Friday, August 15, 2014

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Christopher Nolan

When I first saw The Dark Knight Rises, I walked out angry about how long and awful it was, but after a rewatch, I find that I've softened on this movie a bit.  It's still a kind of garbage movie, but I found there were definitely some things to like about it.  It's weird to look at it this way because it's the last of the three movies, but it seems to me like The Dark Knight Rises is like a bridge between the aesthetics of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  With Batman Begins I got the sense that Nolan et al weren't entirely sure what they wanted the series to be, so they put out the realistic approach that they wanted, but left themselves open to the more fantastic elements of the superhero genre: Batman's crazy tech, the League of Assassins, Scarecrow's fear gas, etc.  When they saw that people seemed to be responding to the realism of it, The Dark Knight capitalized on that and pushed the realism further, giving us something more akin to a crime movie.  The Dark Knight Rises splits the difference, keeping the realism while still remaining comfortable with the more fantastic elements that wouldn't have been out of place in Batman Begins.  The League of Assassins is back, Bane's long game plot to destroy Gotham while Bruce Wayne watches is an insanely comic book super villain-esque plot, we get a Catwoman team up along the way, Batman fakes his own death, and THERE'S A FUCKING BATMAN STATUE TO HONOR HIS MEMORY!  So how did this Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of Nolan tones all go so wrong?

First, let's talk about the best thing in the movie because I think it leads pretty well into the worst thing about it.  Bane.  Bane is the best thing in this movie.  "But oh that atrocious Sean Connery impression through a gas mask voice!" you lament, as you clutch your pearls, and a prominently displayed piece marked "REVERANCE TO THE SOURCE MATERIAL" dangles in between your fat old-time political cartoon fingers.  I softly cradle you in my arms because I remember that I too was once like you, and again I say it: Bane is the best thing in this movie.  Tom Hardy and Christopher Nolan create a version of Bane that is still very much true to what I think is the core of the character despite the determined exclusion of his trademark enthusiasm for steroids.  Bane is a man who has the strength, determination, and will of Batman.  He gets the jump on Batman in this movie because at this point in Nolan's timeline Batman's pretty much quit the game.  He's out of touch and he's gotten soft.  Would Bane still have gotten ahead of Batman at the top of his game in The Dark Knight?  Yeah, probably.  That's what villains do in these things -- they get ahead of the hero and the hero learns a lesson.  Moreover, while Bane is a man who is driven by an ideology, Batman is driven by a very vague notion of justice.  It seems Batman just hasn't really given much thought as to the scale of that justice, and his role has been largely reactionary, while Bane's message is clear and proactive: the status quo is corruption and in order to fix it, it must be dismantled: with a nuclear bomb.

Bane's plot to destroy Gotham is a great use of the over-the-top scheming that should be standard from a SUPER VILLAIN, but it's played straight enough that it doesn't seem too out of place with the tone that Nolan goes for.  Tom Hardy's performance is the kind of camp that perfectly offsets the self-seriousness of the movie around him as well as working to establish the idea that Bane is also a charismatic character.  There's a reason why Bane was able to build himself an army, and it's because he's a likable, imposing figure who is offering change through revolution to Gotham's long-suffering and forgotten.  Tom Hardy makes Bane look like he's having a great time overturning the status quo.  Perhaps Bane doesn't exactly delight in all the murdering like Heath Ledger's Joker seemed to, but he's certainly feeling comfortable in his convictions.  It's all a part of the job for Bane, and while it would be tempting to think that Bane loves his job, I think it's more that he is his job.  Bane exists as the primary agent of his cause and as little else, which is what makes him so intimidating.

Now as I understood it, Bane's whole end game was to destroy Gotham and make Batman watch, thus breaking him completely.  The class revolt that Bane triggers is really just a step along the way to detonating a bomb in Gotham, a way to provoke chaos and fear and bring out the worst in people, which means one of the more interesting pieces of this movie-- Gotham's violent class war-- is largely just set dressing, right?  I believe at the time of this movie's release we were in the thick of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the idea of class war was certainly lurking in the American consciousness, so it makes sense the Nolan and company would try to work that in somehow to give their finale a little more timely relevance, but I think that's exactly the problem with it: it's a great idea that just feels tacked on without any actual thought or development.  But as it stands in the movie we have, the promising and relevant idea of a class uprising is turned into a couple of cartoonish street riot scenes and then a backdrop for the third act of the movie.

It's also a pretty confusing statement that Nolan is putting out there.  I'm not sure about what exactly he's trying to say with this one.  I mean, speaking as one of America's 99%, Bane's message is appealing to me.  Maybe we should just dismantle capitalism and tear apart the Upper East Side for being complicit in a system that actively works against 99% of its people, right? It doesn't seem like it's been doing any favors for us lately.  I guess all the murder and violence is wrong, but Bane's message is resonant, despite it being just another step along the way in his mission to destroy Gotham.  If Bane's the bad guy we're supposed to be rooting against, then why is his message so appealing?  And what about Batman?  Isn't Batman the good guy that we're rooting for?  When Batman sees that Gotham is falling apart, and it's not entirely because of a super-villain's plot what's his response?  He saves the city from blowing up, fakes his own death, and decides to go on a permanent Italian vacation.  I thought Batman's whole shit was that Gotham was his city.  You saved the city from a nuclear bomb, but what happens afterward?  Everyone in Gotham decides they should all just pretend it never happened and go back to this system whose incredible flaws and corruption were just exposed to the entire world?  Wouldn't that period of rebuilding be at least as chaotic?  Wouldn't Batman want to stick around for that just to make sure nobody else needs to get hurt?  So I guess I'm still wondering what Nolan wants us to think about this.  He presents these viewpoints with the idea that there is nuance, but he never follows through in exploring that, favoring instead a strange transition from the interesting gray area of a violent class war to the more easily opposable and offensive marshall law.  Then he caps it all off with a black and white "Batman saves the day and everything's fine let's honor him with a statue" ending because it's his big finale and we've got to have some kind of closure.

Bane's message of changing the system seems justified despite it just being a part of his villainous plot, and sure, maybe it's going about it in the wrong way, but Batman's not out there to change anything at all.  Batman is fighting for everything to be just the same as it ever was, and as soon as he gets the chance he leaves it all behind.  It's that kind of inability to commit to a stance that takes an interesting idea, "how would Batman deal with class uprising?" and turns it into something frustrating with no clear payoff.  Further, it reflects these movies' inability to decide what they want to be.  Batman Begins wanted a grounded, realistic take on a concept that is inherently unrealistic, The Dark Knight was less a crime movie and more a movie embarrassed by its source material, and The Dark Knight Rises tries to make a relevant political statement without actually taking any kind of position on the issue they bring into question.  And it's not even one of those things where it's up to the audience to decide what the movie means, since either side of the argument doesn't ever really get a chance to develop.  Bane's incitement of class warfare is incidental to his mission and politics, and Batman ultimately abandons any political responsibility after he fakes his death.

I guess I wouldn't find the confusing politics of this movie so frustrating if Nolan didn't take up most of the first act trying to establish class disparity as a theme in this movie.  Catwoman has a little threatening monologue that she whispers to Bruce Wayne, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt pretty much gets Batman back into the game by shaming him about how he doesn't even know about what's happening to the real people of Gotham anymore on account of his locking himself away in his mansion.  Couple all of that with the idea that one of the popularly cynical takes on Batman is "Billionaire who beats up poor people in the streets," and after the first act, I'm getting pretty excited to see how Nolan addresses this facet of Batman's character, but by the end of the movie that idea's just kind of quietly swept under the rug, like Bruce Wayne's bum knee.  At least it didn't feel like every character was just explaining the entire movie to each other like in The Dark Knight.

Anyway, there was stuff I liked about this movie too, I swear.  Like Bane.  And that part where Batman finally comes back on the scene on his motorcycle and he just kind of fucks things up.  Also the part where Batman is in the bottom of the pit with a broken back and the only way out is through total determination and believing in yourself, and Batman's like, "um duh."  I remember people talking about how that part was boring, but I guess I've just always been down with people aggressively training and believing in themselves.  Because I'm an AMERICAN.  Oh yeah and SCARECROW COURT.  Scarecrow court was the best thing since Bane.  More Scarecrow Court.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Christopher Nolan's First Two Batman Movies

Batman Begins (2005) Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight (2008) Christopher Nolan

I liked Batman Begins a lot when I first saw it, and I think part of the reason why it was so well received was because we hadn't really seen a take on Batman quite like this in the movies.  By 2005, when that movie came out, I'm sure comic book fans were pretty accustomed to seeing a self-serious take on Batman, but for the movies it still felt exciting enough to have Batman be a grumpy street-level vigilante.  However, people seem to gloss over the fact that Batman Begins still deals with some pretty goofy elements.  Most of the first third of the movie is about Bruce Wayne joining up with  the League of Assassins, and the endgame of the bad guys is to put fear poison in Gotham's water supply and then use some wacky macguffin to evaporate all the water so that everyone inhales fear gas and goes crazy.  There are more than a few strange elements that are played entirely straight in this movie, but Nolan does a great job of fitting them into this street-level motif that he's pushing.  In fact, out of all three of Nolan's Batman movies, Batman Begins is the most willing to incorporate the more outrageous elements of a comic book superhero into its self-serious, "realistic" take on Batman.

The Dark Knight, on the other hand, pushes self-serious realism even further, keeping the outrageous elements mostly outside of the workings of the plot, and limiting its use to the aesthetics of its villains.  There is very little to distinguish this movie from a crime movie, and it's reflected in the way Nolan shoots scenes as nods to Michael Mann or Ridley Scott.  It's a perfectly valid choice to make, treating a Batman movie as a kind of louder crime movie, and it's the kind of blending that could potentially elevate it above the trappings of either genre, but it is completely hamstrung by Nolan's distrust of his audience.  It seems like every other scene we get a character explaining the thematic weight of what has happened or what is happening.  Typically it's Alfred, sometimes it's Jim Gordon or Lucius Fox, every now and then it's The Joker or Rachel Dawes or Harvey Dent.  We know exactly what everyone's doing and why they're doing it and what it means on the grand stage that Nolan insists he's presenting us with.  I thought this movie was amazing when I first saw it, but this time around I just couldn't get past how all these characters are constantly explaining the movie to you.  I remember a few movie critics online at the time going on about how Nolan crafted a modern Shakespearean tragedy or whatever bullshit, and maybe in some ways that's true, but the most apparent similarity to me is how both Shakespeare and The Dark Knight Rises are big on explaining themselves to you.  It has the components of a great movie, but its inherent distrust of its audience and of itself keeps it from reaching its full potential.  I'm still ride or die with Heath Ledger's Joker, though.

I'll write about The Dark Knight Rises next time because I feel like I may have more to unpack about that movie than these two movies combined?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Michael Bay

I came into this movie looking for spectacle, and that's what I got.  Shit explodes everywhere.  Shit gets wrecked.  There's an alien bounty hunter robot who can transform his face into a gun and sometimes he transforms into a lamborghini.  My only problem with the spectacle portion of this movie was that the action scenes just seemed flat and uninteresting.  It's always exciting to watch these big fights with tremendous collateral damage, but the fights are mostly gun battles and things being thrown at other things.  I think a big part of the reason is that the movie just wasn't loud enough?  Big action stuff happens and all of the sounds you typically associate with big action (explosions, metal scraping against metal, twisted steel tearing apart, shattering glass, smoldering fire, etc.) are muffled under this boring-ass score that I guess is played to make it all seem more epic and emotional?  The movie is about giant alien robots fighting each other.  That's not typically a topic that needs a score to manipulate us into gawking at the screen in awe like idiots, and as far as emotion goes in those cases, really the only emotion is something along the lines of "I hope X character survives this."  The score was boring and unnecessary, but it hurts the movie when it's actually holding back that visceral terror and excitement that you come to this sort of movie for.

Here's another thing that bugged me: that boyfriend character.  Wow that boyfriend character was a dipshit, wasn't he?  And just confusing tonally, I think.  In one scene he's arrogantly explaining to his girlfriend's father about how it's legally okay for him, a 20 year old man, to be in a relationship with a 17 year old girl because of this weird Texas law, and in another scene he's freaked out and surrendering to the bad guys.  I understand that people can experience all sorts of complex changes in emotion/character, but this was not one of them.  And on top of all that, we're meant to root for this asshole who's openly talking about fucking Mark Wahlberg's daughter right to his face.  The whole relationship dynamic of Wahlberg trying to protect his daughter while her boyfriend is trying to surpass her father as a protector/provider is a Michael Bay movie theme that's pretty gross and about as opposite of a feminist viewpoint as you can get, so here are some ideas I had about fixing this problem:

1) Boyfriend and TJ Miller get firebombed by the bounty hunter.  This allows Wahlberg and daughter to go through some guilt and come out of it with a stronger father-daughter relationship, and they can carry on with whatever bullshit they get up to while tagging along with the Transformers.  This also rids us of two annoying, unnecessary characters.

2) Make the boyfriend just another shitty 17 year old.  There is no reason for anybody in this movie, or in life, to be 20 years old.

3)  Replace boyfriend character with some other Autobot.  You get another shiny robot to look at with none of the concerns about statutory rape!

The other supporting characters weren't that much better either.  All of the Transformers who weren't Optimus Prime or Lockdown were these sort of two-dimensional, vaguely racist things that are pretty much just quipping over every scene they're in.  It's kind of like how Mystery Science Theater 3000 works, but with the actual characters of the movie, and it's not very funny.  Oh, also are we supposed to give a shit about Bumblebee?  That guy sucks.  Every Transformer in this movie has this short fuse and they're always hitting each other or yelling at each other.  And, I mean, I get team dynamics in these sorts of movies: not everyone gets along.  Fine.  But the way the Autobots are always fucking around, it makes them seem like a bunch of hyped up fiver year olds.  It's annoying, and again I think I'm gonna partially blame the sound mixing.  Everything sounds like it was added in after, and yes I know that that was probably the case, but it shouldn't sound like that.  My understanding of sound mixing is that you try to make it sound as natural as you can, as if these are actually people talking to each other or yelling from across a space, not like they just dropped in the recordings of people doing these voices in the same sound booth or whatever.

The human characters are fine (with the exception of the boyfriend who is human garbage).  It's typical Michael Bay big action, government coverup roles: Mark Wahlberg is the working class dad, Nicola Peltz is the daughter whom everyone insists is smarter/more charismatic than what we actually see, Stanley Tucci is the whacked-out genius, and Kelsey Grammer and Titus Welliver are the tireless government hounds tasked with standing in the way of our heroes.  They're all likable enough, but I think Wahlberg and Tucci really steal the show here.  Wahlberg hasn't lost any of the muscle from his role in Pain and Gain and it makes it pretty enjoyable to watch him cast as a sort of meathead scientist inventor with a dream.  That extra muscle gives him a little more credibility when you throw him into action scenes where he's zipping around in a little spaceship or getting chased down the side of a Hong Kong apartment building, leaping from air conditioner to air conditioner.  Tucci's character is interesting for a couple of reasons.  One: it's Tucci, and that guy is great at inhabiting a role while still clearly having fun with it.  Two: I read his character as a logical endpoint of a Steve Jobs-type of executive.  He's created a facade of someone who is improving the world by creating ubiquitous technology, but inside he's a greedy control freak, ready to take over every industry in the world with evil technology.  And it is evil technology, as one of the plot points is how the programming for this new transforming tech is infused with Megatron's evil personality.  It's an interesting thing seeing Bay ham-fistedly sneak in a tech industry critique into a movie that more easily approaches new technology as a facet of the military industrial complex.

That being said, this still feels like a post-9/11 movie.  And I mean that in the sense that this movie could have fit right in with anything that was coming out most any time during the George W. Bush administration.  The movie takes place after a devastating tragedy that's changed the face of America.  In the previous movie Chicago is destroyed, resulting in a changed landscape of human-alien (read: Transformers) relations.  All Transformers, including the good guys, are hunted down and killed, while the rest of the world mournfully remembers the tragedy of Chicago.  We see billboards and notices everywhere to be a good American and report any alien activity.

Though I do admit, a good majority of the plot is contingent on a distrust of shadowy government figures, so maybe I'm thinking it's operating more under that conservative viewpoint that big government is not to be trusted and that a real American is one who lives by his own rules, on his own land, creating and working with his hands, and providing for his family however he can.  Mark Wahlberg's character is kind of a modern conservative dream; an inventor standing up for himself and not letting the government get the best of him.  Bay plays into this with shots of a pastoral Texas landscape and a scene where Wahlberg is literally using a baseball bat to defend his land from a big city realtor.  Bay has always had a tendency to include grand, sweeping shots of American landscapes or small town folk and carefully placed American flags.  His are the kinds of movies that are unabashedly American and unable to function as anything else.

The other side of the coin of Bay's American vision is its direct relationship with consumerism.  Product placement in this movie is pretty blatant, from Beats speakers to a bus covered in a giant Victoria's Secret ad to a pretty funny instance of Mark Wahlberg crashing a spaceship into the Chicago streets and destroying a Bud Light delivery truck.  Tucci's character is the figurehead of American consumerism in 2014.  He runs a company not unlike Apple that provides sleek, stylish technology products for the average consumer that humanity has come to depend on.  I'm not entirely sure about whether Tucci's character acts as an indictment of the modern tech industry.  I don't think it's wrong to label Bay as a capitalist, so maybe Tucci's character and his company isn't so much an indictment as it is a sort of morality lesson about greed and a reminder to be true to yourself and your products and branding?

Speaking of branding, I've learned that a lot of people who don't care for Bay's take on the Transformers characters are partly upset about how these characters don't act like the characters from the beloved cartoon and comics.  In the case of the Transformers that have the misfortune of not being Optimus Prime or Lockdown, we have robot characters who are at worst walking racist stereotypes played for laughs, and at best catch-phrase spewing action pieces.  I understand the frustration there if your favorite character outside of the movies was one of these guys, but I don't really get all the hate that this version of Optimus Prime gets (at least from the corners of the internet that I've been privy to).  I was never that into the cartoon or comics as a kid, but from what I gather Optimus Prime is pretty much the infallible leader, always doing the right thing.  For the most part, he is exactly this in this movie, with a difference that I found to be the most interesting part of his character: Optimus Prime is fed up with humanity.  And I don't know, maybe I'm missing some key part of being a Transformers scholar and fan here, but it made sense to me, and it was the thing I liked most about his character.  He's a good guy who does the right thing, but he's fed up and going to complain about it.  He has every right to, considering a whole lot of his friends were killed in an all out war, and also after the war his surviving friends were hunted down and killed by the people he was trying to save.  I'd be upset too.  I probably wouldn't even bother helping humanity after something like that, but Optimus Prime helps out anyway because he's a better guy than all of us.  I think we can allow him to grumble about it.

This movie was a good way to spend a part of an afternoon, and I'm glad I saw it, but I don't need to put myself through any of that again.  At least not until the next movie where it looks like Optimus Prime is out to fight God.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

2014 Movies: I've lost direction

I haven't written about movies in a while but here's what I've seen since the last time:

Mission: Impossible (1996) Brian De Palma
Jaws (1975) Steven Spielberg
Wet Hot American Summer (2001) David Wain
Dirty Dancing (1987) Emile Ardolino
Grand Piano (2014) Eugenio Mira
Blue Crush (2002) John Stockwell
The Great Muppet Caper (1981) Jim Henson
The Godfather (1972) Francis Ford Coppola
A League of Their Own (1992) Penny Marshall
Pumping Iron (1977) Robert Fiore, George Butler
Wish Upon A Star (1996) Blair Treu
13 Going On 30 (2004) Gary Winick
The Raid 2 (2014) Gareth Evans

I liked all of these movies. The ones in bold were ones I saw for the first time.

Sorry I didn't write about these this time, but maybe some other time? Hopefully I can get back on movie writing soon, I've realized it's pretty fun to do.  

Oh, I also saw all of The Fast and the Furious series, but I'm still telling myself I'm going to write about that at some point.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Uncanny Horror in The Drifting Classroom or, "WHY ARE WE SCREAMING??"

The Drifting Classroom
Kazuo Umezu

Kazuo Umezu is known for being one of Japan’s most influential horror manga artists, but his simple linework and cartooning style is not typically what one would associate with the look of Horror Manga.  In The Drifting Classroom, Umezu is able to achieve an exciting level of horror through a carefully crafted story that perfectly utilizes his own cartooning style.  As with all great comic works, art and writing inform each other, and Umezu is able to craft a singular vision for his ambitious story by ensuring that his story and his art strengthen each other and the themes of horror and growth in his longform manga.

The Drifting Classroom centers around Sho Takamatsu, unwittingly thrust into the position of leading his schoolmates through the wasteland of the future world.  He’s a good kid, a little rough around the edges, but at his heart he is brave and selfless.  His journey from selfish kid to responsible leader is played out across the eleven volumes of The Drifting Classroom, and it’s the kind of character arc that aims to be identifiable to the reader.  We have all been in Sho Takamatsu’s place, perhaps not under such supernatural/science fictional stresses, but Sho’s emotional development is meant to mirror our own journey to maturity.

Kazuo Umezu’s designs for each of the kids in Yamato Elementary are fairly uncomplicated, but the simple designs belie a true strength in cartooning that comes out in their juxtaposition to the more detailed and horrible elements of the post-apocalyptic setting.  Mouths hang open in simple circles of disbelief and brows furrow as the children encounter terrifying threats rendered in dirty, scaly detail both within and beyond the gates of their school.  Umezu effectively uses this juxtaposition of the simple with the more detailed as a tactic of identification and, conversely, alienation.  The simple designs and cartooning encourage a sense of identification with the reader.  We are meant to recognize something of ourselves in these children, and Umezu’s purposeful sparseness with their look makes them open for us to project both ourselves and our friends on them.  This capacity for identification draws in the readers and better positions them to empathize with the terror the characters feel upon encountering the monsters and strange environments outside in the wasteland of this future earth.  

The monsters and environments, on the other hand, are drawn with a specificity that imposes a feeling of otherness to their appearance.  These are all things that have never been been seen in real life, and as such they must look the part.  Their detailed and distinct appearances leave no question about their otherness, a quality that is further augmented by the juxtaposition with the straightforward designs of the children, and because we’ve been drawn into identifying with these children, the horror at seeing these creatures comes from the alienation we experience when we are exposed to such a strongly confrontational visual representation of “otherness.”  One of the main sources of abject terror in The Drifting Classroom is that the adversary doesn’t look like us, they don’t look like anything we’ve ever seen, and that nothing in this world is familiar anymore.  Umezu is playing into some very primal fears of otherness and alienation, primal fears that embody the kill-or-be-killed nature of this new world, and he does this by allowing us to create an internal logic to interpret his art-- namely that simple, familiar looking things like the kids of Yamato Elementary are meant to be reflections ourselves, and that anything that is drawn in much darker detail is meant to signify unfamiliarity and hostility.

However, this internal logic that we are meant to follow gets flipped on its head in later volumes when the adversary becomes not only the monsters outside the gates, but also the children inside who disagree with Sho, namely Otomo.  He is drawn just like any of the other kids, and he is also a part of the group of survivors in this future world, but his violent opposition to the cause of unity reveals him to be just as deadly as any giant monster.  Umezu does this to further reinforce the idea that no one is safe and that danger is everywhere, even in those we trust.  That Sho and Otomo eventually are able to work out their differences despite many bloody battles speaks to a message of hope that Umezu holds to amidst this landscape of fear.

It’s important to note that the terror of the children is not the entire focal point of The Drifting Classroom.  While The Drifting Classroom does act as an allegory of the trials of adolescence, Umezu also takes time to shift his focus to Sho’s Mother.  While the children are trapped in a desolate future, Sho’s mother is trapped in her own time, unable to help her son.  Sho’s supernatural connection to her (aside from being a convenient plot device) effectively sustains her pain and grief, creating a portrait of the desperation you would feel if you were in a position of being helpless to aid those closest to you.  That she can’t simply mourn her son is its own abject kind of horror, parallel to the grief of each of the students of Yamato Elementary.  Her connection to her son adds a level of frustration to her pain; She knows her son is out there somewhere, but no one will believe her, a feeling that is consistent with Umezu’s tactics of forcing you to wonder what you would do in this character’s place.  Umezu is again using the idea of identification or empathy as a tactic for evoking horror in his story, and in some respects the problems of Sho’s mother reflect those of Sho himself.  Sho’s mother is in a world that feels unfamiliar to her, a world where her son is dead but she can still hear her voice and no one believes her, while Sho and his group are literally in an unfamiliar world where they can only rely on themselves.  Both are helpless, but both still cling to the hope that there is a way to make things right.

By the end of the series we do get something of an explanation as to how the world got this way, and again, it is reflective of Sho’s experience.  The world has been reduced to such a state after lifetimes of humans living recklessly have finally taken their toll on the world.  Sho also once lived his life recklessly without any inkling of responsibility for himself and others.  Being forced into this future wasteland, however, has changed Sho, and as such, when an opportunity to get back home presents itself, Sho instead chooses Yu, the youngest member of their group to go back.  Sho sends him back with the message to change the world for the better, so that they hopefully won’t have to live in the wasteland surrounding them.  In keeping with this message, Sho and the rest of the kids stay in the future, determined to make the earth habitable once again.  It’s the culmination of the journey of learning responsibility.  Sho has learned responsibility for himself and others through leading his schoolmates through countless dangers, but he has also learned about taking responsibility on a global scale, sending Yu back to help everyone in the past make sure they all learn to take responsibility for their world and the environment.  Umezu’s optimistic ending may seem incongruous with the horrors his characters endured, but even when horrible things were happening, there remained a sense of optimism, that things could change for the better.  The conclusion of the series takes the optimism that had been laying buried beneath the horror and brings it to the forefront of our attention, in turn reflecting what he had been showing us all along in this world full of monsters and disaster: That though there may be darkness and danger, there must always be hope to make the world better.