BOOK REVIEW: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This novella has become more than just another Victorian sci-fi story. The central idea is a kernel that has been revisited in so many popular characters, perhaps most notably Marvel’s “Incredible Hulk.” The titular characters often feature in books, movies, and stories that use the Victorian literary world as their stomping grounds (e.g. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “Van Helsing.”)

It’s hard to imagine that anyone doesn’t know the gist of this story. [Spoiler, if you’ve lived under a rock your entire life.] Dr. Jekyll succeeds in splitting off his dark side, and soon comes to regret it. Whereas Mr. Hyde is usually portrayed as gargantuan on film, in the book he’s dwarfish—representing only a part of the whole. It’s telling that it’s impossible to get to reading this book without knowing the twist from a million references to it in pop culture—e.g. the Looney Tunes cartoons.

Still it’s worth reading the original. It starts with a lawyer telling one of his friends a ghastly tale in which a vile, little man—Mr. Hyde–runs into a girl, and then stomps over her body as he makes his exit. The lawyer becomes concerned when he learns that his good friend and client, Doctor Jekyll, is leaving all his worldly possessions to the dastardly Hyde for reasons the lawyer cannot fathom. The book may not be action packed by today’s standards, but it does have good pacing and revelation of information. The descriptions of grotesquery are also gripping. The story is also told in a manner that is very different from how it would likely be told today, and that also makes for interesting reading. Furthermore, it’s short–less than 100 pages over 10 chapters.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the classics of science fiction and speculative fiction.

View all my reviews

MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers-Age-of-UltronAvengers: Age of Ultron opened across India today, April 24, 2015. This film is set sometime after the events of the second films in the Captain America and Thor solo “trilogies.” We know this because Thor is on Earth and the Falcon (in a cameo) makes an offhand comment indicating that he’s spending time looking for Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier. Furthermore, we know it because the opening scene is the Avengers working as a team to take down Baron Von Strucker’s fortress (re: Captain America 2 end-credit scene) in a fight to obtain Loki’s scepter. This scene suggests that the team has been working together for a while in taking down Hydra bases of operation globally. (Many have jokingly inquired why Steve Rogers (Cap) wouldn’t have called in his avenging friends during the events of the Winter Soldier film.  This film reinforces, rather than solves, that riddle.) At any rate, that opening scene contains an awesome action sequence.

The core premise of the film will not come as a surprise to anyone who has seen the trailers for this film–not to mention the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films and post-credit scenes. Tony Stark (Iron Man) tries to “create a suit of armor around the world” and the program–dubbed Project “Ultron”–goes terribly awry.  After Ultron comes into existence, he quickly moves to co-opt the Maximoff twins (better known as The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver.) Because the twins have an axe to grind with Tony Stark, they willingly side with Ultron. The Scarlet Witch is instrumental in Ultron’s plan. If you haven’t seen the trailers don’t finish this sentence, but for others it will be apparent that the Scarlet Witch’s mind control is used to pit some Avengers against either themselves or others.

The tone of this film is different from the first Avengers movie. In the first film much of the tension springs from unfavorable first impressions and standoffishness. Now the characters know each other and love-hate relationships are rife–some more loving and some more loathing than others. This may make it easier to relate to what’s going on between the major characters. The strained relationships inside the team remain an important factor, and are crucial to the films going forward–most notably Captain America 3: Civil War.)

While the trailers may have led one to believe this would be a big film for Natasha Romanov (aka Black Widow) given the flashback scenes, it’s actually Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) who has a more pivotal and revealing role in this film. (Perhaps to the chagrin of the many who wonder why he’s even on the team.) However, the evolving relationship between Romanov and Bruce Banner gets a fair amount of screen time–though the need to pack a lot into the film given the huge cast makes this drama feel a bit thin. The twins and their tormented past are also critical to the tone of the film. They hold an event from the past against Stark, but they are ethical people at their core.

The Vision is the character that has been held closest to the vest by Marvel. I won’t say much about Vision to avoid spoiling anything other than that it’s an intriguing character. I was worried that either the way this character was created or the effect he had on the story would be a disappointment, but it wasn’t.

I think James Spader did an excellent job of playing Ultron–a character that vacillates between being childlike and being a grim psychopath. (One may not get the childlike part from the trailers, but this is a brand new intelligent entity, and so it’s clever to show that.)

Like the first Avengers movie, this one has its bit of deus ex machina (bolt from the blue solutions to once insolvable problems), but it’s not the perfection of story that makes these movies engrossing. (I didn’t find it as deus ex machina as the first film–though there is at least one moment that springs to mind.)

What sells these films is: a.) the witty dialogue;  b.) the stunning visuals of the action sequences; and c.) the tension between characters both friend and foe. (Probably not in the aforementioned order.) On those three items this film doesn’t disappoint.

I won’t even bother to recommend you see it, as I’m sure–like everybody else on the planet–you will.