Friday, 13 May 2016

The Full Life Deception

Spend any time on social media and you will encounter a meme much like the one above. It encourages you to live a "full life" or something akin to that. It is designed to motivate you in finding what you love, embracing new experiences and being all that you can be. It is almost always married with a picture of natural beauty or awe inspiring environments. In the snappy quote and the powerful imagery, the deception that is taking place is brilliantly disguised. A lie that we have been sold so skilfully and we've bought at the cost of delusion and disappointment.

The lie is that life can be made full by a series of defined experiences, decreed by someone or something unidentified to this day. They tend to veer around locations to visit, passions to be pursued and vocations to be fulfilled. While all those things are worthwhile, it is an ugly and arrogant suggestion to say that anyone's life is not what it should be. Life should not be about bucket lists, ticking them off like they are achievements on a games console.

This is the deception we are being sold. It is the idea that what happens in someone's life somehow doesn't contribute to it, unless it is an Instagram friendly moment. Not everyone will travel to exotic locations. Being a glorified tourist does not mean you have a fuller life than the person who enjoys the close company of his family and friends. 

Not everyone will do an enviable job or even a profession that they enjoy. Being in a notable or noble vocation does not mean you have a fuller life than the person who knuckles down doing something crappy to pay the bills, putting a roof over their children's head, food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs.

Not everyone is naturally talented. Some have to rely on hard work to get to the point where they are able to survive comfortably. Their lives are not diminished by the lack of mental acuity they have. A full life is not the preserve of the bright, the brilliant, the rich, the risk takers and the reckless. It is had by all.

Life is a journey of experiences and every single one has value. Even the horrid ones. Because the full life idea is a lie; one I am completely sick of. It is not a full life that we should crave. It is a good life.

What defines a good life? It is not the miles we cover; it is not the certificates or accolades we collect. It is not the wealth we accumulate or the people we associate with. Ultimately, it will be the character we create in the cauldron of choices we call life that will determine whether our life was good. If it was good, our hearts will be full. Our lives will have felt rich. Vast monuments built by men and nature will pale in comparison to the joy felt in the warm glow of a friendly smile of a loved one.

Do not let the world tell you that you are not living a full life. You may suffer trials but the biggest shadows require the most wondrous mountains to cast them. They are not demons. They are not torture. They are your experiences. Own them. They will make you who you are and there is nothing in this world more special than that. You are the author of your life, the storyteller completing their first draft. Discover it. Embrace it. Live it.

And don't let anyone tell you that what you live is anything less than a full life. Just make it a good one.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Captain America : Civil War - a review

Let's cut to the chase. Is this the best Marvel movie ever? No. For me, Winter Soldier sits proudly atop of that pile, with Guardians in a very close second. It is, however, an excellent film and is Marvel's most mature entry to date. It is unafraid to tackle heavy duty issues, such as the consequences of the character's actions and the journeys they have taken.

In saying that, Tony Stark's story arc, through this film and the franchise as a whole, is proving to be the most interesting. We started out with a cocksure weapons maker who saw the light. Now we have a world weary Tony who is burdened with the bloodshed caused by him, directly or indirectly. It's not often we see a hero have to deal with the aftermath of his heroics but Robert Downey Jr does it with real depth. He's not a man getting stronger from his trials. He's getting more fractured by it, which makes him all the more fascinating. If talk of him being willing to do more Iron Man films is true, Feige should be tying him down to that contract ASAP.

Steve Rogers falls into the more predictable storyline. After tearing SHIELD apart in The Winter Soldier, structure instituted by politicians makes him suspicious and causes him to rely on the only thing he trusts, the friends he fought with, namely Bucky. For a man who is trying to do the right thing, he is willing to do a hell of a lot wrong to save his friend. It is what you expect of the man though, so no real surprises there. Bucky, on the other hand, offers a brilliantly honest appraisal of who he is and what he has become. Despite his effective innocence, he is still haunted by the evil he has been involved in.

Of the other characters, the Russo brothers give them all chance to breathe in this film, which has its pros and cons. Some of them are necessary. Black Panther steals the show with an effective introduction and motivation throughout. His standalone film is far too far away for my liking after this.

Scarlett Witch gets good time to develop but it does appear to be aiming towards a longer arc because it seems to serve little purpose in this specific film. The same could be said of Spider-Man, who is superbly played by Tom Holland. His contributions in the action sequences are immense fun but the exposition introducing him slows the film down. Again, it appears to be a way of cutting out the need of an origin story for Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. This film shouldn't be doing heavy lifting for other films and the pace suffers a bit for it.

It is nit picking to an extent because it is still a top notch film. Marvel have set themselves an impossibly high standard and are always more liable to fail by comparison. That shouldn't mean we dismiss their entries as bad. Captain America: Civil War will sit near the top of the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a long time and Feige is right to trust the Russo brothers with the Infinity War films. It is also a signal that it is time for a change of direction, as it is starting to feel a tad stale. With Doctor Strange looking like a complete left turn for the MCU, followed by the second Guardians film, I have no concerns that such a change is being implemented.

As for my favourite parts... the action sequence in the airport is outstanding. Creative and funny, all while exploiting the variety of powers around, it certainly wasn't a 'colour by numbers' scene. The thing I think should be commended though was how the stakes felt immensely high without any 'end of the world' scenario being involved. The final battle in this film is one of the most stressful things I have watched. I am talking up there with watching Bane batter Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. I remember feeling sick to my stomach, thinking "He's going to kill Batman!" Civil War put me in that same zone, which is to be commended.

Overall, Civil War is great film with tiny issues of pacing and, much like Age of Ultron, being weighed down with servicing the bigger MCU arc. Other than that, I think it lives up to the expectations. DC will be looking on and wondering why Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice didn't get nearly as close to the mark as Captain America: Civil War did. With that said, it still doesn't feel like the stand out film of the year, nor the complete comic book movie we hoped for. X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad get to step up next. Game on.