We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
Culture

The Angler: Deadpool, RBG and Douglas Coupland Take on the World

If superheroes are not your taste, a documentary on an American legal icon and an environmental art show will rev you up.

By Dorothy Woodend 18 May 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Dorothy Woodend writes about culture and film for The Tyee. Find her previous articles here.

What do Deadpool, Ruth Bader Ginsburg (The Notorious RBG), and Douglas Coupland have in common?

To put it bluntly, they are all royal shit disturbers.

But aside from maintaining a permanent dissenting attitude, the trio seem worlds apart. Or are they?

Deadpool, for those still blissfully unaware, is a loudmouthed superhero (the merc with a mouth), who dispatches villains with élan, and never shuts the hell up. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a Supreme Court Justice and a quiet powerhouse of a woman who has left a permanent mark on American society, all without raising her voice above a steadfast monotone. Douglas Coupland is a Canadian art star with a penchant for kicking up dirt. They all share a predilection for bucking authority, and, to be honest, a way with words. All have new projects dedicated to their respective charms opening this weekend.

However you prefer your superheroes, introspective, or its very opposite, outrespective (?), dissent is a good and glorious thing. Whether it’s a dry legal precedent, a plastic fantastic art installation or a gushing Cuisinart gore fest, wherein various villains have their limbs niftily chopped off.

Let’s do the chopping first, shall we?

The second chapter in the Deadpool saga picks up where things left off in the previous film. Deadpool and his irritating girlfriend are considering adding to the world’s woes by reproducing themselves. As the humans make plans, God snickers into his billowing white sleeve. Before you can say “Bloody Pop Tarts!” things go horribly awry. Mix the arrival of bad men with guns, add in one dead girlfriend, and you have a recipe for despair. Alas, the mini pools are not to be. As a consequence, our hero decides to follow in the footsteps of another famously mortal superhero. (Wolverine upped the ante for everyone by heading for the great beyond). With the help of a cigarette butt and a few barrels of high octane fuel, Deadpool slips this mortal coil. But dying proves beyond even the Pool’s powers, and soon enough, he is reassembled by his Russian buddy Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and deposited in the X-Men’s famous school for sullen mutated teenagers.

There’s little point in regurgitating the plot, like you might cough up reconstituted worms for baby birds, but in short and emetic fashion here tis! Blarf…

After trying and failing to reunite with his dead girlfriend, who has apparently taken up residence in a crappy apartment in purgatory, Deadpool is drafted as the X-Men’s newest trainee. His first assignment is to rescue an angry little sod named Russell (Julian Dennison). With impulse control issues, and a body coursing with mutant pubescent juice, Russell is trouble. He and Deadpool are a match made in hell. Naturally, they are sent to prison, wherein a one-armed soldier from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) pops up to complicate matters. Seems Cable is on a mission to kill the angry teenager for reasons that will eventually become clear. (And really, who doesn’t want to kill teenagers occasionally.)

But before we get to the penultimate confrontation, there are chase sequences through Vancouver’s mean streets, and a few backgrounder bits including the creation and assemblage of Deadpool’s super duper fighting squad — the nearly plagiarized X-Force. The in-jokes fly fast and furiously, with a heaping, smoking pile of self-referential asides almost smothering the narrative. In truth, the plot is mostly there to prop up the yuks. Twelve-year-old boys will be in heaven, but everyone registered to vote might get a little worn out by the time the final CG battle kicks in.

Whether you will enjoy the film depends largely on your tolerance for Ryan Reynolds. Which is along the lines of asking, if you like lemon juice poured on a paper cut. This is something of a one-man show. T.J. Miller (Weasel), Leslie Uggams (Blind Al), Karan Soni (Dopinder), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead) and Zazie Beetz (Domino) have a few fun moments, but they are mostly thespian springs for Reynolds to bounce off of. Vancouver also has a starring role, with familiar landmarks popping in to pose for the camera.

851px version of Deadpool-Phone.jpg
A scene from Deadpool 2: Whether you will enjoy the film depends largely on your tolerance for Ryan Reynolds. Photo 20th Century Fox.

The cleverest bits bookend the action, with an opening credit sequence that makes excellent use of Celine Dion, and eschews the formality of real people’s names with pithy little descriptions such as “Directed by one of the guys who killed the dog in John Wick.” If you have no idea who that is, then a great deal of the film will go swooping over your head. Some jokes land better than others (witness the series of unfortunate events that befall Deadpool’s teammates) and there a few surprising cameos along the way. The film’s marketing team should be awarded the all-time greatest snark trophy, if such a thing existed.

Although, there is some funny stuff here, after a while the constant patter, quips, and heaving sludge of profanity become exhausting. Suffice to say, Deadpool learns his lessons, but not before a fair number of innocent bystanders, including the Vancouver viaduct, get blown up good. And, there’s always room for yet another sequel. And another, and another, until you too may wish to join Wolverine in the sweet embrace of death.

If you prefer more serious fare, there are a number of films opening this weekend that offer an adult take on dissenting voices including Sebastián Lelio’s Disobedience, wherein Hasidic tradition is mixed in with spitting lesbian sex. Even better is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the titular star of co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s film RBG. RGB is a thoroughly researched and elegantly presented portrait of the woman, who has been at the forefront of the U.S. judiciary world for the better part of her 85 years. Long before she became a legal icon, Ginsburg was a serious-minded young lawyer, with a penchant for identifying cases that would have a profound effect, not only on U.S. legal precedents, but also American society.

Only the second woman named to the Supreme Court (she was appointed by Bill Clinton in 1993), Ginsburg launched her career when law firms had a strict policy of never hiring women. Nonetheless, she persisted, supported by her jovial husband Marty. With more than a quarter century on the bench, this tiny woman is often all that stands between American women being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, with little to no protections against discrimination.

The film presents her rise to prominence and power in a few swift and defining strokes. Her first case, presented to an entirely male panel of judges, became an opportunity to speak to a captive audience. In 1973, Ginsburg asked a group of elderly white men to understand that sexism was real and wrong. In a landmark case (Frontiero v Richardson) Ginsburg argued that sexual discrimination was as perfidious, and more pervasive than racial prejudice. The case set a tone for her career to come.

RBG, as she’s affectionately known by her legions of young fans, is like dark matter, meaning the power of her character sucks you in like a black hole. Ginsburg’s ascension to superstar status is curious, but as the film demonstrates, a quick and disciplined mind, laser-like in its ability to locate and ferret out the most salient points in legal arguments, resembles a super power. Many of the most riveting sections in the film are also the quietest, with Ginsburg arguing in her careful and precise manner about the finer points of law. As the U.S. political situation has become increasingly polarized, the woman has found herself on a sliding scale of radicalism. Her consistently dissenting opinions are often the only thing that stand in the way of the U.S. taking a retrograde step backwards towards 1950s oppressiveness.

But just how long RBG can endure is the ominous question hanging over the proceedings. After surviving two bouts of cancer, as well as the toxic enmity of the Orange Anus in the Oval Office, Ginsburg retains a ferocious dedication to the power of the judicial system. The film features a number of scenes of her working out (hard) under the watchful eye of her personal trainer: a poignant reminder that she’s mortal. Unlike Deadpool, who cannot be killed, Ginsburg’s balance of fragility and strength is the most powerful quality of the film.

RBG-Desk.jpg
As the U.S. political situation has become increasingly polarized, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has found herself on a sliding scale of radicalism. Photo Magnolia Pictures.

Plastics!

That dude who lectured Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate about the future being in plastics was pretty much on the money. During the heady days of Mad Men and pop-art, plastic proliferated like an atom bomb, exploding into virtually every part of the planet, with a fair chunk of it landing up in the oceans. But long before the Great Pacific Garbage Patch came to public attention, few folk envisioned the scale of the problem. National Geographic’s recent cover sums it up well, but Vancouver artist Douglas Coupland’s new exhibition Vortex at the Vancouver Aquarium does an even better job of bringing the problem home.

Vortex explores the issue of ocean plastic in typical Couplandian fashion — meaning partly acerbic, kind of horrifying and weirdly funny. A critical element in the show is also emotion, of the most painful and profound kind. As the artist recounts in one of the short films that accompany the exhibition: “I began working with plastic thinking that it was eternal and shiny and happy, and the punch line is that plastics are a mess.”

Coupland approached the Aquarium with an idea, and the show came together at lightning speed. Most of the plastic collected and displayed was gathered on the beaches of Haida Gwaii. As Coupland explains, “I didn’t think places like this could exist, Haida Gwaii is the most mystical feeling…. At least, there’s this one place we haven’t screwed up, of course, we’ve screwed it up completely, ha ha.” (That’s a bitter laugh, in case, you didn’t know.)

More than 80 per cent of plastic waste comes from humans on land throwing garbage into the water. An wall-sized display of plastic items was inspired by the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup’s “dirty dozen.” It is an impressive assemblage, dedicated to the most common items that end up in the ocean. Toothbrushes, pens, bottle caps, straws, tampon holders — some of it is readily identifiable, and some is beginning to take on almost anthropomorphic shapes, eaten away by the ocean, until it disintegrates into microplastics. Plastic never dies, it simply gets smaller. Microplastics enter the food chain at the zooplankton level, and then wend their way back up the system, until they end up inside us humans.

But that’s not the most horrifying thing on display. In a couple of the installations, blue blubber jelly fish (Catostylus mosaicus) bob gently against a revolving school of empty plastic bottles. In another, Lego towers, repurposed from Coupland’s 2013 solo exhibition, Anywhere is Everywhere is Anything is Everything, function as an impromptu reef for Red zebra cichlids (Maylandia estherae) and Golden mbuna cichlids (Melanochromis auratus).

It is a visceral reminder of the current reality of the world’s oceans.

But before you let despair take hold and drain your will to live, the artist has issued a few gentle rejoinders about the course of human history. As the nice Aquarium worker, who toured me through the show, explains the genesis for the project came from an episode of Mad Men, wherein Don Draper and famille, after enjoying a picnic in the park, rolled up their gingham blanket and strolled away, leaving a heap of garbage behind them. In his artist’s statement Coupland explains: “I’m just old enough to remember when people littered. But almost overnight, littering stopped. It’s a hard thing to believe but it happened because millions of forces around the world coalesced. If I can be part of this process with marine plastics, then great. Environmental art is not what I thought I’d be doing with my life at the age of 56, but I think a lifetime spent beside the Pacific inevitably had to assert its presence from my subconscious out into the conscious world.”

The social stigma around littering may have changed somewhat, but any amble down a major thoroughfare in Vancouver will leave little doubt that we have a ways to go. In the case of plastic, we’ve only begun to recognize the problem, largely because it is still out of sight. Coupland’s show sets about changing that, with a massive central installation that incorporates 50,000 litres of water, a Japanese fishing boat, and four different figures, that represent our plastic past, present, and future.

The boat and its four inhabitants is a surrounded by a flotilla of water-borne plastic objects, everything from fishing floats to car tires to Andy Warhol. Warhol, a common reference for Coupland, represents our plastic fantastic past, when this wunderbar material was touted as miracle for the ages. Camera in hand, Warhol is documenting the scene with Polaroid photos. The other three passengers include two giant bobble-headed figures, one boy, one girl, each maniacally grinning, cellphones in a death grip. The remaining person is a hunched-over figure, wearing a life vest. She is an African refugee fleeing the tangled web of oil, economics and environmental devastation that is forcing people to leave their homes and cross the ocean in search of a better life.

The idea is clear. Wherever we hailed from originally, we’re all in the same boat now, and she’s about to go down.

It is hard to contend with the sheer scale of the problem. But where to start? Humans being clever little creatures, we’re looking at various ways of addressing the problem. And…

The Aquarium is planning a number of interactive experiences to further illustrate the ways in which plastic has infiltrated not just the oceans, but also has increasingly penetrated our bodies and minds. To borrow a Coupland quote about an earlier work: “We've never been smarter but we've never felt stupider.” It’s a sentiment that seems particularly pertinent in the way we have used and abused plastic.

Vortex opened at the Vancouver Aquarium May 18; tickets are available at www.vanaqua.org/vortex.

For even more dissent, MOA’s new show Arts of Resistance: Politics and the Past in Latin America explores art and activism in Latin America with artists from Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Chile. The show opened Thursday May 17 with a celebration of music and culture including performances from the Amazonian women’s art collective Shipibo-Konibo. Even if you missed the opening party, there are plenty of extraordinary activities to come including a mural painted on site by the Shipibo-Konibo collective.

So take that plastic straw out of your mouth and fly into the face of authority.  [Tyee]

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Do not:

  •  Use sexist, classist, racist or homophobic language
  • Libel or defame
  • Bully, threaten, name-call or troll
  • Troll patrol. Instead, downvote, or flag suspect activity
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities

Do:

  • Verify facts, debunk rumours
  • Add context and background
  • Spot typos and logical fallacies
  • Highlight reporting blind spots
  • Ignore trolls and flag violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity
  • Stay on topic
  • Connect with each other

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

Do you have a favourite protest song?

Take this week's poll