Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Movie CoverGenre: Superhero / Film
Main Cast: Henry Cavill; Ben Affleck; Amy Adams; Gal Gadot; Jesse Eisenberg; Jeremy Irons
First Shown: March, 2016
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

I wasn’t that fond of Man of Steel. So when I went to the cinema recently, I walked past the staff in their superhero costumes, the table of drinks, and the balloons. Instead, I headed into Zootropolis, which was great. But there had been a bit of a mistake when the tickets were booked, which meant the manager had to handwrite tickets for a showing at a slightly different time. The cinema sent free tickets as compensation. So it’s thanks to Odeon Cinemas that I’m writing this review of Batman v Superman.

In the aftermath of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) fight with Zod, people are questioning whether Superman is a good thing for the world. Batman (Ben Affleck) has no doubt about the answer: after seeing the carnage caused by the battle, he thinks Superman has to go. But it might be that there’s something more happening than either of them realise.

One of my criticisms of Man of Steel was the amount of death that was brushed under the carpet. Epic fights happened with no attempt to move the fight away from the city. Civilians had to fend for themselves, if the film even acknowledged they existed. This film does address that. The opening scenes were the strongest on that score, as they show Bruce Wayne on the ground during the finale of the previous film. It humanises the conflict in a way Man of Steel failed to do. Some of the later scenes did not work so well, as there were a whole lot of happened-to-be-uninhabited places in two major cities. That was rather convenient and hard to believe. Though at least the heroes are now considering that civilians will die if they’re not careful.

I liked the concept behind Batman. He’s older, and twenty years as Batman has taken its toll. Wayne Manor is a ruin, so he lives in a new building on the grounds. Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is also older, and has become rather more cynical. Given how often the Batman origin story is done, it was a good choice to have an established Batman, with the issues that come with that.

Batman going darker is the main theme of his storyline. He tortures criminals for information, which fails as it’s not a reliable method. As Alfred points out, it’s Bruce Wayne who finds the information through non-violent means. The violence is a coping mechanism, not a solution. This was an interesting take on Batman, but I would have liked more on what led to this. He has flashbacks about his parents dying, but the traumatic things he would have faced after that are glossed over.

Superman’s storyline didn’t have a lot going for it. He gets very little time as Clark Kent, and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) ends up doing the reporter thing without him. There’s a lot of standing around looking sad and feeling guilty about people dying. Not a whole lot of really getting into his story, or showing his relationship with Lois developing.

The final main hero is Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot). She has a small role in this one, but it’s a good sign for her coming solo film. She has an air about her, as though she’s a lot older than she looks, which really works for the role. She also brought a bit of interest to later fight scenes, as she’s a lot more tactical with her weapons than the other two.

The villain is Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), son of the original Lex Luthor. Having him as the next generation of Luthors isn’t a bad thing, though little time is given on expanding his backstory and motivation. It wasn’t clear how the older Lex Luthor died or how else things had gone differently in this timeline. All of this would have impacted the life of the current Lex Luthor.

Unfortunately, undeveloped elements are a trend. There’s a lot of introducing characters and plot, then trying to wrap them up neatly and quickly. This doesn’t make for the best story.

Taking Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNairy), for example. He’s in a wheelchair after having both legs amputated (above the knee), due to injuries from the big attack of the previous film. He feels bitter and blames Superman. When he climbs the Superman statue to spray messages, it looks like he might get a role that goes beyond being there to pity. But he doesn’t, and that’s his last moment of agency when he’s not being manipulated. I was particularly uncomfortable with the press interview, where the camera moves to show his legs as he complains about losing everything. It’s set up in a way to point at his disability as something to pity. It would have been a lot more interesting to have his anger against Superman and the system actually come to a resolution. And as a result, for him to come to terms with what happened. But there’s no time to develop his story.

On to some of the other things going on, mental illness is handled the way superhero stories often do. Batman’s trauma is shown with empathy, even when his behaviour is going off the rails. Lex Luthor is the bad guy, which means he’s called psychotic as an insult (he doesn’t come across as actually psychotic… he also shows signs of trauma). Lex is irredeemable and mentally ill, while Batman can change and is troubled.

There’s a scene where Superman rescues a girl in Mexico. The crowd holds their hands out to touch him, as though he’s a god. Superman might be uncomfortable with this, but it still paints him as the great white saviour, worshipped by those simple non-white folk who don’t know any better.

Gotham and Metropolis were difficult to tell apart. They were also really close together. I never imagined they’d basically be districts of each other, viewable just by looking the right way. If it hadn’t been for characters saying where the action was happening, I wouldn’t have known.

There’s a lot more that could be said without needing to give away major plot twists or talk about the ending, simply because there was so much happening. It’s really the setup for multiple films.

I didn’t hate it, and I did like it better than Man of Steel. There were some themes I’d like to see explored more in sequels, like what it means to be an older Batman. There was plenty of action, and it’s likely to be enjoyable enough for superhero fans. But I didn’t love it because of the cramming issue.

When it comes down to it, I’m a lot more interested in the possible future films that will come from this. Wonder Woman is finally getting another film. After reading Cyborg’s adventures, I’m curious about how his story will be developed. Aquaman has always hit my love of ocean stories, even before Jason Momoa was cast in the part. The groundwork for the setting could lead to something great, but the filmmakers do need to slow down and tell one complete story per film, rather than trying to do everything at once.

Zootropolis

Zootropolis Bluray CoverAlternate Titles: Zootopia
Genre: Children’s Fantasy / Film
Main Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin; Jason Bateman; Idris Elba; J.K. Simmons; Jenny Slate; Tommy Chong; Octavia Spencer; Nate Torrence; Shakira
First Shown: February, 2016
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first bunny police officer in the city of Zootropolis. She fights for acceptance by trying to crack a missing mammals case, and she has a lead: fox con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).

This was a strong film in many areas. The worldbuilding of Zootropolis was fun, with multiple anthro animal species living in various biomes in the city. Business hamsters get to work via tubes. Trains have doors of different sizes for the various animals. It created a complex and colourful world.

The story was also great. Judy has a mystery to solve, which touches on the prejudices running through Zootropolis. At the same time, her relationship with Nick develops from uneasy cooperation to close friends. There are a lot of fun side characters, including singer superstar Gazelle (Shakira) and terse police chief Bogo (Idris Elba).

Prejudice is a major theme of the story. Judy joins the police force as part of a diversity initiative. She has to be the best of the best at the academy, and is still assumed to not be good enough due to her species. The police station is clearly not designed for smaller animals, as the chairs are so tall she has to struggle to climb on them. The police world is literally not designed for her.

Judy and Nick both face discrimination for their species, and both have their own prejudices to overcome. For Judy, being a small prey animal means it’s assumed she can’t do the job. Bunnies are seen as cute, easily scared, and not very smart. For Nick, the assumed aggression of predators becomes a bad thing. It makes a lion a fearless leader, but it means a fox can’t be trusted. The story touches on microaggressions, from Nick touching a sheep’s wool, to animals shuffling away from species they don’t trust. Even Judy, who tries so hard not to be prejudiced, still holds beliefs that predators are naturally aggressive because it’s in their DNA. Nick becomes the exception in her eyes, rather than the example that disproves the rule. Prejudice is complicated, and I liked that the film embraces that.

However, unlike the real world, the discrimination can go both ways. Initially it looks as though larger predators, such as big cats and wolves, hold a privileged position. In some respects, they do. But it’s also possible for them to be on the receiving end of discrimination, which isn’t how the balance between privileged and marginalised works in the real world. It was believable in the context of the world of Zootropolis, but does mean it’s not a perfect metaphor for talking about real discrimination.

On the subject of things in the real world, there are some nods to that. Though being a woman isn’t a cause for discrimination for Judy, she stands out on that basis to the viewer. Her small size and strength are clearly a factor in deciding she’s unsuited to police work. Yet she succeeds anyway, despite the additional obstacles thrown in her way.

There are also Judy’s neighbours, who are both male antelopes (of different species) and presumably living together in a room a similar size to Judy’s. Though I took them to be a married couple, I figured if I looked it up there’d be something making it plain they weren’t. Turns out they share a hyphenated family name, so I will continue viewing them as a married couple.

Less great was the introduction to Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), the cheetah who staffs the main desk. The joke of him finding a half-eaten doughnut in his neck fat was something I could have done without. It’s a big misstep for a story tackling prejudice to fall into fat jokes. They could easily have stuck with laughs based on him being a superfan of Gazelle, which wasn’t poking fun at his weight.

I really enjoyed the film. Though I felt there were some weaker points, such as the fat jokes, it was a well-paced mystery with interesting character relationships. The world was beautifully done. There’d be a lot of potential for more stories in this world, but even if there aren’t any sequels, this was a satisfying story.

Agent Carter (Season One)

Agent Carter Cover (UK)Alternate Titles: Marvel’s Agent Carter
Genre: Superhero / Television Series
Main Cast: Hayley Atwell; James D’Arcy; Chad Michael Murray; Enver Gjokaj; Shea Whigham
First Shown: 6th January, 2015
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

** This is a full season review, so will discuss some scenes from later in the series. It will not reveal the major plot twists. Please don’t post information about season two in the comments. I’ve not seen it yet. **

Agent Carter tells the story of Peggy Carter’s (Hayley Atwell) life after the war. She works for the SSR, but is constantly undervalued for being a woman. They’re more interested in having her take the lunch orders than doing secret agent stuff. When Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) vault is raided, and his dangerous inventions end up on the black market, he contacts her to clear his name. Part of the deal is assistance from his butler, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy).

One unusual thing with this series is we know where it ends. Peggy will found SHIELD and survive into old age. Howard will eventually become the father of Tony Stark. Jarvis will live long enough to inspire Tony, and be immortalised as the A.I. Jarvis. This is the story of how everyone gets there.

I enjoyed how the story progressed. Each episode tackles a new part of the overall plot, with plenty of twists and turns. The short season meant there was no filler or waiting on the movies to reach a certain point (an issue Agents of SHIELD is prone to having). What makes it though is the relationship that develops between Peggy and Jarvis – one of friendship and mutual respect. I’m down for watching them solving mysteries together.

Peggy losing Steve is also tackled head on. She’s grieving the loss of the man, while society only sees Captain America. One reminder of this is a radio show, where her role is taken by Betty Carver, a damsel in distress. As well as being salt on her wounds, this show highlights how history was often rewritten to exclude the women who were part of it. The secret agent becomes a nurse, who is there to mend socks and get kidnapped.

A large part of the conflict for Peggy is getting things done in a society that’s sure she’s incapable of doing so. It’s why she ends up going behind the back of her colleagues, as she knows they’ll neither believe her, nor be willing to look at theories outside of Howard selling his own inventions. Roger Dooley (Shea Whigham) is trying to protect her. Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray) is the typical women-don’t-belong-here sexist. Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj) is the best of the bunch in many ways, but still idolises her in a way that a real person can’t live up to.

It’d be easy to show Peggy as the single exceptional woman, but that’s not how it goes down. One of my favourite moments is when the women she lives with are explaining the elaborate ways they smuggle food out of the buffet. They don’t lack ingenuity. They lack opportunity.

It also touches on disability issues. Daniel is a war veteran with a leg injury, who walks with a crunch. He’s been told his survival is an inconvenience. When someone notices his developing feelings for Peggy, he’s told she’d never date a guy with a crutch. Daniel also stands out among his colleagues as not being the classic Northern European guy (the actor is Albanian-American).

The dynamic between Daniel and Peggy is interesting, as they’re each marginalised in different ways. They use that to empathise with each other. They don’t always get it right, but it gives them a starting point to try.

Around the time I was watching, there was yet another example of a romance book where a Jewish woman falls in love with a Nazi, then converts to Christianity. There seem to have been a string of them recently. Some authors are very determined to romanticise Nazis and sweep all of the atrocities under the rug as not being that bad. One comment on this is why the non-Jewish love interest has to be a Nazi, rather than one of the many people who actively opposed them.

So I was very interested to find out that Jarvis was married to Ana, a Jewish woman. This is one of those stories about a person who opposed the Nazis doing what he can to get the woman he loves out of Europe, and to safety. I also liked that when Peggy refers to Ana being Jewish in past tense, Jarvis corrects her. She hasn’t stopped being Jewish.

What I didn’t like so much is we don’t get to meet her. This was a golden opportunity to have a positive on-screen Jewish character, and it didn’t happen. Though I can see why Jarvis would try to keep her out of things, this wouldn’t have prevented there being a scene where he made up some vague excuse and she was suspicious, or something on those lines.

It’s also very noticeable that black characters aren’t in main roles. Though I’d be happy to see more non-white people in general, I really wanted to see anti-black racism addressed given the setting and time. For a series that handles other issues of marginalisation, this is one that’s glaring in its absence.

Despite those areas where I would have liked more, I enjoyed the season as a whole. It tackles a number of difficult issues, as well as having a fun action mystery plot. I’ve always rather liked stories that handle being non-superpowered in a world with superheroes, so in many ways, I like it better than the movies it came from.

After Earth

After Earth Cover (UK)** The review contains some mild spoilers, but not the major twists or ending **

Humanity damages Earth so much it isn’t habitable for humans, so they leave for a new world. This is attacked by aliens who track humans by their fear pheromones. But the aliens are beaten back after the emergence of Cypher (Will Smith) – a solider able to feel no fear, so he’s invisible to them.

As the film begins, Cypher is close to retirement, and has a strained relationship with his son Kitai (Jaden Smith). In an attempt to patch things up, he takes Kitai on his last mission, but the ship is damaged and crashes on Earth. With Cypher badly injured, it’s up to Kitai to travel through the wilderness and send a distress call. In the process, father and son have to face their differences.

 

General Thoughts

After Earth got very bad reviews, but the premise interested me enough to watch it anyway. I really enjoyed it. It’s not the action-adventure the marketing suggests, but a story about a father and son working through their issues (with some action backdrop).

There’s a lot of attention to detail in this. All the characters speak an invented futuristic accent, showing how language has continued to develop. The design of the colony avoids the excess and waste of the modern world, and their energy comes from turbines, as might be expected from a species trying to avoid making the same mistake twice. The changes in colour and texture of Kitai’s suit is also a nice touch.

Add in that this is a rare science fiction film where non-white/people of colour get the starring roles, and there’s a lot to like. This is not one of those futures where anyone brown mysteriously disappears, possibly because the aliens think they’re extra tasty.

 

Ecology

Earth is initially abandoned because humans made it uninhabitable (for humans). It’s placed under a harsh quarantine, which states that everything on Earth is out to get humans. I was worried when that was announced that it’d be like the King Kong remake, where animals attack humans in a single-minded way. But the quarantine is an exaggeration.

Given my interest in animal behaviour in films, I liked the different animal reactions. The spider Kitai first meets has no interest in him and doesn’t bite him. The first larger animal is checking to see if Kitai is a threat. Each animal has its own reactions, rather than being generic meatbags who want to kill all humans at any cost.

Reading Moby Dick, and the themes of hunting it contains, is used to overlay this. In the absence of humans, Earth is thriving, and species driven to near-extinction are abundant. The implication is the quarantine isn’t really to protect people. It’s to protect Earth.

As a criticism, I’d note that the timescale isn’t long enough for some of the adaptations shown to have evolved. Mimosa-like plant movement wouldn’t be a quick thing, for example. But it’s probably better not to overthink how the climate and ecology is really working.

 

Women

There are also scenes with Faia (Sophie Okonedo) the mother and Senshi (Zoë Kravitz) the daughter, but the primary focus isn’t on those relationships. In mild spoilers, because you find it out shortly after the opening, it’s clear something happened to Senshi. I felt the family reaction to this was good, rather than it being a throw-away tragedy to activate the plot. What I mean by this is the plot isn’t tragedy occurs so let’s kill aliens and never mention it again (looking at you, Starship Troopers film). It’s tragedy occurs and family has to deal with the emotional fallout.

That said, I wish we’d seen more of the Faia’s reaction to this. There’s hints she’s struggling to deal with it, but it’s not fully shown.

One common Hollywood trope is most side characters are men. There were women and girls in the crowds, but they didn’t get lines. This may seem a small thing, but it does detract from the realism.

If there’s a sequel, I hope they deal more with the family as a whole. And mix up the side characters a bit.

 

Disability

There’s a point when a solider who lost a leg in a previous battle thanks Cypher for saving him. This has good and bad sides. The good side is it shows the man is enjoying his life after becoming disabled. He’s genuine happy that he got to go home to his family. Life after disability shouldn’t be a rare protrayal, but it is. It’s often shown as a fate worse than death (and therefore death as a mercy).

However, the thing about wanting to stand to salute Cypher was rather over-hammed. He should have been able to stand with crutches, but he didn’t have any. I see how they wanted to link it in thematically to Cypher’s later injuries, but still… he could have had crutches.

 

Conclusions

I suspect some of the negative response was it not being as actiony as suggested. Someone expecting a kill-all-the-aliens war film will be disappointed. But I’m suspicious some criticism comes from the invented accent. People could think, “This accent is new to me. It’ll take some time until I’m fully able to get the tone of the speaker’s voice and notice small differences.” Or they could think, “This accent is weird. They must be terrible actors.” The latter is unfortunately the one people go for a lot of the time.

This isn’t hypothetical, given that people with composite accents in the real world tend to get those sorts of criticisms. Like the situation where Amal El-Mohtar’s accent was described as feigned and false.

However, if you like family tales with science fiction settings, an attention to detail, and Will Smith, you may well enjoy this film.

H2O: Just Add Water (Season Three)

H2O: Just Add Water (Australian Season 3 DVD Cover, with Bella in foreground)

H2O: Just Add Water is a mermaid series for teens and tweens, which ran for three seasons between 2006 and 2010. Part 1 (over here) considers the series in the context of other mermaid media and reviews season one. Part 2 (over here) reviews season two. Part 3 (this section) deals with season three, wider themes/issues and the upcoming spinoff series, Secret of Mako Island.

(Due to covering three seasons, there are some inevitable spoilers and a few stand-alone episodes are discussed in more detail. However, I’ve avoided discussing the season finales and there will still be a lot of surprises.)

Review: Season Three

Plot Overview

Emma is off travelling with her family, so Cleo and Rikki are left alone. The Juicenet Cafe has closed, and Zane buys it, so that he can run it with Rikki. On the night of the opening, a water tentacle attacks the girls. New girl in town, Bella (Indiana Evans), jumps in the water to help, revealing she’s a mermaid.

The girls travel to the Moon Pool, where they find freediver Will (Luke Mitchell). He’d swum in through the sea entrance and was knocked unconscious by the tentacle as it appeared. They tell him it was all a hallucination, but Will is uncertain.

Now the girls have the mystery of the tentacle to solve, along with trying to get through their last year at school.

Antagonists

The main antagonist is Sophie, Will’s sister. She’s ruthless in the pursuit of profit, so it’s not that she has a personal issue with the girls. Unlike previous antagonists, she has no interest in mermaids. It’s simply that she has no qualms about what happens to anyone who gets in the way of making money.

Despite this, there are signs she does genuinely care about Will. It’s just that she loses sight of it sometimes when money is at stake.

Allies

Lewis is still around at the start of the season, but heads off part way through. Taking up the slack is Will, a talented freediver who’s being pushed to go professional by his sister.

Mermaid stories usually de-emphasise human aquatic abilities. Mermaid allies may well be poor swimmers. If they’re comfortable in the water, it’ll be related to a surface water sport. Having an ally who can hold his breath and swim to reasonable depths is unusual. It also works well, because it gives Will an understanding of the mermaids that other allies have lacked (and it’s not as though freedivers will ever be mermaid replacements… even a talented human can’t swim as fast, or hold their breath for as long, as the mermaids).

It does mean he has an initial mermaid squee reaction to finding out mermaids are real, but he settles down soon enough, and comes to see the girls as friends he can share his love of the ocean with.

Overall Views

My criticism of the second season is it took a long time for the plot to get going. This wasn’t the case in season three, where the plot of the water tentacle is introduced in the first episode and builds towards much higher stakes finale than the previous seasons.

Emma was absent as the actress had another job. Lewis was also gone for part of the series for the same reason. Which meant the new characters of Bella and Will were introduced. This did have some advantages, as both Bella and Will have lived very sheltered lives, with a lot of travelling and little time to socialise. The result is they’re still navigating things others might deal with as younger teens, giving space for Cleo and Rikki to face older challenges.

More specifically, Rikki is dealing with running a business with Zane. Cleo is dealing with disruptions at home (her dad meets someone new and her sister is now a teenager), and a new job as a dolphin trainer (which presumably could be her future career).

The pacing of the season was pretty good, with a mix of the main plot and the sub-plots. I liked that the girls were facing more adult concerns. The eventual stakes in the finale got an eyebrow raise from me, but they do make sense in terms of the worldbuilding done for the mermaids in the series. This was a better conclusion than the previous season, and not a bad place to end the story.

Series Overview

Mermaid Design

Turning into mermaids on contact with water and mermaid powers are fairly standard in modern mermaid stories (though I haven’t seen Bella’s water-to-jelly power before). Shapeshifting with all worn items is a little more unusual. Most mermaids transform naked and have to find clothes. But given the short episodes, it’s a lot easier for filming to have them shapeshift complete with clothes (and they do use the idea in fun ways, such as Emma dying her hair red as a mermaid, but it staying her original colour as a human).

The most unusual thing with the mermaid design was the reactions to the full moon. Seeing the moon or its reflection can cause them to act like they’re intoxicated and possibly give them temporary abilities. As the girls spend more time as mermaids, this lessens, but the moon cycles remain significant.

The girls themselves joke about it being werewolf time, but it does make more sense for mermaids than werewolves. The moon has a big impact on the oceans, so the idea that mermaids would be sensitive to it isn’t that far-fetched. As the series progresses, it becomes clear it’s more complicated than that. The position of the planets and other heavenly bodies also has an impact. And there’s a suggestion about why this might have come about in the first place.

Continuity

There are issues with continuity in the story. Some are likely budget concerns, as actors aren’t rehired after their part of the story is done. It would’ve been interesting to see what Charlotte was up to in season three or to see Miriam from season one develop as a character. Perhaps to have the girls go to Miss Chatham or Max for advice sometime. These people wouldn’t have all vanished mysteriously in real life.

Others are clearly mistakes. Ronnie turns from a wild rescue dolphin to a captive bred one. Rikki forgets that Cleo has painful singing.

Generally though, the continuity isn’t too bad. There are some fun things that carry over, such as Lewis using his spiral lure anytime he fishes.

Racial Diversity

When I first saw the cover photo, I did wonder about Phoebe Tonkin’s (Cleo’s) race* (and judging from my internet searches, other people have too). However, she seems to identify as white and she’s portrayed as white in the series**. And she’s as dark and non-Northern European as any main characters get.

There are some side characters of other races, so if anyone’s about to argue that everyone in Australia is white… no, they’re not, and clearly they had no issues finding non-white actors for background parts.

Given that the series ran for three seasons, with eight different mermaids plus assorted love interests, they could have widened the net for their main character casting choices. As well as general issues of diversity, it reinforces the trope of non-white people never getting to be the cool non-humans (and thus never the centre of supernatural stories).

Romantic Relationships

All of the relationships are between a boy and a girl. This may not be something the writers can control, as the networks often insist on that for child and young teen shows. But it’s still something that needs mentioning, because somewhere along the line, someone’s deciding that only heterosexual children and teens get to see themselves and their issues.

On a positive note for the show, it doesn’t glorify abusive stalker relationships. When the boys act in ways that are controlling, this is shown as a bad thing. The girls also aren’t vilified for handling relationships their own way. They can break up with boyfriends, have different boyfriends or not date (they’re not all actively dating when the series ends). However, it did bother me that all the boys had controlling moments. Even though the narrative tended to slap the boys when they tried, it would have been nice if at least one of them didn’t feel the need to try.

Cleo and Lewis’s relationship was good to see after a few too many books. Young adult novels are a little prone to partners who are fated to be together, like it or not. This predestined bond gets used as an excuse for all sorts of abuse. So seeing a one-true-love setup where there’s no predestination, only two people who’ve grown up together and are close friends, is nice.

Women in Science

The handling of women in science wasn’t ideal in the first season. Though Doctor Denman is portrayed as being a talented scientist, she’s also the target of appearance-based criticisms (that she can’t be a real scientist due to being pretty). The girls generally avoid science, leaving it to Lewis.

The second season has Cleo fail biology and need to retake it, because she can’t cope with science. Though her student mentor is Charlotte, and Cleo does pass after her extra study, there’s still a vibe of science not being for girls.

This turns around in the third season. Cleo and Lewis work together on analysing the tentacle and Moon Pool. When Lewis leaves, Cleo continues the study, and is also shown working hard at science at school. A new science teacher character is a woman, who’s shown as competent, without any of the overtones aimed at Doctor Denman. (Though an eye-roll is directed at the fact Cleo starts wearing glasses in this season.)

Taken as a whole, this creates a character arc where Cleo starts out avoiding science because she doesn’t think it’s for girls, slowly realises she can do it if she studies, and starts to become enthusiastic about it by the end. I don’t believe this was the plan from the start (season three wasn’t in the original plan), but it was a reasonable way to redirect problematic elements of season one.

Final Summary

There are issues with the series. Season two flounders, and the way side characters vanish is a sign of budget considerations. There’s also a big lack of diversity among the main cast. This is an issue in mermaid shows and films in general, but H2O didn’t exactly decide to break the trend.

However, I enjoyed it overall. The mermaid lore went to some interesting places, and I liked that the personal issues the girls face age with them. The visuals are nice, the characters are relatable for the intended audience, and it’s generally strong on its depiction of women and girls (and where it’s not, it’s a talking point***). If you’re looking for something generally fluffy and fun, plus mermaids, H2O is one to watch.

The Secret of Mako Island

It is good to show that boys can be merpeople too (or fairies or riders of sparklie pink unicorns), but it needs to be done in a way that doesn’t backslide to the old male-centric focus, where girls and women were just the accessories in the stories of the men.

This test is coming up for the makers of H2O with their next series, The Secret of Mako Island. In this, Zac falls into the Moon Pool and gains merpowers (early sources disagreed on whether he gets a fish tail or finned feet… but the promotional photos show a tail). This causes problems for three mermaids guarding the pool, who grow legs and head onto land to find him.

Potentially, this could go very wrong, becoming a story where Zac’s needs are the core of the story at all times. However, if they create a friendship group much like the mermaids and Lewis in the previous series, it could work. A boy as part of the group is different from a boy dominating the group.

The series does address one of the H2O issues. Zac’s actor – Chai Roumune – is mixed raced Thai/White Australian, which is a first for the merpeople (or any of the main characters) in the franchise. How well they handle this will be one of the areas I’ll be looking for when the series is available.

On a story level, they need to find new places to go. It does look set to continue developing the mermaid lore, with sea-dwelling mermaid pods (something hinted as possible in season three, but not actually shown). There have been promotional shots of an older mermaid instructing the three girls, so there’s potential for showing pod politics and family.

For now, I’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

* Based on the cover image for this post, you might wonder what I mean about Phoebe Tonkin. She looked more obviously different in the season one cover photo, and appears to have been lightening on the covers as the seasons have gone on.

** The distinction between character and actor is important. It’s not unusual for lighter non-white actors to be paled down and given Northern European family members, in order to portray them as white characters. It’s also not unusual for mixed race characters to be played by white people.

*** I grew up chatting about the things I watched with my parents. And later with my friends. I learnt a lot about social issues that way. So I look for the potential for being a conversation opener in series for younger viewers. You’re never too young to start analysing what you watch.