Liberty at The Movies: Inferno, Dr. Strange, Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them

Inferno, Dr. Strange, and Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them are three entries in the fall/winter blockbuster sweepstakes. All three have themes of interests to libertarians, but while Dr. Strange and Fantastic Beast are also both fun fantasy movies, Inferno suffers from a tedious plot, as well as number of plot twists and turns that make no sense.

Inferno is the third of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series. Like its predecessors, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, Inferno revolves around hidden meanings found in great works of art. This time Professor Langdon's nemesis is not the Catholic Church but the cult of environmentalism.

Specially, the villains are those who believe that coercion is necessary to reduce the earth's population. Like its predecessors, this move involves Landon's attempt to unravel a monitory hidden in an ancient piece of art.

The piece of art in this case is Sandro Botticelli's Map of Hell, a classic painting depicting hell as portrayed in Dante's Inferno.

The stakes are higher in this movie as the clues hidden in the map reveal the location of the "Inferno" virus. This virus has the potential to wipe out most of the world’s population. The virus's creator, and his cult-like followers, believe that over-population threatens not just the human race but the entire planet

Watching Tom Hanks work to stop a plague should make for a fun and suspenseful movie. Unfortunately, that is not the case. While Hanks and the rest of the cast do the best they can, they are hamstrung by a script with far too many holes in it.

To give just one example, a major plot point involves Langdon’s stealing Dante's death mask from the museum where the mask is stored. At the time, Landon is on the run from various government agencies.

These agencies follow him to the museum, but they do not go in it because they do not wish to cause a panic. This seems sensible, but the police make no effort to inform the museum's staff that a wanted fugitive is on the premises. Even worse, Landon, who suffers from amnesia, watches video of himself stealing the mask, with several museum employees. Yet the museum's efforts to stop him from fleeing are lukewarm at best.

The last parts of the movie are the last 20 or so minutes where Landon, aided by police and officials from the World Health Origination (WHO) rush to stop the viruses from being released, but those 20 minutes in no way make up for the film’s many weaknesses. Still, the villains are interesting. It is refreshing to see a Hollywood production where environmentalists are the villains.

What makes this villains interesting is not just their ideology, but their conviction that their cause is so just that it justifies genocide. The attitude of the ends justifying even the most horrendous means is found throughout history. Most of history’s authoritarian movements did not consider themselves evil; they merely considered themselves as doing what is necessary for the greater good. After all, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. These tendencies express themselves in modern American politics.

Think of the neocons and humanitarian interventionists willing to sacrifice millions of lives and help drive America into bankruptcy in the pursuit of global democracy. Think of those willing to steal and impoverish millions in the name of economic equality.

Pioneering libertarian writer Isabel Paterson examined the phenomena of totalitarian humanitarians in her classic essay "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine." Unfortunately for the makers of Inferno, a similar theme was used in the superior 2014 Kingsman: The Secret Service, featuring Sam Jackson as the billionaire determined to wipe out most of the humanity to save humanity.

Questions of when, if ever, it is appropriate for someone to use "dark" powers for good, is also a theme in Dr. Strange, the latest entry from the Marvel cinematic universe. Dr. Strange is the origin story of the "soccer supreme."

When we met Dr. Steve Strange he is a brilliant but arrogant surgeon. He loses his talents in a car accident. In a desperation for a cure, he seeks out the Kamajh-Tu. Once there, Strange is instructed in the magic arts by the Accent One, the sorcery supreme. Strange becomes a master of the arts, and (surprise) stops being so self-centered. Strange must then lead a battle against an attempt by Kaecilius, a former disciple of the Ancient One, to bring forth Dormammu, a powerful demon lord form a "dark dimension" where time does not exist.

Kaecillus believes this will create a utopia and he resents his former allies and teacher from holding back the world. Of course, Kaecullis is misguided; the truth is that far from creating utopia, Dormanmmu seeks to turn earth into a living hell. Kaecullis sounds like many naive followers of communism and other totalitarian ideologies.

One favor driving Kaedcurllis is the knowledge that, while the Accent One forbids any of her followers from using dark magic, she herself uses it. She justifies it as being a necessity to save the world. The use of dark magic by the supposed "good guys" alone alienates another one of her followers, Moto, who will likely be the villain in the next Dr. Strange movie.

With a Strong performances by Benedict Cumberatch as Dr. Strange, as well Chiwetel Ejiofor as Moto and Benedict Wong as the guardian of Mystic books. The movie had spell-binding effects (those of you who enjoyed Inception will enjoy these effects). Dr. Strange is another fine addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

It also integrates Dr. Strange into the exciting Marvel Universe, setting up future approaches not just in his own series but also as a character in future Avengers and other Marvel movies.

I have to say though, that as much as I liked it, I did not enjoy it as much as other Marvel movies.  This is because, for all its strength, the story is too much of a paint-by-the-number origin story. And I am over origin stories. Fortunately, Keen Feige, head of Marvel Studios, has said that Marvel will no longer be producing origin stories.

Fantastic Beast and Where to Find them take place in the "Harry Potterverse" but you do not need to be familiar with Harry Potter to enjoy the movies. The film follows the adventures of Newt Scamander, a wizard who arrives in the 1920's New York. Scamander is end route to Arizona, where he hopes to return one of the "fantastic beasts" he carries in his suitcase.

An creature leads Scamander to an encounter with the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), which enforces the law reusing all wizards to be registered. The MACUSA also enforces the law forbidding wizards from having contact with a "No-Maj" (No-Maj is the American equivalent of Muggles, meaning a human with no magical powers.)

Any No-Maj that comes into contact with wizard is to have their memories "wiped." Scamander has an encounter with a No-Maj and his flare to wipe his memory is one of the things that get him in trouble with the MACUSA. The No-Maj ends up having a budding romance with the sister of the MACUSA agent who brought him in.

Scamander also has to deal with the New Salem society, a group dedicated to mobilizing No-Maj to the wizard threat. The New Salem group’s leader "adopts" children of wizard and forces them to work for the group, will subjecting them to abuses.

Scamander joins with the rouge MACUSA agent, her sister, and the No-Maj to track down an Obscurus. Obscurus is dark power unleashed by those children forced to conceal their wizard nature.

The political-social subtext to Fantastic Beast is obvious, if very reminiscent of ground covered in the X-Men films. But mainly this is just a fun film that can be enjoyed by wizards and No-Maj alike.




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