Thursday 28 December 2023

Back to D&D


I haven't played Dungeons & Dragons in decades, but after reading my new book, a friend recommended I give Dungeon Mastering a go. Why? Dragon Garage follows a group of RPG players who open up a portal into their fantasy game world. Fun, drinking, and adventure ensue. 

Seemed like a good fit.

The main focus for Dragon Garage, for me, was the contrast between the modern and the medieval. Thanks at least in part to fairy tales, the Middle Ages is viewed through an idealized lens. We tend to think of princesses and knights, rather than dysentery, famine and bed bugs. 

I wanted to mix up the focus and smash them all together: ideal and real, medieval and modern, the fantastical and grounded. 

A generic fantasy role playing game was a device through which I could explore that. 

I remember (fondly) playing Dungeons & Dragons in public school, but wasn't particularly good at it (to be fair, I don't think many of us were.. there was a lot of open the door, kill the monster, and take their stuff). The rules were dense and extensive, so taking it up again could be a time consuming challenge which I might not be up to.

So I deferred and, at first, declined.

the expanse novels
So good!!!

Ultimately, it was The Expanse that changed my mind: Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck created the book series based on role playing game sessions. It's a brilliant idea: run your plot through interactive sessions, and test the logic. A great way to spot holes in a fantasy or sci-fi series: test it! \\

Soon as I mentioned this to a few other friends, they put me on to Critical Roll, which features a phenomenally talented gang of voice actors running through Dungeons and Dragons adventures. There's an entire media empire around it now, including a TV show and comic books. 

So I'm late to the party, but undeterred. Running a D&D (or other RPG) game could help work out scenarios for future books, as well as generate 'happy accident' material that was truly authentic. 

With that in mind, I set about building out the world of Dragon Garage for player characters. At first I thought I'd build everything, the whole world; very quickly I discovered this is a crap ton of work, far more than the amount of world building you'd need for a novel.

dragon garage cover

I was also determined to make a Megadungeon, because when I was a kid, it was all about the Megadungeon. Every DM had their own. Gary Gygax had the platonic ideal in Castle Greyhawk (not that I ever saw it), and so I resolved to have my own: Castle Druidun!

Seemed a good idea at the time. 

Of course, a megadungeon is a stupid amount of work. No one sane is going to try and do this right off the bat. Fortunately, I laugh at sanity barriers: I've tackled full on prose novels, even screenplays! In fact, making a megadungeon is rather similar to writing a novel, just more compartmentalized and interactive, like an enhanced version of Choose Your Own Adventure

Over the years, I've tried my hand at comic books, graphic novels, prose novels, short stories, comedy skits, joke strips, and improv, so why not this?

king atop hill with clouds
Epic adventure!

Intially, I filled the dungeon with my own creations, but before long I turned to decades worth of fantasy trope D&D material to flesh it out. It's just too big a job for one person, especially when you have hundreds of dungeon rooms to fill. I can edit out stuff later, should this path prove fruitful and I have the opportunity to do a sequel to Dragon Garage

Fingers crossed; there's so much more to explore and play with in that world. 

I thought I'd put up the material from the world of Dragon Garage here, for fun, as the experiment progresses. We'll see what happens, and how far I get with it.

One big change from the book: I had the players roll up characters native to the fantasy world, rather than playing their real selves. It'd be too complicated for me to pull off initially, not until I'm more seasoned at this. 

A megadungeon is a nice, 'simple' realm for adventuring, with built in guard rails. There are rooms and tunnels and all the choices reside within that framework. It's much harder to mess up than, say, an open world space opera mixed with horror (which is what I originally wanted to do). 

There's a reason why many shooter video games occur within finite structures.

What is an imaginary world? Where is it? Same place as Santa Claus, the United States, and Narnia: in our minds. Think about it. Nations only exist through agreement in, and enforcement of, the collective imagination.

Welcome to the World of Arthea...

Check out the Dragon Garage blog here

Thursday 14 December 2023

Godzilla Minus One review: rock the kaiju!

godzilla minus one
Urban redevelopment, Kaiju style

First, Godzilla Minus One is awesome.

Second, they made it for under $15 million USD.


Godzilla Minus One looks as good or better than many $200 million dollar blockbusters. 

Even better, it has a solid emotional core (in a Godzillla film!) and has something to say about Japanese history, society, and the value of human life. It's not an empty, zombie franchise lumbering about devouring money, bereft of soul. 

The human side of the film is centred around a Kamikaze pilot who claims a mechanical problem with his plane in order to skip out on blowing himself up. He comes into contact with other survivors of the war, all of them badly scarred and traumatized by the experience. 

Inevitably, their paths cross with our favourite gargantuan bipedal lizard, Godzilla. 

One of the most striking sequences in the film is a chase at sea: it's absolutely riveting, and reminiscent ofJaws, but better, because it's a gigantic radioactive monster with atomic heat ray breath. Did Jaws have that? I think not!

godzilla chasing ship
Throw him a stick, you fools!

This Godzilla is not cute or cuddly, doesn't mug for the camera, doesn't dance, and takes his urban redevelopment VERY seriously. He's one scary 20,000 ton dude. Personally, I think he's lying about his weight and doesn't weigh a pound less than 40,000 tons. 

The ending has fun schemes from a delightful egghead, and a thematically relevant twist. Thankfully it does not involve giant breath mints. 

The whole movie comes together in a very satisfying way, unlike the vast majority of recent Marvel escapades. 

Frankly, franchise fatigue abounds. Old IP are being resurrected, rebooted, retooled and trotted out for fresh generations constantly. Or maybe time just flies by faster now that I'm old. I've witnessed reboots of reboots. Godzilla Minus One qualifies as (I think) the fourth retelling of the original Godzilla story, but somehow, incredibly, remains fresh and fun, making this entry all the more insanely remarkable. 

The last time a reboot really impressed me was with Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica

And while this film can't compare to my childhood memories of Monster Zero, for my money, it's nevertheless the best Godzilla film ever made, and the most surprising and delightful cinematic experience of the year.*

I never, ever thought I'd say that about a Godzilla flick. 

Will wonders never cease?

Highly recommended. See it in IMAX, even. It's worth it! 

*To be fair, I haven't actually been to the theatre much this year...

Friday 8 December 2023

Max Zing interior cover

interior cover of max zing

His adventures aren't really that sedentary. 

Check them out over on Amazon!

Thursday 7 December 2023

Friday 24 November 2023

From Voyager to For All Mankind: Ronald D. Moore's fabulous forays into the cosmos

For All Mankind hero image

For All Mankind
 season one is superb TV. 

It's one of the best sci-fi shows out there. Maybe one of the best shows on TV currently, period, and for a number of reasons. 

They say with good writing, you:

1) Create characters people love.

2) Put those characters through sheer hell.

FAM does exactly that. 

The cast of characters is nuanced, diverse and easy to root for. Rather than engaging in easy breezy cynicism, it displays the resilience, courage and adaptability of humanity. And yet, these are no idealized supermen: they struggle with their own flaws and weaknesses, often being forced to acknowledge their own imperfections in order to better collaborate with others.

This is the latest foray into the cosmos by the extraordinary show runner Ronald D. Moore. Every time he gets both more brilliant, and closer and closer to reality. 

He started his career submitting spec scripts to Star Trek (his favourite show), and on the strength of those, got into the writer's room of The Next Generation. That is no easy feat. From there, he went to the more serialized Deep Space Nine; where he wrote some of its best and most memorable episodes.

He followed that up with a very brief stint on Voyager. Unfortunately, he hated it, and quickly bounced. In an interview, he didn't hold any punches: Voyager failed to fulfill the promise of the premise.

the other voyager
Not this Voyager, the other one

"I just don't understand why it doesn't even believe in itself. Examine the fundamental premise of VOYAGER: A starship chases a bunch of renegades. Both ships are flung to the opposite side of the galaxy. The renegades are forced to come aboard Voyager. They all have to live together on their way home, which is going to take a century or whatever they set up in the beginning. 

I thought, This is a good premise. That's interesting. Get them away from all the familiar STAR TREK aliens, throw them out into a whole new section of space where anything can happen. Lots of situations for conflict among the crew. The premise has a lot of possibilities. 

...This ship was going to have problems. It wasn't going to have unlimited sources of energy. It wasn't going to have all the doodads of the Enterprise. It was going to be rougher, fending for themselves more, having to trade to get supplies that they want. 

That didn't happen. 

It doesn't happen at all, and it's a lie to the audience. I think the audience intuitively knows when something is true and something is not true. VOYAGER is not true. If it were true, the ship would not look spick-and-span every week, after all these battles it goes through. How many times has the bridge been destroyed? How many shuttlecrafts have vanished, and another one just comes out of the oven? 

That kind of bullshitting the audience takes its toll. At some point, the audience stops taking it seriously, because they know that this is not really the way this would happen. These people wouldn't act like this.”

I can't argue with that: Moore makes very good points. Sadly, he couldn't make any headway against the executives running the show.

That fruitless creative collision led Moore to jump ship and reboot Battlestar Galactica instead, turning it into the best sci-fi show on TV in the early 2000s. It was innovative, gritty and far more adult than anything Star Trek had done to date. The fleeing survivors of Caprica dealt with all kinds of shortages, unlike the pampered TNG crew who could just replicate anything they wanted with the push of a button (or 'Tea. Earl Grey. Hot'). Ships flew in a more realistic manner, and they even toyed with removing all the sound from space scenes. 

Storylines were daring, dark and tied back to The War on Terror, making it must-see TV.

At least, it was for the first two seasons. 

Battlestar Galactica
BSG: So good it can get away with a pic like this

One of the main themes of the show (That everyone never agrees on anything, making compromise and negotiation necessary for civilization to function) got jettisoned out the airlock in the finale. The survivors put their ships on automatic pilot and sent them soaring into the sun, along with all their tech, universally adopting a hunter-gatherer subsistence existence on earth. 

Okay, sure.

Yuval Harrari would be proud. 

Thanks to the hive mind, BSG wrapped up with a neat if perplexing bow. Maybe I just didn't understand the premise of the show. Moore would know. I can't help but imagine a postscript where, once everyone else is frolicking in hippie-time meadow, criminal gangs reveal squirrelled away tech & weapons and take over.

But for the first two seasons, it was breathtaking, genre defining sci-fi. BSG pushed the sci-fi envelope and then some. 

Now, Moore is back with some of his best work yet: an alternate history show centred around the space program. The central conceit is that the Soviets landed on the moon first. Like the flapping of the wings of a butterfly, this causes a cascade of further changes. As the show progresses through the decades, the more it diverges from what we know as reality. 

Moore wisely avoids rehashing The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and the like. Instead, the space program is the supporting scaffolding upon which human drama can be hung. For All Mankind is as much about culture, prejudice, social change, organizational and individual fallibility, and the human experience as it is about space shuttles and moon bases.

Each season covers a decade, starting with the sixties. The period details are wonderful, and the evolution of the cast's fashions fun to digest. 

Thanks to the Soviets landing a woman on the moon, the Americans are forced to include women in the space program. Propaganda posturing propels them to become more inclusive, the better to win hearts and minds. Yet the social improvements that cascade out of these calculated, reptilian motives winds up improving society as a whole. 

Allowing everyone to contribute to a society to the best of their ability maximizes human capital, making society stronger and healthier.

The show tackles everything from panic attacks, alcoholism, egotism, to geopolitics and space hazards, yet remains hopeful and positive throughout. 

It's a virtuoso performance: For All Mankind sees all the warts, yet loves humanity anyway.

Give it a watch on Apple+. 

It's too good to miss.

astronauts from For All Mankind
Astronauts heading out to watch For All Mankind

Saturday 18 November 2023

Invincible is Awesome

invincible tv show

And also Mark Grayson. 

No, seriously, the show is fabulous. 

Great premise, great execution, great voice talent, and plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged. Alternates between action and intimate character moments, comedy and gore, yada yada. 

It's right up there with Guardians of the Galaxy (are those REALLY super hero movies?) and The Boys.

Of the three, only Guardians is really fully family friendly. Different brands, different audiences.

Invincible is every bit as dark, cynical and gory as The Boys, just in animated form. And while the gore is a lot cleaner looking, I don't think I'd recommend this to children. 

Superfriends it is not. 

Highly recommended. 

Thursday 9 November 2023

The Creator: beautiful sci-fi trope purée

the creator movie poster

The Creator
, written and directed by Gareth Edwards, is visually spectacular. It conveys an impressive sense of scale, and the sci-fi elements are seamlessly integrated. 

Edwards is very good at conveying verisimilitude, of making the fantastical seem believable, and loves distant shots of characters in sweeping landscapes. Visually, it reminds me of David Lean epics like Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia

Story wise, not so much.

The actors are excellent, making the most of the material they've been given. 

There are many impressive scenes which, in isolation, suggest a great film. 

Unfortunately, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. 

I really wanted to like this film. I admire Edward's innovative film making. He's a visionary. At least, he is when it comes to visuals and production process. 

His background is in VFX, and that's where he truly excels. 

But while the design of this futuristic reality was slick and polished, it felt just a little... generic. That wouldn't be a problem if the rest of the film were compelling. Unfortunately, there's not much underlying the gleaming VFX facade here in terms of world building. The conflict here has no depth. It's like they put a great big bucket of sci-fi tropes into a blender and this purée was the result. 

Even that can be fun, but story wise it did not work for me. 

It was one of the most frustrating viewing experiences I've had in recent memory. 

Edwards has oodles of talent, it's obvious from the visuals and his production process. And he loves sci-fi. I have no doubt that Edwards, powered by right script, could produce a cinematic sci-fi masterpiece. 

One day.

Sadly, this isn't it.

Sunday 5 November 2023

GenV: sharp witted social commentary

gen v ad
Sharp witted social commentary wrapped in spandex and capes. Just... without capes or spandex. Yet. I think Homelander is wearing some other kind of synthetic fabric... 

GenV is crass, graphically violent, irreverent, and cynical. It's also riotously funny and incisive, if you're in the right mood.

I can totally understand why some people don't like the show. I get it. It pushes the envelope of what's acceptable on television. 

The violence is over the top grisly and the camera does not shy away. At all. Fists are covered in bits of brain, bloody body parts are scattered about, arms are ripped off and ragged flesh hangs from the stump. It's awful and gruesome. 

And yet, the violence here is more impactful and horrific than in the sanitized and equally violent Marvel or Star Wars franchises. People get shot, decapitated, vaporized, disemboweled, and worse in those shows, and we don't even blink. 

With GenV and The Boys, the violence makes me never want to actually engage in real violence, it's that ugly. 

It has an impact.

GenV also delights in skewering vacuous marketing platitudes, showing the unvarnished truth beneath the palatable lies. There are a few lines that made me laugh out loud.

The show pits bright eyed and bushy tailed student idealists, full of hope and credulity, getting slammed face first into the brick wall of adult realism. Their trust is taken advantage of and ultimately completely betrayed, ripping out the underpinnings of their world. 

The character work is solid; everyone has a tragic backstory, and a closet full of skeletons. Guilt undergirds many. They're nuanced, rather than black or white, and sympathies can shift about as the program progresses. Some character pivots don't work quite as well as others, but they all are driven by their circumstances and history. 

Those on a quest for redemption, looking to conform with proper societal expectations, realize they aren't as uniquely horrific as they had assumed: this entire world is drenched in debauchery, hypocrisy, cruelty and exploitation. Those they look to for validation turn out to be infinitely worse.

GenV depicts this as unflinchingly as in the flagship The Boys, and several characters (natch) cross over into the spinoff. Nothing like a surprise guest appearance to boost interest.

As a bonus, they lay waste to UofT's Erindale campus. What fun!

The ending has a twist and leaves the main characters in limbo, awaiting season two. 

I'll be tuning in. 

Sunday 27 August 2023

Apple TV's Invasion review

This show is the definition of the slow burn.

There’s a saying about the military: it’s 99% boredom and routine, and 1% sheer terror. 

Invasion gets the first part right. 

That statement is hyperbole (and framed the way a teacher I had would). Nevertheless, a maxim in modern Hollywood is that you have to get to the Promise of the Premise FAST. Streaming presents us with a bajillion shows to pick from, so if you don’t catch the audience quick, they’ll click. 

Admittedly I sometimes don’t bother with a show that doesn’t grab me until/unless someone (or several someones) recommends it. And if something doesn’t intrigue me, if I don’t feel trust in the show runners right away, I will click away. That’s far from fair, and all on my deteriorating attention span. 

In light of that, Invasion’s somnambulant pacing is defiantly radical. Movies today are faster paced and include more cuts than in the 1980s, partly because they had to splice physical film back then, and now it can be done digitally; Fury Road had ten times as many cuts as The Road Warrior, for example. It can be too much, yet here the more lackadaisical pacing just didn’t work for me.

It follows 4-5 different character journeys, switching between storylines that (mostly) intersect towards the end. Some are far more engaging than others. Sam Neil leads one stream (which got me to tune in), but it's a Sean Bean fake out.

There one minute, gone the next

It doesn’t help that the show is dark. It’s shot with naturalistic lighting, and the aliens (when they finally appear) are only seen at night or in dim interiors. This accentuates the menace of the unknown, but also frustrates. 

Maybe they did it because their FX budget couldn’t withstand daylight. Honestly, that’s fair, you have to work within the production limits you’ve got. The show looks very good, at least what you can see of it. 

With the exception of one character thread that follows a Japanese aerospace prodigy (all in Japanese with subtitles, which was frustrating because I wanted to also draw while watching), everything is viewed from a plebeian POV. We see people trying to manage their day to day lives in the midst of (somewhat vague) chaos. There is no rah-rah 'Ride of the F16’s'. This isn’t Tom Cruise or Will Smith type alien butt-kicking fare, it’s far more naturalistic, following ordinary people. It’s more brooding and moody than explosive and energetic, which can be wonderful when done right.

By far our most capable cast member

The leads are far from paragons of virtue; they’re warty and flawed. Great to have nuance. Unfortunately, they’re not likeable or compelling, and they make some painfully dumb decisions, all to amp up tension (admittedly very common in horror films). That came at the cost of empathy: I started rooting for the alien monsters. 

The climax smacks of both Independence Day and War of the Worlds, the grand daddy of all alien invasions. 

I suspect Invasion succeeds or fails based on whether or not you like the characters. It’s well produced and well acted. The dialogue is naturalistic and worked well enough for me that it wasn’t distracting. 

Unfortunately, while it has many of the elements I like, the slow pace and unlikeable characters made it a swing and a miss. 

Sunday 13 August 2023

Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse review

Hands down the most radical, unrestrained, gobsmacking, visually creative animated film I’ve ever seen.


Other than the first one.

Watching Across is like main-lining pure creativity. It’s a kinetic, visual cacophony of cinema marvels. 

On the downside, it’s exhausting. Innovative approaches are jam packed into every frame. It’s so radically different, it overwhelms.

All kinds of sweet gee-jaws, evoking printed comics, saturate the film: half-tone dots shade character faces, colours are shown with slight off-register, scenes morph from 3-D backgrounds to beautiful pastel paintings. Characters change colour based on mood. People from other dimensions may be made of paper, scratchy scribbles, or LEGO. Frames are dropped from character movement, creating a staccato jerkiness that gets across the idea of watching moving pictures. Trips between universes are accompanied by kaleidoscope FX rainbows. Visual representations of emotion, and sound effects, punctuate important moments. 

The direction is as kinetic and super-powered as the heroes, spiralling around and through them (in the case of the villain), then pulling back for serene scene setting long shots. 

Across relentlessly pushes the boundaries of animation, taking the medium to infinity and beyond.

Pixar films are beautiful, but they’re not radical. This? This is radical artiste experimentalism in pop-culture packaging. 

Unfortunately, you can have too much goodness. The movie is over two hours long; shorter, discrete episodes might be more enjoyable for my limited attention span. I wanted to freeze frame and have captions (the dialogue can be hard to catch at time, it’s so rapid fire). 

Story wise, Across doesn’t hold back; it pummels the audience with The Multiverse’s kitchen sink. 

Thankfully, Verse movies are grounded in authentic character moments. Without them, it might just be a gorgeous way to induce an epileptic seizure. Miles is an endearing lead, and the Morales’ family dynamic equally so. Even the villain has his charms. And Spider-Gwen is well matched with Miles. The other bajillion Spider-men (including an Indian one) are icing on the Spider-cake. 

The film relentlessly barrels towards its no-holds-barred… To Be Continued. 

Which is fine by me, I don’t think I could have taken any more in one sitting. 

The story isn’t tight, but the characters and the visual spectacle are so incredibly enthralling it doesn’t matter.

In the theatre, it's an overwhelming visual feast; I look forward to watching it again at home, in smaller (both screen scale and time) doses. 

There’s nothing else like it. 

Radical, energetic, barely controlled creative chaos the likes of which I've rarely seen, it's audacity and innovative ferocity is breathtaking to behold.

It's genius in motion.

Highly, highly recommended… albeit not for everyone. 

Saturday 5 August 2023

High versus low art in film: Lynch vs Spielberg smackdown!

Yin vs Yang

David Lynch is an exemplary film maker, but his work is not for everyone. Lynch's foray into blockbuster territory (Dune) was a bomb (I still love it's weirdness). He has difficulty raising large amounts of cash for his (personal) projects. 

Steven Spielberg is the opposite: the Main Man has his finger on the pulse of the people. His films are colossal blockbusters that have redefined cinema and summer movie going. Studios salivate to fund his films, and spend more, much more, knowing Spielberg is at the helm. 

A Spielberg flick is one of the surest bets you can make in Hollywood. And obviosuly he, too, is an exemplary filmmaker.

So... which is better? 

That depends on your point of view, and what you value. 

From a certain point of view, this article is true.

I’ve been lectured by professional writers that the best films are the ones that make the biggest box office. Studio execs no doubt largely agree: the Hollywood machine is a business, it has a bottom line, and they need to make oodles of greenbacks to fund their lavish lifestyles… and fund bigger and more spectacular films. 

And yet, it isn’t that simple. 

Award season exists, prestige films still get funded, despite studios knowing full well that, unlike Barbie, Women Talking isn’t going to be a global summer blockbuster. But so what?

Populist and elitist streams exist in cinema and they rarely meet. One leans  thoughtful and introspective, the other towards thrill rides and escapist fun. One is in danger of being pretentious, the other of pandering.

But every now and then, the streams cross and you get an instant all-audience classic.

Do what you shouldn't do?

Sometimes this is immediately obvious, as the film generates both box office and critical conversation over pie. Populist films are sometimes re-evaluated in the years, and decades, after release. The initial critical disdain for tropes, archetypes and action gives way to a realization that the film was superbly executed and speaks to the human experience on a level that wasn’t obvious on first viewing. 

Filmmakers like Lynch struggle to find broader recognition. While vetted at prestige film festivals, their sensibility doesn’t resonate with the mass audience. Sometimes, they find their place in genre cinema and successfully dwell on the edges of the industry. Others are ‘artsy’ or intellectual enough to be hailed by critics for eschewing the typical and titillating the elitist palate. 

And I get it. Professional critics prefer the different, because they’re drowning in mass produced typical. They become bug eyed, gollum-like creatures, gaunt and pallid from watching movies all day, every day. Like I did during COVID lockdown.

On top of that, I’m old enough to have seen multiple reboots of blockbusters past, I’m tired of it. Honestly, if you’ve seen ten superhero movies, you’ve seen them all. Same for some long running TV shows that are caught in an infinite franchise premise loop, endlessly recycling a mushy scene and premise puree.  

These are film flavours for the masses, visual equivalents to chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. And they’re great. But after awhile, people crave something… different. Rocky Road or Heavenly Hash.

You’re less likely to be truly surprised by a typical blockbuster than the most artfully crafted of art cinema (but there are notable exceptions that become event cinema, such as we've recently seen). Going off the beaten path will interest those tired of treading the same old same old, but that will annoy the majority who are looking for the well trodden path. We don't always want the unexpected.

Franchises have risen to dominate film and television during my lifetime. What’s a franchise? Take it as a simple outline of what happens… every time. A plucky gang of kids investigates paranormal mysteries and exposes them as frauds, for example. Familiarity is the appeal, so characters tend not to change. We’re not going to see Sherlock Holmes pivot to politics or become a tax auditor. People want him to be a detective, and so a detective he remains. Forever caught in amber, repeating the same loops. Westworld was as much a commentary on robots as it was on franchises and entertainment itself.

There’s a saying: people watch TV for character, and film for plot. I don’t remember a lot of plots from Star Trek, Fringe, Seinfeld (okay it was a kind of anti-plot show), or WKRP in Cincinnati. But the characters? Loved them. 

But.. what if you have a film franchise? 

How much did Indiana Jones change? Dominic Toretto? 

Is Ethan Hunt really any different now? 

They’re essentially huge budget TV episodes on gigantic screens. 

Elitist disdain for populist films compelled Spielberg to stretch into more niche, high brow works, in an effort to get that sweet, sweet elitist recognition. To be recognized by the chi-chi cognoscenti. 

On the one hand, I don’t think he should have felt such a pivot was necessary. Populist art ties into our common humanity, and to do that well requires every bit as much artistry and talent as the so-called high art. On the other, I’m glad he did, because he’s an interesting filmmaker, whatever he does.

The niche and the populist have their place and purpose, and entertainment would be lesser without both.

In this argument, there is no spoon. 

It's CGI, man!