‘Wonder Woman’ Director: Superhero Movies Are More Than Just A Fad

http://heroichollywood.com/wonder-woman-director-superhero-fatigue/

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Batman v. Superman – Dark Knight Details? (Spoilers)

A storied career

Some details about the characterization of Batman in Batman v. Superman may have come out in a few reports originating on BadassDigest.com and perpetuated on Ain’t It Cool News and IGN.com. They’re encouraging! At least I think so.

Devin Faraci’s reports:

…when BvS opens Batman has existed for close to thirty years, which would place Wayne in his 50s (which is why I expected more grey in Affleck’s hair). In this version Batman is still an urban legend, a creature of the night, and no one has ever taken his picture. But he’s had plenty of adventures, and the Batcave includes a memorial centered around a tattered Robin costume.

It goes on to note similar information about Wonder Woman in that she has also been operating in the world already. There is no timeframe indicated for her, though. It does say that she is known in the world in some way while Batman has been under the radar.

This information gives me hope. I stand by my criticisms of DC and Warner Bros. bungling of its cinematic adaptations, but this report is nothing but good. For years, I’ve argued that we need to stop with all of the damn origin stories for Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. We get it. Batman’s parents were killed, Superman is from Krypton, but grew up in Kansas, and Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben died because of his carelessness. Established.

Instead, tell good stories about these characters and broaden the universe. Go deeper. Batman is a good example of this. Not all of Batman’s stories need to be a full-blown action-drenched ride with car chases and explosions and the fate of Gotham at stake. Those stories are good, don’t get me wrong, but The Dark Knight can play in a few genres. For example, you could make a psychological thriller where Batman hunts a serial killer like Mr. Zsasz or the Holiday killer. Or you could tell a horror story where Batman hunts a creature like Man-Bat or one of the many supernatural creatures against which he’s faced off. Or you could do a straight-up mystery where Batman’s detective skills get put to good use. Unfortunately, we never see these kinds of stories in movie form because the damn franchise reboots every 10 years.

So, while I recognize that Batman v. Superman is, again, going to be another action-packed, blockbuster, “the world is ending” type story, I appreciate that we’re not starting Batman at “square one” again. He’s been Batman for 30 years and he’s had adventures and fights and investigations. In fact, I rather dig the “urban myth” aspect of his back story. That’s how Batman wants to work–in the shadows, under the radar, as something dark and terrible for criminals to fear.

I’m still not completely sold on this movie, or on DC’s ill-prepared plans, but news like this is more encouraging than not.

Also, in the time it took me to write this post, Warner Bros. announced that Batman v. Superman is moving its release date up to March 25, 2016. That also moves it away from Captain America 3, which is a good idea. The last thing Warner Bros. needs is a black-eye by releasing their massive, franchise-inducing tent-pole movie and having it be defeated at the box office by Marvel’s 13th movie.

Marvel’s “Villain Problem”

I’ve had a vision of a world made free from magic tricks.

*LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD*

Marvel Studios, for all its great decisions and fantastic vision, is not doing its villains justice. It’s the only area where DC is supreme.

Mike Cecchini at Den of Geek has written a fantastic piece, with which I completely agree, about how Marvel’s cinematic villains aren’t up to snuff. There have been 10 Marvel movies now and, of them, only one memorable villain who headlined in two of those films. I’m referring to Loki, of course, in case you’re blind. Mr. Cecchini even makes the rather damning point that Captain America: The First Avenger wasted Hugo Weaving as Red Skull. He’s right.

Alternatively, the Warner Brothers’ DC films have done its villains justice. Of course, Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were great for their characterization of the man himself, but the villains were also given a great deal to do. Even Man of Steel, which I’ve criticized in another post, has a formidable villain in General Zod played by Michael Shannon. Zod has real motivation and a point of view, that while we don’t necessarily agree with it, we can understand. Plus, since his goal (essentially terraforming Earth into a new Krypton) is something that Superman struggles with as one of the last beings of his race in the universe, the conflict between them takes on added weight.

In Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul wasn’t just a monologue spewing evil machine — he had real objectives and beliefs and the threat of force behind his actions that challenged Batman physically as well as philosophically. In many ways, Ra’s and Batman have the same objective. They just have radically different methods for attaining it. The drama of their conflict is borne out of their similarities and, indeed, the bond of mentor and student shared at the beginning. It also doesn’t hurt that Liam Neeson is amazing.

So much has been said about Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight that I can hardly say anything new. He was brilliant and terrifying and funny. It was the ultimate depiction of the character on film because everything he did, he did through action and motion and violence or the ever-present threat of violence. You cringe to watch him in some scenes while not daring to look away. Performance aside, the Joker is the yin to Batman’s yang. And in The Dark Knight that was literally true because, thematically, the Joker was a consequence of Batman’s escalation against criminals. The Joker even thanks Batman for it. While he claims to have no motive and no goal, that’s not true and we see it play out over the course of the film. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Ledger’s performance as Joker and of his role in The Dark Knight, is that a truly good villain truly shows us the hero in a new light. The Joker tests Batman and tests the police and forces them to stand by their morality or not. Because of Joker, we learned a great deal more about Batman’s character and his resolve than we did in the previous film.

Finally, in The Dark Knight Rises, realizing that no one could compare to Heath Ledger’s psychological performance as Joker, Nolan and team went a different way: position Batman against a foe that’s not just a philosophical threat, but one who can physically match and surpass him: Bane. While lacking some of the thematic value of Ra’s and Joker, Bane’s presence as a physical threat played into the idea of a Batman past his prime who could no longer cut it. Bane was young, muscle-bound, and powerful, while Batman had been off the streets for years, walked with a cane, and was unbalanced. Again, it was another prism through which to see Batman and bring out more aspects of his character. The film is not nearly as perfect as The Dark Knight, but still a pretty satisfying portrayal of Batman as well as a villain with real menace.

Unfortunately, none of the Cinematic Marvel villains have the weight of the DC villains — even Loki. He’s a great foil and is a good villain, but Tom Hiddleston’s performance is 99% of the reason that is the case. What does Loki tell us about Thor or the Avengers? Nothing, really. He’s just a foe, presenting a challenge, which the heroes must defeat. It’s a shame because in the comics Marvel villains are usually more nuanced and human than their counterparts in the DC Universe (Batman’s rogues aside, of course).

I can hardly fault Marvel for putting so much love and attention into their protagonists because we are seeing some really good comics-to-screen adaptations. But I can’t help but think that Iron Man and Thor (as well as the actors who portray them) would be better served by facing off against fully-realized villains that challenged their very souls as opposed to just some scheme or plan or MacGuffin that everyone is after.

Mr. Cecchini gave faint praise to Captain America: The Winter Soldier for its villains. I’d like to respectfully disagree and say that those villains were worthwhile foes that presented a genuine threat to Captain America as not just a challenge to overcome, but they made him confront who he is, what he is doing, and in what he believes. I suppose that the overall situation provided this threat, but even still, Captain America is a “white bread,” boy scout. He’s immovable in his honor, courage, and beliefs, so to wring drama out of him you need to put him against a philosophical threat that doesn’t neatly slot into “good” or “bad.” Plus, the Winter Soldier provided a physical challenge to the Cap that not many villains faced thus far have as well as emotional resonance in his relationship to him. Think of how successful Captain America: The Winter Soldier was — I would argue that it was great for its rich story and compelling villains as much as the spectacle of its set pieces.

Overall, Mr. Cecchini’s article is spot-on. Marvel is clearly building towards Thanos as the super villain our heroes will have to face either en masse or through proxy battles (probably both) and he deserves respect. They’ve already cast Josh Brolin to play him–which is a good start to invest in talent–but if all Thanos is going to do is make menacing faces and give monosyllabic responses, Marvel may be building up to its first genuine disappointment in an otherwise masterful cinematic adaptation of its properties.

“Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery” on Blu-Ray is out today

Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery

There’s a fish in the percolator.

In keeping with my Twin Peaks-themed posts this week, the series and movie come out in a Blu-Ray set today.

The above Newsday.com piece covers the show generally (no spoilers) and discusses the phenomena that spooled up around it for the year and a half it was on. If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, I imagine all of the references to Cherry Pie and Coffee are strange; I know they were before I saw it. It made me wonder what exactly the damn show was if they’re eating cherry pie and drinking coffee all of the time. Also, a little person and a giant?

“It is great,” is the answer to that question.

Amazon is offering the set for 119.99 and that includes all 29 episodes, including the spectacular pilot (which, for rights issues, was not available with the show when it initially came out on DVD years earlier), the prequel (?*) film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and a host of special features both wondrous and strange. Two things in particular have my interest: the film, Fire Walk With Me had a ton of deleted footage that has been rumored and discussed for years and all of it has been remastered and assembled into a feature, “The Missing Pieces;” and David Lynch interviews the Palmer family as their characters, not the actors. Weird… but I’ll certainly watch it.

Of course, I understand if you don’t want to make such a tall investment for something you may not like (impossible!). The series is on Netflix, in its entirety, but not the movie. Once the series ends, I promise that you will be desperate to see what other content is available.

If nothing else, once it’s over you’ll certainly be wondering how Annie is.**

 

*While Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is holistically a prequel, there are elements that speak to “post-series” events. That’s as specific as I can get without spoiling anything. “The Missing Pieces” feature on the Blu-Ray set will feature more of the movie with these elements intact, so I’m highly motivated to see it.

**That’s only a spoiler if you have seen the show.

A Dearth of Strong Females in Game of Thrones? I think not.

Hermione on the Throne

How great would it be to get Hermione on Game of Thrones?

Time Magazine just reported that Game of Thrones fans are disappointed by the supposed* absence of a female character in the series upcoming 5th season.

The author, Nolan Feeney, is referring to Arianne Martell, heiress to the capital city of Dorne. She’s apparently a significant character in the books (I haven’t read that far yet — I am almost done with A Clash of Kings as of this writing.) Mr. Nolan noted: “…she was a strong, complex female character in a fictional universe that doesn’t have too many of those.”

If that’s supposed to be sarcasm, I didn’t get it. Setting aside, for the moment, the character’s supposed importance to the story in the books, I don’t see how Game of Thrones is lacking in strong female characters. Let’s count them out: Catelyn Stark**, Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Melissandre (The Red Woman), Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, Asha (Theon’s sister), Osha, Lady Olenna, and, my personal favorite, Ygritte** (of “You know nothing, Jon Snow” fame). All of these women fit the “strong female character” label to me.

And I’m being somewhat dogmatic, too. I think a case can be made that Margarey Tyrell belongs in that list. She’s not stabbing people with swords or directing governments, but she’s playing a pretty high-level political game with Cersei Lannister and it’s one she’s been pursuing since Renly Baratheon. I would also suggest that Sansa deserves credit (although she has annoyed me at times) for surviving as a hostile prisoner in very bad circumstances; however, our final glimpse of Sansa suggests she’s taking control of her fate like never before. Hell, she was bat-shit crazy, but Catelyn’s sister, Lysa Arryn**, is a candidate — she was a queen and clearly in charge of her realm (again, albeit unstable in the brain space).

Consider, too, about what the author (and some of the sampled Twitter postings) are complaining. One female character is (potentially) being omitted. But they’re still adding four new female characters, that (as I understand it) are all “strong females” — Oberyn Martell’s daughters, the so-called “Sand Snakes.” The show has apparently even added a conflict (read: fight) between one of them, Obara, and another major character, which does not happen in the books. And that’s on top of the list of characters I noted above.

My point is: what are we even talking about here? What’s the purpose of this Time article? It feels like the ongoing, forced media narrative about a “war on women” or underrepresented women… or something? You tell me. I can’t figure it out.

Is the argument that there are more male characters in Game of Thrones than women? Is it that of the number of men characters vs. women characters, more men are “strong?” I wouldn’t try to refute either of those points (if that’s even from where this is coming), but take a look at some other series on TV right now. Are there even more than one or two primary women characters in the cast? Are they “strong?” Did they, for example, like Brienne of Tarth, take on, in hand to hand combat, one of the most formidable male characters in their series (to say nothing of all the other men she’s killed in combat)? And that’s just Brienne — Daenarys has been burning and burying guys left and right. Arya — freakin’ Arya — a little girl, is more badass than 90% of the males on the show.

On NCIS, they have only two female characters. Of them, they’re both “strong,” I suppose (in a network TV sense), but really only one of them is out there kicking butt and dealing justice (I’m just considering Kate, Ziva, and whoever the new one is, the same role — it satisfies the same purpose in the cast). On Special Victims Unit, there are two females, both “strong” among a cast of numerically more men (at least in my last viewing). So, are we calling out these shows as well?

Not only is this Time article unnecessary and reaching in its point (whatever it is), but I think just the opposite: Game of Thrones is setting a new standard for “strong, female characters” in entertainment. Think about who we root for on the show (or, at least, for whom I root): Daenarys, Arya, Brienne, Catelyn, Ygritte… and while I hate her guts, Cersei Lannister is a force to be reckoned with, one who has the upper hand over just about every male character.

Do some critical thinking, Time Magazine.

 

*We don’t 100% know that this character has been omitted. It just looks like, from casting info, that the role does not exist in the TV series as of now.

 

–SPOILERS BELOW–

 

**I realize that Catelyn, Ygritte, and Lysa are no longer with us, but they were on the show and were definitely “strong, female characters.”

Why Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is succeeding and DC’s isn’t

Why Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is succeeding and DC’s isn’t

This “Wired” interview with Marvel’s Kevin Feige is essential reading for anyone trying to understand why Marvel’s cinematic universe is thriving and DC’s is barely getting off the ground. Please read for full context.

It says, essentially, that the Marvel cinematic plan works for two reasons: 1. They HAD a plan, and 2. Kevin Feige keeps it together. From what I can tell, both from my own industry observations and this article DC and Warner Brothers don’t have a plan and they don’t have anyone leading the effort.

Man of Steel was a good movie, but I wouldn’t declare it a resounding success like 2008’s Iron Man was. Plus, the announcement of Superman vs. Batman feels spontaneous and not well thought out. For example, DC has changed course on their shared cinematic universe a few times since The Avengers came out. If you recall, DC initially said they would release Man of Steel and follow it up with Justice League in 2015 (when The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron will come out, FYI). Then, they backed off that plan and said, “Well, let’s just see how Man of Steel goes…” Not great planning.

Marvel has had a plan for years now. The article confirms that Feige had a plan since 2006 for what he wanted to happen. The goal was to make Iron Man an awesome movie that could stand on its own, but also add details that could point the way forward towards a larger world. Nick Fury appearing at the end of the credits is the biggest “detail,” of course, but Agent Coulson carries the larger SHIELD story forward throughout the “stand alone” narrative. Tony Stark and some “blink and you’ll miss them” visual Easter eggs carry the torch forward in The Incredible Hulk.

Furthermore, Feige executes the plan like a manager overseeing departments. Each department (movie) does its job and stands on its own, but works towards a unified purpose. Kenneth Branagh made Thor and it told the story of the titular hero and his nefarious brother, but it also planted major seeds for The Avengers. If you only watched Thor, that would be OK because the movie stands on its own story, but elements of that story serve a larger narrative because Feige is managing those macro details.

The only thing Man of Steel did was insert some easter eggs about Batman and Lex Luthor. It stands as a movie on its own, but it’s not clear to me how it supports a larger universe other than to say, “Oh, hey, Wayne Corp exists.” In fact, I would argue that it presents a challenge for the makers of Batman vs. Superman since it had such wanton, extravagant destruction. How do you top that? It will be hard. And choosing Ben Affleck as Batman smacks of stunt casting to me. I’m not hyper-critical about him as Batman like some are, but it’s fair to say I didn’t jump for joy when I heard. It sounds like yet another half-cocked idea from Warner Brothers and DC without much of thought behind it.

The real tragedy here is that Warner Brothers and DC have a lock on all of their properties, but aren’t doing anything with them. I am not a lawyer with inside knowledge on that , but from what I’ve seen, it looks like they have everything they need to build a shared cinematic universe in-house. Marvel only has some of their properties. Fox has X-Men and Fantastic Four. Sony has Spider-Man. In fact, Spider-Man had been Marvel’s most lucrative property once upon a time, but The Avengers and Iron Man changed that 2 billion dollars later. Now, Marvel has thrown in with Disney (who now owns Star Wars, too…) and has earned enough capital to get a little bit more experimental — next summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy is somewhat of a risk, but I believe it will be worthwhile. DC can’t even make a good Green Lantern movie or even get Wonder Woman* and The Flash off the ground. At this rate, we won’t be seeing a Booster Gold or Cyborg movie any time soon.

My question for DC is: who is your Kevin Feige? Doesn’t look like they have one. If they asked me (and they haven’t), I’d nominate Bruce Timm or Paul Dini. These guys made Batman: The Animated Series and crafted a compelling cartoon universe that eventually grew into the Justice League containing just about every conceivable hero and villain in DC comics. The Question was a character, for goodness sake.

Your move, DC.