Murphy is a simple man who has been drafted into a complex, dangerous world. When we catch up with him at the fourteen-minute mark, he’s practicing his gun-twirling. Why is he practicing his gun-twirling? Murphy explains to spitfire partner Lewis, because there is a cop on TV, T.J. Lazer, who is a “good cop,” and whom Murphy’s son loves. So in the space of twenty seconds or so, we learn that Murphy is a dedicated father, loves his son, wants “to be good” for the sake of that son. The bashfulness with which he describes this intimacy to Lewis indicates that he is also in love with his wife. This is without staging a “family scene” that would dramatize all this. Again, that’s probably due to budget, since the screenplay is telling instead of showing, but it has a dramatic payoff: the screenplay, like Murphy, at this point takes his happy family for granted. He’s good, his son is good, his wife is good, he sees people as good, he’s about to get a lesson in how bad people can be. Like Jason Bourne, Murphy will be forced to rediscover who he is, and for the most part the viewer will be put in the place of the protagonist, which is an ideal place for a viewer to be.
The first and last question of any screenplay is “What does the protagonist want?” But sometimes it’s necessary to first define the world the protagonist lives in. This can be done a number of ways. In the low-budget movies of Roger Corman or William Castle, sometimes the movie begins with a simple monolgue straight to the audience. It’s cheap but effecient, and it forges a bond with the audience that “cooler” movies don’t. The filmmaker, in effect, makes a deal with the audience, saying: Look, I don’t have a big budget or fancy stars, all’s I got is ideas, work with me here.
Robocop isn’t quite that low-budget, but it does the next-step-up version of that: it opens with a TV news report. The smiling TV anchors tell us the days news: South Africa is going nuclear to preserve white control of the country, the president of the US stages a press conference from the orbiting space station with hilarious results, and police officers in Detroit, which has a privatized police force, are being slaughtered by a group of ruthless gangsters. The TV report, revving for maximum efficiency, goes so far as to name the movie’s chief antagonist, Clarence Boddicker, and its secret ultimate bad-guy, Dick Jones. Jones, the new leader of the new corporate-owned Detroit police force, expresses no sympathy for the policemen slaughtered on his watch. “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” he advises any police officers who might object to being out-gunned by madmen. The TV news report also lays in a layer of knowing satire on the narrative, letting us know that it’s going to look at this world from a skeptical stance. It accomplishes the same thing as the Corman voice-over, it takes the audience aside and lets it know, quickly and cleanly, its attitude toward its genre and narrative.
(Speaking of low-budget exploitation movies, I assume Clarence Boddicker is named for Budd Boetticher, the great director of tight-lipped westerns.)
My son Sam, 12, is both a huge Minecraft enthusiast and a budding animator. He’s been working on test shots to hone his craft and is awesome.
The Monarch finally has his prey, Dr. Venture, where he wants him. After much deliberation over a long list of choices, he decides to use “the bell.” Unfortunately, Rusty is, apparently, partly deaf due to years spent on his father’s jet. Meant to be used as a marital aid, he instead becomes a cockblock.
“The Devil’s Grip” has four major protagonists: Sgt Hatred, Col Gentleman, the Action Man, and The Monarch. Two of these characters are decidedly minor in the Venture universe, another is an arch turned guardian and the last is a straight-up villain, the villain of the series. Their stories are intertwined in this episode around the theme of “regret.” Hatred regrets giving up his job as guardian, but is then moved to rescue Dr. Venture by his default-setting of “soldier.” The Action Man regrets not living a more square life and is moved to action by the presence of Hank in his life, Col Gentleman just plain regrets, and The Monarch starts at a place of ultimate power (for him) and slowly slides toward regret. Regret, in this episode, leads to nostalgia, a form of homesickness, and leads in all cases to comings home. “The Return Home,” in all cases, is not presented as a retreat but as a gesture of healing, a symptom of wisdom, a reassessment of each characters’ place in the universe.
Brock’s mission is now “to save Ghost Robot,” which seems big of him, considering that he doesn’t seem that attached to Ghost Robot, considering that no one seems that attached to Ghost Robot, really. Brock’s passion here is for his work, his job, the job for which he has forsaken his family, the Venture clan, for SPHINX, which has been destroyed by his foster father figure, Hunter Gathers. Brock’s job is his family, and it’s the only thing he’s good at. He can’t win at love, he’s backed away from being a father, he’s distant with his work brothers (he even steals one’s wife), but his job is everything to him, an all-or-nothing proposition, even when “the job” is nothing more than invading a nightclub to rescue a robot from an awkward date.
The Clue Clown wields his question mark for good reason. We were only just introduced to his existence, and now he’s gone, leaving nothing but questions. Who was he? What did he stand for? What were his hopes and dreams? Those might be questions too silly to ask of a farcical one-joke supervillain, but the funeral of the Clue Clown is treated with a somberness rare for a Venture Bros death. We barely knew the Clue Clown, the script seems to say, but then, how well do we really know anyone? The death of the Clue Clown sends a whole tributary of minor Venture characters into a whirling tailspin of reflection, sober and otherwise. And, like all funerals, it provokes death’s opposite: lust. What better protest against death could there be than the seeking of carnal fulfillment? In this case, having the lovers seeking their carnalities in bodies of metal.
While Hank, Dermott, Gary and HELPeR act crazy to get themselves committed (what could possibly go wrong?) Rusty and Hatred go searching for By-Golly Gulch, using a hover-tank and a smartphone. A lot of the characters in The Venture Bros are in desperate search of a dream, but Rusty wants to find Teddy with a GPS. And, since By-Golly Gulch is a nonexistent fairyland, he is doomed. The important thing, though, is that Rusty, who’s always found the whole alter-ego thing to be a stone drag, a blight on his life, is so in need of an alter ego that he’s created one – in Teddy, who, for the purposes of Rusty’s narrative, doesn’t exist. Rusty is going to rescue Teddy, who he sees as a version of himself, from the clutches of evil. This, the narrative implies, is what happens when a man doesn’t do the normal thing of dressing up in a costume and affecting a colorful persona: one sees people where there are none, no matter how obvious it is that they are not there. Read more
When reasonable people gather to discuss Batman, at some point someone clears their throat and says “Well you know, according to some schools of thought, Bruce Wayne died the night his parents died; from that moment on he was Batman, and ‘Bruce Wayne’ became the mask.” This is certainly a compelling argument with a subversive impact, but it only works if we proceed with the supposition that Bruce Wayne is completely insane. A sane man does not assume the personality of a night-time crimefighting vigilante and relegate his “getting by” personality to that of a billionaire businessman.
And, of course, there are people who would argue that, yes, Bruce Wayne is insane, that The Bat has taken over and subsumed his personality like Norman Bates’s mother. After all, Batman has always been a comic about insanity, far more than any other superhero title. The only thing that all Batman’s villains have in common is that they are stark raving mad. As a matter of fact, George Clooney once pitched a Batman movie to Warner Bros where it would be revealed at the end that, a la Sucker Punch, it is Bruce Wayne who has lived in Arkham Asylum all these years, fighting his never-ending war on giggling psychopaths from the confines of a padded cell.
All of which brings us to tonight’s Venture Bros episode, “Momma’s Boys.”
What does the Lone Ranger want? Excellent question! Of necessity, spoilers within.