Theatre review: Hart House’s The Rocky Horror Show

A timeless classic hits one of Toronto's favourite stages

Theatre review: Hart House’s <em>The Rocky Horror Show</em>

She brushed past me, wearing half a black sparkly bra and half a gold glitter dress. She was clearly wearing a wig — impossibly thick, black, and curly — and when I looked at her heels, my feet ached for her. She would be going on stage any minute, but right now, she was walking down the aisles, laughing with the crowd before the sold-out performance.

Welcome to The Rocky Horror Show.

Nowadays, in a world of RuPauls, the idea of men in drag seems like just another Friday night binge. But when The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a cult-classic musical by Richard O’Brien, was released in 1973, the sight of Dr. Frank-N-Furter declaring himself to be a “sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania” would have been enough to make more than a few jaws drop in theatres.

The story follows the chaste and clean-cut couple of Brad and Janet as they get engaged, then stranded when their car breaks down in a storm. They go to Frank-N-Furter’s castle, where they’re greeted by other Transylvanians who pull the couple into their web of sexuality and debauchery.

There’s a lot of lingerie. And fishnets. And platform heels. And in Jennifer Walls’ Hart House production — just in case the original costumes weren’t camp enough for you — the lingerie glows in the dark too.

Minutes before the show began, I became acutely aware of how out-of-place I was and how much I wished I had a feather boa. Though most of the audience dressed normally, I paid most attention to those who followed the show’s website’s suggestion to “dress to impress” and partake in the spectacle.

The woman to my left wore black Mary Jane high heels with rainbow-striped knee-high socks. The girl two seats to the right of me had on fingerless leather gloves. I was wearing a black cardigan and jeans.

I felt like such a Janet.

From the first number “Science Fiction/Double Feature” alone, it was clear that Walls didn’t limit her actors’ space. Rather, she told them to use the whole auditorium as their stage. She made clever use of the background actors called the “phantoms,” who filled the aisles and cheered to the song, riling up the crowd. They were one of my favourite parts of the show. I could call them transformative, but that would be an understatement.

As the subtly manic Brad, played by Will Mackenzie, proposed to a frustratingly clueless Janet, played by Katie Miller, the phantoms hovered behind the cutout church prop, jumping out with jazz hands.

In a sense, they were the set itself. Arms became windshield wipers. Bodies became doors. Thighs became the holster for a particularly bold penis-shaped water gun — don’t ask, you have to see it for yourself.

The Rocky Horror Show is acclaimed for its blatant disregard for anything within the sphere of ‘normal.’ Normal is drab. Normal is a word that deserves a sparkly silver stiletto to the head. But Walls didn’t just lean into the insanity of the storyline; she threw herself in, full-force.

Strobe lights showed off the glow-in-the-dark lingerie. When Frank-N-Furter, played by Chris Tsujiuchi, spoke, phantoms collapsed to the ground and shook in ecstasy. We found out that Brad wore strawberry boxers.

However, my biggest dissatisfaction is that, greedily, I wanted more.

Tsujiuchi embodied the nonchalant confidence of Frank-N-Furter exceptionally well, but there were moments where I wish he drew out the audacious snap of his character more. He tended to stay in the realm of dry humour, but that left an unsatisfied craving for the uninhibited sexuality and boldness of Frank-N-Furter. I wanted more self-indulgent vivacity, more of a saunter in his performance.

The show was strongest when it did what it does best: shatter the fourth wall in a self-aware fashion. And it did so glamorously.

As Columbia, played brilliantly by Becka Jay, went manic in a tap-dance frenzy during “Time Warp,” she screamed, “Look at me! Are you not entertained?”

Some questions you don’t need answered.

In true Rocky fashion, audience members were also encouraged to yell at the stage. I had never seen anything like it. During the storm, Janet yelled to Brad, “I’m coming with you!”

Somebody from the audience yelled back, “For the first time in your life!”

Sure, I could also dive into some of the deeper themes of the show here. The oppression and reclamation of sexuality, like when Brad and Janet took off more clothing as the show went on, until Janet ended in a bra and underwear and Brad stunned us in a sheer pink robe.

Or maybe I could talk about the celebration of being the other, of being unique, irreverent, and from Transylvania. But out of all the running gags, the one that’s the hardest to forget, the one that had the most spunk, was all the penises.

Props, of course. But nonetheless, it was like The Stag Shop was a silent partner. Dildos encircled the top of the control panel that built Rocky. Laser guns had mushroom tips. Because at the end of the day, yes, this was a ‘very professional production.’ The actors were all exceptionally trained, nobody missed a beat in comedic timing, and the dances were all snappily choreographed. But behind all of that, this was sheer, unadulterated entertainment at its core. And everybody on stage made sure you knew it.

Out of everything though, my favourite memory remains when the show ended and the cast all took their bows to a standing ovation. But as if our absurd campy experience wasn’t enough, the next thing we knew Tsujiuchi was asking us if we wanted to do the Time Warp again, and who were we to say no?

So the music queued up and we danced, albeit awkwardly with a limited range of movement, but together. I laughed with every pelvic thrust, every jump to the left, every step to the right. And even when we stepped out of the theatre into the cool, quiet night, I was still grinning like an idiot.

Because at the end of the day, you can say whatever you want about The Rocky Horror Show. But you can’t say that it wasn’t pure fucking fun.

TIFF 2019: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Two Varsity writers are mesmerized by Céline Sciamma’s stunning feature film

TIFF 2019: <em>Portrait of a Lady on Fire</em>

Right before the screening of Portrait of a Lady on Fire began, director Céline Sciamma did two things. First, she commended the décor of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre, which has vines and bushels of fake shrubbery completely covering its ceiling, and second, she expressed her nerves at the buzz her movie had been generating. Leaning casually against the podium, she emphasized the relationship between such a grand, ornate theatre and her movie — a movie which was relatively small and didn’t have any big actors, though it may very well produce them  — and commented on the fact that though this discrepancy was incredibly humbling, it was also very stressful.

Her stress, however, proved to be unfounded, as once the screen faded to black and the final credits rolled, everyone in the multi-tiered balconies shot up to give Sciamma and her cast a roaring ovation. Two hours of movie played in between her first appearance on stage and her second. Two hours of a movie where the delicate strings that connect lovers and friends are frayed and pulled at, though never completely severed.

The film begins with a brush stroke: a thick brush swipes dark paint on a canvas and we find ourselves observing a group of young girls being instructed in portraiture by a dark-haired woman, posed rigidly but confidently, in the middle of their circle. While she poses, she calls out orders, and we find out that she is not a mere model with timely anatomical advice, she is a painter herself. As for the painting that is cast aside behind her, well, that one is called “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.” And so our journey begins, jumping back a couple of years in time to the murky waters between France and Italy, to the end of the eighteenth century.

For Héloise, Marianne is an opportunity for freedom: a companion with whom her mother would finally allow her to leave the house. It takes Marianne a little bit longer to see Héloise in the same light, but before long, Marianne notes freedom in her nature: someone who doesn’t hold her tongue and who doesn’t embellish the truth. Both women have imprisonment and freedom that the other doesn’t, and so they fit together like puzzle pieces, making up for what the other lacks.

Sciamma’s film is a dissertation on what binds us to societal roles and what binds us to ourselves, questioning whether we can ever find a happy grey area between the two — if we can join the two otherwise separate circles into a Venn diagram. Imprisoned people believe they are free until they get a taste of what freedom actually feels like, and this is the case for Marianna and Héloise.

As they begin to discover and explore their newfound freedoms, they begin a romantic relationship, one that has a looming expiration date which promises a startlingly short lifespan. But the two women don’t try to evade their ending; they instead feel confident that they’ve established a bond strong enough for memory alone to sustain it once they’ve separated.

From the very beginning, Sciamma subverts expectations. Where there should be melodrama there is humour; where there should be pain there is laughter. But as such, where there should be love there is disappointment. These subversions begin as fun moments — instead of being upset at a big reveal, the characters begin to banter about the nature of art and art criticism — but eventually descend into moments of pain born out of helplessness.

However, this was the case for women in this time period. After all, Sciamma’s film is as much about women as it is about art or romance or memory. There are only five characters with substantial speaking roles, and all of them are women. Women of different social statuses and ones navigating different stages of life. These experiences — grief, motherhood, business, homosexual love — are written and filmed in a lens unique to women. Portrait of a Lady on Fire focuses on all types of relationships between women: platonic, romantic, and subservient.

There is a new canon of contemporary gay movies shaping up out of the past decade and a half, movies focusing on a uniquely individual facet of gay love, through race, gender, religion, and period in time. Stylistically, Portrait of a Lady on Fire doesn’t do enough to separate itself from the likes of Brokeback Mountain, Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and God’s Own Country — not that being considered part of this group is a negative thing. Unlike last year’s The Favourite, it is gentle in its delivery, with thoughtful dialogue, gorgeous landscapes, and limited music.

You don’t come out this movie feeling that you’ve just witnessed one of the greatest cinematic love stories of this century. Instead you come out focused on the women and their individual journeys. The audience focuses on how they interact with one another when not pressured by the judgemental gaze of others, and how they behave when they have moments of absolute freedom, though few and sparse.

Céline Sciamma makes a movie where she coils women’s freedoms and imprisonments so that, if you are not paying enough attention, it seems like both are parts of the same vine. She doesn’t explicitly outline what freedom and imprisonment are for her characters, and as such we leave the theatre feeling that not only that we must ponder the partition ourselves, but that the characters are continuing on with their lives, mulling over the same dilemma that we are.

That is to say, Sciamma welcomes the audience as she does her characters. She unites everyone no matter their point in life, or what they had to do to get there, so that we all meet at the same point in the end. It isn’t a moment of clarity, but rather, one of unity.

Theatre Review: A Perfect Bowl of Phở

From U of T’s Drama Festival to Factory Theatre, Nguyen’s play doesn’t miss a beat

Theatre Review: <i>A Perfect Bowl of Phở</i>

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Halfway through fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company’s production of A Perfect Bowl of Ph, actress Kenley Ferris-Ku appears onstage as a waitress in war-era Vietnam. She delivers a monologue that is informative and sincere, telling of how she served ph to American soldiers by day and hid Vit Cng soldiers in the attic by night. It is a monologue about the Tet offensive and the legacy of the restaurant that hid those soldiers. It is also a monologue about ph itself. For this reason, it serves as a good entry point to the show, and it is as near to perfect as this ‘ph show’ gets. Ferris-Ku’s performance is confident and firm, and playwright Nam Nguyen’s dialogue is no less powerful.

The scene is also unlike anything else you’ll see in a show filled with meta-theatrical gags, lightning-fast rap numbers, and dialogue that jackhammers at the fourth wall.

Ph is not so much a distinct narrative as it is a variety show honouring the eponymous dish, with every cast member skillfully juggling several roles, occasionally even trading places with one another. Tying it all together is the arc of the playwright himself, played — mostly — by a wry and witty Kenzie Tsang, as he works out the show from its inception to the final product.

The audience is made to feel like what it is seeing is a work in progress, which isn’t entirely false. First showcased at U of T’s 2017 Drama Festival, fu-GEN’s production is the third iteration of the show — each one markedly different from the last. Questions of what the show is even about and whether it’s getting its message across are discussed openly onstage.

Yet, rather than bringing in new dimensions, these moments can read as overly didactic lessons on dramaturgy and do more to bar the audience from engaging fully and critically with the show. As someone who knows admittedly very little about Vietnam, I think the show would benefit from more scenes like Ferris-Ku’s, and fewer tangents into self-doubt.

In a show that does a brilliant job of being simultaneously entertaining and educational on the subjects of Vietnamese culture and history, Ph triumphs when it is sure of itself.

Watch as an extremely outgoing little girl (Meghan Aguirre) unleashes a lyrical torrent about bringing ph to school for World Cultures Day and you can’t help but be mesmerized. Watch as a white devil of a trendy ph chef (Brendan Rush) tears off his shirt to squeeze lime juice over the pentagram on his chest and you’ll be peeing yourself with laughter. Watch — or more accurately, read — an unflinching experiment in exposition as a gruesome story of Vietnamese refugees set adrift is projected onto an otherwise motionless stage and you will marvel at the risks that this show is willing to take with its material.

Despite its occasional missteps, there is no denying that A Perfect Bowl of Ph is a compelling piece of experimental theatre that you don’t want to miss. This latest iteration is the strongest yet — a good sign for the future if it’s as much of a work in progress as it claims to be. This show may indeed be well on its way to becoming a perfect bowl of phở.

A Perfect Bowl of Ph and Fine China are playing as a double-bill at the Factory Theatre until February 10.

The Bold Type is the best political show on television right now

The nuanced portrayal of female friendship, office dynamics, and complex political topics is commendable

<i>The Bold Type</i> is the best political show on television right now

It’s difficult to describe The Bold Type without inevitably describing the many tropes that have been prominent since the success of Sex and the City. Yes, a dramedy about best friends living in the city and navigating their personal and professional lives together is not an especially new or distinct concept, but there are ways in which The Bold Type makes it feel fresh and significant.

The Bold Type follows three women in their mid-20s, Jane, Kat, and Sutton, who work at Scarlet, a fictional women’s lifestyle magazine that is heavily based on Cosmopolitan. Jane is a staff writer who is especially interested in contributing to Scarlet’s political coverage, but is also assigned stories that incorporate the themes of the episode, including health, fashion, sexuality, morality, and personal growth. In other words, The Bold Type is interested in a comprehensive depiction of young personhood and the aspects of human life most pertinent to young people, with an emphasis on women.

The show also features Melora Hardin in a standout role as Jacqueline Carlyle, the editor-in-chief of Scarlet. At first, Jacqueline’s character seems like another version of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly: the cutthroat woman boss with unrealistically high expectations of her employees. But The Bold Type takes this trope and subverts it entirely. While Jacqueline is the editor-in-chief and maintains her seniority over the other characters, she also acts as a mentor to the protagonists. The series maintains that an effective editor supports their writers, an idea that is reinforced in the second season when Jacqueline is compared with the editor of a different publication.

If the friendship between Jane, Kat, and Sutton is the most important relationship explored in the series, the mentorship between Jacqueline and Jane is the second most important. Throughout the series, Jacqueline often encourages Jane to broaden her horizons or explore a specific issue through a different lens. I would argue that The Bold Type encourages this of its viewers as well.

It’s not that The Bold Type broadly addressing social issues is groundbreaking, it’s that the show does it so effectively. When it comes to political storylines, The Bold Type feels more grounded than Jane the Virgin, more universal than Dear White People, and more sincere than Riverdale. There are episodes that bring social issues and movements such as racism, gun control, affirmative action, sexual liberation, immigration, and, most notably, the #MeToo movement, into conversation. The show doesn’t attempt to drill a specific perspective into viewers’ minds; instead, it shows just how nuanced these issues are through characters who approach these complex topics from different perspectives.

While I’ve emphasized why The Bold Type is so admirably political, the main draw of the series is its characters. The friendship between Jane, Kat, and Sutton feels lived-in. There is a tangible history to their friendship and their intimate understanding of each other is clear in their interactions, and Jacqueline is that mentor we all wish we had someone who consistently encourages us to elevate our art. The show is character-driven, bringing real faces and voices to the political issues that it approaches. Lesser political shows focus on the politics themselves, often forgetting how those politics affect specific people.

The Bold Type is not an easy sell. In a television climate that values high-concept series with high production value on prestigious networks — think Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale it can be easy to overlook the importance of this series.

Personally, I’m a fan of the less-is-more concept. I enjoy series that tackle everyday issues and function as reflections of ourselves. These are characters who I feel I know personally, and who I can have casual conversations about writing, relationships, and politics with over a bottle of wine and an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. This is a show that I find myself thinking about when I consider my own life, my goals, and my personal growth. The Bold Type is not necessarily a show that everyone will enjoy, but it is one that should be on your radar.

Theatre review: A modern take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The retelling of this classic story captured humour, whimsicality, and dreamlike themes

Theatre review: A modern take on <i>A Midsummer Night’s Dream</i>

“Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer,” sang Nam Nguyen, a guitar-playing fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of William Shakespeare’s most well-known comedies.

The Victoria College Drama Society (VCDS) opened its 2018–2019 season on Thursday night with a dreamy performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Directed by Abby Palmer, the play was adapted to suit a contemporary audience and ran for 2.5 hours with a 10-minute intermission. Some of Shakespeare’s original text is still used, but much of the convoluted words and language have been edited and translated into modern English.

More interestingly though, is that Palmer’s adaptation is set in 1968 America. The new setting is brought to the forefront with the inclusion of swapped gender roles, LGBTQ+ people, and people of colour, as well as snazzy costumes, lively singing, and dancing. In multiple scenes, characters dressed in bold miniskirts, platform heels, and tie-dye break out into popular songs like the ‘60s hits “I’m a Believer” and “Stand by Me.” This specific directorial adaptation is more relevant than ever in today’s political climate of social movements and regressive leadership.

Midsummer focuses on four interconnected plots: the relationships between the characters of Hermia (Eiléanór O’Halloran), Lysander (Rachel Leggett), Helena (Mitchell Byrne), and Demetrius (River Oliveira). Against the law of Theseus (Devon Wilton), Hermia and Lysander intend to get married, while Demetrius attempts to win over Hermia, and Helena tries to win Demetrius.

In the forest and the realm of Fairyland, Oberon (Wilton), king of the fairies, and his assistant Puck (Nicole Eun-Ju Bell) concoct a special potion to set things right among the couples. Meanwhile, a group of hippie actors rehearse a play of their own that they hope to perform at Theseus’s wedding. Things go wrong and chaos ensues, but everything seems to have a funny way of working out in the end.

This hilarity balances the commotion of the many different and deep themes and scenes in the play. Characters in serious conversations in the foreground are met with amusing moments between characters in the background. In one instance, Hermia and her father argue over her arranged marriage to Demetrius while Lysander and Helena secretly fight behind them. The audience was constantly having a laugh at these actions and other witty one-liners.

Visual elements helped to bring the dream world even more to life, with a colourful set design, hilarious sound effects like the characters’ car driving behind the audience, and lighting effects that featured prominently throughout the show.

The play was performed at the Emmanuel College Quad, which added to the ambience and fit seamlessly with the forest scenes on stage. Most of the seating was on tarps on the grass, although some chairs were provided.

Audience interaction was a large part of the show. It was a bit startling when characters suddenly walked up and down the aisles, and even across the tarps of people on their way to the stage. Puck spoke directly to the audience several times throughout the show, as if talking to a friend. For a small outdoor theatre, this truly enhanced the intimacy and sense of community, especially in the chilly fall evening.

Overall, the musical performances of the cast and the modern dream world setting made for a magical night.

TIFF 2018: Wildlife

Overlooked – except this time a TIFF special

TIFF 2018: <i> Wildlife </i>

Unlike many of the other films that played at TIFF this year, Wildlife has been making the festival rounds since Sundance in January. Since then, it has received rapturous reviews, but nowhere near the level of praise that films like Roma and A Star Is Born are receiving. While I have not seen those films yet, Wildlife is certainly not to be underestimated. Though somewhat overlooked by the festival circuit, Wildlife is one of the best films of the year so far.

Based on Richard Ford’s novel of the same name, the film is the directorial debut of Paul Dano. Having worked under directors such as Paul Thomas Anderson on There Will Be Blood, Denis Villeneuve on Prisoners, and Steve McQueen on 12 Years a Slave, Dano has seen incredible formalist filmmaking firsthand, and it shows in his work. His debut is assured and consistent, taking up a sombre, almost dread-filled emotional tone from the beginning and never wavering.

The plot is astonishingly bare for a movie that’s an hour and 45 minutes long. In 1960, a family of three moves to Montana, seeking to improve their lives. As told through the eyes of 14-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould), his father (Jake Gyllenhaal) encounters complications with his job. Each member of the family, most notably Jeanette (Carey Mulligan), Joe’s mother, must do what they can to survive, physically and emotionally. That’s it.

While it has beats of both a coming-of-age drama and a deep tragedy, Wildlife is ultimately a very simple drama, recounted with heartbreaking detail and craft. Working in the rich tradition of quiet Midwestern American dramas and taking influence from movies like Ordinary People and A River Runs Through It, Dano tells this story with remarkable self-assurance. The camera moves only when it needs to; the tightly controlled colour palette is made up of wonderfully muted pastel greys, greens, and blues; and Dano picks up on every smile, glance, and sigh that his actors give out.

What may be most remarkable about Wildlife is its sense of empathy. This comes from the feminist lens through which Dano and Zoe Kazan, his partner and co-writer, view the film’s events. Jeanette, in addition to working and coping with the loss of her own dreams, must deal with both her husband moving away and her son growing older.

A lesser film would present the actions that Jeanette takes to cope, and live with some hope of happiness as morally reprehensible, but Dano and Kazan understand not just what it means to live as a woman in a world dominated by men, but also what it means to live as a woman in a world dominated by feminine performativity.

Wildlife is a sobering depiction of what it means to live under the American Dream, and what it takes away from you — it’s the empathy that Dano and Kazan lend the characters that makes this portrait so effective.

TIFF 2018: Vox Lux

Brady Corbet’s musical drama explores domestic acts of violence, terrorism, and privacy rights

TIFF 2018: <i> Vox Lux </i>

At its TIFF premiere on September 7, Vox Lux received a great deal of praise from critics and plenty of exposure to the public. It had also premiered at the 75th annual Venice Film Festival, receiving a similarly positive reception.

Directed by Brady Corbet and starring award-winning actors Natalie Portman and Jude Law, the films tells the story of a young girl, Celeste (Raffey Cassidy), who catapults to fame after surviving a mass shooting.

Vox Lux presents itself almost as a mockumentary-type film, with its use of ’90s style videography and voiceovers by Willem Dafoe. Divided into three parts, the film portrays the progression of Celeste’s budding career and her own personal development from a naïve teenager to a careless adult. The first part, set in 1999, depicts a young Celeste and her older sister, Eleanor (Stacy Martin), who survive a traumatic school shooting.

The girls decide to write a song about their feelings toward the event, which captures the attention of a manager (Jude Law). Young Celeste and Eleanor savour their first taste of fame, travelling around central Europe and embarking on a music career.

In the later parts of the film, which follow a 31-year-old Celeste (Natalie Portman), she is now a careless pop star dealing with a plethora of scandals in both her public and personal lives. Celeste faces yet another act of violence in her life, with an act of terrorism using her image.

The film successfully tackles this difficult subject matter by echoing real life events, such as the Columbine mass shooting in 1999, and provides a fresh, first-person perspective.

It is at this point in the film that the audience notices the change in Celeste’s music style and image. They drastically shift from simple, teenybopper lyrics and bubblegum pop to an eclectic, edgy, and autotuned style, reflecting her troubles and overall downward spiral.

It seems as if Celeste is meant to be a parallel to real-life teen pop stars — 2007 was not a good year for Britney Spears.

In the end, the big question that the audience is left to contemplate is, “How much exposure is too much?”

TIFF 2018: The Predator

While not unbearable, Shane Black’s latest is ultimately too confused

TIFF 2018: <i> The Predator </i>

The latest instalment in the Predator franchise, The Predator, is, above all, a film that made me feel tired.

It’s fitting, at least, that Shane Black is the one behind the camera this time, having had a supporting role in the Schwarzenegger-starring 1987 original, though part of the problem here is that Black and Fred Dekker, his co-writer, seem to have thrown everything on their minds onto the wall to see what will stick. The result is a movie that, while it has its strong points, ultimately feels rather uninteresting.

The Predator is fairly effective in its immediate goal of, well, thrilling. But the final product is a film that is at once both formulaic and unrelentingly cynical.

To Black’s credit, he gets the setup and initial story right, delving into the lore behind the Predators’ species, culture, and internal politics — a term that is applied very loosely here, but still sort of fits. He explores interesting character dynamics, settling into a groove of doing what he does best: writing characters who are most entertaining while having casual conversation. Unfortunately, it’s mostly downhill from there.

Black’s filmography is full of underrated films. The Nice Guys is wonderful, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in particular is incredibly charming. However, the key to his charm is his irreverence.

The flippant, even rude conversations between his characters, plot-related or not, are the real centrepieces of his movies. It’s hard to explain, but watching actors rattle off Shane Black dialogue is often just really fun. His dialogue is how you wish you talked to people.

The Predator, designed to be a franchise entry from the start, is anything but irreverent. The gonzo ridiculousness of the original Predator is slightly present, but the impact of the Marvel/DC comic book movie industry is here too.

Mixed with the earnestness of a franchise movie, one in which the focus is designed to be the plot and the fight scenes, Black’s irreverence just comes across as overbearing cynicism. The characters veer away from flippancy and more toward being genuinely unlikeable.

This points to a broader problem within male-driven action filmmaking: the increasing popularity of confusing ‘damaged’ characters with well-rounded ones. Nobody is saying you can’t have both. But rather than rely on Black’s trademark dialogue to carry them through the movie, the characters of The Predator, alarmingly, use post-traumatic stress disorder as a crutch to explain both character motivations and personality traits.

PHOTO COURTESY of TIFF

Sometimes this is played for laughs — which might be even worse — but this confusion of motivations is what makes The Predator seem cynical. Of course, not all characters have to be subversive, and sometimes it is nice to ‘turn one’s brain off’ and watch a movie like The Predator.

But being damaged is not a character trait, and characters who are defined by this trait — perhaps attempting to emulate the antihero-driven storytelling style of shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, seem empty.

The Predator was also notoriously marred by editing problems, and it certainly shows. At one point, several characters show up in an RV, but its procurement is never really explained. The same thing happens with a dog featured on screen, and certain characters change clothes a few times without explanation.

The third act bears a general sense of incoherence: the dialogue doesn’t fit and it all seems rushed. It is fairly clear that even brilliant editing couldn’t have saved this movie. Black’s cynicism simply doesn’t mix with how formulaic the movie actually is.

There are alluring moments in The Predator and it’s certainly not an unbearable movie. At some points, the action is genuinely fun, and the art direction and creature design often goes in fun and inventive directions: The Predator has hunting dogs now! But I found myself waiting through most of the fight scenes to get to the conversations or the next interesting tidbit of Predator backstory.

Among other issues, The Predator is just too confused by its identities as both a franchise film and a Shane Black movie. Even if it gets some things right, it’s ultimately a slog.