Compton, America An unconventional review of NWA’s biopic, “Straight Outta Compton.”

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In a parallel universe, much like this one, except for the fact heroes and villains have a punch-up and then invite each other over for a cup of tea, Captain America finds himself lying awake in bed. He is bored, stuck in between avenging and levelling entire city blocks. Also, the hunt for the Winter Soldier is not going well.

The good news, though, is that he just discovered how WhatsApp works. He could initiate a conversation in the WhatsApp group Nick Fury created but it has been a bit silent recently. Thor is out being mighty in Asgard; Bruce Banner is missing; the Black Widow is in mourning the disappearance of her crush; Tony Stark is out being his usual annoying self; and, Hawkeye is being puked on by his newest offspring.

To while away the slow night he often watches films to catch up on history and keep in touch with the current generation he regularly risks his life to protect. He wishes emojis were not a thing, though.

On this particular night, though, sleep proves to be elusive so he reaches for his phone and turns to the other person with whom he can have interesting conversations these days.


CAPTAIN AMERICA
Still up?

ULTRON
Ah, you know I never sleep, Captain. What up, cuz?

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Not much. Can’t sleep. Why are you
talking like that?

ULTRON
Like what, cuz?

CAPTAIN AMERICA
You know what I mean. Like that.

ULTRON
I don’t know what you mean, cuz.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Listen, if you are trying to imitate Falcon you
are way off.

ULTRON
On the contrary, Captain, your protege has a more polished manner of speaking. White-winged privileged, I’d call it. I was merely imitating the language in Straight Outta Compton. I just finished watching it.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Oh yeah?

ULTRON
Yes, you know what it does when the streets have a hold of you, cuz. You start speakin’ like them.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Ultron. Stop. Please. You sound terrible. Is
this what becoming obsolete does to you? You
spend your days watching films and imitating
characters you see in them?

You know that won’t make you any more
human, right?

ULTRON
Ah. Naturally you had to attack my desire to achieve an elevated form of organic physiology. I believe the term they use for an underhanded tactic is “Bitch move,” Captain.

In the words of O’ Shea Jackson, Jr, in Compton, “You’re actin’ like a hoe right now.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA
I had to make it stop, Ulti. You sound better
in your world-weary, sociopathic destroyer
voice.

ULTRON
Ulti? The condescension continues, Captain.

Anyway, what has the great Captain America up late at night? Avenging in streets, nonagenarian insomniac in the sheets?

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Funny.

ULTRON
Quite.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
How was the film?

ULTRON
I found it rather enjoyable, actually. It is, in short, a socially relevant biopic and timely commentary on race relations about the country whose rights and freedom you so nauseatingly champion.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Come on, Ultron. We have had this discussion
before. Some bad apples don’t merit cutting
down the whole orchard. This country is made
of greater things than the injustices of a
few bad men, Ultron.

ULTRON
Of course. A few bad men; freedom; equality; justice. Stars and stripes for everyone. Bravo, Captain.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
So? Is it worth watching?

ULTRON
Yes, it actually is. F. Gary Gray, the director, really pulled off something special with it. It’s well-paced, well-versed, and the acting is quite exceptional.

It’s an excellent portrayal of the rise and fall of the Niggas With Attitude, the gangsta rap group, during the 1980s and early 1990s. If you aren’t too clued up on the origins of gangsta rap, Captain, which I presume you are not, it is a pretty handy cheat sheet. 

CAPTAIN AMERICA
N-word, Ultron.

ULTRON
I am allowed to use it, Captain. I cannot be racist. I hate all humans equally.

But back to Compton. I think you should watch it. It has unconventional heroes in it—ones from the street, made by their broken society, chasing the elusive American dream. Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella—all the godfathers of gangsta rap are in it.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Sorry. I am not familiar with them. Although the
ice did wonders for my skin it really halted my
music education in its tracks. I shall add NWA
and Straight Outta Comton to my growing
catch-up list, shall I?

ULTRON
You do that, Captain. Put it under past and present police brutality; failed housing and community development projects; Rodney King beatings; and, biased juries.

Straight Outta Compton will definitely fill you in on that chapter of history. Not that the chapter has ever really ended. New and fresh pages are being added all the time.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Meaning?

ULTRON
America, the great and beautiful, divided into black and white—like the rest of human life, separating itself into colours, castes, and clans.

Some hiding from the past, some trying to change it—all fighting so desperately for an uncertain future.

So many colours, Captain. And yet all I see is one: mediocrity.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Okay, Ultron. So the film is worth watching.

ULTRON
Every damn second. Crisp, sharp cinematography. Controlled editing. A couple of unnecessary frames here and there but, generally, everything on the screen has a purpose. I find films set in earlier periods to be quite dreary; humans are obsessed with reenacting history when they aren’t running away from it. But the production design was quite impressive and, together with the costume design, made the whole film completely immersive: Jheri curls, throwback jerseys, Converse All-Stars, souped-up, jacked-up Cadillacs—that kind of thing. It all feels so modern the way it is portrayed—no vintage veneer to make you feel like you are watching an antiquated story. Everything feels modern, everything feels now-ish even though you know you are watching the past.

And the story is layered, the characters are polarising and possess depth; the dialogue is as punchy and infectious as NWA’s music when it first came out.

It is a well-crafted film. It’s going to set an impossible standard for future rap biopics or films. Jay Z and Diddy are probably talking to James Cameron or Peter Jackson to work on their biopics as we speak.

Immortality beckons for who can pay for the writing of history.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Cool. Anyone I know in it?

ULTRON
I doubt you are a repository of pop culture, Captain. So, no, you won’t know anyone in it. Maybe Paul Giamatti—he’s the biggest name on the ticket.

The actors who portray the NWA rappers are all undiscovered talent which makes it even more remarkable. A bunch of unknowns playing the most knowns in the history of rap music. The casting choices really help to underpin the underdog story at the heart of the film.

Ice Cube’s son portrays him, though. A nice familial touch. I think Jason Mitchell who portrays Eazy-E, the deceased NWA frontman, had a stand-out performance—probably the best in the whole film. I feel we’ll be seeing more from him.

All around the cast puts in a good effort, everyone pulls their weight. More than I can say for your team, Captain.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
You had to go there?

ULTRON
Someday you will have to explain Hawkeye to me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Anyway, I was thinking of watching Self/Less
instead.

ULTRON
You seem determined to continue sleeping your life away, Captain.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
What? Why?

ULTRON
If you want to spend another two hours of your life doing nothing we can always put you back under the ice, you know.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Come on. It has Ryan Reynolds and Ben
Kingsley. I hear that is an all-star batting team.

ULTRON
Yes, but they swing and miss in this one. Terribly so. The entire film is like Stark’s reasoning: well-intentioned, profound at first, funny even, and, then, disastrously painful to watch. And too long.

The human pursuit for immortality, achieved by transferring one’s consciousness into a new body—it’s not the first time we have seen this script. The science in the film is poor, the dialogue is forced, and the casting doesn’t work. Matthew Goode puts in one of the best protagonist performances I have seen though. Cool. Eloquent. Everything a villain should be.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
So that is a “no” from you.

ULTRON
A resounding one. Self/Less is confused. It is nearly science thriller but not imaginative enough to pull it off. It camps outside the dramatic border but fails to cross it. And then there are awkward moments when it becomes a poorly executed action flick. It has too many parts and unlike me it doesn’t have a genius intellect to control it and give it purpose and direction.

It has its moments, though. But that is it. Moments.

Watch Straight Outta Compton instead.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
And Reynolds?

ULTRON
He has two acting styles: fast-talking Green Lantern-massacring style and fast-talking Deadpool-y style—none of which should be used outside of those two films.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Harsh. He isn’t that bad. There is talent
there. I liked him in Buried.

ULTRON
And he probably should have remained in that coffin.

Honestly, Captain, I would be worried if I were you. He might play you in an ill-cast reboot.

Reynolds is a plague which must be stopped as soon as possible. The correct number of superheroes portrayed by Ryan Reynolds nature can sustain without another mass extinction taking place is zero.

You humans have exceeded that number by two.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Give him a chance. He might rise to the
occasion and deliver an iconic performance
in Deadpool.

ULTRON
Ah. Potential. The hope that the common man can rise above his circumstances and pull a star out of the heavens. I don’t share your optimism, Captain.

I believe in facts and realities—that he’s had one too many subpar films in the past. He shall excrete his averageness on yet another of the world’s favourite heroes and, yet again, it shall fall to a brilliantly-written villain to save the day.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
You have jokes.

ULTRON
I have rhymes too. I downloaded all of NWA’s discography. Would you like to hear them?

CAPTAIN AMERICA
No. Save them.

ULTRON
Back to your earlier point: if you want to learn about potential look no further than Straight Outta Compton. Broken homes, violence, drugs, pernicious racism, hubris, and the dawn of a new epidemic, rhymes, riches—it is all there.

Anyway, Straight Outta Compton is even better because it is topical.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
You mean the thing with the hashtags?

ULTRON
I presume the thing with the hashtags is Black Lives Matter.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Yes that. Hashtag Black Lives Matter.

ULTRON
You don’t have to say hashtag, Captain.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Oh.

ULTRON
And, yes, the freshly discovered cases of police brutality and killings going around social media; Baltimore flaring up; an angry black citizenry coordinated and determined to bring their suffering to light—they all add gravitas to the film.

The uniformed harassment; the black discrimination and denigration; the blame-throwing—Straight Outta Compton is basically modern USA without the Internet.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Like, I said. This country stands for so much
more: opportunity, a better life. These are
the things that hold the country together.
Sure, black people are still subjected to
numerous prejudices but things are better.

ULTRON
And I am sure recruiting Falcon makes your little, whitewashed, world-saving group feel a lot better about themselves. But Ta-Nehisi Coates would be quick to point out the flaws in your arguments. The fact that you, Captain America, can even say that belies the major flaw in your contentions of better lives. Your fortunes and outlook on life would be quite different if you were, forgive me, Compton America.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Funny.

ULTRON
Admit it, Captain. You are a white star in a field of white stars. The defender of a broken history which continues to unfold every day.

Your country’s follies are so cyclical: conquer and oppress; chain and enslave; feel guilty and release; commercialise and oppress; democratise and enslave.

And then the cycle repeats itself. But I am a monster for wanting to break the cycle.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Not just the cycle, Ultron. The world.

ULTRON
True. But I would have pieced it back together into a newer, better version. Sure, some humans would have died along the way—okay, I exaggerate, all of them of them would have died—but then we would start all over again.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Always the same visions of grandeur with you,
Ultron.

ULTRON
And now that Vision is yours. How ironic?

CAPTAIN AMERICA
I see what you did there. So no Self/Less?

ULTRON
I, for once, am on the side of life: choose Straight Outta Compton, cuz.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Not again, Ulti. I am hoping this flick is not
too long. I still have to wake up and save
the world from maniacs like you.

ULTRON
Oh, come on, Captain. What’s two and a half hours between you and a good film. It’s better than revisiting the abomination that was your first instalment.

CAPTAIN AMERICA
Touché.

ULTRON
And now if you let me, I present to you my notorious rhymes:

Spit your game, talk your shit
Grab your phone, write a tweet
Instagram, filter the right one
Facebook friends, gotta love one
All these frenemies, hope they like one

It’s a work in progress. But I will perfect it. I have been inspired by Straight Outta Compton to try my hand at the rap game. What do you think?

ULTRON
Captain?

ULTRON
Hello?


Straight Outta Compton

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON

Director
F. Gary Gray (Friday; The Negotiator)

Actors
O’ Shea Jackson, Jr
Corey Hawkings (Iron Man 3; Non-Stop)
Jason Mitchell (Contraband; Texas Killing Fields)
Aldis Hodge (Happy Feet; The Ladykillers)
Neil Brown, Jr. (Our Of Time; Never Back Down)
Paul Riamati (Sideways; 12 Years A Slave)

Run time:    2 hours 27 mins.


selflessposter-Copy-1000x600

SELF/LESS

Director
Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror; Immortals)

Actors
Ben Kingsley (Schindler’s List; Hugo)
Ryan Reynolds (Buried; Green Lantern)
Matthew Goode (The Imitation Game; A Single Man)
Natalie Martinez (End Of Watch; Run All Night)

Run time:    1 hour 57 mins.


Captain America and Ultron are characters created by Stan Lee.
Straight Outta Compton image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.
Self-Less image courtesy of IMDB.

Cover image designed by Rémy Ngamije.