Matt Smith

Lake of Fire (2016)

Lake of FireLake of Fire is thoughtful high concept genre material. It dabbles in genre. It never really engages it. Writer (and colorist and letterer) Nathan Fairbairn does a lot more with the history aspect of Lake of Fire than anything else.

So, real quick. Lake of Fire is a story about some knights of the real history Albigensian Crusade (1209–29) who fight aliens. These aliens are bugs, which is gross, but gives Fairbairn and artist Matt Smith to do a queen. I mean, it’s not really an Aliens reference, but Lake of Fire is very much a product of pop culture. It’s just a really good way of being a pop culturally accessible product. Fairbairn leverages the history–which is kind of pitch perfect for being culturally relevant today, at least teasingly, because Fairbairn gets to have a female action hero. A historically accurate one.

Goodwoman Bernadette is far cooler name–and characterization–than “Little Ripley.”
But Fairbairn does still make a religious judgment. It’s very strange, because there’s a lot of obviously bad religious stuff. There’s an obnoxious, evil friar out to burn the female action hero–who’s even got a cool sounding name, Goodwoman Bernadette, and then a cool sounding title, prefect–and Lake of Fire sort of comes down in the middle between the theologies. And it never questions that center space. It’s just a comic about knights versus aliens; that absence is a simultaneously a subtle weakness for Fairbairn and a strength. His characterizations of his extremes are fantastic.

It’s just his “leads” who have problems. Maybe because no one is going to find them interesting. There’s either a slight hint of romantic interest or young French knights in the thirteenth century kissed each other’s cheeks. I don’t know. It’s actually kind of frustrating, because it’d change the story a little if there were some kind of romantic interest between the leads. Anyway, those leads are teenagers Theo and Hugh. Theo is a bland, blond rich hipster bro. And probably historically accurate (enough). He’s going to be a lord someday but he wants to be a knight before then so he runs off to join the Crusade. Hugh’s his sidekick. He’s the smart one, who sees the good in Theo where everyone else sees a callow fool.

The heroes.

Except they’re only the leads for the first half of the first issue of Lake of Fire. Once Goodwoman Bernadette and Baron Raymond Mondragon arrive, it’s basically over for Theo and Hugh. They’re still around, but they’ve lost all agency.

Baron Raymond Mondragon, besides sounding like a Bond villain when you type out the full name, is the jaded, drunken old Crusader who gets stuck babysitting Theo, Hugh, and the aforementioned friar. There are some more people on their field trip, but they’re inconsequential. Fairbairn uses the supporting cast mostly for texture. Texture and exposition. Textured exposition.

The Weariest Knight.
Mondragon’s an okay de facto protagonist. He starts out as a deglamorization of knighthood, then ends up being a relic–regardless of the theological dismissal, Fairbairn loves writing Goodwoman Bernadette, so there’s a lot of hard banter between the two characters. Baron Raymond Mondragon’s gritty, Goodwoman Bernadette’s pure, but they both know the aliens are the real enemy.

But, even with that double-sized, almost entirely expository first issue, Lake of Fire ends up being an action comic. It’s a knights versus alien bugs action comic. Smith does a great all action issue, he does all the talking heads with the same frantic energy though. The comic opens with spaceship meets medieval farmer and the first issue and a half have a very jaunty pacing. Fairbairn’s doing big repetition beats and it’s like Smith is just trying to keep things going smooth. It works out, it’s just a surprise when Smith finally gets to that smoother pace in the script and lets loose on his layouts. Smith loves expression and relies heavy on it to move between panels. It’s great; cinematic and detailed but still nimble thanks to cartoon influences. And those influences aren’t just in a lack of realism, it’s in how Smith composes those panels too. It’s awesome art.

The aliens are a red herring. Them being bugs is a bit of a red herring too. It could be considered a narrative shortcut, but Fairbairn really wants to keep things mysterious. The opening spaceship could’ve been cut and they easily would’ve gotten away with the “demons are actually aliens but the knights don’t know about spaceships” moment. Fairbairn’s got a good distance with the characters, but not as much with the reader. You lose the coy privilege when you do knights versus aliens, which Smith seems to get. Hence the inherently humorous, thoughtful, deliberate facial expressions.

Expression and action.

And, to be fair–maybe Lake of Fire is meant more as a showcase for Matt Smith’s art. He gets top billing on the credits page (not the cover, but the credits page, which is more imposing).

Anyway, Smith makes Lake of Fire, but Fairbairn’s attention to historical detail and thoughtful application of it–along with the somewhat topical setting–makes it a lot more. Comics do these genre Blizzards better than any other medium, especially the historical ones.

CREDITS

Writers, Jason Kapalka and Nathan Fairbairn; artist, Matt Smith; colorist and letterer, Fairbairn; publisher, Image Comics.

Terminator Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

Terminator Genisys is an inept attempt at turning the Terminator franchise into a young adult series à la The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight or Harry Potter. Only there’s no “literary” source material for Genisys, not even the original Terminator films. Because screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier absolutely refuse to give Emilia Clarke a character. More than anyone else in the film, including Jai Courtney–who’s terrible, but is also ludicrously miscast–or old man Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke doesn’t get a character. Maybe because if the film does acknowledge the importance of Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor, all the other malarky would become even more obvious. It still tries to get away with being a spectacle action movie occasionally.

The first forty or so minutes of the film, which still manages to feel longer at two hours, are a witless reimagining of the first Terminator movie with Terminator 2 technology thrown in. If it weren’t for the terrible acting (Emilia Clarke’s only more likable than Courtney because she gets fewer lines and the script mistreats her something awful), and if director Taylor actually had any regard for the James Cameron’s Terminator films for their filmmaking and not just iconography, this first forty minutes should have been awesome. It wouldn’t have been any good in the long run, since it’s just a preamble to the rest of the film, but it would have been awesome to see.

Well, not with Kramer Morgenthau’s photography or Lorne Balfe’s music. Some of the technical decisions on Genisys suggest a deep hatred for the Terminator franchise, which seems strange because the film has almost no personality otherwise. The entire plot hinges on a failure to understand the importance of not recasting and trying to jump on the cloud computing zeitgeist.

Skynet. There’s an app for that.

I do want to talk about the acting, since almost everyone is aping someone else’s performance. Even J.K. Simmons is sort of aping Earl Boen, just as a different character.

Schwarzenegger’s lousy, but you feel sorry enough for him you almost want to see what he’s going to do. Taylor doesn’t understand what he’s doing, so he doesn’t play up that aspect of it. Schwarzenegger’s the loose third wheel who should be the strongest. But Taylor is terrible at directing fight scenes too.

Jason Clarke is really bad doing an impression of Christian Bale. None of the other characters, not even Schwarzenegger, are written like their previous film versions. Except Jason Clarke’s character, who Bale played in Salvation.

(It’s hilarious how many hands have fumbled the franchise since Cameron stopped doing it).

But Emilia Clarke and Courtney aren’t doing Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn impersonations, which they really should, because neither has anything going for them. Courtney’s always getting these soulful moments and his blank expression–combined with Balfe’s lame score–just drags Genisys down further.

In the end, Terminator Genisys is a movie made by people who don’t care about the Terminator franchise. They aren’t fans. They don’t even pretend to be fans. And, you know what, it would have been fine if they at least cared enough about Genisys to try. It doesn’t even try.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Taylor; screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Kramer Morgenthau; edited by Roger Barton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jason Clarke (John Connor), J.K. Simmons (O’Brien), Dayo Okeniyi (Danny Dyson), Courtney B. Vance (Miles Dyson), Matt Smith (Alex), Michael Gladis (Lt. Matias), Sandrine Holt (Detective Cheung) and Byung-hun Lee (T-1000).


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