the history of cyberpunk by privileging the books is to ignore Blade Runner. Huge swaths of the aesthetic of cyberpunk are entirely from a filmic entry that isn’t even totally cyberpunk in and of itself. I love Shadowrun, and they’ve tried to evolve the setting over time, but man, it really is Blade Runner Meets Neuromancer Meets D&D.

  36. Silentbob says

    CW: Total Marvel nerdiness

    I enjoy Spider-Man or Captain America**** because of the themes of responsibility and sacrifice that I can relate to.

    ****But not Batman or Iron Man. They’re just rich assholes.

    Dude! Iron Man’s entire story arc is about responsibility and sacrifice! That’s the whole point.

    In Iron Man one the spoilt rich asshole, having experienced the actual effect he’s having on the world, abandons weapons manufacturing and goes on a mission to destroy all the weapons he’s sold. The doesn’t mean he’s instantly a good guy – in Iron Man 2 he’s even more of an arrogant asshole, because people don’t change overnight.

    There’s a telling bit of dialogue in The Avengers:

    Steve Rogers: You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play, to lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you. Tony Stark: I think I would just cut the wire. Steve Rogers: Always a way out…

    And indeed it’s a running theme that Iron Man always tries to evade responsibility. In Age of Ultron he creates Ultron so he can retire, so an AI can take over the superheroics, and it’s a disaster that almost destroys the world. Then in Civil War, guilty about Ultron, he’s in favour of the Sokovia Accords that basically absolve him of responsibility and pass the buck onto someone else.

    Even in Endgame, he’s still selfish enough that he won’t help the Avengers unless he gets to keep his daughter (who is admittedly the cutest kid in the history of kids). Which just makes it all the more poignant that in the end he does make “the sacrifice play” while Captain America gets to live to a ripe old age.

    At the risk of repeating myself, the whole point is he’s a spoilt jerk, born into wealth, insulated from the consequences of his actions, scared of taking responsibility, who ends up (along with Black Widow) sacrificing himself for everyone else. If you think Iron Man’s arc doesn’t involve “themes of responsibility and sacrifice”, you just weren’t paying attention.

  37. microraptor says

    Silent Bob @41: And Spider-Man: Far From Home was how he endangered the world again after he was already dead because he handed a hyper-advanced weapon system to a teenager without bothering to even write the kid a letter about how he wanted Peter to have it or provide an instruction manual.

  38. davidc1 says

    Don’t Icelanders believe in Fairies ,or Elf’s ,or at least them don’t deny that they exist .

    Wasn’t in to superhero comics as a lad ,more into the Beano ,the Dandy ,or war comics
    like the Victor ,the latter one had German soldiers running around shouting Donner Und Blitzen .
    I did hear that Desperate Dan died of BSE ,caused by all those cow pies he used to eat.

  39. Jazzlet says

    davidc1 @#43
    Desperate Dan was converted into pies, formerly (1980’s) available at Mad O’Rourkes Pie Factory, they now use beef having run out of Desperate Dan.

  40. Rob Grigjanis says

    davidc1 @43:

    Wasn’t in to superhero comics as a lad ,more into the Beano ,the Dandy ,or war comics

    Early to late sixties, I was keen on Thor, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four (always hated X-Men). Also The Beano (The Bash Street Kids!) and The Dandy. The war comics I remember were smaller than the superhero comics. I think one was called Commando. And I recall a couple of years when some trading card series were big in our schoolyard; Mars Attacks, and a US Civil War set. Very gory.

  41. says

    I usually got my childhood comics in bulk from the local Goodwill store, so they were already pretty ragged. Then I’d just toss them into a big cardboard box where they’d pile up and be pawed over until my mom threw them out.
    I never cared for X-Men, or Fantastic Four. Thor & Spider-Man were great. What I really liked, though, were EC Comics.

  42. alixmo says

    I just watched Eternals and liked it quite a lot. It was much more interesting than I expected. And very diverse, too. I would recommend watching it first before forming an opinion about it.

  43. says

    Eh, I want to see Eternals, as a metric f*ckton of fanboys are upset about it. Apparently, one of the leads isn’t exactly straight and that has certain fans very upset.

    Anything that has straight cis white men upset is probably going to be a decent watch. 😏