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2.12.2009

Goodbye, sweet goofbags: A detailed review of Futurama, "Into The Wild Green Yonder" 

(SPOILERS aplenty, so don't bother reading if you don't want to be spoiled.)
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If "Into The Wild Green Yonder" is indeed the final installment of Futurama, the series ends on a positive note. Although the epic sci-fi plot has some systemic flaws, on the whole the movie is an uplifting final journey through the lives of Fry, Leela, Bender and company and the fantastic world in which they live.

Characterization has been a consistent strength of the entire Futurama series, but seemed to suffer in some of the earlier movies ("The Beast With A Billion Backs" in particular). In that respect, "Into The Wild Green Yonder" is a return to form. Placed in stressful, uncertain circumstances and pitted against each other for large portions of the movie, our heroes remain true to themselves and, in the end, to each other.

On the surface Philip J. Fry appears to be a childlike, slow-witted fellow, but deep within lies a sensitive, courageous soul and a heart of gold. Once again the fates call upon the superhero within -- Fry finds himself thrust in the middle of an epic struggle for the future of all life and must craft a plan with very little information at hand, his allies assist him and his closest friends opposing him. In the end Fry guesses wrong and gets lucky, but this child of destiny has never survived by his wits alone.

Initially cast as the responsible, no-nonsense, butt-kicking Captain of the Planet Express ship, Leela's personality changed subtly but significantly over the course of the series. On the one hand, she became a more independent-minded personality whose passions and temper sometimes landed her in trouble. On the other hand, as details of her troubled past as an cyclopean orphan emerged, some deep-seated personal insecurities began to come to the fore. In this movie, the rebellious Leela takes center stage -- she has the option of serving a token jail sentence for her first crime, but instead opts to become a fugitive in order to stop Leo Wong's entertainment empire and save the environment. After many twists and turns in and out of the clutches of the authorities, she finally manages to fulfill her mission, only to turn it over to Fry the "villain". Why? Fry can't say, he can only plead with Leela to trust him.

Ever since Fry formally professed his feelings for Leela at the beginning of season 3, their relationship started bouncing all over the place. Though he went to extraordinary lengths to express his love, made significant sacrifices for her well-being and helped her overcome some of the demons of her past, he certainly had far more than his share of slip-ups during the interim. Leela, for her part, occasionally returned Fry's affections. However, she constantly found herself caught between this boyish addlepate who truly loved her for who she was and her romantic ideal of a man.

Though it is never explained in the movie, it is clear that at the beginning of "Into The Wild Green Yonder" Fry and Leela are on very close terms; after Fry unexpectedly offers his support for Leela's eco-vandalism mission, she says "goodbye, sweet goofbag". Aww. Of course, circumstances place Fry on the opposite side put a severe strain on their relationship, but in the end Leela's heart and the weight of their shared lives win out. The blessing Fry offers to Leela as she begins life as a fugitive -- "You're you; that's all I need to know" and that Leela repeats to Fry at the implosion ceremony is kind of clunky, but Leela's final words to Fry -- "Maybe I waited too long to tell you this, but...I love you too" -- are a simple redemption of the feelings of frustration and longing that Fry had harbored in his heart for years. Given the drama of their relationship up to this point, I was very surprised and pleased that the writers tied things up in a gentle, graceful manner.

Bender's motivations for betraying and later rescuing Leela make no sense to a human, but he has of course never been constrained by human principles of morality. To him, accumulating a long resume of felonies is just as worthy a goal as cheating on the Donbot's wife or winning a poker tournament. Fortunately for our Planet Express crew, they rate pretty high on his list of priorities as well.

Amy and Prof. Farnsworth are both relatively minor characters in the plot, and as such their characters and motivations aren't filled out very much at all in the movie. The combination of her parents' greed and patronizing attitude finally give Amy the impetus she needs to break away, while Farnsworth makes a rather abrupt 180 from a corrupt quack to the concerned scientist he's supposed to be. Farnsworth is, of course, pretty notorious for his comical lapses of ethics throughout the series. To see him treated as a blatantly corrupt and unsympathetic stooge throughout most of the movie is rather disappointing, perhaps the only real failure of characterization throughout the movie.

As mentioned before, the core plot of the movie concerns this epic struggle for the future of biological life between the Dark Ones and the Encyclopods. Since the plot is almost entirely self-contained -- the only key callback from the series is Fry's immunity to mind-reading, a consequence of his missing delta brainwave -- all of the main players in the tale have to enter and exit in the space of 60 minutes. Unfortunately, the quick development and resolution of these massively important players leaves plot holes and dangling questions all over the place. How is it possible that the Dark Ones, allegedly the pinnacle of evolutionary success, are a nearly-extinct species of leeches living in a single mud puddle on Mars? Given their telepathic killing powers, how haven't they been able to coerce Leo or someone else into destroying the violet dwarf by now? After having reached the implosion ceremony, why wouldn't the Dark One have killed off Leela and others to make sure the implosion proceeded as planned? Are the Dark Ones innately evil, or is it a result of natural circumstance? (This ethical dilemma is squashed in favor of a cheap yuk when Zoidberg consumes the last remaining Dark One.) The plot does a good job of serving the principal characters, which is much better than the reverse, but on its own it is kind of sloppy.

Of course, no discussion of a Futurama episode would be complete without evaluating the humor in the script. The overarching comic absurdity in the movie is, of course, Leo's massive mini-golf course and his plot to blow up a precious ecosystem to create a black hole that can be used as a ball sink. Only in Futurama does something like this happen. The first 22 minutes of the movie are packed with funny cultural references and parodies, but once the main plot gets going, the movie tenses up noticeably and the breadth of the humor gradually peters out, with the running war-of-the-sexes gags becoming especially stale. (EDIT: After rewatching the movie, the second half of the movie doesn't feel quite as tense to me as before, perhaps because the anxiety and anticipation of the finale is gone. Thank God for Zapp Brannigan.) Another minor disappointment is the paucity of nerd jokes -- the vast majority of jokes in the movie are either character-specific or aimed at a general audience.

Although the final movie isn't constantly laugh-out-loud funny and is confusing at times, it's still faithful to the main theme of the series -- that our Planet Express crew are a bunch of oddballs with their own unique quirks, foibles, and personal issues, and that no matter what conflicts or absurdities the universe throws at them, they manage to stick together. In the end Fry gets to hear those three words from Leela he's longed to hear all his life, and our crew head off into an uncertain future, knowing that their shared experiences have forged bonds of friendship, loyalty and love that won't be broken.

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Comments:

Great summing up of Futurama and this movie.
 


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