Written by: Ken Keeler
Directed by: Peter Avanzino
DN’s Ranking: BAD / Nonessential / Essential
“Hey Donbot, ain’t that your wife what with you had that weddin’ with?”
The comments section of “Bender’s Game” made me realise I was downplaying the sexism (and intersexism, given centaur Hermes’s name being a slur) of the movie. That won’t be a problem with this one, which wears its at-best-superficial understanding of feminism on its sleeve. I’m pretty comfortable calling this the worst of the four movies, combining all their problems into one larger cornucopia of crap. Its ‘message ‘ is as incoherent and offensive as it is strident, its structure actively fights any attempt to invest in it emotionally, and worst of all, it’s incredibly unfunny for long stretches. I’m convinced that ending on such a sour note only confirmed the preconceptions of fans that the movies as a whole ought to be written off. It annoys me most of all that there actually is a fair decent number of interesting ideas within Into The Wild Green Yonder and there’s even a compelling emotional arc buried under the crap.
I’ll start with the structure first, because that’s of most interest to me and I assume least interest to my humble readers. This is the one that feels the most like a few episodes strung together and it starts the whole movie off on a bad foot for me. Bender’s liaison with the Donbot’s wife doesn’t actually take up as much space in the movie as it does in my memory of the movie, but the dual facts that a) this is not in any way new ground for Bender and b) the first act/episode ends with a complete and unfunny anti-climax before throwing the plot away wholesale leaves a bad taste in my mouth. These movies have been putting the deliberately lazy plotting of the show into sharp relief; the Fox episodes feel lazy but this seems actually lazy. I do believe this is because they didn’t go to the effort of figuring out what would actually be the funniest direction to take the plot.
“Looking at one’s cards is a crutch for players who rely on skill.”
I imagine it’s the ideas that bother people more, though. The big thing of this movie is eco-feminism, and like with “Bend Her”, the more you know about what they’re talking about, the more you know they don’t know what they’re talking about. I get what they were trying to go for in bringing all the female characters of the show together in a single cause, and I could even roll with the hypocrisy given the show’s treatment of female characters up until now if I felt like it came from a place of genuine learning and attempt to do right by the characters now, but it doesn’t really feel like they earned that with this plot; stuff like Linda’s on-air discovery and outrage that Morbo makes twice what she does works for me, and Amy getting sick of her Dad’s sexism certainly works, but it also feels like it bends elements of the characters to get where they want to go. Inventing a whole skill for Amy that we’ve never seen before (and, we now know, will never see again) is a more obvious and hacky way of proving a point.
There’s also the fact that the movie’s exploration of eco-feminism is fairly surface-level. “The Problem With Popplers” drew all its hippie’s talking points and behaviours from real-life examples that the writers had some intimate knowledge of; it was incredibly mean to vegetarians but it wasn’t unfair. Even if you personally are a vegetarian and aren’t like that, it’s impossible to deny how many are. The Feministas are much less connected to the actual actions of feminist movements, and so it feels less funny. I’m also confused as to what the point of the satire actually is – the vegetarian jokes in “Popplers” are straight up axe-grinding about vegetarians like Free Waterfall Jr who are both disconnected from reality and overbearingly preachy, and that gives the writers room to separate the idea from the guy preaching it and admit that maybe eating animals is wrong in certain contexts.
“There’s no scientific consensus that life is important!”
There are a couple of points where the movie hits onto some specific and biting satire – as well as the aforementioned scene with Linda, I also like when Fry tries complimenting Amy’s butt because he wants to defend her from her father but has a lousy understanding of what she actually wants – but it feels like vague and wishy-washy girl power of no more sophistication or interest than a pre-communist Teen Vogue article. I think the thing that bothers me most of all is how hard it descends into gender essentialism – ‘gee, men are inherently terrible’ is perfectly understandable as a joke coming from women and nonbinary people and agonisingly tedious coming from men just on general principle, and part of that comes from men not being able to explore the issue in as sophisticated and personal a manner due to the unavoidable distance, which is a needlessly complicated way of saying it’s just not that funny. “Men are terrible” barely carries a Tumblr post, let alone a ninety minute movie; I gotta have some reasons for the behaviour beyond that men are men, if only for better jokes.
(Though it also becomes hilarious the few times it completely embraces absurdism – I’ve always gotten a long, long laugh out of “There! Now you know how it feels to be locked in a go-go cage!” / “What the hell are you talking about, woman?!”)
It’s a shame, because this has a surprisingly great Fry/Leela plot – indeed, one that was better than I remembered. I’m always a sucker for stories about characters forced to make a decision between two things they find morally necessary but are also mutually incompatible. One could say that Leela’s hurt feelings aren’t worth the existence of an endangered species; aside from the fact that metaphor is a perfectly reasonable storytelling technique in order to convey the emotional sense of an experience through exaggeration (in this case, one’s sense of responsibility to the larger world being literalised as saving all life in the galaxy), I would suggest a person who said that had never been that deeply in love with someone. This also addresses our frequent complaints about Leela’s lack of agency in her own story by making this all about Leela choosing to trust Fry. As she observes, she has absolutely no reason to trust Fry except for every minute they’ve spent together up until now telling her he wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the right reason. I find her anxiety incredibly compelling and easy to relate to here, where reason can’t help and all you have to go on is your intuition and feelings.
In fact, I would go so far as to say this makes a stunning climax to the will they/won’t they of Fry and Leela. It’s fundamentally been about her feeling of uncertainty and her unwillingness to trust anything she can’t completely control or predict. There is nothing in this world so compelling or sympathetic as a person who is forced to make a hard decision right now without being able to know everything about their decision; such moments often reveal what we really want. Put a gun to Leela’s head (or, more accurately, put a gun in her hand, or most accurately, an explosive device) and she is forced to admit she inherently trusts that Fry is doing the right thing, and no broader social context of the relationships between men and women can make that any less meaningful. This also has one of the best examples oh how Fry’s love could be seen as attractive – the only thing he wants of her is her presence, and she never has to explain or justify anything to him. Hell, I find that attractive. It’s too bad the story around that plot is a garbage fire.
Title Card: Alienese that translates as “The Humans Shall Not Defeat Us”.
Cartoon Billboard: “The Fly’s Bride”, 1929
Penn & Teller and Snoop Dogg guest star as themselves, Seth MacFarlane guest stars as the singer of the opening theme (always found that a funny poke in the eye at us who dislike Family Guy, and it uses MacFarlane’s best talent), and Phil Hendrie guest stars as Frida Waterfall, Hutch, and the Encyclopod. I absolutely love Hutch and how likeable he is even as he physically assaults Fry on a regular basis. I also love Fry’s tinfoil hat and the way it changes shape all through the movie. Apparently, the film was produced towards the beginning of the writer’s strike, which may account for some of its choppiness. The one saving grace of the Bender/Fanny story – aside from some occasional one-liners – is the Donbot refusing to jump to conclusions even when it becomes blatantly obvious Bender is having an affair with his wife. I also enjoy the poker tournament itself, being enough of a fan of TV poker to find the subversions of it hilarious. The image of tiny Leo Wong shaking his fist in impotent rage cracks me up. I have an entry in my notes that simply says “Zoidberg fall down”.
“I’m very surprised at you slightly!”
Never in my life have I met a woman who was offended by being called a chick. I’ve met more women offended when you call a child a ‘kid’. Nine Guy makes his first voiced appearance after cameoing all through the show right from the pilot – he was originally intended to be part of a caste of people assigned numbers before they shifted to what we see in the film here. Interestingly, this contains more real satire of Richard Nixon – his willingness to serve Leo Wong’s business interests mirror how the real Nixon kicked off a CIA operation to undermine the election of Salvador Allende because his communist politics were seen as a threat to the sales of Pepsi-Cola in the country. One structural element I do enjoy in this movie is how the three main protagonists end up divided into each section of the plot once it kicks off – Fry is with Leo Wong, Leela is with the Feministas, and Bender joins up with Nixon.
“Can I be brutally honest, Fry? I always wanted a son.”
“That hurt. But I can take it.”
I do also enjoy the climax of Fry trying to find the Dark One just for its own sake, and not just because Fry’s searching through the thoughts of other characters is cool. His conclusion that he must be the Dark One is genuinely clever, both for him as a character and the writers as storytellers leading us viewers down a garden path – it’s a horrifyingly logical conclusion to come to that forces Fry to make his own decision, and the actual solution is even equally as clever, revealing that one hand was distracting us from the other. I also enjoy the reveal of Bender saving the Feministas hilarious for the same reason. There is a rare shot of a character having five digits when Leo Wong announces that Bender has five kings – something I had not noticed until reading it on the Infosphere when writing this article. Fry drops a reference to the capybara long before they became an internet meme. It turns out I am always a sucker for sentimental credits sequences.
“Six seven eight, lock the gate, one two three, turn the key, thirty fifty ten – my dirty shifty friend?”
The title is a reference to the theme song of the US Air Force. Tickle Me Bender dolls are a reference to Tickle Me Elmo. Robby The Robot cameos again. Hutch knocking on the dumpster is a reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Zapp telling Kiff to head to coordinates “36, 24, 36” is a reference to “Brick House” by the Commodores. The casinos of Mars Vegas are parodies of various real casinos of Las Vegas – the Wong for the Wynn, Botany Bay for Mandalay Bay, Miragio for the Mirage and Bellagio, the Venutian for the Venetian, Excalibot for Excalibur, and Buggalo Bill’s for Buffalo Bill’s. Buggalo Bill having three eyes is a reference to the Twilight Zone episode “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up?”.
“Stand by, men! And manly aliens.”
The characters ride a sandworm from Dune. The painting covering the White House safe is a reference to the Coppertone logo. Zapp and Bender sing Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like The Wolf”. Zapp drops a “Make it so” from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The moons of Mars are pink and blue in reference to Jack Vance’s Planet Of Adventure books. The Madfellows booing the mentions of the Dark One is a reference to the Jewish tradition of doing this at mentions of Haman during readings of the Megillah on Purim.
Iconic Moments: N/A
Biggest Laugh: I admit, the anticlimax is almost worth it for this line.
Next Week: “Rebirth”. “Why is… those things?”