Missing Link movie review: unevolved throwback

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Missing Link red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A quite literally cartoonishly awful protagonist, a plot that makes no sense, lowbrow humor, and terrible gender dynamics add up to an unpleasant retro mess.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Behold the relic from the distant past! No, not “Mr. Link” (the voice of Zach Galifianakis: The Lego Batman Movie, Keeping Up with the Joneses), a sasquatch of the Pacific Northwest, but the Victorian-era adventurer who “discovers” him, Sir Lionel Frost (the voice of Hugh Jackman: The Front Runner, Logan). A cruel, selfish bully, he is on a quest to prove his “worth” to a London gentlemen’s club for adventurers by bringing a mythic monster before its members, in order that they might admit him, and now he has decided that the sasquatch will suffice.

Missing Link
A moment of silence, please, for the Anthropocene tragedy of Mr. Link, the last of his kind… Now, back to the shenanigans!

Perhaps it’s meant to be ironic or amusing that the giant fur-covered Mr. Link — who is gentle, thoughtful, and eloquent, if also often faux-pas-ishly literal and naive — is, without question, a better person than Frost. But there’s little sense that Missing Link intends us to empathize overly with Mr. Link: his is but the childlike perspective through which the presumed primary viewer of this animated movie — you know, for children — should observe the quite literally cartoonishly awful Sir Lionel as he is guided toward being a better person. And of course I do not mean a better person by today’s standards. I mean by the standards of the 1880s in which this story is apparently set: Lionel is a man very much of his awful era — bigoted, self-centered, authoritarian — who, with some nudging, will become a man whom his 1880s peers would consider either quite outrageously progressive indeed or outright insane. By the standards of the early 21st century — which is, I remind you, the moment in which this movie was conceived, produced, presented to us, and consumed — the new Lionel we are meant to cheer at movie’s end would be, at absolute best, an example of the minimal baseline for civilized behavior.

Shouldn’t we expect better from our movie heroes meant to move and inspire children? Unless we are meant to consider that adult men are themselves children who need to be molded into civilized creatures? (And people say that feminists hate men!)

Our hero is a bigoted, self-centered, literally Victorian authoritarian. But don’t worry: a woman will fix him.

Oh, and lest you are misled into thinking that it is sweet innocent outsider Mr. Link who somehow guides Sir Lionel toward his awakening as a pleasant human person, I am here to tell you that it is not. No, Missing Link is yet another example of that hideous misogynist nightmare that believes it is the job of a woman to push a man into behaving like a refined and cultivated human being. Here it is the widow of Frost’s former adventuring partner, Adelina Fortnight (the voice of Zoe Saldana: Avengers: Infinity War, I Kill Giants), who invites herself along on Sir Lionel’s quest even though she despises him (though later she will be suddenly charmed when he displays the teensiest bit of decency *barf*), because she has a map he needs and… well, there really is no reason for her to have invited herself along except that the movie needs her for the tedious chore of molding Lionel into a better man. (The movie thinks it’s subverting stereotypes with her, but it isn’t. A couple of wisecracks on her part while she serves in the same old supporting and supportive role does not constitute subversion.)

Go ahead: tell me I’m overthinking this, I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or looking for reasons to be offended. But you would be wrong. I’m not, and this garbage retro shit has got to stop.

Missing Link
Hey, let’s go to Tibet and find some weird foreign people to poke fun at!

This is where I’m supposed to say, Oh but the stop-motion animation from Laika — the studio that also gave us Kubo and the Two Strings, The Boxtrolls, and others — is lovely and it’s all just a rollicking good time for the family. But no. I mean, technically, the craft of the animation is fine. But to what end? Beyond the horrors of the “let’s force an adult man to grow up” running motif, this is a movie filled with crotch-injury “humor,” gay panic, “funny” “exotic” people, and perhaps the first-ever saloon brawl in a movie intended for kids. The overt plot, the one all about Sir Lionel’s quest to prove to the world that strange creatures exist, completely collapses, because he could have won his bet with the London gentleman’s club by presenting Mr. Link publicly before the press in New York and/or London, through which his and Mr. Link’s journey (to Tibet, for Reasons) takes them, which wouldn’t even detract from his personal journey toward becoming a less selfish person. (In fact, it could have worked as the spark for it.) It doesn’t even make sense that Mr. Link could disguise himself in public, which he does by donning human clothes. He is clearly not human, and there is no hiding it. But the movie doesn’t ever engage with this impossibility.

But this might be the worst thing going on in Missing Link, and it’s even more offensive than the “men will be children until women civilize them” crap. Writer-director Chris Butler (ParaNorman) sets up a would-be poignant backstory for Mr. Link, about how his world is disappearing (thanks to logging and general human encroachment on sasquatch lands) while that of homo sapiens is “getting bigger” in this expansionist era of scientific discovery and exploration. And the movie’s ultimate solution for this? It’s for him to assimilate into the human world, to forget where he comes from and pretend he is something that he is not. This is horrifically tragic… and Missing Link thinks it’s a triumph. That is ineffably sad, and no one here seems to appreciate that.

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