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Comic TV With Dan: We Gots us a CRISIS!

Okay, nerds, nerdesses, and innocent bystanders just stopping by, it’s time for the big game. The epic battle between good and evil, the superhero team-up I’ve been waiting months to see play out in all of its four-colour glory.

These guys?

No. I said “superhero,” “colour,” and “glory.” Not four people trying their very hardest not to be superheroes in a show about a ninja cult harvesting dragon marrow that somehow still manages to drain both of those concepts of fun or interest. No. Think brighter. Think DC.

THESE guys?

What? No. No no no. Not that one. This one. The good one.

The only Justice League we need.

Crisis on Earth-X, the biggest, most ambitious, and best of the annual Arrowverse (sadly I am still not influential enough to make “DCW-verse” catch on) crossovers has arrived, and did it ever–

Look, what do you want me to say about Justice League, exactly? We all must know the general consensus by now. It’s… fine. Fun but shallow. Enjoyable but occasionally forgettable. Forty minutes’ worth of footage was cut and it kind of shows, and not entirely from the fact that every trailer has a moment that got cut from the movie. The action scenes are often gorgeously shot, including an acrobatic duel between Batman and a burglar that might be one of the best-shot Batman action scenes ever… fine, not counting anything Lego-related… and it certainly tries to be more fun, but while many of the jokes land, sometimes it’s trying too hard to be “quippy.”

I wanted it to be Wonder Woman good, and instead it’s somewhere between Ant-Man and Age of Ultron. It’s a B- superhero movie that had the misfortune of coming out in a year when the genre was averaging A-. Logan, Wonder Woman, even Thor Ragnarok of all goddamn things, these were all home runs, improbable ones given the lower success rate of X-Men movies, the DCEU, and movies about Thor. And Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming weren’t entirely knockouts but had more than enough charm to smooth out their flaws. 

But enough about that. Not here to talk Justice League. Just Crisis on Earth-X. Just that. Probably just that. Almost definitely maybe probably just Crisis.

Evolution of an Event

The annual CW crossovers have been a tradition as long as there have been multiple DC shows on the network. Longer, really, since Barry Allen made his debut on Arrow the season before The Flash debuted, around the same time of year the crossovers normally happen.

First they were simple. A handful of Arrow characters went to Central City for Flash Vs. Arrow, so that the two CW leads could go two rounds against each other before bringing down meta-human bank robber Roy G. Bivolo, known to comics fans as either “Prism,” “Rainbow Raider,” or “the guy once deemed too lame for a crossover that introduced amped-up versions of Major Disaster and Killer goddamn Moth.” A day or two later (real time), a handful of Flash characters headed to Starling City so that Flash and the Arrow could team up against Rogues’ Gallery Also-ran Captain Boomerang. Simple, self-contained, fits easily into a marathon binge of either show, but had the fun of seeing the different casts and show styles bounce off each other.

That was the fun of Avengers, wasn’t it? Seeing Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and whatnot all flow into one team. Which is what Justice League could have been, except they’ve been trying to reinvent their tone so much that it’s hard to actually see it as a continuation of the previous four movies. Sure, it has references to Wonder Woman and continues stories from Man of Steel and Batman V Superman but it doesn’t have that Avengers-style-the-franchise-comes-together special feel, you know? Not like Crisis on Earth-X. Which is what this blog is about. Crisis on Earth-X. Not Justice League.

Ahem.

They amplified the crossover the following year, with Legends of Yesterday and Legends of Today, which set up the centuries-long Hawks Vs. Vandal Savage relationship that was central to the coming third DCW show, Legends of Tomorrow. Sure that one was held back by the same problems that plagued all the CW shows that season: too much narrative capital devoted to setting up the new spin-off, and an unsatisfying take on Vandal Savage, but it was still a fun two-parter. And the year after that, things got epic, as Flash, Arrow, and Legends came together (with special guest star Supergirl, whose own show wasn’t really involved) for the three-night, super fun, heroes vs. aliens extravaganza of Invasion! Watching Kara get to know Oliver Queen and the Waverider crew, and seeing everyone have a big post-victory party was just as much fun as seeing the combined heroes take down the Dominators. Plus each chapter still felt like an episode of that particular show. Flash addressed Barry’s Flashpoint screw-up, Arrow served as a perfect 100th episode celebration of the show’s past, and Legends brought time travel into the mix.

So the question seemed clear… how the Hell would they top that? Well, they found a way, readers, they found a way.

Barry and Iris’ wedding brings characters from all four shows to Central City, and it looks to be a happy day for all, but when the wedding is crashed by Nazi soldiers led by evil versions of Green Arrow and Supergirl, Team Arrow, Team Flash, the Legends, and the Danvers sisters have to square off with strange visitors from an evil planet.

The Faces of Evil

If one were to claim that the CW crossovers have flaws, one could argue that they have, in the past, let us down villain-wise. Vandal Savage, as discussed, was underwhelming, and a cameo by Neal McDonough’s Damien Darhk really drove that home. Prism was… well, Prism was a half-assed take on Rainbow Raider who existed to give Flash and Arrow an excuse to fight. And the Dominators provided some effective global menace, but they were a horde of CG aliens.

Fortunately their machinations meant that the plot never hinged on largely interchangeable CG aliens, and they had some concrete motives. Like in the event book that inspired it, they felt Earth’s high rate of meta-human development was problematic. Could be worse. They could have been an entirely CG villain with a horde of faceless minions, a magic space rock, and a vague-at-best motivation to take over/destroy the world.

Which is the shade I used to throw at the weaker Marvel villains, at least the ones not out to kill Tony Stark and sell weapons. But man alive no one lived up to that terrible archetype like Steppenwolf. Making him all CG was awkward any time they showed his face, and if you haven’t grown up on DC comics like me, who exactly this mook is and why he’s doing anything he’s doing might feel obscure at best.

Right, yes, Crisis on Earth-X. Earth-X, as any longtime DC fans knows, is the Earth where the Nazis won World War II, and are opposed by a small band of heroes known as Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. Which essentially makes this a crossover between five shows, as Earth-X, the Freedom Fighters (possibly minus Uncle Sam), and the Reich’s top warriors were introduced in the CW Seed show Freedom Fighters: The Ray.

Having Nazis as your villains, and depicting them as absolutely, irredeemably evil shouldn’t be a big political statement, but it’s 2017, the New York Times is running sympathetic stories on actual Nazis, and here we fucking are. So watching the heroes of four shows and an online animated series tear into some Nazi stormtroopers is incredibly satisfying.

But what’s impressive is that they set out to create fully developed characters out of their main villains, making the Nazi Oliver Queen/Dark Arrow and his general Overgirl flesh-and-blood people without justifying their abhorrent beliefs. They’re monsters, but they’re still driven by love. Dark Oliver isn’t just out to conquer a new world, he’s out to save the love of his life. He and his followers believe that strength is virtue, that compassion is weakness, and that they’re doing the world a favour by ruling it. They’re wrong, and we know they’re wrong, and the back half makes a very clear statement of “This is what Nazis do and it’s terrible, are you listening, Republicans” but giving them human motives and emotions buried under the hate and intolerance makes them more interesting than, say, some rat-faced vet who lets vague talk about “real Americans” turn him into a mad bomber. Or a horn-headed CG alien named after a late 60s-70s rock band for reasons no rookie viewer will ever, ever know.

Back on topic… Also on team Nazi is an Earth-X Prometheus, who is not the Prometheus from last season of Arrow. He’s got a surprising identity that gives Oliver a meaty scene when they come face to face.

Plus, the Reverse-Flash is back! Not some Nazi version from an alternate Earth, but the one we know from Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, who admits that he probably should be dead by now, but never seems to recognize the Legends, so maybe this is from before his Legion of Doom days? Anyway, he’s back to looking like Tom Cavanaugh’s Harrison Wells, which I suspect is a cost-saving measure. The crossover was already hell of expensive, and having Tom Cavanaugh do double-duty saves them paying for Matt Letscher. Also it’s fun. Good as Tom is/has been as the Harrisons Wells of Earths 2 and 19, it’s been too long since he’s gotten to properly chew the scenery as the Reverse Flash. So as long as Stephen Amell and Melissa Benoist are pulling double duty, why not let Tom “Playing just one character on a show is for lazy people” Cavanaugh join in?

Our Heroes

Now these shows have big casts. Green Arrow leads a team of four other vigilantes, five if you count Felicity “Overwatch” Smoak. Flash has two part-time sidekicks and two superpowered assistants. Supergirl rolls with the Martian Manhunter and has Superman on speed dial, and the Legion of Superheroes just came to town. And the Legends are a full team of time-travelling would-be heroes. That’s way too many people. So obviously not everyone gets to play all the time. Some characters get sidelined for one to three episodes, some get restricted to quick cameos. J’onn J’onz, for instance, gets maybe three lines in the first five minutes of part one.

It’s like how Justice League tries to slip in cameos by various supporting characters of the heroes, to varying success. Connie Britton’s return as Hippolyta makes for an impressive sequence; JK Simmons makes a great Commissioner Gordon in his two scenes; Billy Crudup does his best impression of John Wesley Shipp’s Henry “Flash’s Dad” Allen in a scene that does okay setting up Barry’s character, but seriously feels lifted out of the first season of the TV show; Amber Heard gets handed much more ham-fisted exposition as Mera, but I’m still interested to see what she does with a proper role in Aquaman. I mean her scene was only a little more character-driven than Anthony Hopkins’ voice-over narration at the start of the bad Thor movies. Meryl Streep couldn’t have made “Here’s who Aquaman is in twenty words or less” work much better.

And we’re back… so while most of the shows’ casts get at least a little screen time*, if not necessarily on their own show, Crisis on Earth-X focuses on a smaller team. Specifically, Kara and Alex from Supergirl, each nursing a heartache; Oliver and Felicity from Arrow; Barry and Iris from Flash (and to a lesser extent Caitlin… Tom Cavanaugh is there all the time, but mostly as Thawne, not Harry Wells); and Sara Lance, Jax, and Martin Stein from Legends (and to a lesser extent Heat Wave), as Sara’s essentially the lead of Legends and the crossover helps wrap up a Firestorm arc that’s been running through the season. And in the back half, The Ray turns up, alongside his cohort, the Earth-X Leonard Snart. Good to have you back, Wentworth Miller, if only temporarily.

Oliver’s team and the rest of the Legends are mostly there to make the final heroes vs. Nazis showdown sufficiently epic. And sure, some arbitrary lines got drawn here. Sure, a solid entrance by Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog, and Black Canary was undercut by what happened afterwards. Sure, I wondered why Ray Palmer didn’t get an invite to the wedding if Barry’s former nemesis Heat Wave did. But that’s okay, and I forgive all, because when The Atom finally makes his entrance, it is a stand-and-cheer moment, and the rest of the late-to-arrive Legends keep that momentum going. Plus then Team Arrow, Vibe, Killer Frost, and the Legends get to kick the stuffing out of Metallo and it is niiiiiice…

The finale of Justice League works that well too, especially one Superman joins the fray. Partially because Superman is finally the Superman we’ve been waiting for. And also the League refusing to let Batman make a sacrifice play is a nice moment as well. And yes, that one has more production value and is more spectacular, but while seeing the League come together to kick Parademon ass is fun, seeing a dozen or so heroes beating the tar out of Nazis is a pretty great finale as well.

*Regular characters getting the week off are Lena Luthor, Samantha “Reign” Arias, Black Siren, The Thinker, and Thea Queen. Sorry, my brain needs to list them, and here we are.

Emotional Impact

Past crossovers have just been fun adventures with no lasting consequences. Not negative ones, anyway. In fact, Invasion! is when Barry finally found forgiveness for all that Flashpointing, and the musical crossover fixed Barry and Iris and Kara and Mon-El’s relationships… man, given how much work the seemingly all-powerful Music Meister put into getting Barry and Iris engaged, he surely was blasé about extra-dimensional Nazis crashing the wedding… no. No, leave it there, do not get into the weeds about Music Meister again.

But this… this isn’t just a crossover. They invoked the name “Crisis.” And that is not a word DC just throws around. When it’s a Crisis, Earths are in peril and people die. Permanently, for decades, or just for a little while, controversial or forgettable, a Crisis has a body count. This one is no different.

Some crossovers try for this, but don’t nail it. Think of Superman’s death in Batman V Superman, and how it had no emotional impact at all. Maybe because you didn’t like the movie at all so nothing did, or maybe because you know that come Justice League he’ll be back. See also Defenders. 

Spoiler

Matt Murdock sacrificing himself for the others meant basically nothing because Daredevil season three had already been announced. Daredevil’s “death” was just a way to get him off the board for a while so we wouldn’t ask where he was during Punisher.

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But Crisis on Earth-X was playing for keeps. And it…

It hurt.

A lot.

I went from cheering to crying several times over the course of the final hour, and actually yelled “Don’t do this to me” at the screen. A hero’s death, dying so others can live, it might be noble… but it doesn’t hurt much less in the moment.

Sorry. I thought I was ready to talk abut this. I was wrong.

This wasn’t an issue in Justice League. They were going for hopeful, inspiring, and a sense of wanting to see these characters in their own solo movies. Guess we’ll have to wait 13 months for Aquaman to see how well they managed that last one.

The Little Moments

Half the fun of these crossovers is watching characters from different series interact, and Crisis on Earth-X does not let us down. First and above all others, Sara Lance finally meets Supergirl’s sister Alex, and it is everything I wanted and more, given that in a satisfyingly roundabout way, meeting Sara helps Alex move past her breakup with Maggie. They also make a fun duo kicking Nazi ass together.

Heat Wave meets Killer Frost, which is fun. I’d love to see those two get into trouble for an episode or two. Barry, Oliver, and Kara work together so well (Nazi or otherwise) that it’s a shame they only get to do this once a year, twice at most. Eobard Thawne claims that at some point in his past/everyone else’s future, he fought Superman. A tease, or a promise?

Of course there are missed opportunities as well. Just like how we never really spend a lot of time with Aquaman, Flash, or Cyborg outside of the group context in Justice League because of all that cut footage. For instance, we’ve never gotten to see how Sara “White Canary” Lance feels about her late sister’s codename, Black Canary, going to newcomer Dinah Drake. They never interact at all, in fact. Also I haven’t gotten a proper Detective Joe West/Detective Officer Captain Deputy Mayor Quentin Lance* team-up in over two years.

And there are questions. Lingering things that I require answers to, and in one case won’t get them. The fact that the main Earth calls itself “Earth-1” and nobody calls them on it… when did the numbering of the Earths become a multiversal standard? What representative came to the Nazi world and said “You’re not Earth-1, that’s Earth-1, and you’re Earth-X, and we’re all going to pretend you don’t exist when we’re counting the total number of Earths if that’s okay,” and which super-Nazi said “Sure, that’s fair, Earth-X it is?”

But more importantly, and in this case I do need an answer… are we just ignoring the fact that the overeager server who was offering Barry a sparkling water and gushing about being at the wedding… that was clearly Barry and Iris’ daughter or granddaughter from the future, right? I mean it must be, she was way too excited about being at the wedding of a CSI and a reporter, but they just, but they just, they just moved on and she vanished and they never came back to it but I’m right, aren’t I? I must be right. Just tell me I’m right. Explain that. Explain yourselves, Flash writers not fired for sexual harassment.

*Dude has worn a lot of hats in six seasons.

To Sum Up

The one catch about Crisis on Earth-X is that for anyone watching, say, only The Flash, you’re going to be a little lost. Unlike Flash Vs. Arrow/Brave and the BoldCrisis on Earth-X doesn’t work as individual episodes. And unlike Invasion!, each show doesn’t maintain its own feel. That is, the Arrow chapter doesn’t feel more Arrow-ish. In fact, they cut the usual title cards and replace them with a unified Crisis on Earth-X title sequence combining images and themes from all four shows. And to those upset that they can’t just watch Supergirl this week because it’s full of other characters and plotlines from other shows, I say…

Nuts to you.

Because this was awesome and the only way to do it is to blend all four shows into one four-hour event, and I’m sorry that makes your Netflix binging harder, but watch all four, you numpty.

Once again narrowing down to Oliver and Barry in the end remains charming, but unlike following Invasion’s celebration with Oliver and Barry having a quiet drink, we needed something a little more celebratory to shake off the preceding, well, funeral. 

Gonna get into spoilers.

Some people complain that when Barry and Iris have their sudden, improvised, “finish what we started” wedding ceremony in front of no one but Oliver, Felicity, and Diggle, Felicity shoehorned herself and Oliver into it, making it a double ceremony without asking. Well, frankly, it’s not like she did this in the church. Barry ran to Star City to get Felicity and Oliver’s best friend just so they could do a three minute exchange of vows. It’s not that big a deal, and now Arrow doesn’t have to spend seven episodes on Oliver and Felicity’s wedding. It’s done. No mess, no drama, no derailing season six with Olicity wedding stuff.

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In the end, Crisis on Earth-X was amazing in the ways Justice League was just okay, and is a pinnacle example of why the Arrowverse hosts the best superhero shows on TV.

Watch and learn, Defenders.

And seriously. Was that Barry and Iris’ daughter? Was it!?

 

Dan at the Movies: Valerian and the Etc. Etc.

I wasn’t going to do this. Review Valerian and the City of 1000 Planets. You can tell because it’s been out for a while now and I’m just getting around to it.

But it turns out that there are a couple of things about it I want to talk about. So let’s do this.

First, the bad news.

Narrative Weaknesses

The titular “City of 1000 Planets” is space station Alpha, which once was an Earth space station, but in the film’s intro gradually grows into a hub of interplanetary diplomacy and commerce. After wrapping a mission, interplanetary agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge) return to the station to find themselves caught in an intrigue between their military bosses and a mysterious alien race.

That’s about all I can say about the plot… not because not much happens, but because if I try to go into more detail it’ll get out of hand fast and I’ll describe way too much. But don’t worry. You’ll figure it all out. It is… not hard. If you can’t tell exactly where the story is going within half an hour… how fun your simple life must be. I’d love to be surprised that easily some days.

Anyway.

The romantic subplot between Valerian and Laureline, because of course there is one, because why wouldn’t there be one other than not wanting to be trite… it’s forced and hackneyed. Very hackneyed. Someone who is 19 wrote the dialogue for that plotline. Luc Besson was late to set, so he gave an intern a Writing Romance For Dummies book and had them write Valerian’s dialogue in the car. I don’t think there was one scene involving Valerian trying to convince Laureline to marry him (they are not dating, by the way) that didn’t make me roll my eyes at the bland, passionless approach, and DeHaan’s uninspired take.

(Okay, sure, Delevinge didn’t exactly set the screen on fire, but were we expecting much? Frankly her performance fit Laureline’s general sense of exasperation with her partner pretty well, so I’d give her more of a pass than DeHaan.)

With that out of the way…

Visual Feast

The visuals on this film are incredible.

It was honestly hard to be too upset with the wooden romantic arc when every ten minutes there was some new amazing sight, some new high-concept facet of this world splashing across the screen. I’m not one to throw around the phrase “Every frame a painting,” but hot damn this film is pretty to look at. And conceptually fascinating. I could spend entire seasons of a TV show devouring the ideas being thrown around.

Big Market, a popular tourist market that exists in a different dimension, only accessible through special goggles, gloves, and hand-held portal devices, leading to a chase scene that simultaneously takes place in a back alley market and an empty desert.

Telepathic jellyfish that form symbiotic relationships with massive sea creatures that, for some reason, live in Alpha.

A truly dizzying red light district, featuring Rihanna as a shapeshifting exotic dancer/prostitute and a delightfully over-the-top Ethan Hawke as her… manager, I guess we could say? No. Pimp. Call it what it is.

(While Rihanna and Delevinge display all the emotional acting depth you’d expect from a singer and a model, and DeHaan sometimes seems lost in his role, Hawke and Clive Owen just cut loose. And that’s super fun.)

Honestly words aren’t enough. If you’ve seen the trailer, know that you’ve barely scratched the surface.

How do they fit all of this stuff into one movie? That’s the thing I most wanted to cover.

Comic Book Storytelling

A little over halfway through I noticed something odd about the way the story was going. The main plot, as I said, isn’t super complex… but we hadn’t really touched on it in about half an hour. Valerian had gone missing chasing one of the aliens, then once Laureline found him, she got grabbed by a different group of aliens who banned outsiders.

On a space station built around mingling. I mean, sure, your embassy is sovereign ground, but a whole– nope, it’s fine, don’t get distracted.

So then Valerian has to pull off a complicated extraction, after which we finally begin to get back to the main story. I didn’t mind any of this, it was all engaging, I just happened to notice how long it had been since we’d addressed the main story and briefly thought it weird, until I realised what was happening.

This movie is based on the French comic Valérian and Laureline. And that’s why this story keeps shifting from odd locale to odd locale, sub-plot to sub-plot. It isn’t just taking a comic story and making it into a three-act action movie like your average Marvel or DC movie, it’s doing comic-style storytelling on the big screen.

Which is to say, it’s episodic. Each time the story takes a left turn or finds a new locale, that’s a new issue. And I can’t name a comic book movie off the top of my head that’s experimented with that.

Does it work? It worked for me, because it allowed the movie to explore so much more of this fascinating and gorgeously realised world, and since the visuals and world-building are what the Besson was doing best here, more was definitely better. But if you found the story a little scattered I couldn’t particularly blame you.

Wrap-up

I do not officially endorse the consumption of mind-altering herbal substances (hi Mom), but this seems like an ideal movie to be super high for.

It’s good but flawed, gorgeous but slightly hollow. It makes me fascinated by its world(s) but not quite its main characters. I’d watch it again, but not in a hurry. Of the movies I’ve seen this summer movie season (May-present) so far, it’s probably eighth, under either Spider-Man: Homecoming or Dunkirk. I have not made up my mind as to my feelings on Dunkirk.

4.5/5 for visuals, 3.5/5 for story, buoyed mostly by its different approach and high-concept space opera fun rather than its leads. Worth seeing, worth seeing on the big screen, but probably cheap theatres? Unless you have a really nice TV or something.

Well if this isn’t the most half-assed endorsement you’ve ever read. But that’s Valerian.

Breaking Down the DCEU News

So when you devour geek entertainment news the way I do (ie. not dissimilar to Augustus Gloop set loose in the Wonka Factory), San Diego Comic-Con is like being at a lavish Vegas buffet. There’s almost too much, and I want up on most of it, so I guess I’m going to be bloated and uncomfortable later.

That’s the worst metaphor I’ve ever opened with but it is not inaccurate.

So I can’t possibly cover everything that was announced about everything I love that week, be it Arrow (Slade’s back! Yay!), Flash (Tom Felton isn’t back. Boo.), Westworld (Already filming, I guess?), or what have you. But DC made some announcements on the Warner Bros. panel, in addition to releasing a decent and more colourful new trailer for Justice League…

…that admittedly is still hiding how and when Superman shows up… they’ve also begun to clear up a point of contention with the franchise’s future.

Back in 2014, Warner Bros. made as low-key an announcement about their planned slate of DC films as it was possible to make, addressing shareholders rather than Comic-Con attendees. It laid out about nine films over the course of five years, including two Justice Leagues and a far-off Green Lantern reboot. But then 2016 happened. After the negative critical reception and mixed fan reactions to Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, everything seemed to be in doubt. New potential projects were being announced as in development left and right, whereas their previously announced films, looked shaky, with Flash in particular going into a tailspin of quitting directors and rewrites. So the question became, what exactly is going on over there?

Well, at Comic-Con, they announced… not a firm slate, but certainly their next wave. Their primary to-do list after Aquaman, the only post-League movie they’ve managed to get camera ready thus far. So let’s take a look at what they announced: what we know; what, based on the comics we might expect; and if I resist the urge to believe that everything’s going to be Wonder Woman-good from here (I’d love that but have no hard reason to assume it), how excited should we be?

We’ll skip over Justice League and Aquaman and go right to 2019.

Shazam!

Even before the big panel, news hit that the next DC film to go into active production will be Shazam, which… interesting. That’s interesting in a couple of ways. First, it’s an open declaration that they haven’t completely abandoned their original plan, since Shazam is still aiming for a spring 2019 release. That said, there is a lingering question mark.

Prior to Wonder Woman, the big “stay excited for DC movies” banner was the eventual arrival of proven franchise-saver Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Shazam’s classic nemesis, Black Adam. But the story began shifting… instead of Black Adam being the villain in the Shazam movie, he’d instead be introduced in a solo film, which given how interesting an anti-hero Black Adam has become in the last two decades, honestly seems like a better idea than doing both origins at once. This, naturally, led to some questions about whether Shazam was still on the table.

Well, now Shazam has a rough filming date, a release date, and a director, while all Black Adam has is Dwayne Johnson’s determination to make the movie once his busy schedule opens up. You know, assuming that 2020 presidential bid doesn’t happen.

What do we know?

Shazam has a director, David F. Sandberg. Not a big name, but a promising up-and comer. It starts filming in January/February of 2018, with a projected release date of April 5th, 2019.

With all of that in mind, you’d think we’d know more. Casting rumours about which Stranger Things kid is playing Billy or what Channing Tatum-type is playing his adult self or something. But all we know on that front is that Black Adam won’t be appearing.

What can we expect?

Shazam is about as far as it’s possible to get from the dark, brooding atmosphere that has clung to DC films from Batman Begins all the way to Suicide Squad. It’s the ultimate in wish fulfillment.

Classic origin story: ten-year-old Billy Batson encounters the wizard Shazam, who makes Billy his champion. By saying the wizard’s name, Batson gains the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus (that one’s kinda vague), invulnerability of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. In short, he transforms into a big, muscular, adult superhero who’s basically Superman with no vision powers. For seven decades and change, he went by Captain Marvel, but since Marvel Comics has at least three of their own characters with that name, DC recently laid down arms and just started calling him “Shazam,” since that’s the name everyone knows him by anyway.

So it’s a little weird that this kid-friendly superhero wish fulfillment movie is being handed off to a director best known for horror films, but I guess he’s got a decent eye. If Jordan Peele can jump from sketch comedy to horror and knock it out of the park, maybe Sandberg has more bullets in his gun than making light switches scarier than they need to be. And hey, given that Shazam’s rogues’ gallery is called “The Monster Society of Evil,” maybe a touch of horror background isn’t the worst. Like Monster Squad.

There’s no word yet about what villains we can expect, with Black Adam off the table, but there’s three strong candidates: for brain vs. brawn, there’s Shazam’s own Lex Luthor, Dr. Sivana. For the creep factor: Mr. Mind, a Venusian caterpillar with mind-control capabilities. But I’m placing my money on Ibac.

Ibac brings all of the “like the hero but evil” that origin movies have been using for their villains ever since Iron Man, but without the complexity of Black Adam. Like Shazam, his name’s an acronym of his abilities: the terror of Ivan the Terrible, the Cunning of Cesare Borgia, the fierceness of Atilla the Hun, and the cruelty of Caligula. That gives us more promising action set pieces than Sivana, and builds the acronym-based mythology up, readying us to meet Dwayne Johnson as the wizard’s less noble champion from the ancient mid-East, Teth-Adam.

How excited should we be?

Hard to say. There’s so little to go on here. But the one thing that most gives me hope for this movie is that all the details, from script to overall vision to company approach, are coming in the wake of the bright, hopeful, inspiring Wonder Woman, which means they’re moving in the right direction to tackle Billy Batson. And hey, there’s this rough concept art for the costume.

Wonder Woman 2

I mean, duh. This is a gimme. The most financially successful DC film since 2012, and most beloved since at least 2008. Of course they want to stay in the Wonder Woman business.

What do we know?

It’s said to be set in the 1980s, at the end of the Cold War. The first film’s director, Patty Jenkins, and the co-writer/DC mastermind Geoff Johns are working on the story right now. Gal Gadot will be back as Diana, and to the surprise of no one who witnessed their chemistry, they’re trying to bring back Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor. Wonder Woman 2, or whatever they call it, will arrive in December of 2019: 30 months after the last movie, one year after Aquaman, and way too damn long from now.

What confuses people is that they still haven’t officially confirmed that Jenkins will be directing. I mean come on. Whatever she’s asking must be worth it.

What can we expect?

Wonder Woman was a triumph for Warner Bros., so I have to assume they’ll try to keep the same inspirational tone that made it a hit. For villains? I don’t know. Diana hasn’t fought a lot of Russians. I, personally, would love to see devious corporate tycoon Veronica Cale turn up, but for reasons I don’t have time to go into. In short, she and Dr. Sivana could open the door for the sovereign nation of mad scientists I used to enjoy in the comics. Or they could have Diana fight personified misogyny in the form of woman-hating telepath Dr. Psycho. Yes, that’s his name. Not odder than Dr. Poison.

Should we be excited?

If they sign Jenkins, yes, absolutely. If they somehow don’t… less so. Because what we really want is “more of that,” and replacing their best director since Nolan would not be the right first step.

And now things get more vague.

The Batman

The 2014 movie slate didn’t include any Batman solo movie, but come on. It was always coming.

What do we know?

We know that director Matt Reeves (the man behind the excellent Dawn of and War For the Planet of the Apes) has taken over from departing director Ben Affleck, and has also started over from scratch on the script. It would be easy to see this as a slam against Affleck and Geoff Johns, who had been writing The Batman up until that point, but it seems to just be how Reeves works as a director.

Reeves approached The Batman the same way he approached the Apes franchise. He went to the studio and said “This is the movie I want to make. This is what an Apes movie I’d want to direct would be,” and then held to his guns against any studio notes pointing in another direction. So it makes sense that he’s starting over on the script. He didn’t sign on to direct Affleck’s Batman idea, he wants to make his Batman idea.

We also know that rumours aside, Ben Affleck will absolutely be playing Bruce Wayne. Affleck has said that he’d be a background chimp in an Apes movie if Reeves asked him to. But Joe Manganiello might be out as Deathstroke. And if that’s why Deathstroke’s back on Arrow, I’m fine with that.

What can we expect?

Reeves promises a noir-esque Batman movie, with more focus on Batman the detective. Which I’m good with. It’s a new take. Big-screen Batman’s just been about the villain punching since 1989. His best big-screen detective work should not be Adam West figuring out that when the solution to the Riddler’s riddle is “an egg,” he means they’re attacking the UN. Other than that? No idea. It’s early days. Whatever story or characters Reeves is considering, he isn’t sharing.

Should we be excited?

I would say yes. Affleck does a good Batman, and Matt Reeves makes good movies. I think we have a good shot of being more Nolan than Schumacher here.

Justice League Dark

No, this would not be the new title of Justice League Part 2, which is absent from WB’s plans. Perhaps they’re waiting until the first one comes out and reassessing, or maybe they don’t want to discuss it openly while the issue of “So is Zack Snyder being replaced, and by whom?” is dealt with.

Justice League Dark is a now-ended title in which the magic-based heroes of the DC Universe unite to tackle magical problems that the Justice League can’t handle. The cast rotated frequently, but typically revolved around wizard con artist John Constantine, sorceress Zatanna, and acrobatic ghost Deadman. Their book might not be running, but they did just get an animated movie on Blu-ray with Matt Ryan reprising Constantine.

What do we know?

That the original treatment for this movie was written by Guillermo del Toro, and every report about the ongoing development has said they’re sticking to it. Probably because they want to keep del Toro’s name on the project as long as they possibly can, because that gives it value. Sadly, the director of Hellboy making a magic-themed DC movie was a dream too beautiful to live.

Other than that, very little. Honestly I’m surprised this got announced as being in the next wave and not Black Adam, all things considered.

What can we expect?

Ideally? A magical Guardians of the Galaxy. A group of misfits who are thrown together to save the world from something no one else can handle. Worst case scenario is Suicide Squad with more spells and less boomerangs. I would prefer the first thing.

Should we be excited?

…I don’t know. I’d like to say yes, but other than the well-done animated movie, I don’t have much to go on. Maybe if they nail down a director, and said director says “We’re going to show the world why Zatanna belongs on the A-list,” I’ll have a better idea.

Batgirl

This right here might be the money movie.

What do we know?

That it’s written and directed by Joss Whedon. What we don’t know is whether signing on to make this movie is what led to Whedon being asked to work on Justice League, or if making a Batgirl movie was part of Whedon’s asking price to write and ultimately direct additional Justice League scenes. Doesn’t matter, it’s happening. Barbara Gordon, Gotham’s premiere lady crime fighter, is coming to the screen in a non-Lego context.

There is neither a name nor a short list attached to the lead role, but if Joss is anything approaching clever, he’ll get JK Simmons to keep playing Batgirl’s father, Commissioner Gordon. I don’t need Batman to show up. I wouldn’t complain, but I don’t need it.

Release date hasn’t been set, but Whedon is expected to start work on it in early 2018, once he’s rested up from reshooting Justice League.

What can we expect?

If he’s focusing on The Killing Joke and Barbara’s recovery from being paralyzed, expect a lot of complaints about a male writer tackling a sexual assault survivor’s story. With luck, he either skips that or only briefly touches on it. With extra luck, maybe he incorporates some of the more recent Batgirl stories, as the defender of Burnside, Gotham’s Brooklyn. Barbara juggles school, work, and fighting upscale crime alongside DC’s most diverse supporting cast. And it’s more targeted to women than men, which would be great for a studio trying to keep the interest of all the women inspired by Wonder Woman.

Keeping Batgirl in Burnside might also help with the fact that I don’t anticipate a lot of overlap between this and The Batman. Reeves and Whedon will probably do their own things. If they want to prove me wrong, and sync their films up, hooray, but Reeves has been clear about sticking to his vision, and after Age of Ultron Whedon is probably wary of having to jam a bunch of awkward franchise-building scenes into his movie.

Should we be excited?

Yes. Yes we should. Though maybe play it cool until filming starts, so the gods don’t try to take it from us like they did Guillermo del Toro’s Justice League Dark.

Flashpoint

And here we hit the controversy.

What do we know?

That the Flash movie is still happening, and is now called Flashpoint. And that one fact has raised a lot of eyebrows and a few alarms.

What can we expect?

The thing about Flashpoint is that it’s less famous for what it was, and more for what it did. Flashpoint was about Barry waking up in a world where his mother wasn’t killed when he was young, but the ripples of this change have made a dark and terrible world, one with no Flash or Superman, one where Thomas Wayne became a more brutal Batman when his son was killed (and Martha went crazy and became the Joker), one on the brink of destruction as Atlantis and Themyscira are fighting a devastating war. Wonder Woman conquered England, Aquaman flooded western Europe, and things are only getting worse.

But what Flashpoint is famous for is DC using it to reboot nearly their entire product line into the New 52, with fresh starts for basically everyone but Batman and Green Lantern. So like Captain America: Civil War, naming it Flashpoint kind of points in a direction.

Some question whether Warner Bros. will use this movie to similarly reboot their film universe. Others, like me, realize that’s probably not the best idea. Whatever you think about the DCEU this far, rebooting it once they finally find their stride is going to look ridiculous. And if Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Ezra Miller’s Flash break out the way Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman did last year, they’re not going to want to change much. By the time we reach Flashpoint, either their product will be better and won’t need rebooting, or things will have gone wrong and a reboot isn’t going to save them.

Others have asked whether Flashpoint would be used to replace Ben Affleck or Jared Leto, as rumours had claimed Warner Bros. was interested in doing. They must have written all of those articles or videos in the narrow window between Flashpoint being announced and Ben Affleck soundly denying the rumours he was leaving. But hey, you went ahead and posted them anyway, because what’s a little debunking between friends.

Now… there is potential here. There must be, since there’s already an animated movie based on this story, and the third season premiere of The Flash TV show is named after it. Seeing Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa go to war as twisted versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman could be fun, albeit everything the DCEU is trying to move away from. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Thomas Wayne Batman? That I’d pay to see. But there is that one little nagging problem… if this is your first Flash movie, you don’t have an established Reverse-Flash to be the main villain. The one Barry assumes is responsible for all of this. And I’m not positive there’s a great workaround.

Of course they could be doing the Marvel thing and using the name without using much at all of the story. But if that’s true, man, you could have picked a less notorious name.

Should we be excited?

…Too soon to tell on that one, but so far I’m more concerned. It doesn’t help that instead of finding a Matt Reeves with a Flash story they really want to do, you need to find people willing to make that specific Flash story.

Suicide Squad 2

Time for something simpler.

What do we know?

That Suicide Squad made enough money that they want to make another one. Jaume Collet-Serra, another horror director, is rumoured to be close to signing on, and Joel Kinnaman (Rick Flagg) once expected to film in 2018, but any of that could prove wrong at any moment.

What can we expect?

That Warner Bros. will do their best to keep Will Smith and Margot Robbie involved, because they were seen as the highlights, and Warner Bros. wants very badly to stay in the Harley Quinn business.

Should we be excited?

Finding a less accomplished, easier to control director isn’t a great first step, seeing as Suicide Squad’s problems had “studio interference” written all over them.

Green Lantern Corps

And to wrap up, the last of the 2014 slate still on the table, with Justice League Part 2 and Cyborg absent from the announcement.

What do we know?

That they’re aiming for a cosmic-themed buddy cop movie, with a veteran Hal Jordan training a rookie John Stewart. Who’s going to write, direct, or act in it is up in the air.

What should we expect?

Getting pieces in play for all of the other Lantern Corps would be my guess. The Emotional Spectrum, and the associated ring slingers, are one of the biggest parts of Lantern lore to be added in decades, so I think it’s safe to say we’d see some set up for Sinestro, Larfleeze, the Star Sapphires, ect.

No I’m not explaining who they are. You’re on the internet. Google them if you’re that curious.

We’re at 3300 words? Wow. I do ramble on about this stuff. Okay… um… bye, then.

Dan at the Movies: War for the Planet of the Apes

Okay. So. Can we talk about something? There has been a Planet of the Apes trilogy running over the past six years, essentially a prequel to the original Charlton Heston film (though not canonical to the first prequels to the original, Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and what’s weird about it is that despite there being a full trilogy at this point, we don’t think about them when they’re not in theatres.

Let’s be clear. This is not me shouting from a street corner about how the Planet of the Apes franchise is great and only I seem to know it. I am like you. I forget about them as well. I have seen Rise of, Dawn of, and now War for the Planet of the Apes in theatres… I saw Dawn while on vacation in New York freaking City, when I could have been doing infinite other things, and had zero regrets… but unlike all of my other pop-culture interests, I give it no thought between movies. I don’t follow casting news… in fact, I probably heard that Woody Harrelson was in the new one more than once but kept forgetting. I don’t watch and rewatch trailers. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a trailer for War. I’ve seen each of them on the big screen, often opening weekend or close to, yet I’m always surprised when a new one shows up in theatres.

As, I imagine, are you.

And the reason, friends, the reason that this is weird? They’re so good, you guys. They are all so good.

The current Planet of the Apes franchise is consistently well-made, well-acted, and has potentially ended on a tense, powerful, emotional finale that challenges Wonder Woman and Baby Driver for best movie of the summer.

And maybe the reason that we keep glossing over it is that Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake was so very, very bad. It was, we can admit that, it was. I saw that one in theatres as well, also on opening weekend, but thankfully at a time when I didn’t need to pay for movies. Because that film had flaws, yo. But no Planet of the Apes film should ever be judged on that Marky-Mark-starring incoherent train wreck. It stands alone and rightfully unloved. And since 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, this has become a franchise without a weak link.

So let’s talk about this weirdly forgotten but excellently made trilogy while I still remember it exists and doesn’t have musical numbers.

Stop the Planet of the Apes I Want to Get Off

Not gonna be the last time I reference this. Just to warn you.

But first, an acknowledgement

Brianna Wu, frequent target of internet misogynists who prove that man is, indeed, the real monster, raised an issue about the most recent entry… the female roles aren’t the best. Her assertion is that no female character, human or ape, has a spoken line in the movie. I would counter that three female characters, human and ape, have dialogue delivered via sign language, and shouldn’t that count, but… let’s not get into a debate over what is or isn’t ableism. That is not my purview.

Also, it’s not important whether the exact facts involved in her complaint are correct, the important thing is that she’s not wrong about this franchise lacking when it comes to writing for women. Rise to War, it is a male-driven franchise. I’m sure the first two movies had female characters, save for Cornelia the ape (looking up her name tells me that Keri Russell was in Dawn, which you’d think I’d remember), but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. That’s… that’s a problem. That’s an authentic problem.

So let’s just go ahead and put “Roles for women and POC” on Wonder Woman’s scorecard for “Best movie of the summer,” much as we’ll be giving “Well written villain” to War for the Planet of the Apes. Or Spider-Man: Homecoming. OBaby Driver. LET’S…

Let’s just focus on the apes from here. They’re not great at writing for women, that’s unfortunate, but let’s move on.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Spoilers ahead. And throughout. If you want to watch the whole trilogy unspoiled, oh my God go do that right now. Stop reading this and watch these movies. Otherwise… allons-y.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out a full decade after Tim Burton made the concept look worse than 1960s production values ever, ever could. Some brave soul thought that enough time had passed that people were ready to revisit this brand, and developed an all-new prequel to the 1968 original film. So I guess it’s kind of a reboot, since Conquest of and Battle for the Planet of the Apes already did the prequel stuff back in the 70s, but there’s still at least one Easter egg setting up the original movie.

James Franco (James freaking Franco used to be in this series, that seems incredibly weird six years and two films later) plays Will Rodman, a biologist trying to find a cure for neuro-degenerative issues like Alzheimer’s, which his father suffers from. His father being played by John Lithgow (John freaking– no, no, that dude has range, he can be in whatever he likes). So eager is Rodman to find this cure that he does his own off-the-books testing with a baby chimpanzee he names Caesar (mo-cap superstar Andy Serkis), and ultimately his own father. This causes some issues.

First, Caesar attacks Will’s asshole neighbour when he gets hostile with Will’s father, and is taken to, basically, a dog pound for apes. Here Caesar meets a fellow chimp named Rocket and an orangutan named Maurice who, like Caesar, speaks sign language. Rocket (Terry Notary) and Maurice (Karin Konoval) will be two of Caesar’s closest friends and acolytes for the rest of the trilogy, and these three will be the only people to appear in all three movies. Notable amongst the staff of the… I hesitate to use the word “sanctuary,” because these people are terrible… is Harry Potter/Flash star Tom Felton, who is given two of Charlton Heston’s iconic lines from the original movie.

Second… Will’s serum has some unfortunate side effects. Viral in nature, it makes apes super-smart, but is lethal to humans. And spreads really easily. Soon Caesar has enhanced an army of apes, and is charging the Golden Gate Bridge. But not to conquer anything. Just to take his much-abused ape brethren, be they chimp, orangutan, or gorilla, away from humankind to somewhere they can live in peace.

Not that that will be an option.

Also, Will’s asshole neighbour is an airline pilot. So, while infected with this lethal virus, he heads to work at the San Francisco international airport, allowing said lethal virus to go everywhere.

And thus the fall of humankind begins.

This movie is great. It was great. I remember thinking that. And the most important non-ape character (obviously the most important character is Caesar, being the lead of the entire trilogy) might be Tom Felton. The ape pound provides our best look at what will be the central theme of the entire trilogy… hatred and fear of The Other drives us towards war and away from peace and progress. In this case, mistreatment of apes pushes them, once gifted with higher intelligence, towards banding together and leaving the world of humans.

Maurice, by the way, is named after the actor who played orangutan scientist Dr. Zaius in the original movie.

I did warn you.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

This was the hardest one to motivate myself to see. But not so hard that when my parents said to me, on our trip to New York, “Want to see a movie…”

Yes, my parents took me to New York in July of 2014. Just because my travel agent friend had a deal. It was awesome. My parents are pretty great. That is not our topic.

Anyway, my parents suggested a movie, this being a night when we hadn’t pre-booked a show (and maybe it was Monday, and nothing was on? I’m honestly not sure), and down the street from our hotel was a theatre that had re-dedicated itself to being as fancy as possible, so I said “Sure. The theatre down the street is showing the new Planet of the Apes, may as well see that.”

One of the consistently best-made summer movie franchises and I see them largely by accident. This is the whole “nobody thinks about them” thing.

I hadn’t been excited for this one because of the basic plot. The survivors of the “simian flu,” aka that lethal side effect I mentioned from last time, are attempting to rebuild society in the ruins of San Francisco, near Caesar’s ape village. A human named Malcolm (Jason Clarke, who you’d probably recognise from something but never bothered to learn his name) reaches out to Caesar, hoping to build a peace between human and ape. Caesar is down with this, having been raised by a human (who died between films, probably from the simian flu). But there’s a problem. The head of Malcolm’s group, played by Gary Oldman, does not trust these apes at all. And one of Caesar’s top lieutenants, Koba (Toby Kebbell), is a former lab animal who cannot let go of his hatred for humans.

Sidebar… between Caesar, Rocket, and Koba, there were now three past and future King Kongs in the franchise. That doesn’t really mean anything, save that Serkis, Notary, and Kebbell are good at motion capture, but I thought it worth noting.

So anyway, that’s the central conflict. Caesar, Jason Clarke, and Keri Russell think peace between man and ape is possible, but Gary Oldman doesn’t buy it, and Koba is actively trying to start a war.

My one complaint, my only complaint, is that, well, it’s not called Dawn of the Planet of Apes and Humans Who All Get Along and Everything is Fine, so… it’s kind of a foregone conclusion.

Which, depending on your perspective, might only help the movie. It’s an epic tragedy, like the better Godfather movies or The Empire Strikes Back or Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, which is still one of the best Batman movies. Fight me.

So I didn’t rush to watch it, and it had this thing weighing it down, but it’s excellent, really it is, and it’s vital to understanding what comes next.

And we reach the War

Seeing this was somehow even more accidental than the last one. I only saw this one on opening day because I misremembered a start time and we were 20 minutes late to The Big Sick. But it worked out.

It’s now 15 years after Rise of the Planet of the Apes, according to the opening text bursts. The opening text also serves as a valuable tool for those who didn’t see or just forgot about the last two movies, because they summarise the events and highlight the words “Rise” and “Dawn” so there’s no confusion.

In War For the Planet of the Apes, Koba’s choices still loom large. Humans and apes have been at war since Koba started a larger fight. Caesar still pushes for peace, but the nearby human military, led by Woody Harrelson’s unnamed Colonel, are not having it.

Matt Reeves, writer/director of both Dawn and War, indicated that The Colonel also killed Jason Clarke and Keri Russell’s characters from Dawn, but had to cut the dialogue that revealed that. Not surprising, since the movie’s already over two hours, and that dialogue is not strictly necessary.

Matt Reeves and Woody Harrelson steer hard into the comparison between the Colonel and Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now. The apes discovering graffiti reading “Ape-pocalypse Now” is actually one of the more subtle allusions.

The Colonel is definitely and unquestionably the Bad Guy. He’s cruel and and merciful, displayed by how he treats both ape-kind and humans he finds lacking.

Did you think we were finished with this?

However, all of his many, MANY misdeeds come from one easy to understand source. He sees where all of this has been going: apes replacing humans as the dominant species. His fear of this eventuality pushes him into truly dark actions, including an attack on Caesar’s ape hideout that leaves some of Caesar’s own family dead. Caesar is then determined to bring down the Colonel in return.

Caesar: Hate. The Colonel: Fear. Thus are our two main themes represented. Maurice even points out that Caesar’s hatred is making him more like Koba, whose hatred of humans caused all of this, and who continues to haunt Caesar through dreams and hallucinations.

Worse than that, several of Koba’s acolytes now work for The Colonel. They’re known as “Donkeys,” for two reasons: 1) they’re basically treated as pack animals, and 2) as the Vietnamese were known as “Charlie” and the Germans were known as “Fritz,” the apes are referred to as “Kongs.” Thus the traitor apes are “Donkey Kongs.” I dig that.

This movie is so good. Aside from another excellent exploration about how hate and fear are destructive to any attempt at civilisation, and how tribalism drives cruelty, Reeves knocks this one out of the park. Serkis is as good or better in this movie as he was as Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Steve Zahn is great as Bad Ape, an unexpected ally they pick up along the way. Karin Konoval’s thoughtful, philosophical, empathetic Maurice has been and remains a series highlight. Newcomer Amiah Miller acquits herself well as Nova, a young human girl who helps bridge this movie and the world of 1968’s Planet of the Apes in a way I’m choosing not to spoil. And Woody Harrelson? He is amazing. He gives Michael Keaton’s Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming a run for his money as the summer’s best villain.

Sorry, Wonder Woman and Baby Driver, you are fighting for third and that’s just how its is.

And the effects. God, the effects. If I didn’t know that the apes are done through motion capture, I would assume that the mask work on this movie was bleeding edge. In other words, the CG on the ape performances is so convincing that if you told me that they actually bred apes who could act this well, I wouldn’t be 100% sure you were wrong.

What I’m saying is that the ape characters look incredibly realistic. More than the last two, the apes carry this movie, and they do not look like CG apes at all. Which means that the performances of the humans behind the apes are able to absolutely crush it, and the CG never once took me out of the moment. Scenes involving Caesar and Maurice were absolutely heartbreaking.

War For the Planet of the Apes moved me in a way that only two movies in the last year have. And not any of the best picture nominees: just Wonder Woman and Rogue One.

A thing I haven’t gotten around to mentioning yet. The latter-day Planet of the Apes trilogy are not action movies. If memory serves, the trailers lean on what action there is. (I say “If memory serves” because I don’t think I’ve watched a trailer for any of them since 2014.) But they aren’t, on the whole, driven by action. All three have a very well-done action set piece in the climax, but the meat of the film is in the drama, not the fighting.

In terms of sheer fun, maybe Spider-Man: Homecoming and Wonder Woman edge out War For the Planet of the Apes, because it is a kind of grim story. I mean, again, the title kind of implies that humans are not going to do well, although this time we are just straight up the villains, so sure, fine. Also, the recurring theme that fear and hate hold us back does not present an easy solution. These movies basically say “fear and hate will screw us over, and there’s nothing we can really do about that as long as the fearful and the haters are in charge.”

But maybe if we all really try, we can move past fear and hate. Maybe we can embrace hope for a better future, and the will to see it through. And if the Green Lantern comics teach us anything, it’s that will backed by hope is unstoppable.

Yes, I went nerdy there. I’m not sorry.

Long story short. Watch War For the Planet of the Apes. And if you haven’t seen the others, track down Rise of the Planet of the Apes and work your way forward. This franchise is too good to be overlooked.

And now my declaration of that fact will live on, even when I forget how good these movies are and assume that only Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and Edgar Wright knocked it out of the park this summer.

Oh, shoot, I forgot about Dunkirk and Valerian. Man, it’s almost enough to make you miss last summer, when you could take all of June off from the movies and miss nothing.

Dan at the Movies: Spider-man Homecoming

Maybe you haven’t seen Spider-Man: Homecoming yet, and want to know what you’d be in for. Or maybe you have seen it, but haven’t been in a fight about your opinion yet. Nathan.

(No, not cousin Nathan, the uppity one– he knows who he is.)

Either way, I’m here for you.

Overall? It’s fine. It’s good. Definitely enjoyable. It doesn’t quite live up to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Mans at their finest, but is a marked improvement from the train-wreck Amazing Spider-Mans. As far as Marvel Studios films go, it’s not quite on par with Guardians of the Galaxy or Winter Solider, not bland and stupid like anything Thor-related… it’s about equal with Dr. Strange or Ant-Man. Fun, enjoyable, but I’m not in a rush to rewatch it like I was with Avengers or Wonder Woman. And kind of still am with Wonder Woman.

Anyone not seen Wonder Woman yet? Should we go do that? Real quick? No, you’re right, let’s finish this first…

I’m really not trying to damn this thing with faint praise, but the overall take is “Fine, fun, good, not Amazing or Spectacular or Web of or other adjectives associated with Spider-Man.” Now… I do have some complaints. But if I just make this review a laundry list of small grievances and nitpicks, it might seem like I’m calling it bad. And I’m not.

So here’s what we’re gonna do. For each nitpick, I’m going to also name something they did well, and we’ll see which I run out of first.

Good: The Boys

Okay. Props where props are due. Tom Holland nails it. He sells both the inherent teenage awkwardness and iconic battle-wit of Spider-Man. He also gets a new twist on the character to play. Tobey Maguire got the origin and the typical comic struggle between the difficulties of young adult life and the fact that Spider-Manning is both a complication to and a release from it. Andrew Garfield slouched his way through two films that were more concerned with setting up sequels and spinoffs that never were than telling a coherent story, but somehow still got the most charming romance.

Holland’s Peter Parker is the best for showing what a joy Spider-Manning is to Peter, while still giving us the first Spider-Man whose eyes are bigger than his stomach. Maguire and Garfield’s Spider-Men fought super-villains because they were the only ones who could (and often because said villains developed a mad-on for Peter and/or Spider-Man). Peter goes after Adrian Toomes and his crew because two months ago he was fighting side-by-side with Iron Man and the Avengers (against other Avengers, but still), and now he’s back to dealing with bike thieves and other low-level crime, and while being Spider-Man is still the best part of his life, he’s getting bored and frustrated. Peter wants to prove to Tony Stark that he’s ready for Avengers missions on the regular.

(Not mentioned: you’d think Tony would be eager for help, since I’m pretty sure there are only three non-fugitive Avengers at the moment and one of them needs technological help to walk, but whatever.)

Peter’s best friend, Ned, is also pretty perfect. He’s the nerdy, over-eager best friend who gets way too into being best pals with Spider-Man. He plays confident (well, him and the AI in the suit Tony made him), and gets a few hero moments of his own. Physically and in terms of characterization, Ned brings to mind Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales’ best pal Ganke rather than anyone in Peter Parker’s supporting cast, but since they’re understandably taking a break from the Osbornes in the wake of Amazing Spider-Man 2, why not create a new best friend?

(Other than if you don’t introduce Harry and Norman Osborne right away, then the Green Goblin story loses impact if you decide to do it later, and need to retcon in this “old friend” and his father we haven’t seen before, but maybe two movies is enough for the Green Goblin. Comics need to go back to the classics way more often than movies, because they have so many more stories to fill.)

No no no. Don’t get sidetracked on how three Green Goblin stories in 20 years is too many for movie audiences but not nearly enough for comics. Stay on target.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen… 60% of Tony Stark’s screen time, something like that? But that’s okay. There is precisely enough Tony Stark in this movie. Enough that it never gets old or tired, or threatens to overshadow the actual lead of the movie.

Bad: Still not great with women, are we?

Zendaya does well as Peter’s sarcastic associate Michelle, so good at being wherever Peter is that one could almost assume she’s Peter’s own surly Tyler Durden. I do have one qualm about her character but I’ll come back to it because it’s not germane to “Marvel doesn’t write women well,” since she’s written as well as most of the men.

Marisa Tomei does well with Aunt May, for all that she’s given to do. May’s entire role basically breaks down to two things: worrying about Peter, and having any male character in her radius comment on how hot she is. Which is fairly reductive, for one, but also kind of weird?

Sure, every time they reboot Spider-Man they knock a decade off Aunt May’s age. Rosemary Harris was about 74 when she first played the role, Sally Field was 65, and Marisa Tomei is, in fairness, looking good at 52. But the characters don’t know any of that. They don’t know that Aunt May has historically looked more like Peter’s great-grandmother. People age better now than they did in the 60s. A high school student should have an aunt who looks more like Marisa Tomei than Judi Dench. She’s still more attractive than average, but… can we just all agree that it’s weird and a little bit creepy everyone needs to comment on it?

And then there’s Liz.

Liz is Peter’s love interest. And having said that, I have damn near summed up her entire character. She has little agency, no real development, she basically only exists to be an object of desire for Peter, and to give him a chance at her affections when he’s done nothing to be worth it and everything to let her down, but we’ll come back to that.

So, yeah, Marvel isn’t getting better at writing women in a hurry. Here’s hoping they figure it out before Captain Marvel.

Good: Michael Keaton

When people call Spider-Man 2 one of the all-time great superhero movies (and they do), Doctor Octopus is usually one of the main reasons why. But then Sam Raimi’s trilogy came out before 2008, the year that marked both the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the end of villain-driven superhero movies. Not a coincidence.

Before Iron Man, villains were as important a part of the movie as heroes. In fact, villains got top billing in two pre-Nolan Batman movies. Sam Raimi’s two better Spider-Man movies were as much about Norman Osborne and Otto Octavious as Peter Parker. In fact, the Raimi trilogy only ended on a sour note because Sony forced him to shoehorn Venom into what could have been a good (if unnecessarily retconny) Sandman story. And sure, Joel Schumacher went for quantity over quality with his bad-to-worse Batman movies, but quality was out of his reach from day one. The point is, truly great superhero villains seemed to peak with Joker in the Dark Knight.

Because, you see, Marvel changed the game. Starting with Iron Man, villains became almost an afterthought in their movies. Marvel villains are mostly two-dimensional personifications of the hero’s flaws. Iron Man fights arms dealers, Thor fights characters from Norse myths, and Captain America fights evil supersoldiers and/or manifestations of America’s failure to live up to its own ideals.

As a result, the bar for a good Marvel villain is staggeringly low. But there are a few questions to ask.

1) Is the actor good? Most of the time they are, since actors like being in giant hits, so Marvel ain’t starved for choice. There are exceptions. Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket had basically nothing to work with and Thor: the Dark World’s Christopher Eccleston/Malekith was so buried in makeup and voice modulation he never had a chance.

2) Do the villain’s actions and motivations make any sort of sense? Like I said… the bar is low. Winter Soldier and the first Thor do well at this. The endless series of evil arms dealers out to kill Tony Stark/Hank Pym and sell weapons make less sense, since nothing was stopping them from legitimately selling weapons. Ultron went from zero to “kill all humans” in an eyeblink. And, of course, Malekith’s plot from Thor: the Dark World is just word salad.

3) Is the villain a credible threat without resorting to Infinitely Respawning Henchmen? This is the least important, but it’s a definite nice-to-have. Loki in Avengers needed endless Chitauri to be dangerous (otherwise he couldn’t even hold his own against Tony Stark) and nobody expected Robert Redford to actually go toe-to-toe with Captain America. But then Avengers was about getting the band together and Winter Soldier was about an ideological fight, not a physical one. Well, an ideological fight with punching and explosions.

So… how does Michael Keaton do as Adrian Toomes, known to comics fans but never once referred to in the movie as the Vulture? Pretty damn good.

1) Is the actor good? Yes. The post-Birdman Michael Keaton Renaissance continues.

2) Do his actions and motivations make any sort of sense? Absolutely. Adrian Toomes is one of the better written Marvel villains. His origin is understandable, his motives relatable.

3) Is the villain a credible threat? Oh yeah. The Vulture swooping in is typically where everything goes wrong for Spider-Man. Fighting Toomes himself is much harder than fighting his chief henchman, The Shocker, a Spider-Man villain who could never carry a movie so may as well be a Giant Mook.

So, in short, and without going into spoilery details, Vulture might be one of Marvel’s very best villains.

Bad: We get it. Spider-Manning requires sacrifice.

So remember how Liv as romantic interest meant ignoring heaps of flaws from Peter? That’s because he bails on her constantly.

I get it. Being Spider-Man means doing the important thing instead of the fun thing. This is a classic trope, needing to ditch friends and loved ones to go stop a villain and save the city. But you can overdo it. You can overdo it so easily. Look at the second season of Arrow. It’s greatest flaw (well, definitely top two, depending on your views on Thea Queen) is that every time Oliver needs to have a business meeting or important personal conversation, Digg or Felicity will invariably interrupt with Arrow business. By the late-season moment when Oliver just needs a few goddamn minutes to convince Thea to sign a form to keep them from losing their house and nightclub, and Felicity immediately interrupts him, I was literally screaming at the screen. That is how played out that plot point was.

That was spread over six months. Peter bails on Liz to fight Vulture’s crew no less than four times in two hours. That’s too many. It’s too many trips to that well in one movie.

And it further weakens her character. Peter wants to take her to homecoming, and should that even have been an option after, at that point, he’s bailed on her threes times and come through for her zero times?

And furthermore… the homecoming dance, which lends its name to the subtitle (yeah, yeah, it’s called Homecoming because it’s Spider-Man joining the MCU fold, not because of the dance) has zero impact. It feels so inconsequential given that since Peter has never turned up for any of his non-Spider-Man obligations even once, we know there’s no chance Liz is having a fun Homecoming. Maybe if even one time he had chosen Liz or any high school melodrama/activity over being Spider-Man, even once, the choice of “dance or stop Vulture” would have had stakes, but instead it’s a foregone conclusion the second Aunt May drops him off at her house. When it’s a critical choice, the audience should not be thinking “Again with this.”

Here’s hoping they strike a better balance in 2019’s Spider-Man: Winter Formal.

Good: Peter and his suit

Peter’s experimentation with his Stark-designed suit’s full capabilities is fun, and mocks a few super-hero tropes. His swift and firm rejection of the suit’s more lethal capabilities is a nice break from the kill-happy Avengers, and… sadly… most recent Batman. And his experimentation with “enhanced interrogation mode” is a pretty fun mockery of the “spooky voices” employed by Green Arrow and Batman.

Bad: Michelle is who now?

This one’s a spoiler, but it’s spoiling something stupid. Make your choices and either read on or meet me at the speed round.

Michelle is the sardonic non-friend following Peter through his non-heroic escapades. Sure she treats him with disdain, but she must like him a little, given her dedication to being wherever he is, if only to mock his pain. Michelle’s a reliably fun character and Zendaya plays her well. But then at the end… look, I mentioned the spoiler thing… she says “My friends call me MJ.”

Dun dun DUUUUNNNN! Michelle is actually MJ, aka Peter Parker’s classic love interest, Michelle Jane Watson!

No. Wait. That’s not right.

It’s Mary. Mary Jane. That is what “MJ” stands for, and everyone knows that, because a) only characters in the comics actually call her “MJ,” not real people, and b) we’ve already had three massively successful (financially, anyway) movies refer to her as “Mary Jane.” Not Michelle Jane. That… that isn’t a thing. Nobody thinks that’s a thing.

So like “Laurel” Lance and “Curtis” Holt on Arrow, I’m forced to ask… why? What does changing her name actually accomplish? Were they worried that if Peter had a classmate named “Mary,” we’d know where that was going and not get invested in Peter and Liz? A fair concern. Once Lois Lane turned up on Smallville, it was hard to get too invested in Clark’s turbulent relationship with Lana Lang for the next… Jesus, four years? They kept Clark and Lana going for four years after introducing Lois? Man. That show had no plan. No plan at all.

Sorry. Got distracted.

But if that’s the case, even the Amazing Spider-Man movies managed to find a solution, and it was don’t have Mary Jane in the movie. Because unlike the hollow shell that is Liz, Gwen Stacy is the real deal. In comic continuity, Peter only ended up with Mary Jane because Gwen died, so there’s no sense in diminishing the one thing about the Amazing movies that worked by telegraphing where it’s going more than they already did. Sure it meant cutting Mary Jane out of the second movie, but Amazing Spider-Man was nothing if not willing to cut huge swaths of the movie out even if it left massive plot holes in their place.

Option two, don’t say her name until the end. Entirely doable. There were several other characters of note whose names were never spoken aloud, you could’ve gotten away with not saying “Mary” until the very end.

Or… and I have no evidence for this but it seems plausible… did they name their “MJ” Michelle so that Mary Jane Watson wasn’t black? Because if that’s the case, you fucking cowards. Have a black Mary Jane or don’t.

That might not be the reason. Again, I have nothing I can cite that says it is. But whatever the reason, it’s stupid. It’s just plain stupid. “Michelle Jane” isn’t a thing I can picture no reason to make it one.

I mean I look forward to seeing where they take her in Spider-Man: Spring Fling, but nothing’s going to make me consider this less stupid.

The Aforementioned Speed Round

Okay, let’s speed this up,

Good: The montage of Peter’s street-level attempted heroics was really fun.

Bad: Saying that the movie takes place eight years after Avengers, which came out only five years ago, makes figuring out the Marvel movie timeline really hard. But that’s a whole other blog’s worth of material.

Good: Peter’s suit-based arc works really well. Is he doing this for the glory of being an Avenger, or because it needs doing? (Sure the answer is obvious but it’s about the journey.)

Bad: The trailers gave away too much. There’s not a lot of suspense in the ferry fight.

Good: Donald Glover as Aaron Davis, uncle to Miles Morales. We might never see Miles on the big screen, but it’s nice they opened that door. Also Donald was fun in the role.

Bad: …Uh…

Good: Hannibal Buress and Martin Starr had some fun one-liners as Peter’s teachers.

Bad: I think I ran out. I think I’ve run out of complaints. Let me think… no, Ned, Vulture, Bokeem Woodbine as the Shocker, the ethnic diversity of Peter’s high school, Happy Hogan, the unexpected denouement cameo, the Captain America videos for high schools, all of that worked like gangbusters. Even the fact that high school crap like being popular and getting a date to the dance feel kind of inconsequential when you’re a couple of decades removed from high school isn’t really a flaw, because they are inconsequential compared to keeping giant sci-fi weapons off the street, that’s the point, that’s why he keeps bailing on things to Spider-Man at people.

So, yeah, there you have it. It’s not Earth-shaking, it never moved me the way Wonder Woman did, but it’s fun and decently paced and even when you’re really willing to pick nits the good outweighs the bad. It’s probably worth your time, and is almost certainly better than most of last summer’s tentpoles.

But go ahead and skip 3D and IMAX. I did, and I don’t think I missed anything.

The Impossible Dream Comic Stories

You know, it’s a damn shame I already wrote, like, a dozen blogs about The Office, because I could sure say some more things about how lethally toxic Angela and Andy were as a couple. And how I don’t even know who I was supposed to root for in that story.

But no. We closed that book.

So previously I covered big crossover stories that I feel could be done even if they probably won’t. But hey, they already did Invasion!, and I wouldn’t have guessed that, so who knows. Today, though… instead of depressing myself by pitching ideas they could use but won’t, I’ll depress myself a little less by looking at the big, classic stories that neither Marvel nor DC could possibly do justice to.

I don’t know why I do these things either. But it’s no sadder than wondering how Marvel Studios could integrate the Fantastic Four if they got the rights back. I mean it’s pretty clear that Fox is going to keep making terrible Fantastic Four movies every seven years until Emperor Trump shuts down Hollywood for being too liberal and all the studios move to China. I don’t know why, maybe they’re just trying to dilute Marvel’s brand, but it’s clearly going to happen.

So. Allons-y.

1. Secret Wars

Now, there’s a few Marvel event books under this particular banner. The mid-80s miniseries (and subsequent sequels) in which the all-powerful Beyonder gathered the heroes and villains of Earth for a battle-royale on his artificial Battleworld; the infrequently shipping mid-2000s miniseries in which Nick Fury discovers that the nation of Latveria (once and future domain of Doctor Doom, but at the time a democratic ally state) has been funding America’s tech-based supervillains, and thus leads a covert team of to attack, which has consequences down the road; and the most recent Secret Wars, in which a years-long storyline about the Marvel multiverse collapsing ends with the main and Ultimate Marvel universes fatally colliding, and Doctors Doom and Strange saving what they can in a new Battleworld.

I could cover all three of them, but only one really fits here. I don’t think anyone is really clamouring for an adaptation of the original Secret Wars. It’s pretty thin, narratively speaking, which makes sense because it was written to sell a toy line. And it got its name from focus groups finding that kids reacted well to the words “secret” and “wars.” Also, the MCU simply doesn’t have enough interesting, Avengers-level villains to pull it off. That’s why the only way to get all of their film characters (but never their TV characters) together in one movie is to have them fight either Thanos or each other.

The 2004 Secret War has its issues as far as adaptation goes. A) the MCU has no equivalent to Latveria except maybe, maybe Sokovia (who could hardly afford to spend money on American supervillains), and B) there has never been a Marvel movie villain where we had to stop and ask where they get the money to fund and fuel their high-tech weapons. The Marvel movie villains are mostly arms dealers and interplanetary despots, not bank robbers with gimmick suits. But… if they were really inclined… the basic premise would make for a hell of a Captain America sequel. So they actually could do this one if they wanted.

The latest one, however…

Why would they want to?

Because like the great Crisis On Infinite Earths, grand-daddy of the Event Crossover, which we’ll get back to, this event existed to clear the deck. It ended the Ultimate universe experiment, save for Ultimate Spider-Man Miles Morales, who was brought into the main MCU. It paved away some things they wanted to be done with (the re-aged Steve Rogers, the evil Tony Stark, the still-existing Fantastic Four), and let Marvel start fresh with new ideas. Some new ideas. A couple of new ideas. They didn’t go post-Flashpoint New 52 crazy or anything.

Marvel Studios is coming up on the end of Phase Three, the culmination of over ten years of interconnected films and largely ignored TV projects. It’s also the end of the contracts for their main stars. All in all, a great time to clean house and start fresh. Doing a Secret Wars-type story would let them reboot and recast without going full Amazing Spider-Man.

So why can’t they?

Because for all of the craziness happening, the army of Thors and the wasteland of Hulks and the extra-wastey wasteland of zombies and Ultrons, all of that, Secret Wars was ultimately a story about Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards. Doom is triumphant, he has reforged reality in his own broken image and rules it as a god, and it all falls apart when Reed arrives. The fate of the Marvel multiverse comes down to a grudge match between these two classic, eternal rivals.

And the Marvel Cinematic Universe just does not have an equivalent.

The closest thing they have to a Reed Richards is Tony Stark, but his first and greatest nemesis in the films is himself. Tony can’t exactly wrestle his own arrogance for the fate of everything. They simply don’t have anything or anyone on par with Doom to serve as the other half of the equation. The 2004 Secret War has some elements and characters the films lack, but with a little wrangling Sokovia could replace Latveria, Falcon or Ant-Man could replace Wolverine, and they could just suck it up, stop shunning the TV branch, and put Luke Cage and Daisy “Quake” Johnson in a movie. But they have nothing in their arsenal to replace Doom. Not even Loki.

2. Crisis On Infinite Earths

I’d save this for last but I already went and brought it up, so… here goes. Crisis on Infinite Earths is the grand mac-daddy of all universe-shifting crossovers. DC editorial decided that their complex multiverse of overlapping characters was a little messy and confusing, and thus commissioned a massive event miniseries to tidy things up. Every single character in DC’s stable made at least a brief appearance, even some they’d just acquired. Worlds ended, heroes and villains died, including Supergirl and the Flash, and in the end there was one Earth in which the survivors all co-existed. The DC universe changed forever.

Okay, sure, within twenty years and change there was a multiverse again and nearly every character they’d killed had come back (I can name two who stayed dead, but you don’t know them). Creators who grew up reading comics tend to bring back the stuff they loved as a kid. But, you know… it’s still basically different.

Why would they want to?

Because this is the dream crossover. Forget Supergirl visiting Star City or even the Avengers meeting the Defenders, this is the impossible dream. The stuff fan trailers are made of.

These guys.

I’m talking Grant Gustin racing Ezra Miller. Fellow Supermen Brandon Routh and Tyler Hoechin throwing Henry Cavill a brood-intervention. Stephen Amell and Justin Hartley in an Arrow-off. The Dark Knight meets the Caped Crusader. Get weird with it, and all to stop a threat so big it takes upwards of five Supermen and three Flashes to bring it down.

So why can’t they?

Dude, think about it. Are you really going to be able to talk Christian Bale back into the batsuit? No. No you are not. Michael Keaton won’t be much easier, Christopher Reeve is dead, and 1990’s Flash, Superman Returns’ Superman, both Lois and Clark of Lois and Clark, and the 1970s Wonder Woman are all playing other characters in the DCW-verse.

Plus the only Joker you’re going to be able to get is Jared Leto and nobody wants that.

And which Earth would die to sell the stakes? Smallvile? Lois and Clark? You’re gonna get fans and ex-stars complaining on Twitter whichever you pick.

It’s the impossible dream for a reason. Even a Crisis on Two Earths (comic-wise, the first time the Justice League met the Justice Society), where the TV and film universes collided, would be a bit of an ask.

3. Secret Invasion

In case you were wondering if Marvel naming things based on focus groups liking the word “secret” was a thing of the past… well, we can’t be sure. Maybe writer/architect Brian Michael Bendis just wanted the homage.

Secret Invasion was the culmination of a story Bendis had been cooking since he took over the Avengers books. After a massive prison break which led to the newly formed New Avengers discovering an illegal, black-books vibranium mining operation in the Savage Land run by SHIELD, it becomes clear that some sinister force has infiltrated the global peacekeeping force. And, as time goes by, they learn whatever it is has infiltrated Hydra and the Hand as well. After Civil War splits the team in half, Luke Cage’s rogue Avengers find out who this shadow force is: shapeshifting alien would-be conquerors the Skrulls have mastered a new form of infiltration, one that no hero, despite magic or supersenses or being Reed Richards, could detect even when it was right in front of them.

So the question then began… who was a secret Skrull? Who could be trusted? Did the Skrulls orchestrate Scarlet Witch nearly wiping out the mutants or the Civil War that turned hero against hero? And when a ship full of heroes dressed like it was still the 80s crashed in the Savage Land, were any of them friends finally returned?

The answers were “Five people of note and some nameless SHIELD agents,” “Pretty much everyone,” “No,” and “No, that was just a waste of five incredibly repetitive issues.”

Why would they want to?

It combines both of Marvel Studios’ favourite tropes: heroes fighting heroes, and a climax involving fighting a giant horde of faceless alien minions. Plus, as we’ve learned from Winter Soldier, Civil War, and basing their film franchise around the Infinity Gauntlet, they love harvesting their event books for film plots. Not enough to fully give in to the endless cries for a Planet Hulk movie (looks like one scene from Thor: Ragnarok is all those people will get), but still.

Also, the story leading up to the event book was great. The years-long build-up, from the jail-break through to the secret within SHIELD and all the way to the big Skrull reveal and the two teams wondering who on the other side was a secret Skrull, it was one of the best slow-burn builds in recent memory.

So why can’t they?

Weirdly the fact that the build-up is the only good part of Secret Invasion isn’t the problem. Sure, it was savagely under-written, what with spending five issues on the go-nowhere Savage Land plot while the Skrull Queen gave a series of repetitive, half-issue monologues about change. Sure, the climax is hot garbage, since it boils down to all of the heroes lining up on one side of Central Park, shouting “Hey Skrulls, come fight,” and every Skrull in the global invasion saying “Yeah, sure, be right there.” Sure, the title doesn’t even make sense, since the Invasion stops being in any way Secret by the end of issue one. But the Civil War comic was also badly paced with a half-assed conclusion, and that movie turned out fine.

No, the issue is that there’s no real way to do the build-up. Are they going to slip some hint that not all is well into every phase four movie? That’s just going to lead to awkward, tacked on scenes that draw complaints, like Thor and his Vision Spa in Age of Ultron. And the reveal will make less sense without an established race of hostile shapeshifters like the comics have. Which brings us to another problem… Marvel Studios doesn’t have the rights to the Skrulls. They’re tied up with the Fantastic Four, so Fox owns the film rights. And as we know, Fox doesn’t give these things up easily.

Might make for a good Supergirl season if you swapped the Skrulls for the Durlans, though. Wouldn’t be the first time a Superman-related show stole a story from Marvel.

Inter-company cross-overs

Gonna break the format here, because “Why can’t they” is perfectly obvious. Marvel and DC the publishers don’t really get along these days, a state of affairs exacerbated by ex-Marvel head Joe Quesada pulling some dickish moves back in 2010. Which is sad, because back in the day, DC/Marvel crossovers were a frequent event, from their beginnings in Superman Vs. Spider-Man to the Teen Titans teaming up with the X-Men to the well intentioned but ineptly executed DC Vs. Marvel (or Marvel Vs. DC, depending on the issue number), which at least created the interesting experiment Amalgam Comics. And then after a hiatus, they managed to join forces one last time for the greatest inter-company crossover ever.

BOOM.

JLA/Avengers (or, again based on issue number, Avengers/JLA) is filled with classic moments. The Justice League saw Dr. Doom ruling Latveria, the ruins of mutant nation Genosha, Hulk tearing through the military, and the Punisher shooting up gangs (until Batman broke his own “don’t interfere” rule to whoop on him), and decided that this world’s heroes just don’t try. The Avengers saw Wonder Woman addressing the UN, Superman being deified, and the Flash Museum (“They have a museum dedicated to a speedster!” shouted an enraged and envious Quicksilver. “A museum!”) and decided the heroes of this world overstepped, ruling as gods for the public’s adoration.

It also had the best “fight-then-team-up” sequence of any comic ever… Batman and Captain America trade a few jabs, testing each other out, then Batman essentially says “You might be able to beat me, but it’ll take a while. Want to figure out what’s actually happening instead?” And off they go.

And then history gets twisted, creating an alternate past where the DC and Marvel universes had known about each other for years, to the point of getting together each Thanksgiving like the JLA and JSA used to do. And Hawkeye and Green Arrow exchange the one piece of dialogue that’s missing from most DC multiverse stories (especially this season of The Flash)… “For the last time, we’re Earth One, you’re Earth Two!”

But it’s not to be. If Marvel and DC the publishers aren’t getting along, one can probably count on Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers to be just as reluctant to get into bed with each other. Even if people would pay all the money on Earth to see Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man go three rounds against Batman.

Sadly, this will also prevent comics’ one-time weirdest inter-company crossover…

This is real. This is a real comic.

Archie Meets the Punisher. That happened. That is a thing that two companies agreed to make and paid people to write and draw. Multiple people, actually, because the Archie scenes are all drawn in the Archie house style, while a different artist drew all the Punisher scenes in a more appropriately gritty fashion. It’s fascinating in how audacious it is just for existing, in how committed they are to a team-up that makes no sense and should not be, but still somehow turns out worth reading.

So in that spirit… how much do I want to see Jon Bernthal’s Frank Castle set loose amongst the teen-drama-fuelled noir mysteries of the CW’s Riverdale?

So. Goddamn. Much.

It would be so weird and so stupid and so, so mesmerising. But Marvel won’t let their Netflix characters cross over with their own film branch, so that there is a pipe dream. A ridiculous, near-indefensible pipe dream.

Maybe in Riverdale’s fourth season they’ll get desperate enough to do Archie Vs. Predator.

Wasn’t kidding about that one either.

Next time… I return to a long-neglected blog series, discussing things that do exist instead of things that don’t.

Hard Truths for Geek Media

We are living in the golden age of geek media. Netflix has five shows and counting devoted to The Defenders, comic book shows are nearly half of the CW network’s lineup, and superhero movies and Star Warses account for something like 98% of US box office revenue at the movies.

But it ain’t all good.

No, this is not going to be the “Dan breaks and denounces Suicide Squad” moment some of my friends have been waiting for. There are just some real issues, some growing problems with certain geek-friendly properties worth discussing. As much as we love them, there are some hard truths to face.

Let’s start with my own field of interest.

Maybe there shouldn’t be a Flash movie

There was a time when Warner Bros. and DC Comics were the kings of the superhero movie genre. But mostly because it was when nobody else was really trying.

Behold: Marvel’s best and most successful movie until 1998.

They spent one decade on four Superman movies (two good), one on four Batman movies that start okay, get worse, and end bad enough to almost kill the genre (well, that and Steel), and then started floundering, banking everything on Nolan’s Batman while Green Lantern and what some consider to be the best Superman movie made thus far failed to jumpstart any franchises. Plus Jonah Hex was a trash heap and Catwoman does not belong in this conversation. It’s a rejected Crow reboot that they slapped the word “cat” onto and it should not exist.

Meanwhile, they watched Marvel Studios go from plucky upstart to the most consistently successful film studio in the history of the medium by building a cinematic universe out of their B-list, all leading to The Avengers, which blew the long-awaited Dark Knight Rises out of the water.

Going from kicking Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk’s asses with Dark Knight to being the also-rans in a genre they used to dominate must have stung. Moreso because if they hadn’t been hung up on keeping all of their toys in separate boxes, they could have been doing this over two decades ago.

I kind of picture it like that scene in Brooklyn, where Ailis’ Irish friends are changing under blankets, then see that she just wore her swimsuit under her clothes, and say “Well how long do you think the Americans have known about that? Probably 100 years.” So simple and obvious once you see it done. Surely someone at Warner Bros. saw the road to Avengers and asked “Well why the hell haven’t we done that?” “We felt it worked better not to link up the movies–” “Die in a fire, Ted.”

So they ended up trying to rush their own cinematic universe, attempting a short road from Man of Steel to Justice League. It’s been a rocky journey so far, according to reviews and certain opinions and also all those Razzies Batman V Superman got, but hope exists that they’ll turn it around in coming years. Set visits are generating hope for Wonder Woman, and Justice League… let’s talk about Justice League after Wonder Woman comes out. Or not. We’ll have to see. Their hope is that a successful Justice League movie will drive audiences to solo movies for the rest of the lineup, the same way Avengers managed to convince people to keep watching mediocre at best Thor movies.

But there’s one film that’s having more trouble than anything on their slate.

This guy.

The Flash has already lost two directors and apparently the script has gone back for a page-one remake. It is the very model of a troubled production.  And while I don’t know exactly what’s going on over there… I have a guess.

To the left.

The Flash is already on TV. And doing pretty well. Well enough that it’s the centrepiece (albeit not the originator) of a four-show empire. So this is all speculation, but it seems to me that the Flash movie would end up having to walk a very fine line… too much like the TV show, it’s redundant. Not enough like the TV show, it’s alienating the fanbase they’ve been building for three seasons and counting. And if this is what’s happening, it would mean more studio interference than anything else they’re doing, and yes, that’s going to cost them directors.

So maybe the solution is don’t make the movie.

Any Flash movie is going to have to compete with the TV series’ nigh-perfect first season. The movie would have two hours to tell a story, the show gets 23 (including commercials). The movie could be my first chance to see the Rogues united (the core group have all turned up on the show, but rarely more than two at a time), but Wentworth Miller’s Captain Cold is basically perfect, and I’m at a loss as to how they could do better in the movie. I’m not saying it’s another Heath-Ledger-Joker situation but he is a tough act to follow.

I’m not saying cut the character. Have him in the Justice League, just all over the Justice League. Just maybe Flash doesn’t need a solo movie. Hell, DC has a pretty full slate as it is (while fighting for Warner resources with the Fantastic Beasts franchise), and keeps announcing new projects. The Batman still doesn’t have a release date (and just got a director), and now there’s talk of Gotham City Sirens, solo movies for Nightwing and Deadshot, a Suicide Squad sequel, and talk remains of an actual, proper sequel to Man of Steel.

Pretty ambitious. Sure, the grosses were high last year, but they might wanna get public perception on their side a bit more before they get excited. Maybe see how much Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 outgrosses Justice League by. (Look, I’m enough of a DC fan that no amount of BvS or Suicide Squad smack talk will keep me from opening night of Justice League, but even I’m more excited for Guardians.)

But if they have all these movies they want to make, maybe it’s time to drop the one they clearly don’t know how to make. I mean, Marvel doesn’t make solo movies for everyone. Ask Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

In fact, let’s talk Marvel.

Maybe Marvel’s “Everything’s Connected” isn’t working

Ever since Nick Fury popped up after the credits of Iron Man saying “Avengers Initiative,” the key element in Marvel’s success is the idea that all of their film and television properties share one universe, and that they’re all connected. You watch Thor because stuff they do there will pay off in the next big team-up movie.

I mean, you don’t watch Thor movies for fun. That’s just crazy.

But the more they expand into other media, the more cracks are starting to show in the facade.

There’s the little stuff in the movies. The “Why do no Avengers care that terrorists just blew up Tony Stark’s house and then kidnapped the president” or “So after learning that SHIELD was infiltrated by Hydra, the only person Captain America calls for backup is the guy he met while jogging” stuff. But this is nothing new. It’s basic nitpicking comics fans have been dealing with for decades. And two out of three of the big team-up movies have done a fine job smoothing those wrinkles over.

And one had a plot hole for every robot.

But it doesn’t stop there.

The obvious example is Agents of SHIELD. Marvel’s first foray into TV, it was pitched as the connective tissue between movies, but it isn’t. Despite every shoehorned reference Agents of SHIELD makes to the movies, it just isn’t. Whether it’s the feud between Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and his ex-boss, Marvel Entertainment head Ike Perlmutter, or some other nonsense reason, it’s abundantly clear that the film division does not care about Agents of SHIELD even a little. From destroying their very premise in Winter Soldier to their refusal to say the word “Inhuman” to the fact that none of the Avengers have noticed Coulson isn’t dead, the film branch has straight-up ignored everything and anything about Agents of SHIELD.

And now there’s an Inhumans series on the horizon. The Inhumans have been a key part of Agents of SHIELD for three years now, but as of this writing, the Inhumans show has given no indication they’ll connect or cross-over with SHIELD. They have made it clear that this show will not be an Agents of SHIELD spinoff. So their only announcement in regards to what should be their sister show was to distance themselves from it. If another Marvel show on the same network won’t even acknowledge Agents of SHIELD, then is it not time to ask just how exactly “Everything is connected?”

We’re still on that topic but here’s a header to break things up

There’s also Marvel Netflix. Marvel’s Netflix shows are trying to do the Avengers process in the TV format: five seasons of four shows, all leading up to The Defenders this fall. And they’ve been good, for the most part… Daredevil’s second season and Luke Cage’s debut season fell apart in their second halves, but overall they’ve been good. And we’re certainly told that they’re all in the same universe as Captain America, Asgard, and the talking, gun-toting raccoon we all love.

That’s what we’re told.

One of my pet peeves about Marvel Netflix is that while the DCW-verse delights in comic-booky concepts like time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging super-strong hyper-intelligent telepathic gorillas, the Marvel Netflix shows seem to resent being based on comics. Sure, all of their protagonists have super powers, but they mostly stick to grounded, realistic threats (save for one mind-controlling psychopath whose arc was still rooted in very real abuse issues, and one ninja cult story that doesn’t actually make any sense). They have Easter egg references to old Power Man and Jessica Jones comics, but treat them like baby pictures your mother pulled out to show your date.

More than that, they seem to be actively ashamed of being part of the MCU. They will begrudgingly acknowledge the climax of Avengers, but in the vaguest possible terms. Seriously, “The Incident?” The city/country that treats the phrase 9/11 with sacred reverence (except when they don’t) would really call an honest-to-god alien invasion repelled in part by the literal Norse god of thunder something as basic and generic as “The Incident?” What are they, British? And that’s the only reference they’re willing to make. Nothing from any other movie, save for being the only people who seem to remember Hammer Industries from Iron Man 2.

Right. There’s gonna be too much. Time for a “The Defenders Ain’t Care About the Avengers” speed round.

  • We’re two years in and I’ve yet to see Stark/Avengers Tower in the New York skyline.
  • The New York DA starts a crusade against vigilantes, and her main targets are the Punisher (sure) and licensed private detective and one-time-vigilante Jessica Jones. No mention of Inhumans, the Sokovia accords, or freaking Spider-Man. Any of which would be totally germane to the conversation.
  • Aliens invade New York, Asgard exists, Captain America came back from the dead… but New Yorkers still consider mind control too impossible to swallow? For real?
  • For all Luke Cage has to say about the history of Harlem, that time Hulk and Abomination wrecked the place sure doesn’t come up.
  • They talk about the Avengers like they’ll get sued for using the names. “The flag-waver.” “The green guy.” “The blonde dude with the hammer.” You know his name is Thor.
  • None of these people will be in Infinity War. We’d have heard by now.

On top of all of that, they have all the “how does this fit together, where was so-and-so during all of this” issues of the movies, only worse, because they’re all operating within a quick walk from each other. “The Defenders Ain’t Care About Each Other” speed round!

  • If Luke Cage reduced to washing dishes and sweeping floors under the table because he’s on the run from the cops, how is it he owned a bar when we first met him? A bar named after him!
  • I get Luke not wanting to call Jessica for help, things ended poorly between them, but when Luke Cage is being publicly smeared by his enemies, she doesn’t even take an interest?
  • When Luke Cage is in a hostage situation and being framed by the man behind it, she doesn’t call her friend the defense-lawyer vigilante, despite him needing both of those things.
  • Actually, why should she even need to call Daredevil? There was a very public hostage crisis involving a superhuman criminal (as far as the outside world knew), a five minute drive from Daredevil’s house, and he doesn’t swing by? Daredevil doesn’t care about black people.

Okay, sure, they can’t cross-over all the time. It would dilute how special The Defenders is. Probably is. Hopefully will be. And it’s not like Flash and the Green Arrow are constantly popping back and forth, Barry only zips over to help Oliver two, maybe three times a season, but a) the DCW-verse still connects far more often than Marvel Netflix, and b), and this is the important part, Flash and Arrow take place in cities 600 miles apart. All five Marvel Netflix shows take place in New York. No, on the island of Manhattan. New York’s geographically smallest borough. Do not tell me that Daredevil only patrols Hell’s Kitchen, Hell’s Kitchen is two square kilometers, you could walk around it in an hour.

These days the “shared universe” has more holes per yard than chainmail. You can say everything’s connected all you like. But unless it actually connects at some point, it’s all just empty marketing rhetoric. Maybe having one universe for film and one for TV just works better.

Maybe these live-action Disney films are kinda pointless

The problem with doing anything successful is that Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson fast enough to make your head spin. Deadpool and Logan were big hits and critically adored? Suddenly everyone’s looking to make R-rated superhero movies like that was the secret ingredient. Sure thing, DC, people had issues with BvS and Suicide Squad because they weren’t dark and violent enough. That was the problem.

Disney can be particularly bad for this. The wrong lesson thing, I mean. Maleficent was a hit, so they started kicking around other Disney villain origin movies. Don’t get excited. I’m about to explain why that’s bad. Maleficent worked because the idea that the witch from Sleeping Beauty was driven to cursing princesses by a dark and tragic backstory has merit and meat to it. The follow-up with the most traction? Cruella De Vil. The puppy-murdering villainess so lacking in complexity or subtlety they named her “Cruel Devil.” Is anyone really curious what turned Cruella on to puppy coats? Anyone? Was that a question needing answering?

And if that weren’t a bad enough idea to blow all of your Marvel/Star Wars profits on (it is), there is the other trend of making live-action remakes of the classic cartoon. Last year was Jungle Book, this year is Beauty and the Beast, and there’s more coming. But they’re getting dumber as we go along.

Jungle Book at least did something different. Sure they had all the same characters and hit all the story beats but in a different way. I think. Pretty sure. King Louie certainly seems different. But Beauty and the Beast? Every bit of promotion is based around how similar it is to the animated version. Same sets, same costumes, exact same songs. Is this just a shot-for-shot remake with live actors and terrifying CG clock-people? Is that… is that necessary? I mean Hollywood is choked with remakes and reboots as it is, making carbon copies of easily accessible films from the 90s is just making it worse.

Also… “live-action Lion King?” How. How is that live-action. You’re not training lions and having them act it out. No amount of training can make a meercat, a warthog, and a lion hang out and sing Hakuna Matata. It’s not live action, it’s a CG version with some new voices. They’re still using James Earl Jones as Mustafa. Which, sure, there’s no replacing him, but are we entirely sure they’re not just reusing the same audio?

In short. Words have meanings, and this new Lion King will be about as much “live-action” as Monsters Inc.; and if you’re going to remake a movie, do something with it. Make it new. Don’t just re-skin it.

Honestly, thought we learned this with Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.

Oscar Nominees 2017: Slightly Less White Edition

The Oscars are almost upon us. Once again, my friend Daisy and I have striven to watch all of the best picture nominees so that you don’t have to. And once again, it’s taken way longer than we’d like to manage it. So without further ado, let’s rank some nominees. And say whether I’d have bothered watching them without a nomination. Or if it even would have been made if it weren’t fishing for awards (by way of a for instance, The King’s Speech, Theory of Everything, and Imitation Game seem to have no purpose outside of Oscar season). And what actors from superhero or equivalent projects are in them.

I guess there was a little ado left after all.

9. Denzel Washington Won’t Shut Up

I’m-a spoil this movie because it’s bad and you shouldn’t watch it.

You don’t need to be told that this movie is based on a play. Denzel Washington’s direction is only a step or two removed from just filming a stage performance. Anyway, apparently Denzel enjoyed doing this play on Broadway so much that he got all the cast back together and made it a movie.

Which baffles me. Because this movie is bad. And I assume the play was bad as well.

Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, a sanitation worker in the 1950s, who is consumed with bitterness over the fact that his professional baseball career came and went before the league was desegregated. As a result, he’s shitty to everyone in his orbit. He’s a bad husband, to the point where he fathers a child with another woman and doesn’t even bother to apologize for it when he comes clean. He’s an awful, awful father, with one son who grew up while Troy wasin prison, and a second he actually raised, but since that second son lived in a house (paid for with the money Troy’s brother got for being brain-damaged by the war) and didn’t starve to death, Troy keeps waiting for his Father-of-the-Year trophy. Putting aside refusing to show even the slightest affection for his own child, he acts like a job in a grocery store is the best his son could ask for, blocks a college recruiter from signing him because sports are involved (after all, why would he want to play football and get a full college scholarship when he has already has a menial job that can sustain a minimal quality of life?), nearly chokes his son to death with a baseball bat for standing up to him, then kicks him out of the house. And you know what, let’s not put “refusing to show even the slightest affection” aside, let’s bring that right back, because that pushes the equation from “disillusioned by life thanks to racist America” and fully into “is just a complete asshole” territory. Whites-only water fountains did not force him to hate his own child. And yet any time he’s confronted over this, he pulls out the fact that he’s provided food and shelter, you know, the absolute minimum amount of parenting you can do and not end up in court, like that’s some huge unimpeachable favour. As Chris Rock put it… You’re supposed to do that! What do you want, a cookie?

He’s awful. He’s painful to watch, and not in a good, cathartic way, just in the “why are you letting this man have two hours of my life” way. And 90% of the movie is him delivering long-winded monologues that take a lot of words to say practically nothing. Seriously, Troy Maxson has more dialogue than the protagonists of three other best-picture nominees combined*, and yet not one word of it is relatable, interesting, or able to generate sympathy, or indeed anything but contempt, for this utter waste of a person.

And if that weren’t bad enough, when he finally manages to die, there is an epilogue that feels about 45 minutes long (probably closer to 10, but feels longer) in which everyone stands around pretending that Troy wasn’t as demonstrably, irredeemably terrible as we just saw him being. His widow claims Troy somehow did a good job raising his son, as though his son’s every accomplishment were because of Troy rather than in spite of him, and says she’s going to raise Troy’s illegitimate daughter the same way. And if that isn’t all Child Protective Services needs to hear to step in, what could be?

Viola Davis does her best, but Troy is so remorselessly long-winded that Denzel Washington sucks the air out of every scene not focused on his brain-injured brother. If you want to see Viola Davis in something, you’d be better off watching Suicide Squad yes I said it Suicide Squad is better than Fences COME AT ME.

It’s bad. It’s just bad. It is very nearly Tree of Life bad and I hate that it exists.

*Lion, Manchester by the Sea, and Moonlight, for those keeping score.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Good lord no. The trailer was terrible and the movie is worse.
Glad you did? No, no, a thousand times no.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Probably. I mean, it looks like an “actor showcase,” a movie designed to get actors awards, but it was a passion project for Denzel and that’s all it took.
Featuring: Amanda Waller.

8. Turns Out Death is Sad, Who Knew

Years ago, Lee Chandler suffered a horrific, unspeakable tragedy that has come to define his entire life. He’s a hollowed out shell who’d rather pick a drunken fight with a stranger than get picked up by a pretty woman. But when his chronically ill brother passes away, he has to return to his hometown of Manchester by the Sea (where he’s become a person of infamy) to take care of his teenaged nephew.

The point, the central thesis of this movie, is that no matter the tragedy, no matter your pain, it cannot stop life’s inconveniences. This is encapsulated in a moment where a woman, on the worst day of her life, is being loaded into an ambulance… but the gurney won’t fold up, and the paramedics spend long enough futzing with it it becomes a moment of comedy… which is surrounded by unspeakable tragedy.

That’s not the worst central theme. And there are certainly some very strong performances* in it. But… now that you’ve got all of that, I don’t know, maybe tell a story. There is very little narrative, just a lot of shots of Casey Affleck looking sad or emotionally blank, and then eventually it just trails off and rolls credits.

Critics seem to adore it. Great reviews everywhere. I just… I don’t get it. I was just kinda bored.

*Casey Affleck’s performance is somewhat overshadowed by revelations that he is allegedly pretty shitty to women. If that costs him the Oscar, well, maybe don’t be shitty to women, Hollywood stars. I just wish that didn’t mean it would go to Denzel Washington, because Fences doesn’t deserve awards, it deserves to be spat on.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? No. No human being could hear the description and think “That sounds like a fun night out.”
Glad you did? Meh.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
 Kind of unlikely but I can’t rule it out.
Featuring: Green Lantern’s dad.

7. Jesus and Explosions

In our first (of four) “based on a true story” movies, Desmond Doss wants to go to war to serve his country, but his Christianity and deep personal convictions against violence forbid him from even holding a gun. Naturally, the army doesn’t care for this, and makes boot camp as unpleasant as they can to drive him out. But when he is ultimately allowed to serve as an unarmed combat medic, he ends up at the battle of Hacksaw Ridge in the South Pacific, where he stays behind after a US retreat, spending days getting wounded soldiers off the ridge to safety in an improvised harness. Which, as far as the movie is concerned, inspires the US troops into a more successful attack. Finding out that the Japanese troops had tunnels didn’t hurt either.

This one was better than I expected based on the trailer, which kind of sums up the whole story. The second act, where the army hates Desmond’s commitment to pacifism, dragged exactly as much as I thought it would. It is the primary weakness of the movie. But the first act, where we get to know Desmond, is far more charming than I expected, and the third act is pretty spectacular. Braveheart with explosions and flamethrowers.

Which brings me to the other flaw*. Through Desmond, the movie tries to portray the nobility of pacifism, how it’s possible to serve without violence, celebrating his refusal to throw a punch or take a life. But through every other US soldier, wow but the movie is celebrating violence. You’re not going to find a movie this in love with gore outside of, or frankly even including, the Saw franchise. So it’s kind of a mixed message. Is Desmond noble because of his pacifism, or is he noble because his pacifism inspires the other soldiers to be better at war-murder? Pick a lane, Hacksaw Ridge.

*Yes, Mel Gibson said terrible things about Jewish people that time, and no, I don’t have any concrete reason to think he’s stopped thinking them, but he keeps it out of the movie, at least. Well, if you’re Japanese, you might not have the best time, but it’s about US troops in the Pacific theatre, there’s not a great way to depict the Nazi-allied Japanese troops favourably.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Probably not. That second act looked excruciatingly tiresome.
Glad you did? A little. Slightly indifferent.
Would it exist without Oscar Season?
Probably. Hollywood loves them some World War II movies.
Featuring: Spider-man, Elrond, the Avatar guy… VInce Vaughn has zero comic book movies? Or Star Warses? Bonds? Just a lesser Jurassic Park movie? Huh. Weird.

6. Google Earth To The Rescue

“Based on a true story” number two, and also the second the show the real people involved under the credits (Hacksaw did it too). As a small child, Saroo… okay, let’s just get this out of the way, he only thinks his name is Saroo because that’s how young he was, his properly pronounced name means “Lion,” that’s why it’s called that. As I was saying. Young Saroo idolizes his older brother Guddu so much that he insists on following him to his night job lifting bales, despite being a) too small to be doing heavy lifting, and b) too young to be up that late. Predictably, this goes very, very wrong, and he wakes up alone on a moving train, and ends up stranded in Calcutta, on the far side of India from home.

(I don’t mind spoiling the general plot here, because it is all very, very obvious. There are not two ways this movie can go.)

Unable to even correctly name his village, he ends up (after some ordeals) in a Calcutta orphanage, where he is adopted by an Australian couple in Tasmania. Years later, having grown into Dev Patel, an encounter with an Indian dessert he’d coveted as a child reminds him of his life pre-Calcutta, and of the brother and mother he left behind. A classmate suggests that this new program called “Google Earth” might help him take his decades-old memories and reverse engineer the location of his village. Haunted by the thought of Guddu and his mother desperately searching for him (he also had a sister, but doesn’t seem to care much), he becomes consumed with trying to find home.

That’s the premise. And like I said, there aren’t a lot of ways it can go. If Saroo just went a little crazy and then eventually saw a therapist and moved on, there’s no movie. So here’s the first issue… every stage of the story lasts just a little too long. When you know exactly where the story is going, the movie needs to work extra hard to keep you from getting impatient for the next beat. Allied managed this quite well, considering there’s an hour of movie before the part that’s in all the trailers. Lion occasionally struggles. Second, while the director is mostly effective at evoking emotional response, it can be a little nakedly emotionally manipulative. People want to emotionally respond to a movie, and the director is supposed to make you do that, but nobody likes to see the strings.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? There’s every chance. I do like Dev Patel.
Glad you did? I think so. It’s kind of touching.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
There is every chance. It’s not too showy about being uplifting, doesn’t scream “actor showcase.”
Featuring: Aquaman’s Mom, Faramir, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the manager of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (not a blockbuster but check it out, it’s so charming)

5. It’s Hard to be Gay in the Ghetto

The story of Chiron, a young gay child in a terrible neighbourhood, being raised by a drug addict single mother. That his life is not easy goes without saying.

We see three stages of Chiron’s life: as a young child, who ends up under the wing of a caring drug dealer and his girlfriend; as a bullied teen, whose drug dealer surrogate father is apparently dead, I think they mentioned that and I just missed it; and as an adult, after being poor, black, and ostracized have left him with precious few options in life, reuniting with the only man he’s ever loved.

(This is based on a play that was based on the life of the playwright, so he gets better, not that you’d know from this movie.)

At first I had trouble with this movie, as I can have difficulty connecting to protagonists who are largely defined by silence, as young Chiron is. But after the non-stop blather coming out of Fences’ Troy Maxson I have a new appreciation for it.

It’s very well done, with some very strong supporting performances from Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. It does, however, have even less of an ending than Manchester by the Sea. It just kind of… stops. I mean, some stories don’t really have a nice “tie it with a ribbon” ending but seriously, this practically goes to credits mid-scene.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? It got enough buzz that I might have had to check it out.
Glad you did? Pretty much.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Maybe yes, maybe no, but it should. A far more valuable story to tell than “Stephen Hawking loved a Christian.”
Featuring: Cottonmouth, Moneypenny

4. Love in the Time of Space Squids

Louise Banks is a mother whose child succumbs to a rare form of cancer. She is also a genius linguist who gets tapped by the US military when 12 alien spaceships arrive on Earth and we need to figure out how to talk to them. Louise and physicist Ian Donnelly lead the US attempt to talk to our new visitors, while the Chinese get ornery and society straight-up panics.

But why are the aliens here? What do they want? What’s the thing I’m not telling you? Well, I’m not telling.

It’s quite well done. The music, which resembles the odd horn-like speech of the space squid aliens, is highly effective. The visuals work. I would watch Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner in anything short of a Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat movie (fun fact, I hate that show more than almost anything). The actual science behind “How do we communicate with a race whose mere manner of speech and writing is absolutely alien to us” is pretty fascinating. And they pull off a twist I didn’t see coming, and that ain’t easy, because like most modern audiences I’ve seen enough twists that I can sense them coming from the narrative hints. But they pulled this one off.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Lord knows I meant to.
Glad you did? Yep yep.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Given that sci-fi movies and the Oscars go together like Mel Gibson and a “friends of Israel” dinner, I’d have to say yes.
Featuring: Lois Lane, Hawkeye, Saw Gerrera

3. In Which Banks Suck Worse Than Bank Robbers

And sometimes the Oscars choose to nominate a really well done crime movie.

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) and his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Cross) hatch a plan to save their family ranch, swimming in debt after their late mother’s long illness. They begin robbing branches of the bank that holds their mortgage, laundering the money at an out-of-state Indian casino so they can pay off the mortgage with it. Paying off the bank with its own stolen money.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bridges is a Texas Ranger on the verge of retirement who catches the case, and tries to stop the robberies before they get bloody.

I can’t promise they don’t get bloody. Tanner is not overburdened with self-control.

This one is just good. Really good. The cast is excellent, the direction is solid, there’s suspense and humour… and a subtle view into the economic blight that has hit rural America as globalization and mechanization reduce the need for a blue-collar workforce*. It’s just really quite good.

*The movie does not spend time pontificating as to why times are tough in rural America, that was me, it just casually points out that this is so. After all, if it weren’t for for-profit health care and predatory lending, maybe nobody needed to rob any banks**.

**The movie doesn’t spell that out either but it’s not exactly a tough conclusion to reach if you’re paying attention.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I’m surprised it took me this long, I heard nothing but good things back in the fall.
Glad you did? Hoo-rah.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
Damn skippy.
Featuring: Captain Kirk, Angel from the worst X-Men movie, Obidiah Stane

2. Obligatory “Ain’t Hollywood Great” Movie

If there is one thing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves, it’s movies about World War II. If there are two, it’s movies about how great the movies are.

(Actually for the full list of things the Academy loves, watch The King’s Speech)

La La Land was greeted with wave after wave of accolades when it was released. And for good reason. It’s fun, moving in places, the songs are fun, and I really enjoyed what they did with colour schemes. Seriously, for something defined by music, it’s hella impressive visually. The leads might not be musical prodigies but they’re plenty charming.

Post-accolades, there was wave after wave of backlash, mostly having to do with how white the characters are. And you know what, I’m leaving that topic alone. It just gets me in trouble. I mean, I could say “The black character isn’t trying to sell out jazz, he is arguing against being a strict traditionalist in a musical style that is, by its very nature, experimental.” I could say “Sebatstian is not ‘mansplaining’ jazz to Mia because she doesn’t know anything about jazz and you can’t just throw the word ‘mansplaining’ around willy-nilly and not have it lose meaning and power.”

But we’ll move past that. This is my personal ranking list, so I’m-a just say it’s fun, charming, sweetly melancholy, and I enjoyed it a lot. So it stays at number two, and everyone shouting that it winning Best Picture is some sort of Hollywood apocalypse can consider chilling out.

Gladiator won Best Picture and the world didn’t end. Relax.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? Most definitely.
Glad you did? Yeppers.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
I don’t know, would the film industry need to jack itself off without getting trophies for it?
Featuring: Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson

1. Black Women Do Math and Be Awesome

Now Hidden Figures is the whole package.

Set in a time when “Computer” meant a person who does a shit-ton of calculations by hand, Hidden Figures is based on the little-known true story of the black women who proved instrumental in getting America into space. Hidden Figures centres on three women: mathematical genius Katherine Johnson, who goes from checking white men’s numbers (right before it becomes obsolete) to inventing the math needed to get John Glenn back from orbit; Mary Jackson, who fights to become a full NASA engineer, despite needing to go to court to win the right to attend night school in segregation-era Virginia; and Dorothy Vaughan, who sees that all the women she supervises (in all but title and pay scale) will soon be put out of work by the new IBM machine, so teaches herself how to work it better than anyone else, then passes it on to her staff. These three women each play a key role in NASA’s mission, while struggling against the realities of life in racist Virginia.

This is an important story about a part of history that’s been largely ignored: the vital contribution of women of colour, marginalised then, marginalised now. And if that weren’t enough, it’s also got an amazing cast and is legitimately fun to watch. Sure, there are a couple of white saviour characters, the most notable being the saint-like John Glenn, who as far as these things go ranks just below Brad Pitt’s Canadian Abolitionist Jesus from 12 Years a Slave, but, well… desegregating NASA needed someone at the top to be on board. And if that means seeing Kevin Coster take a crowbar to the “coloured bathroom” sign, I’m down with that.

And just in case anyone wanted to breathe a sigh of “Things are better now,” the movie opens with the women afraid for their lives after being approached by a white police officer (and how’s that going, America?) and has the best piece of shade thrown at the “I’m not racist, but…” crowd. When a white superior tries to make nice with Dorothy by saying “I actually don’t have anything against y’all,” Dorothy sighs, and replies “I know. I know you probably believe that.” Perfect.

Would you have watched it without Oscar nominations? I think so. The buzz was so strong I was considering it before the nominations were announced.
Glad you did? Sure am.
Would it exist without Oscar Season? 
I’d really like to think so. I don’t, but I’d like to.
Featuring: Pa Kent, Mary Jane, Cottonmouth again

So that’s the lot. Sure there’s more to say, from “What the hell accent does Andrew Garfield think he’s doing in Hacksaw Ridge, it is just aggressive” to “Where is Amy Adams’ Oscar already” to “Seriously, what is it about Fences anyone liked,” but this is all we have time for.

See y’all at the show. And next time.

Three graphic novels that SHOULDN’T be movies

So last time I talked about some comics/graphic novels that I really, really want to see as movies. Like, if they film Atomic Robo: The Savage Sword of Doctor Dinosaur? I will be at that theatre every day. Cinematic obsession unseen since my “Who hasn’t seen Inception yet” days. This time, we’re gonna look at comic stories that I don’t– well it’s all there in the title.

But this is not a hate blog. I’m not going to just rant about hating World War Hulk. Nobody wants that. Probably. Doesn’t sound like fun. No, I’m going to try the trickier path. See, I love comics, I love movies, and the overlap of that there Venn diagram is a big part of my DVD/Blu-ray collection (larger than James Bond, about par with “shows canceled too soon by Fox”). But it doesn’t always work. And I’m not talking about the ones that are just done really, really badly, your Steels and your Batman and Robins and anything, anything featuring the Fantastic Four. Batman and Robin may be irredeemably bad, but it doesn’t mean that movies starring Batman can’t work. We know that they can. No, I’m talking about when the source material just doesn’t work as a two-hour motion picture.

Examples: I haven’t actually seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, because in 2003 I didn’t hate myself enough, but if I had to guess what went wrong, said guess would begin when “lack of understanding of the source material” locked eyes with “comic book movies need to be action packed thrill rides” across a crowded room, and, well, that’s how car chases through the non-existent streets of Venice are born (it is alleys and canals, people, no one is driving cars anywhere). There is a way to adapt League of Extraordinary Gentlemen well, but it’s been done and it’s called Penny Dreadful. Watchmen did a decent job of adapting the story beats and visuals of the graphic novel to the screen, but not any of the deconstruction of the genre and the actual medium that made Watchmen a classic. V For Vendetta did its best, but there is just no way to fit the entire complicated game of dominoes that is V’s revenge plan into two hours, so they lobotomized it more than I was happy with.

He didn’t just want to kill the Leader, he wanted to reduce the entire system the Leader created to rubble, and– no, no, not why I’m here.

So here’s some stories that I love, but which should not be live action movies.

1. Hack/Slash

hack5

Cassie Hack was a shy, unpopular, dorky girl until her mother, the lunch lady, started killing her bullies, committed suicide after Cassie turned her in, and then came back from the dead and started killing kids again, forcing Cassie to re-kill her. From there, Cassie went on the road, hunting and killing as many “slashers” (undead horror movie murder machines) as she could. While hunting a rumoured slasher known as the Chicago Meat Man, she met Vlad, a disfigured, massively strong, but kind and caring man who became her closest friend and ally. The comic, created, written, and occasionally drawn by Tim Seeley gained enough street cred as a concept that they scored several crossovers with actual horror movie villains Chucky (Child’s Play), Victor Crowley (Hatchet), and Herbert West (Reanimator), the last of which hit some publishing difficulties but found a neat way to tie West into the slasher mythology. Cassie also became an official Suicide Girl, in a cross-promotion featuring a one-shot where Cassie joined the Suicide Girls to hunt a killer living on the ‘net, and an SG “pictorial” of Cassie drawn by Tim Seeley.

Why not a movie?

See, before my last blog went over 2000 words talking about three things, I was thinking about including it as a comic that should be a movie, but… feels like it might turn out a little basic, you know? Unless you start with the Lunch Lady (and please, god, don’t make an entire Hack/Slash movie about Cassie’s teen years, we want the ass-kicking goth girl), it’s one act of setting up the concept, one act of setting up the latest slasher, and a climax. It’s not… big enough for what comic book movies need to be these days, and I’d hate to see it get steamrolled by the Marvel Machine.

So what could it be?

Years back Hack/Slash was moving towards a movie, something they were confident enough about to plaster “In development for a major motion picture” on the cover of the comic issues for a spell, but it never materialized. The new rumour is one I like better… a possible TV show.

Hack/Slash is a series one-off arcs featuring various monsters, in which a larger plot begins to loom involving the origins of the slashers and the coming monster apocalypse led by the slasher messiah, Samhain. So, cases of the week with a larger, serialized narrative running underneath. Not only is that my jam, apparently, but it’s the model for nearly every cable drama out there, and some network shows as well.

Some great ones.

Some great ones.

Now, a network might not be the answer, nor the basic cable world, because Hack/Slash embraced the violence, gore, and sex of the horror genre as much as the comic book industry would allow. Like most of American society, comic books are fine with violence, love sex, but are terrified of nudity. I’m certainly not saying Hack/Slash needs to be a gore ‘n’ boob fest like Game of Thrones… Winona Earp did okay saying “We’re adapting the character, but she gets to wear a full shirt and pants.” Cassie Hack can still be Cassie Hack if they give her more to wear than a miniskirt and a mesh top. But they should not be on any network that is going to blanch at the tropes that the horror genre is built on.

In short, it doesn’t need to be Game of Thrones, but it should be somewhere between Supernatural and Penny Dreadful. So we’re looking at Showtime or HBO’s slutty kid brother, Starz.

Now if only I had that sort of control over network decisions. Because I’d love to see this show, but I’ve been hurt before when pilots didn’t get picked up.

2. Barry Ween: Boy Genius

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Barry Ween, age ten, is the smartest human being to have ever lived. He began experimenting and inventing as soon as his body developed the motor skills necessary to wield a soldering iron. Currently, he and his best friend Jeremy get in adventures involving aliens, secret government agencies, sasquatches, transdimensional telepathic apes… but mostly the consequences of Barry’s experiments.

I. Love. Barry Ween. It’s hilarious, it’s got a surprising amount of heart, and Barry’s foul-mouthed boy genius (though it’s earned… when you’ve accidentally knocked the Earth off its axis, a “Fuck. Hope you brought a jacket,” is the right response) is a character like no other.

But please never make a live action movie out of it.

Why not a movie?

Because the second you cast an actual ten-year-old as Barry you’re either making something kid friendly like Spy Kids or shooting for shock value like Bad Santa. And I don’t dislike either of those movies… I actually quite liked Bad Santa back in the day… but neither of them is Barry Ween. Barry swears and, when necessary, kills more than a kids’ flick would allow, but not enough to be called shock comedy. Plus, I don’t want to watch Barry hit puberty in the sequel. Creator/writer/artist Judd Winnick kept Barry and Jeremy at age ten for all three miniseries and it worked just fine.

So what could it be?

You know what I don’t get about this live-action Lion King movie they’re working on? Other than why it exists given that the original is readily available and the stage version tours constantly? Why they’re calling it “live action.” What percentage of that movie isn’t going to be CG? Is it… none? None percent? No, I suspect that they’re calling it “live action” because there’s a perception that live action is better and more bankable than animation, despite the fact that Pixar and Dreamworks exist.

An animated Barry Ween? Now that would be fun. And it wouldn’t cost millions of dollars to turn Jeremy into a dinosaur with an afro (yes, that happened). There isn’t a big market for R-rated animation, something Sausage Party didn’t do a lot to help… but without the budget that live-action blockbusters require… how much does Pixar spend, let’s see… Finding Dory cost $200 million? Jesus Christ.

Okay, so, probably not going to spend that much to make Sausage Party money. But you know where more R-rated animation is thriving? At the risk of repeating myself, television. Archer, BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, F is For Family… sure, some of these are still more PG-13 (Archer will show butts and say “shit” but that’s where they draw the line; BoJack Horseman wisely avoids any sort of nudity and limits itself to one “fuck” per season, always from a friend he’s betrayed), save for F is For Family and Rick and Morty’s uncensored DVD, but it’s a better fit. Especially given that Barry’s adventures tend to be single-issue stories, and the one big multi-part would work better as a season premiere/finale kind of deal, rather than one single film.

Also I’m now a little bit enamored with the idea of a Barry Ween/Rick and Morty crossover. Rick and Barry are both irritable geniuses who invent and experiment more to keep busy than for any grand purpose, they each have a clueless kid sidekick who sometimes drags them down a nobler path which sometimes causes bigger problems, and alcoholic, misanthropic, possible galactic super-villain Rick Sanchez might be everything Barry’s afraid of turning into… or worse, might be his best-case scenario.

3. Transmetropolitan

transmetropolitan_2

This might seem like cheating. I’ve already talked about a TV show based on Warren Ellis’ excellent graphic novel Transmetropolitan. But I’m going a different way this time because I already suggested two TV shows. I mean, I was going to say Barry Ween should be an animated movie, but talked myself out of it…

Quick summary for those who don’t recall/weren’t with us… in the slightly distant future, Transmetropolitan is about journalist Spider Jerusalem, who is dragged out of seclusion in the mountains due to obligations to his book publisher, and ends up devoting one of his books to the impending presidential election between incumbent the Beast, whose election drove Spider into the mountains in the first place, and the Smiler, who seems a more benevolent leader but whose smile hides a dark side.

Why not a movie?

There’s no way to condense the weaving, trippy, future sci-fi/political into two hours. There is not. Not even six hours if you did a trilogy, and you shouldn’t plan it as a trilogy because your first movie needs to be self-contained, god damn it. Don’t spend a chunk of your movie setting up a sequel you might not get. Looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence. Twenty years since the last movie and you don’t tell a complete story? Fuck you and everyone who greenlit you.

Sorry, got distracted there.

So no, there is too much story for a movie. Which is why I was pitching it as a series back when. But…

So what could it be?

Transmetropolitan would be an expensive film or TV project for anyone, given that it takes place in a future that is both scarily familiar and entirely alien. Alien enough that there’s an issue devoted to how people who are woken up from cryogenic suspension can’t adapt and end up homeless. So as fond as I once was of the idea of Transmet for television, it would require so much green screening that it would make Attack of the Clones look like Mission: Impossible.

Because it’s… Mission: Impossible uses mostly practical effects, and… look it made sense to me.

A major part of Transmet is Spider Jerusalem’s prose. Storylines are narrated by excerpts from Spider’s articles. They put out at least one special issue that was a compilation of Spider’s articles. So there is one growing medium where it would fit right in… podcasts.

Yeah, okay, you got me, podcasts do kind of seem like what celebrities do when nothing else is working out for them, but narrative podcasts can be a lot of fun. Look at the growing network of Nightvale Presents… not just Welcome to Nightvale, with its biweekly tales of bizarre horror besetting a small desert town, but also Alice Isn’t Dead (performed by Fringe’s Jasika Nicole), and Within the Wires. Get the right voice as Spider, maybe bring in the odd guest star like Welcome to Nightvale does, and you’ve got a great

Tell the Transmet story through Spider’s articles. Or a mixture of articles and journal entries. Get the right voice as Spider maybe something in a Dean Winters or Will Arnett, maybe bring in the odd guest star like Welcome to Nightvale does, and you’ve got a great listen. Sure, it won’t last indefinitely, but nothing does.

Wow. Way to end on a down note. Let’s not do that next time…

Dan at the Movies: Suicide Squad

And I’m back. I meant to blog more over the summer… journal my Fringe tour, for instance… but as I’ve mentioned in the past, it can be hard to keep on a blog when other writing projects are sucking up your creative energies. Or when the unfamiliar heat and humidity of Ontario in the middle of summer and other personal issues are making it hard to have creative energy. But the first draft of my second pantomime is done, and I’ve traded humidity for record-setting rainfall, so I am back.

So let’s talk about Suicide Squad.

suicide-squad-movie-characters-calendar

The basics

There are a lot of really histrionic headlines out there. Shouting things like “Worst movie of the summer” or “Worse than Fantastic Four.”

So first of all, no. None of that. People claiming this are either lying for traffic or just wrong. I’m not saying they’re wrong because they’re stupid, since I don’t know any of them personally, but we can’t rule it out.

That’s not to say it’s perfect, or the best superhero movie of the year, or anything approaching that. It’s not without jokes and one-liners, but the laughs that exist fall short of Deadpool or the airport fight from Civil War, which remains the best and most fun sequence from any blockbuster film I’ve seen this year, comic book or otherwise. It’s good for what it is, which is a simple, flashy in places men-on-a-mission movie with a comic book coating. And for that, it works pretty well. Honestly I don’t get what the naysayers are complaining about in most cases.

In most cases. In one case I do.

The Joker

Jared Leto’s Joker has dominated the conversation around this movie, so let’s get him out of the way.

It doesn’t work.

To elaborate. Leto’s Joker voice is pretty good, but he’s not using it to do anything really Joker-ish. He’s like a mobster mixed with a B- Hannibal serial killer. We could argue about the tattoos, which frankly don’t bother me… well, with one major exception…

With one major exception

I mean come on.

…but the real issue is that he mostly just snarls and giggles and mopes about having lost Harley. Joker caring about a person, even Harley, is un-Jokerish enough but there’s a deeper problem here.

Where’s the joke?

I’m not saying that Joker should be funny. That’s not the point. The point is that Joker’s best crimes/stories revolve around a joke that only he sees, a joke of humanity’s futility. He does horrible things and he thinks they’re funny, and that’s not the Joker we’ve been shown here. This is just a moody pyscho who kills people for eyeballing his woman. Which is the worst scene of the movie, by the by, but fortunately it’s early, and then everyone can move on.

Maybe Ben Affleck could do something more or better with this version of the Joker in a Batman solo movie. I don’t know. In this case, he is not used super well. But he doesn’t super need to be, since he’s not the main villain. Which brings us to…

Villains

(One minor spoiler coming up, if you don’t know or want to know who the villain is)

There was a time when having a great villain was key to a comic book movie. As important as the hero, if not more so. Doctor Octopus and Spider-man 2, Joker and Dark Knight, and while it had highs and lows, Magneto sold the X-Men franchise. But the importance of the villain has not been the case as of late.

Okay, scream “DC bias” all you like, but I’m pointing a finger at Marvel. Though not necessarily in a bad way. While the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies put more effort into their villains than Batman himself (to mixed results), Marvel has managed great success while shifting the focus to the heroes. In short, Marvel villains tend towards bland and formulaic, and they make scads of money anyway, because if the Guardians of the Galaxy are fun enough to watch audiences will apparently forgive Ronan the Accuser being two-dimensional.

Hey, it’s not just me saying this. People have been talking about Marvel’s villain problem for years now. But this is really just a long lead-up to saying that, like a Marvel movie, Suicide Squad is not putting a ton of effort into their primary villains.

In short… and here’s the spoiler… Amanda Waller has successfully controlled a millennia-old witch called the Enchantress, who was awoken when an archaeologist named June Mune (Cara Delevingne, more effective as the evil witch than the archaeologist) wanders into the wrong cave and gets possessed. See, Enchantress and her un-awoken brother Incubus used to rule the world and be worshiped as gods back before they got stuck in statues. Now Enchantress finds herself in the modern world, enslaved by Amanda Waller. She doesn’t care for any of it. But while she can’t fully break Waller’s control, she can wake up her brother so that he can shield her from Waller’s retribution, allowing them to re-conquer the world. So that’s what she sets out to do.

Short version, Enchantress escapes Waller, teams up with Incubus, and begins a ritual to rule the world. And there we leave her until the climax. Sure, we check in once or twice, but that’s basically all she does.

Not exactly Heath Ledger’s Joker, I know. I mean, I could easily name ten worse comic book movie villains…

Or whip up a rough collage

…but she doesn’t exactly blow the doors off the place.

I think this might have more to do with writer/director David Ayers’ style. Look at Fury, his movie closest to Suicide Squad. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on the villains because we as an audience don’t need a lot of reasons to understand that the Nazis, and the SS in particular, were worth fighting. So he spent his time on the men in the tank. So, too, does Suicide Squad spend more time with the Squad than with Enchantress and Incubus. They’re doing something bad, it needs to be stopped, that’s as much detail as they feel we require.

Because getting this particular group of people to work together against a common foe… a common foe that isn’t their “employers…” isn’t an easy task.

The (Non-Joker) Cast

Let’s run through them, shall we?

Deadshot/Will Smith: I’m not saying that Will Smith doesn’t dip into his “Big Willy Style” bag a little in this role. There’s still a noticeable amount of Fresh Prince in Deadshot. But that’s okay, because it’s well used. He’s got edge and heart, making him highly effective as one of the film’s two central characters. Which brings us to…

Harley Quinn/Margot Robbie: One of the two biggest highlights of the film’s cast. After a rocky start weighed down by extra crazy and some weird shooting choices Ayers makes during Joker scenes, Margot Robbie is incredible as Harley Quinn. Everything you’d want from the character. Well… except one thing. They could’ve given her pants. Wouldn’t have hurt anything to give her pants. I’m just saying.

Amanda Waller/Viola Davis: Also awesome. She’s tough, she’s ruthless, she can stare down five deadly killers and come out on top. Is she one of the villains of the movie? That’s debatable. She walks the line very well. Why doesn’t she have a cameo in Justice League, exactly?

Captain Boomerang/Jai Courtney: Here’s a sentence that is almost never uttered: Jai Courtney crushes it. Captain Boomerang is selfish, manipulative, and consistently fun to watch. This movie nails the character in a way his appearance on Arrow just didn’t, and Courtney, normally known as one of those bland white action leads that you forget about when the movie’s over, kills it.

Rick Flagg/Joel Kinnaman: Another actor I didn’t expect much from, having (and I had to look this up) not exactly set the world on fire as reboot Robocop. As the Squad leader, he does well crossing from tough and resentful to be working with psychopaths to vulnerability when he needs to ask those psychopaths for help stopping a disaster… which will likely involve killing the only woman he’s ever loved.

El Diablo/Jay Hernandez: The heart of the Squad. Probably has the deepest backstory of anyone. Some people call him a stereotype, and the way he’s talked to can be a little on the racist side, though I would counter “Supervillains, abusive/corrupt prison guards, and black ops soldiers aren’t known for their racial sensitivity,” but maybe this isn’t a good argument for a white dude to pick. But according to some, it could have been worse

Killer Croc/Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje: For the second time in a comic book movie, Adewale gets buried under so much makeup that there’s only so much he can do. He had the occasional decent line but was mostly there to be big and menacing.

Katana/Karen Fukuhara: Somehow given less to do than Killer Croc. She’s pretty much just there to look badass in a samurai fashion and kill things with a sword. I appreciate you trying to add another woman and some more POC to the Squad, but you don’t get points for someone two-dimensional and fairly stereotypical. Better on Arrow.

Slipknot/Adam Beach: I mean what the hell. I get that you needed to kill someone to prove that the neck bombs weren’t a bluff but did it have to be someone you just introduced? And one of the POC characters? Seriously, right as the Squad (most of whom got their own splashy intro flashbacks) gets ready to leave, a car pulls up and they’re all “Oh right, and here’s Slipknot.” Then he’s dead in under five minutes Come on, man.

Wrap-up

Here are some points that seem too short for entire entries.

  • I was really impressed with the visuals, especially in 3D. Some of the Enchantress effects seemed super cool to me.
  • Cool to have cameos from Ben Affleck and Ezra Miller. Now that I’m seeing the movie Flash suit in action, it’s growing on me.
  • I don’t see how people are complaining about the plot not making sense. Okay, sure, we don’t know right away why the Squad are dispatched to Midway City, since they aren’t being sent after the villains until the climax, but they don’t know either, so why should we? And once you get past that, it makes perfect sense. If you pay attention, anyway.
  • It’s weird how many moments from the trailers aren’t in the movie. There’s disagreement between Ayer and press rumours about how extensive the reshoots were, so I won’t comment on if that’s responsible, but it’s a little weird. Harley pouring everyone drinks? Why leave that out? Although, I guess it would have less impact since we saw the whole sequence in the second trailer…

Ultimately I enjoyed it. I got swept up in more than one moment. It’s not a masterpiece and doesn’t redefine the genre, but it’s enjoyable if you can get on its level.

Except for some of the Joker stuff. Damn but I wish that weren’t true.