17 July 2008

dr. horrible's sing-along blog (act II)

I'm trying to be more on top of my reaction this time (more "timely," if you will), so here goes.

"You look horribly familiar."

Act twos are almost always better than act ones: you know the characters, so you don't have to spend time setting them up; the bad stuff (which is always the best stuff, plot-wise) can rain down and set them up for either grand triumph or heart-wrenching failure; the ante has to be successfully upped, because, otherwise, it's just a retread of act one. Empire Strikes Back, Godfather II - when the second act is carefully considered, it's the best.

Act II of Dr. Horrible manages to bear that out pretty nicely. It doesn't have to spend as much time in the video blog box as the first act did, which allows for more meaningful action (and comedy) to take place. We're also accustomed to the weird little world in which it's taking place (laundromat, the doc's lair/apartment), so again, we're comfortable. Comfort allows for the raising of the stakes, which, by the end, it's done quite well.

The opening song is probably the best thing that these 26 minutes of show has done thus far: a perfect fusion of cinematography, performance and song. The look on Dr. Horrible's face in the first instant of the episode is absolutely heartrendingly hysterical, and the split-screen shot where Dr. Horrible slams his hands against one wall, and Penny presses herself against another, is pure cinematic gold. It doesn't hurt that the song is fantastic.

I still can't say enough good things about Nathan Fillion, not only as Captain Hammer, but as a performer. He swaggers better than anyone on the planet except, perhaps, for Patrick Warburton. He's very typical of Joss actors in that you can tell he's a smart performer; when he's on camera, he's always thinking. He never really got a good opportunity to physically intimidate Sean Maher (Simon Tam on Firefly - Neil's closest physical analogue in Dr. Horrible), so seeing him repeatedly wrap his hands and forearm around our hero's neck and use every ounce of muscle at his command to cut off his adversary's air supply is a pretty sick thing to enjoy, but enjoy it I do.

Felicia Day really got a chance to stretch in this episode; free from having to be set up as the spunky damsel in distress (but not really), she's able to portray a smart woman who's come to her conclusions about life through adversity, and who's set modest, achievable, worthwhile goals for herself (in obvious contrast to Dr. Horrible, who's still planning to take over the world and give Australia to his lady love). She's a more full character in this iteration, which only works to deepen my affection.

Neil, of course, continues to play his gawky, socially awkward super villain perfectly. He humanizes the ridiculous Dr. Horrible so well that you can't help but feel for the guy; while Captain Hammer lives every skinny nerd's fantasy, truth be told, if that righteous geek rage was unable to find an appropriate outlet (D&D, making music, masturbation), Dr. Horrible is probably closer to the truth (painfully lonely, self-righteous, but motivated).

I still really like how disinterested he is in traditional villany (that is to say, murder). Even when Bad Horse's telephone call (the return of the singing cowboys!) tells him that assassination is the only way for him to enter the Evil League of Evil, he has issues with it. Death is not what interests him, but social change, apparently, through bizarre acts of terrorism. Of course, what motivates our mild-mannered supervillain to carry out his appointed act of assassination? A woman (by the way, Fillion's delivery of the line, "These are not the Hammer," may well rank among the most perfect things I've seen on any screen this year).

That's probably what's so interesting about Penny and Dr. Horrible, that they both want the same thing, but chose vastly different ways of going about accomplishing it. I wonder if he knew about her volunteer work as he was watching her from across the laundromat; I wonder if he's ever going to think about how similar they really are. By the same token, will it ever hit the Captain that his piece of arm candy is a more mellow version of his arch-nemesis?

The closing musical number is a perfect example of my point about upping the ante: bigger, better, badder, and more cartoony (Dr. Horrible's Godzilla fantasy is fantastic precisely because it comes out of nowhere) than the "Man's Got To Do" sequence from Act I, it cuts off at just the right time and leaves me on the edge of my desk chair, somewhat dejected that I have to wait two whole days for the conclusion, with only The Dark Knight to tide me over (boy, is life ever hard).

It's a wholly different take on the motivations of cartoony terrorists than the one provided by V For Vendetta; more The Tick than Budda's Wagon. It's a great ride that I don't want to end so soon.

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