Amazon Prime Review – Man Vs.: Pretty Good, but Not Quite Wild Enough

A survivalist TV host finds himself in trouble when something in the woods is stalking him.

SUMMARY  (Spoiler-Free)

Doug Woods (Chris Diamantopoulos) is the host of Woods Vs., a show in which he is dropped into the middle of nowhere and has to survive for five days. He leaves his wife and daughter (Chloe Bradt and Kate Ziegler) and sets off with his camera crew (Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson, Alex Karzis) and his brother Terry (Drew Nelson). After being dropped into the woods, he hears a loud noise and feels the Earth shake beneath him. The next day, he finds that a number of fish in the lake are dead and the local wildlife are behaving strangely. It seems something has come into the woods besides him, and that something is toying with him. Now, Doug has to make his way back to civilization while avoiding this new threat, which, unfortunately, seems to be smarter than he is. 

He’s just the right level of handsome and rugged to get a show.

END SUMMARY

I want to start out by saying that I desperately want someone to try a premise like this again, but do it just a little better. Hell, you can use Chris Diamantopoulos again, since his portrayal of Doug Woods was actually pretty captivating, demonstrating a nice blend between survivalist and showman. His interactions with his audience are the majority of the film, with him speaking to the camera both as part of the show and as part of a surrogate confessional. It’s fun to watch him start swearing and complaining the minute he’s not “officially” recording. At no point do his conversations ever seem awkward or forced, which is impressive for a solo performance. Honestly, if they just had him film a show like that, I would have watched it. 

He does good camera work, too.

The fact that the show-within-the-movie is so close to shows like Survivorman or Man Vs. Wild gives the plot a level of credibility. Normally, the idea of a random person stranded in the wilderness falls thin, because the person would just try to find civilization rather than trying to stay in the area where they’re being stalked. Instead, Doug is forced to at least try to ignore the threat, allowing for the audience to watch his slowly growing unease. I also like that they had almost everything that Doug shows the audience pay off later in the film, but not in the way that you would expect. 

Foreshadowing via teaching… foreteaching?

The problem is that the movie is NOT just watching Doug survive for five days. The movie introduces the threat indirectly, which is good, but it tries to focus the audience’s attention on it a bit too much. It starts to be a bit less believable that Doug doesn’t realize the full extent of what is happening when so many odd things are happening, but it also removes a little bit of the terror to see things happen so blatantly. The timing and the framing of each appearance is off just a little. When Doug finally starts to realize something else is definitely there, though, the initial reveal that the creature has been watching him and duplicating his survival techniques (including trying to treat Doug as prey) are really well-done. You can finally see Doug break down and Diamantopoulos really sells the fear. 

He’s really an underrated actor.

Overall, the movie was pretty enjoyable for the first half. Unfortunately, I am going to have to put the negatives after the Spoiler Warning. I’d still recommend this for horror fans, but I’ll go ahead and warn you that the ending let me down hard on a lot of levels. Not enough to ruin the movie, but it’s like watching someone make a show that perfectly crafts character interactions for 6 seasons, then the writing makes people think a main character goes crazy because her nephew won’t bang her. Disappointing.

****SPOILER WARNING****

Okay, so, the creature is revealed to be an alien, which was probably pretty obvious from the crash at the beginning. Unfortunately, the alien is a conquering invader, which wrecks a lot of the movie. If the alien was like the predator, trying to hunt Doug for honor or sport, then it makes sense to study him and steal his techniques. Instead, we find out that aliens pretty much took over the Earth in the last 3 days, meaning that the creature followed Doug and didn’t just instantly kill him with its sonic weapon for… reasons? Also, despite having a main character who is a survivalist, he doesn’t actually deal with the alien using any survival techniques. The alien, who has superior technology and can apparently jump almost 100 feet, just happens to fall backwards into a pit and then succumbs to stones thrown by an injured person. Then, when it returns at the end, it just doesn’t avoid Doug shoving a motor into it. I’m not saying I needed Doug to prepare a series of Predator-style log traps, because I’ve seen that, but having the main character defeat a creature that apparently can learn what chess is and also how to beat a good player at it in 2 days using pretty much pure luck is unsatisfying. Also… CGI not great, sorry.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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DuckTales (2017): The Duck Knight Returns – How to do a Great Reboot within your Great Reboot

Darkwing Duck, the terror that flaps in the night, is getting a dark and gritty reboot that no one asked for… especially not Darkwing Duck.

This is your spoiler warning. This episode is on Amazon right now. Spend the 2 dollars. It’s worth it.

BACKGROUND

Within the reboot of DuckTales, Darkwing Duck is a television show from the 90s which starred a stuntman named Jim Starling (Original Darkwing voice Jim Cummings), famous for doing all his own stunts. Most of the world appears not to remember the series, but Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) is a huge fan of the character. His passion is so great that it tends to infect others with an affection for the show. It’s also mentioned repeatedly that the show ended on a cliffhanger.  

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WHO WOULDN’T LOVE THIS?

SUMMARY

Jim Starling, the former Darkwing Duck star, is signing autographs. Launchpad, along with another nameless die-hard Darkwing fan (Chris Diamantopoulos) tries to get an autograph, aided by Dewey Duck (Ben Schwartz), but keeps fainting from nerves. When Dewey tries to tag the pair in a photo, he discovers that Darkwing Duck is trending online, because they’re making a movie of the series. Believing that he’s naturally going to be asked to reprise the role, Starling heads to the studio making the movie, which happens to be McDuck Studios owned by Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant).

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I hope this doesn’t happen at actual celebrity signings, but I’m sure it does.

Scrooge and the director of the Darkwing Duck film, Alistair Boorswan (Edgar Freaking Wright!!!), are having creative issues. When Louie, Launchpad, and Starling bust into the meeting, they’re shown the trailer, which portrays it as a grim and gritty reboot which satirizes a number of terrible superhero movies. Everyone agrees that this movie is terrible, including Scrooge, who puts Dewey in charge of directing the finale of the film. Starling is willing to be in it anyway, only to be surprised when the fan from earlier is introduced as the actor now playing Darkwing Duck in the movie. Starling attacks him, resulting in his and Launchpad’s expulsion from the studio. Starling talks Launchpad into helping him get back in so they can get him in the movie, with Launchpad trying to lock the new actor in his trailer. They fight briefly, but it’s revealed that the actor was inspired his entire life by Darkwing Duck and, while he knows the movie’s bad, wants nothing more than to try and help give another generation of kids the same hero he had. He and Launchpad quickly become best friends. The actor tries to confront Starling and suggests they work together to make the movie great, but Starling refuses to let anyone else be Darkwing Duck. He locks the actor in a closet and goes on set to film the finale.

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It’s literally looking at your own reboot. Stylistic differences, but same core character.

When told that Darkwing surrenders in the last scene, Starling refuses to follow commands and instead starts wrecking the props, before grabbing the fully functional lightning gun that the film’s villain Megavolt (Keith Ferguson) was using and attacking the crew. The actor, now dressed in his Darkwing Duck costume, shows up to stop him. The two fight, with Starling growing increasingly more insane and villainous, until finally Launchpad tries to convince them to stop. A prop starts to collapse, and after the actor tries to save him, Starling jumps in and saves them both, sacrificing himself.

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Again, you can tell them apart, but you know they’re still the same.

While the final fight was filmed, it’s revealed that Dewey recorded over it with a video of himself dancing. Scrooge declares that there will never be a Darkwing Duck movie. The actor is saddened that he can’t bring Darkwing Duck to a new generation, but Launchpad tells him he should just do it for real. The actor, revealed to be none other than Drake Mallard, agrees to give it a shot. Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, it’s revealed that Jim Starling survived the explosion, but now is insane, with the colors being washed out of his costume to reveal that he is now Darkwing’s arch-nemesis: NEGADUCK.

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To quote Mrs. Beakley: “That was a surprisingly suspenseful twist.”

END SUMMARY

When I first reviewed DuckTales, I mentioned that I consider it one of the more successful reboots I’ve ever seen. It takes everything that was good about the original, adds in some more source and expanded universe material, but also updates, enhances, expands, and, let’s be honest, sometimes corrects the source material (particularly some of the female characters). It strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and originality, while also being clever and funny. This episode exemplifies that balance even better than the rest of the series.

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And this is a series that finally animated Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s mom, unseen since 1938.

The concept of Darkwing Duck as a show within the show was an interesting way to reintroduce the character, though it seemed like it mostly closed the door on the actual character ever appearing in the series. However, it seems like, in retrospect, much of this was a carefully planned build-up to this episode. When the original surprise announcement that Darkwing Duck would appear in the new series was made, one of the producers, Frank Angones (who is the best at Twitter), mentioned that it was difficult to introduce Darkwing Duck, because once you put Darkwing in an episode, he just naturally becomes the focus. Despite, or perhaps because of this, they put relatively little of Darkwing Duck in the first season, limiting it to a single scene in a cold open, a fun gag about the catchy closing theme song to the show, and a bobblehead that said “let’s get dangerous.” It was extremely restrained, making this episode even more impactful.

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The Bobblehead actually crashes fewer planes that Launchpad while flying.

The brilliance of this episode is that it is a reboot of a character within a reboot of a series and the episode is a parody of bad reboots. The most obvious part is the “trailer” for the film, which contains explicit references to the gratuitous slo-mo pearls falling from Batman v. Superman as well as the strange flaming letters scene from Daredevil, both of which have been mocked by everyone who has seen the films. The movie that Alistair Boorswan is making is dark and desaturated, much like Batman v. Superman, and Boorswan’s primary concern is conveying his dark and edgy “study of man’s inhumanity towards man.” Boorswan doesn’t actually care about what made Darkwing Duck good, only about his “artistic vision.” He also dislikes even presenting a heroic character as heroic, thinking that making someone darker and more morally compromised makes them automatically better. I’m not saying that’s a shot at DC films, except that of course I’m saying that. Meanwhile, Scrooge himself is a parody of studio interference in film, being so out of touch that he admits he didn’t see a movie since 1938 and says that “color’s all the rage nowadays.” He then gives the movie to Dewey, who tries to insert a musical number just because he likes it.

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And yet, still better than BvS or Daredevil by virtue of brevity.

The core to this episode, though, is Drake Mallard. In the original series, Darkwing Duck was a hero because he wanted to be one. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, often egotistical, fame-hungry, histrionic, and sometimes just flat-out selfish, but he did have a strong moral center and a desire to be a hero. In this series, Drake Mallard is a hero because he wants to give children something to look up to, the way that he looked up to Darkwing Duck. This is the strongest rebuttal to the type of movie that this episode was satirizing: A movie where the heroes aren’t really heroic. This version of Darkwing wants to inspire the good in the world, rather than just combat the bad, like the well-written versions of Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, or even Batman. These heroes are supposed to show us what we can do if we believe in fighting for justice and they’re not tied to a person but to an ideal because people fail, ideals don’t. This isn’t a new concept – hell, it’s one of the books of Plato’s Republic – but that’s why even if we have the “grittier, more realistic” heroes, it’s still important to have heroes out there who are focused on inspiring and presenting a better version of the world to fight for. Real heroes make us want to be better.

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And they come in many, many forms.

Just a few more notes: Much like in Into the Spiderverse, the focus in this episode is on the hero always getting back up when they get knocked down. It’s genuinely moving to watch Drake continue to take a hilarious beating and keep fighting to protect everyone, and that’s one of the few things that anyone can relate to: the desire to just fight one more time for what’s right. It’s also appropriate that this would happen in a show featuring David Tennant, a man famous for being such a superfan of a character that inspired him that he grew up to be one of, if not THE, best versions of that character. If you don’t know what character I mean, please read this.

Overall, I loved this episode, if that’s not obvious. I think it gave us a bunch of solid gags, the set-up to a whole bunch of potential storylines and maybe even a spin-off, and it reminded me of why I love some superheroes over others. Plus, it got me to re-read part of the Republic, so that’s fun.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.