I’m putting these two together because I wasn’t paying terribly close attention to either, but I’m nevertheless going to try and make myself write up some thoughts. Spoilers ahoy for both.
I really, really, really don’t care about zombies. Luckily, neither does this film; background and explanation are rushed through (a plague, probably the French? Ho ho ho), the mythology is never investigated in any detail, and I wasn’t required to contemplate whether zombies might actually be a stand-in for our fear of death, or the fear of mass migration, or whatever. (Actually, if a film seriously did the latter I might be interested. Might.) It’s a pity in some ways I suppose; how would a Mansfield Park and Zombies work if it had to tie the wealth of the Bertrams, gained from the repulsive slave trade, to the fact that the word zombie entered the English language through West Africans who had been forcibly taken to colonies in the Caribbean? Could a story be told of zombies as the righteous justice returning to Imperial heartlands, seeking anything from revenge to the means to reclaim their independence? And then, when you have a character who champions their cause, keeping them fed with pig brains and keeping them social by maintaining their forms of worship, that character wouldn’t need to be the villain of the piece… hum. Well, now I’ve described the Austen/zombie cross-over I’d rather have, back to the one I actually watched.
I don’t have much to say about it, really. I was underwhelmed by the whole cast, barring Matt Smith as a gloriously goofy Parson Collins. Even Lena Headey was disappointingly staid: as soon as I saw the portraits Lady Catherine had of herself vanquishing all kinds of beasts on the battlefield I was hoping for some real scenery-chewing and scene-stealing, but the character was sadly muted and underused. And whilst my first instinct was to be glad I didn’t have to put up with much world-building, it was a pity that the idea of everyone going for martial training in Asia wasn’t better integrated into the story. Imperial Britain, admitting that the Chinese have something to teach them? And why not bring some of your mentors back with you; I very much like the idea of the moneyed young things getting competitive about their standard of spoken Mandarin or Japanese, but I’d rather it wasn’t completely divorced from the places and the people who taught them. Still, the story is ostensibly trying to stick as closely as it can to the original, just with a zombie apocalypse going on, so it doesn’t leave much time for exploring the nuances of throwing zombies and closer contacts with Asia into the setting.
To be honest, I took a sort of glee in London falling to zombies. And there is a shallow pleasure in the sight of primly Empire-waisted sisters kicking ass with barely a ringlet out of place. But I was actually on Wickham’s side when it comes to containing the problem by trying to integrate the zombies back into society (of a sort); why not try the humane fix? Oh, because Wickham’s still a nasty piece of work when it comes to everyone’s younger sisters… that detail had to be retained because otherwise he’d look too reasonable I suppose, and then gravel-voiced Darcy wouldn’t be able to save the day by stealing dead soldiers’ brains to feed to those placid, church-going zombies. Grim.
Yes, Jane and Elizabeth save their men. Yes, the women all rule at fighting. But it’s all about as deep as a puddle, a vapid take on ‘you know what would be really cool???’ And I didn’t really expect any more from the movie, so it’s all well and good I suppose.
Why yes, I watched these two movies during a girly afternoon with a friend and lots of Baileys in coffee, how did you guess? As everyone knows, Magic Mike isn’t the story of gratuitous sexy dancing and lots of abs, it’s really about a man who just wants to be able to sell his fugly homemade furniture to gullible saps in the area of Tampa. It also features far more of Matthew McConaughey than any person should be made to see. I’m going to be having nightmares about that sparkly butt-crack tassel for the rest of my life.
So, ignoring the dancing for the moment, this movie is a neat little character piece. Mike is 30, he’s the biggest draw at the strip club, and he’s also really good at his other part-time jobs. He’s got $15,000 of cash stashed away to get his own business going, it’s just that the pesky bank won’t give him a good rate on a loan because of his credit issues. Seems pretty unfair, but the movie never tells us how he ended up with credit problems, nor do we get to see what measures the bank want him to take to improve his rating. Instead we get Mike apparently hoping to charm the clerk (who’s flustered because she’s seen him on stage), whilst lying about what the manager has said to him previously. He’s also shagging sociology master’s student Joanna, and what’s clearly just a bit of fun for her is rapidly becoming something like much-needed emotional crutch for Mike. Oh dear. Then Mike meets Adam, gets him a job at the club, promises to take care of him for his big sister Brooke…this is standard Western cinema, so Conflict Must Ensue, have no fear!
Mike starts off seeming very much like a guy who’s got it all together: he’s like a big brother figure at the club, diligent and organised behind the scenes, surely the perfect person to take young, aimless Adam under his wing? But of course no: Mike wants a different life, but he’s got too much inertia to change his way of getting there. He seems to think if he just earns enough cash the problems at the bank will disappear; if he just keeps saying he wants to go to Miami, he’ll want to go; if he just keeps on meeting up with Joanna it might become something more. It’s not until grindingly late in the movie that Brooke tells him in no uncertain terms that he can’t expect to stay on that track forever and Mike develops a flutter of self-awareness.
Meanwhile, Adam takes to his new job with the predictable enthusiasm of a nineteen-year-old, ends up involved in drugs, is a smug little prick about everything, blah blah, Brooke finds him in a pile of his own vomit, the mob want their money back, oops, there goes $10,000 of Mike’s savings. When all this predictably unfurled, I found myself continually thinking of Les Intouchables. There’s that whole sub-plot about the Fabergé egg, and I remember worrying when it would come back to ruin Phillippe and Driss’ relationship, if Driss would have to try and track it down, all that stuff. But it doesn’t. It goes, and that’s it. That is a movie where people drift apart, not a movie about conflict with the standard arc of narrative. It was so refreshing in that respect (I mean, yes it is a blatant example of the Magical Negro trope still), and I just wonder whether Magic Mike really needed Adam’s predictably berkish behaviour in order to tell its story. Arguably, that’s just Adam’s character, but the narrative decision to have him leave $10,000 worth of ecstasy behind wasn’t really anything rooted in character. I suppose this seems like a really weird, specific gripe, but having found a few films that I adore that just quietly do character studies, without the usual crescendo of tension found in so many narratives based in conflict, I’ve been kind of spoiled. If Magic Mike really wanted to do something different it could have done. But it doesn’t.
So having found the character arcs somewhat predictable, and finding that I didn’t much like Adam or even Mike all that much, I’m left with the dancing. Everyone’s got their own thing, desire is individual, and I’m not here to kink-shame anyone. But personally, the idea of lying on a gurney on a stage whilst someone thrusts their crotch in my face is really, really not my idea of a turn-on. The dancing is super impressive, the muscles the guys have to be able to dance like that are also impressive, but none of them do it for me. So basically, this whole movie was an exercise in ‘well I guess other people like this because…’ Unsurprisingly, I did quite enjoy Brooke. If the whole thing had been centred on her rather than Mike I might have had more fun. Still, it was a light, generally sweet movie, even if it was predictable and rather unsatisfying at the end.