Ghostbusters and the fight to watch women get shit done

The Ghostbusters movie came out with all the fanfare and crapola you could expect from a movie with more than one woman in a post-GamerGate digital landscape. Literally: the troll supreme and hateful asshat who principally mobilized GamerGaters (surprisingly) received a penalty for encouraging the twitter harassment of Leslie Jones, one of the film’s stars (and the film’s only nonwhite cast member). It’s been an organized campaign of hatred designed to bring down a film seen as revisionist for featuring a cast of women at best, and a bad film because of its female characters at worst.

So is the film good, or is it bad? If the film is actually good, then the online outcry is motivated by misogyny and reactionary bigotry, rendering criticisms baseless. If the film is actually bad, then everyone excited by it is motivated by an overzealous feminist agenda and the film’s sheer existence can be chocked up to affirmative-action-type policies.

So what happens when a movie is just so-so, as seems to be the case with Ghostbusters? Reviews are mixed, and it is difficult to sort out the bigoted trolls from the earnest, honest reviewers. It’s interesting to not that on Rotten Tomatoes, the film  Eileen Jones of Jacobin has some choice words. To her, Ghostbusters is ugly, tacky, boring, and unfunny. Fair. She also decries the insidious capitalism of using “puling fanboy misogyny” to market their films to righteously indignant feminist audiences. She outlined this by making reference to the controversy surrounding Feig’s earlier film, Bridesmaids:

According to the Bridesmaids ballyhoo, if we didn’t all go see it as an act of feminist solidarity, no Hollywood movie would ever again feature several women in lead roles. Women would virtually disappear from our screens, and soon every American film would be a reprehensible sausage fest, nothing but remakes of The Lusty Men, The Lost Boys, Young Guns, The Expendables, and The Dirty Dozen.

Jones may be right about the film at hand, and is definitely onto something about the convenient capitalism of marketing a mainstream film with feminism. But she’s dead wrong to claim that there is nothing urgent–or feminist–about getting behind an all-woman, mainstream blockbuster. The fact is that without very vocal outcry from consumers, mediocre films featuring the stories and characters of women are actually used as justification for not putting stories about women on the screen.

Superhero films are a good illustration of this point. Like action movies, superhero films have historically been the home of masculine characters, narratives, and consumers. And when there have been superhero films made about women, their failures have been ascribed to the gender of their protagonist and been used to justify further exclusion of female characters.

But when films headlined by men are shitty, suddenly executives don’t mind. Jones can joke about the explodey man movies that would proliferate if we didn’t do our feminist job and genuflect to any movie containing women, but it’s hypocritical as fuck. Man of Steel, the foundation for their new franchise, was garbagey. Its successor, Batman v. Superman, was somehow even garbagier. They built their franchise layering critical failures and box-office flops, with no one laying blame on the generic hyper-masculine narratives themselves. In fact, these awful films continue to be produced. But a shitty movie with female characters? That’s eagerly taken as grounds to bury this feminine shingbingle for good.

It’s also important to look at what women characters DO in the movie itself, and not just count their numbers. How many action or superhero films feature more than one woman character who isn’t an eye candy sex object, much less a full team? How often are women permitted to JUST GET SHIT DONE ALREADY on-screen without having to justify their presence with sex appeal or romance for the consumption of men? In a mainstream media landscape where women have very little chance to see themselves move the plot with brains and brawn, it is inextricably political for a film to fly in the face of narrative gendered norms for the action and comedic genres. The last actiony film to do this was Mad Max: Fury Road, and look how that turned out. Funny how this happens with every film where women are just trying to do their awesome jobs, and don’t actually outline a specific feminist ideology.

Feminists shouldn’t have to give a shit about a mediocre action-movie whose first joke is about a queef. But we, along with the makers and marketers of Ghostbusters, find ourselves in an environment where trigger-happy executives look for any excuse not to make a movie about women, and the work of proving we need movies about and for us rests disproportionately on the shoulders of twitter hashtags, bloggers, and online petitions. That’s definitely not to say that supporting the film is a feminist obligation. I probably won’t like this movie. I won’t be lauding it just for the bare fact of containing 4 women, and I think it’s deplorable that one of the only ways to gain representation is constructing feminism as a new and enticing crop of consumers ripe for the picking.

But I’m glad that somebody is doing that, since it might mean a slightly higher chance of getting to enjoy the same levels of cinematic mediocrity enjoyed by men everywhere, everyday.

‘Cisgender’ is not oppressive

What is gender? Rebecca Reilly-Cooper, political philosopher at the University of Warwick, certainly has some strong feelings about it in her article Gender is Not a Spectrum. Her article presents a learning opportunity for anyone uncomfortable with the ever-changing landscape of gender identity, and anyone–women in particular–who feels hurt by the descriptor “cisgender” and troubled by the complicated axes of intersectional oppression.

Reilly-Cooper does a fine job setting the scene for feminist theories of gender: she writes that “while sex referred to what is biological… gender refers to the externally imposed set of norms that prescribe and proscribe desirable behaviour to individuals in accordance with morally arbitrary characteristics.”

While this view may not account for all gender difference as biological factors complicate the mix, there is substantial evidence that this theory is useful. Schoolyard bullying and harassment punishes deviation from heterosexual gender norms, parents instruct and enforce gendered clothes and behaviours, schools and teachers enforce sexist dress codes. Children are taught gender difference, and these early lessons about gender also form the basis for the kind of workplace, public, and interpersonal sexism faced by women in our society.

Furthermore, they serve to stifle gender difference that people experience in the world. An increasing number of people are seeking refuge from the male-female gender binary in alternative, non-binary identities to which the author alludes.

It is this point at which the set up ends and the vague, ornery fallacies commence.

Reilly-Cooper meticulously lists non-binary gender identities, communicating clear derision for what she considers a redundant and indulgent fad. Then this needless bit of linguistic acrobatics:

“If gender really is a spectrum, doesn’t this mean that every individual alive is non-binary, by definition? If so, then the label ‘non-binary’ to describe a specific gender identity would become redundant, as it would fail to pick out a special category of people.”

She extends this argument to the word “Transgender”, claiming that because gender is inculcated in all people “every single one of us is cisgender”. Therefore “everyone is trans. Or… there are no trans people.”

Well.

First, the language in this article is a hot mess, with liberal conflation of ‘non-binary’, Transgender, transsexual, and various other identities, weird pronouncements like “the queer view of gender”, and a lot of other nutty unpacked assumptions and language. For the purposes of this response, I’m going to use “non-normative” to invoke any non-binary or non-normative gender designations unless otherwise specified.

For the record, I can’t believe I’m going to engage rationally with these claims.

The phrase ‘gender is a spectrum’ doesn’t demand total, dogmatic adherence. No one is fucking married to the phrase. It serves one very clear function, which is to illustrate that there’s various different ways to exist beyond the historically-obligatory “men” and “women” when it comes to gender. It’s useful for dealing with adherents to the naturalistic model of gender Reilly-Cooper herself describes, for those who believe gender to be intrinsically connected to biological sex.

It is not, in fact, contradictory for the word ‘non-binary’ and the term ‘gender spectrum’ to coexist, because despite the vast scope of human diversity implied by ‘spectrum’ we are still assigned one of two binary genders at birth. The binary is kept alive in our society, in systems which re-enforce that reductive and oppressive view of humanity and deny the spectrum of human diversity. ‘Non-binary’ could refer to anyone who identifies anywhere outside of that social binary which still exists in our language and our institutions–yeah, that’s right, non-binary people didn’t make the boxes. And while we’re on it, what is the political power of LGBT+ and non-binary people such that their identities are “politically troubling”? In the U.S., Transgender people can’t even use the bathroom. The existence of agender and other non-binary people is widely unrecognized. Doesn’t look like undue political influence to me.

Reilly-Cooper wants to play language games rather than engage with the lived experiences and stories of people who identify as non-binary. Implicitly, ‘non-binary’ and other non-normative genders also refer to those whose assigned gender felt so uncomfortable and incongruent with their identity that they needed another word to feel happy, sane, and to tell their truth. Their life may even have depended on it.

If this sounds improbable to you, it may be because it is not something cisgender people experience. The difference is that while cisgender people may not like the way people of their gender are treated, they don’t mind the identity itself. If you’re comfortable living with the gender identity you were assigned, you already don’t understand how it would feel to be so uncomfortable with that gender designation that people like you are depressed, dysphoric, and commit suicide at alarmingly high rates.

Apparently knowing none of these things, Reilly goes on to mock various kinds of gender, mostly with the fact that language makes use of oppositions and so no one can claim to be ‘non-binary’. I’m not convinced that this quality of language means those with non-normative genders are oppressing her.

She also makes fun of various genders she made up, like “pizza” and “the sea”. If you dig here, there’s a valid discussion beneath her slippery slope fallacy. Some terms might just seem too improbable or fantastical to be taken seriously by all people, so what does that mean for those with non-normative genders?

For Reilly-Cooper it means you can be condescending, telling them to “have some fun” with gender after spending multiple paragraphs implying that having fun with gender is ridiculous.

Let people call themselves what they want–I promise the gender binary will still be alive and kicking even if someone chooses the gender “pillow”. And there is a pretty big difference between that person and someone who identifies as agender.

But Reilly-Cooper thinks they’re essentially the same, because she doesn’t believe in all this alternative gender claptrap like the existence of agender people. To her, the possibility of “frog gender” existing means they must all be thrown out. She claims adopting a term like agender is to “slip through the bars of the cage while leaving the rest of the cage intact” (Somehow, the cage means sexism). The only solution is abolishing gender, and she doesn’t seem to realize that there’s most probably no way we will ever abolish gender, or that there might be steps in between then and now, like establishing alternative genders.

The existence of alternative genders actually helps destabilize the proverbial cage. And if calling themselves agender works to make someone feel good, why shouldn’t someone do it? Because it leaves her behind, that’s why. And the existence of non-binary and non-normative gender identities is about her.

Reilly-Cooper is painfully wrong about what being Transgender means. She allows Transgender people to exist because they allow her to preserve the binary, and she projects her own gender oppression onto the notion of transition. She claims people transition because they “find the gender roles associated with their sex so oppressive and limiting that they cannot tolerably live under them.” No, people transition because they identify with a gender other than their assigned gender. And Transgender means many different things to different people.

Ms. Reilly-Cooper, you are not “a two-dimensional gender stereotype”. Neither am I. And non-binary people aren’t interested in enforcing your cisgendered-ness. They’re not the ones thinking of your uterus when evaluating your suitability for the workplace. They’re not the ones catcalling you, or writing your gender on your passport, or forcing you to use pronouns that don’t communicate the depth of your personality, or coordinating a vast system of gendered oppression. That system hurts them too. They have enough to deal with. If anything’s proof of non-normative gender identities, it is the fact that people continue to adopt them despite constant ongoing violence visited upon them. That’s how important it is for them. And that is not our reality, which makes it easy for us to trivialize and deride the needs of those who choose to name their own gender.

The question that has to be asked is this: Ms. Reilly-Cooper, what is your point? The argument is incoherent. Its most honest moment is the claim that non-binary people are perpetuating and permitting the misogyny she experiences. Ouch.

What kind of delusion could inspire someone to think that those people seeking refuge from a punitive, restrictive, reductive binary system of gender are responsible for the gendered oppression you face as a woman? How is the mere existence of the chosen identities of some of the most marginalized and victimized people on the earth the cause? No logic to be found here. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the normalization of the label “cisgender”, which she perceives to be as oppressive as a two-pole binary gender hierarchy.

“Gender is not a Spectrum” consists of revelling in tiny, invented technical incongruities, as well as combining condescension and mean-spirited incredulousness directed at those with different experiences with a terrific lack of interest in learning from people who actually have these identities. But here’s the real spirit behind the article: Reilly laments that “a handful of individuals are apparently permitted to opt out of the spectrum altogether” (emphasis mine). Reilly-Cooper’s article is permeated by a sense of righteous anger that those with non-normative genders are cheating to escape the routine oppression and violations they are “due” as a member of the gender binary. And that’s fucked up.

DIY Table Un-Wobbler

It’s happened before—you, honest blogger/writer/scholar/frequenter of coffee shops or other tabled spaces, just want to get down to work writing/blogging/studying/goofing off/wasting your life on the internet, without being harassed by the uncertain terrain of a vacillating table. Maybe it ruins your flow, or threatens the wellbeing of your electronic devices or books with an overflowing cappuccino. 

What causes these unstable surfaces? Issues with the way tables are constructed in our capitalistic society? The intersection between our physical habits and the psychology of table use? We may never know. Little scholarship is being conducted on this menace to your scholarly pursuits. Whatever the cause, you need this obnoxiousness to go away, and you left your handyman’s kit at home.

Step 1: Select a packet of sugar, spice, or sweetener from the rack available for you. If you’re in a library give up now. 

Step 2: The table rocks around a single point on the centre. if you put your full weight on one side, it will stay solid. The problem is you can’t do this and still get your work done. Determine which way you’d like the table to rest, and lean on the opposite side. NOTE: you probably can’t do this alone, so make a new friend. You’ll impress the shit out of them with your awesome DIY instincts.

Step 3: While someone leans on the table, slide the packet of sugar under the side that’s raised. Plump or de-plump the packet depending on how much excess space there is so that it completely fills the gap between the table leg and the floor.

Step 4: Enjoy peaceful creative flow, and the satisfaction of benefitting from sheer genius. Tell your friends you made it up yourself.

Graduation Day

I began my last day at UofT the same way I conducted every day as a student—with complacent lateness, logistical dysfunction and a mad dash. I prevented the streetcar from leaving by forcing the driver to weigh being on time over the cost of running over my body. With an audible squeal of joy at my good fortune, I settled in for the streetcar ride. In my full-length skirt, buzzed hair, and glittering choker, I cut an impressive figure—like an aging opera singer.

Upon arrival I was processed through proliferating queues and numbered lists, giving me the chance to feel like just a number one last time. I bonded with one administrator over the capitalistic process. “You must comply, and trust the system,” she said. I was given a gown with a suspicious whitish stain on the shoulder. Failing utterly to fasten the hood, I reaffirmed the value of the deductive and critical thinking skills I paid over 10,000 dollars and spent four years to acquire.

We then sat through an hour of pontification over our peers’ successes. So-and-so got ten 100% final grades. So-and-so learned ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and Sanskrit. Five so-and-sos are headed to Oxford. My hunger-induced rage growing, I gleefully daydreamed my biography to be read aloud for these students, parents, and administrators. “Basic Income Unit 1000014904 fulfilled basic requirements to graduate and served on various student organizations, providing the bare minimum programming while taking up space that could have been occupied by students who actually did things. In the fall she will go on to work at Tim Hortons.” Giving up, I went on my iPad, taking selfies with my fellow cynics on the left and right.

Agony concluded, I met my parents and partner outside. Having descended into full ragequit hunger mode by this time, it did not occur to me that on this momentous day my parents wouldn’t find it humorous for me to complain at the top of my lungs how I hated this place and how it was a felony crime that the coffee was being hidden from me. “Stop yelling about how much you hate this school,” they said. I bit down a scream of rage and stuffed my mouth with egg salad.

Having settled down, we geared up to make stiff conversation with other awkward graduates and their aging parents. I observed many people I would have liked to have known, now that it was too late to get to know them. Some friends sought refuge under a tree. I drank the lifegiving coffee.

My mother convinced me to not wear sensible flats during the ceremony, which I regretted immediately—what better way to graduate than an agonizing but aesthetic journey across campus across the stage? Cursing, I returned to be marshalled by various administrative talking heads. We were shuffled into single file lines of about 50, then mixed so that odd numbers were in one line and even numbers in another, then forced to stand and talk in awkward groups of strangers for over an hour. Apparently the hoods are made from real rabbit fur? I think most of us would rather have paid the $40 to hold a live rabbit than rent a stupid gown.

Guided by bagpipes, we crossed campus to the clapping of confused picnickers and the screams of a small dog. At Con Hall we settled in for the long haul, serenaded by triumphal and terrifying organ. We listened to a speech by someone too intelligent and multi-disciplinary to feel okay about.

Then we were approached by a marshall. “You go first,” she said. “Just go up, stand on the black dots, and shake the hand of the person in front of you.” This straightforward advice left us woefully unprepared, my fellow graduate making small anxious sounds beside me. I assured her we would be fine, knowing inside that we would single-handedly ruin the ceremony with our awkward clumsiness. The marshall signaled us and we stood on the black dots, marching purposefully forth on her mark to shake the hands of various administrative bigwigs.

The president of UofT was a small seated man. “What are you doing next,” he asked. I mumbled something about a year off. I moved down the line, shaking the hands of increasingly unimportant people, until I hit someone I had never seen before and awkwardly thanked for no reason. We were ushered off the stage.

Receiving my diploma in the hallway, I gazed longingly at the doors to the outside, then returned for another hour of people standing on black dots and shaking the hands of the person in front of them. I tried a variety of leg positions, crossed, folded, with and without shoes. Seated in the front row, I developed a system for not making eye contact with people I knew until they were directly in front of me. I daydreamed about the cafeteria workers protesting outside—it was good that the school was not renewing their contract with Aramark to encourage the use of local food, but the protesters were also right to insist on their job security and the sanctity of their union. An impasse.

Treated to various pieces of unsolicited, out-of-touch advice, we were free to go. The people on stage only just escaped before the hordes of graduates and parents surged towards the doors. I somehow found my parents and partner, and forced them to take photos of me in my gown, out of it, and with various combinations of friends and lighting. We’d only just finished the mandatory photoshoot when my parents and partner abruptly left, giving me no time to be reassured that I was worth something and wasn’t an utter disappointment.

I wandered the field, trying to stave off existential dread. I saw people, said goodbye to some friends and acquaintances I would never see again, and posed for some photos. I was approached by some Toronto-themed website, who took a photo of me and asked what I was doing post-graduation. I gave them some soundbite and they thanked me. I will spend my year off working at Tim Hortons and playing League of Legends, but they didn’t need to know that.

We returned to Old Vic to drop off our gowns. This most iconic building of our campus had scaffolding on it—the administration had taken it down for a film festival, and put it up so it could grace the photos of their new graduates with its industrial aesthetic. Hearts black with cynicism and social media savvy, we posed with the pylons in a photo that represented how our college valued us. We posted the photos and watched the number of likes climb. Then we left.

Goodbye Poop Emoji

Imagine me aghast when, chancing upon a Facebook message sent by one of my closest friends, I discovered the poop emoji had been redesigned. Could it be? A visit to another thread, where it was again my emoji of choice, confirmed the horror.

Gone the void-like, powerfully evocative staring eyes which could somehow signify in any situation. Gone, too, its more recent iteration immortalized in recent hollywood blockbusters desperate to seem current (like Deadpool or Popstar), that poop with the cheeky grin. The conspiratorial poop that somehow always made you feel in on the joke. And yesterday this was replaced by a totally different, nearly-identical deranged-looking poop.

I immediately set out to discover the reason behind this madness, and to demand answers. Could Facebook somehow not have realized what an important cultural touchstone the poop emoji was to their users? The poop emoji has become a weird, fascinating piece of our digital cultural heritage. It’s semiotic magic: used to convey agreement, excitement, bafflement, tender appreciation and affection to our nearest and dearest, its connotations are diverse and hard to pin down. 

By sending images devoid of textual explanation, emoji culture engages in a kind of nonverbal communication that allows meanings to proliferate. You know how actions speak louder than words? emojis have come to contain more signification than any one sentence can. It’s one of my favourite things about digital culture now; it allows for increased creativity and playfulness when communicating.

While some emojis still signify only exactly what they directly resemble, others have accumulated more diverse associations (eggplant, anyone? I for one believe the connotations of that large, bulbous vegetable will never be supplanted by another vegmoji).

It’s largely convention; a friend and I have developed a code around the watermelon emoji. It’s alternately celebratory, festive, comforting, friendly, or just plain food, whenever we want it to be one of those things. Similarly, the sender of a poop emoji has to want to convey that emoji’s enigmatic constellation of associations, and the recipient has to infer from context and the effect of that cheeky fecal face. 

Does altering its aesthetic hurt the semiotic magic of the poop emoji? A change to the flat, non-textured colours of mainstream digital convention was long overdue, on that we can agree. But the change to the Facebook emojis serves another function—cross-platform compatibility. Users who feared the blank box when messaging between Android and Apple devices can rest easier knowing the changes include Facebook’s implementation of “a universal standard to ensure that the emojis you send is the emoji that the receiving party sees, even if they’re on another platform or their version of the app is not updated.” 

Though this is good news for digital communication, we can all take a moment of silence for the bemused poop emoji of bygone days, whose specific associations will be relegated to the realm of 4chan nostalgia and Buzzfeed articles about “20 things 20-somethings remember.”

But the fun of these ambiguous emoji has less to do with their literal look and more to do with the way habit evolves around these nonverbal signs. Ultimately, the change will have little effect on the popularity of the poop emoji and the way its meanings proliferate. Though it hurts now, this pain will fade as we become habituated to a poop emoji that’s actually quite similar to its mobile predecessor, in both shape and expression.  

And it turns out the poop emoji as we knew it isn’t entirely gone. You can turn off the new emojis in messenger, though not on your desktop yet. If you’re still in denial.

Origin Stories Suck

I just saw Ant-man, so naturally I’m livid. There are so many ways in which Ant-man is a disaster of film (though it seems lots of people disagree with me) that I can only focus on a big cause of that stupidness: hollywood (and the comics’ industry)’s addiction to the origin story narrative.

Some of Ant-man was quite good. The individual gags were pretty funny—which presents, of course, a whole other ethical dilemma, since these rare moments of innovation are almost certainly the remnants of Edgar Wright’s brief stint as director. On the whole, Ant-man was the most predictable film I have ever seen for one primary reason: it refused to veer from what has become a deeply clichéd origin story narrative.

The origin story is a superhero staple, and does important work for the genre. It emphasizes transformative character change in a way few other tropes do; it’s about advocating for clean slates, for new chances, in a way that reinforces the transparent metaphor of most comic franchises—which is that you can change too. This campy naiveté is, for better or worse, an integral part of western superhero comics. But there’s a growing frustration with the way origin stories are employed in contemporary films, partly because of what they represent.

The medium is the message; publishing an origin story—unless it’s a subversion of the typical script—serves as a universal symbol for the emotional high you’re supposed to get. Origin stories have become an empty symbol; when they’re present, they signify only that “this guy had a rough start but he’s going to struggle to become morally good and strong and that will give you a fun and exciting experience.” And an origin story inevitably signifies in this exact way every time. Except in something like Kick-Ass, which explodes some of the common features of the trope.

Comic book films are addicted to the origin story because It provides an emotional high. And as my mother always warned me, when you smoke drugs it requires more and more each time to continue getting that feeling. Later films in the franchise suffer when they don’t have the transformation story high to bum off of, and have trouble introducing emotional depth into their story or coming up with actual ideas. Marvel studios/Disney is hands-down the worst offender; later installations of their franchise (see Iron Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Thor: The Dark World) are blandly dark and trapped by their “in-between” status. Since the characters have already become superheroes, they don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Iron man has marital problems and gets drunk, Cap acts jaded about stuff, and Thor frowns solemnly about his mother’s death. These films come across as in-betweeny and boring.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Thor and Captain America (and Iron Man for that matter), two characters with sets of pretty distinct traits in their respective origin stories, were flattened in their followup films. Where has Thor’s adorable ignorance of modern cookware gone? Did his famous arrogance dissipate overnight? Perhaps most tellingly, to where did Captain America’s boundless faith in human goodness fly? (These changes are partly due to something unfortunate that happened in comics during the 90s “dark ages”, a period that brought us every superhero better than ever AKA darkly brooding and… well, that’s about it.) You could also answer “becuz character development”, but only to a point.

The fact remains that the only thing we feel comfortable doing after an origin story is turning every hero super jaded and grumpy—and this really demonstrates the flawed way we conceptualize character development. Growing up doesn’t just mean becoming suitable to bear awesome responsibility and becoming jaded by the knowledge that the world contains evil. It also means liking new and stranger things and becoming weirdly shitty in new and fascinating ways in addition to becoming jaded. People pick up bad habits and good ones along the way. The real problem arises when every character changes in the same exact way.

So you want to keep your superhero franchise alive, but you’ve already done an origin story… what’s next? One option is to make everyone really grumpy and angry and growl at each other as they scowl into the distance. But if you don’t find that keeps the momentum going in your franchise, there’s good news: you can always produce origin stories over and over to keep the hype train rolling!

Fox has managed to resist the origin story temptation with their X-men franchise—for the most part—but had less luck with Spider-man; coming up on their third reboot, most fans seem weakly resigned to seeing one origin story after another.

Just to provide some contrast to these superhero films, let’s look at John Wick, Keanu Reeves’ recent(ish) return to action films. Now, there are obvious differences between John Wick and superhero films that account for some major narrative differences between the two. Most notably, it has no interest in presenting the transformation from impotence/evil/moral ambiguity to strength and goodness so integral to superhero films. Rather, John Wick tells a story about the character’s present through the lens of his past. The narrative is juxtaposed with what the character was in order to tell a story about the person that is, and vice-versa; the layered nature of these stories, of past and present, is what makes the best films tick.

Increasingly, superhero movies flatten that psychological chronology in order to place emphasis on the narrative of transformation. Presenting the past and present simultaneously says something about both times and the person that connects them; it discusses difference and change, but by definition also confronts the idea that some things have not changed, that people are connected to who they are by what they were.

So while the origin story is not inherently terrible from a story craft perspective, it does deliberately take characters’ layers (think: onion) and lay them out in chronological order—meaning that its message is always coloured by the origin story form which presents an emotional high, the promise of transformative change, and serves to signal the beginning of a franchise. And, as it turns out, these things rarely guarantee the health of the franchise. Just ask the Fantastic Four.