Corn Monkeys in the Mist: Trailers

And so do we return to a long-forgotten topic: my days as a projectionist. Because I thought I’d take some time and cover an aspect of the movie that most people love but few think about: the trailers. The coming attractions. The twenty minutes of stuff that happens before the actual movie starts.

As a reminder, my experiences come from the before times, from the long-ago, when movies were printed onto physical film which was run through a projector. These days most theatres, certainly most first-run theatres, are digital, so I speak to you now of forgotten arts and witchcraft. The current arts and witchcraft are largely unknown to me.

The Work

One of the chief tasks mid-week for a projectionist was actually building up the prints of the movies about to open. Movies would come in two to three cans of reels, each reel being about twenty minutes’ worth of film. Because in the old days, I’m talking like the 20s here, your light source would last twenty minutes, so that’s how much movie you could show before you switch projectors.

For more on that just watch Fight Club already.

So a movie would be anywhere from five (any cartoon or kid-targeted movie) to nine (Lord of the Rings) reels, with some as short as four and others as long as ten. These reels had to be spliced together and spun onto the projection platters so they were ready to go for Friday.

Like so.
Like so.

It’s a fair amount of work. But it’s not the whole process, because in addition to all of that, we had to build the trailer package.

An average film in my first run days had five coming attractions (one or two of which came from the same studio, were attached to the first reel, and had to be cut off), as many as nine corporate ads, and of course the bits of film saying “Coming soon” and “Feature presentation,” and in some cases “Dolby Digital.” Yes, sure, they’re all shorter than a twenty-minute reel, but the thing of it is, the actual time spinning the film onto the larger reel (from which it would be spun onto the platter) is the least amount of work in the whole process. There’s still the splicing, and if it’s a fresh, unused trailer, you had to frame and cut both ends. And if it came from Alliance (like any Lord of the Rings, for instance), you could bet that there was a bad splice (joining of film) between the studio logo and the actual trailer that if left in peace was going to throw the whole movie out of frame.

In short, prepping the trailer package could take as much time as the rest of the movie. Well, no, I’m not sure that’s true. But it took a while, is my point. Especially when a fresh batch of corporate trailers came in.

The urge to be lazy

So what I’m saying is that I get it. I get the urge to be lazy that would hit my various brethren in the projectionist union. You’ve got four movies opening this week, you need to build trailer packages for all of them, the studio just shipped out a fresh trailer for the new Star Wars movie, but they’re all uncut, so of course you’re going to have an urge to just grab the old, already cut teaser off the shelf and throw that on instead.

I understand. But it doesn’t mean I, in any way, ever approved.

See, there can be real problems just grabbing the old trailer. Most notably, the case of the Rollerball remake of 2002. Rollerball, for those who forgot that it ever existed (and who, honestly, could blame you) was supposed to come out in summer of 2001, but at some point after the release of the trailer, it was pushed back (for largely the same reasons that you’ve forgotten it existed), over and over, until finally getting released in February of 2002.

The problem is… when they’d settled on a release date, they sent out a new trailer, but… some of you have probably guessed where this is going… lazy projectionists decided to just grab the old one and throw it on instead. The old one with the Summer 2001 release date. Given that it was already fall of 2001, that just looks bad.

But that’s a rare, isolated case. Most movies only release trailers when they’re sure of when they’re coming out. The real problem is that you’re still short-changing the viewers.

Back then I was at my most sympathetic to the plight of a projectionist. I know very well how much work is involved in making these three prints of Minority Report, plus whatever else you had to deal with, and how little time you were being given. But I paid money to see this movie, and I care about trailers. I know there’s a new, proper trailer for Ang Lee’s Hulk out, so I don’t want to be stuck with the old teaser that’s just 45 seconds of Eric Bana staring in a mirror.

…Wow. To think there was a time in my life when seeing any amount of Ang Lee’s Hulk seemed a good idea. Such an innocent time.

Still, when someone’s desire to save themselves five or ten minutes means I don’t get to see the proper trailer on a proper screen, it was annoying. A let down.

And what really baffles me, right, is that it’s still happening. On digital films. With, I have to assume, digital trailers. Which would imply that it isn’t more work to have the more recent trailer on the movie, as it’s all just electronic files. Could even be pre-loaded by the studio, for all I know. So why, exactly, did Age of Ultron still have the five month old teaser for Star Wars instead of the… well… newer teaser?

Annoying is what it is.

Meanwhile, at the Moviedome

At the Moviedome it was a little faster. Three trailers, three corporate ads at most (including the ever-present anti-piracy spot, the third of which ran until I left because nobody ever told us we could stop running it), and the trailers we had were almost always pre-used. We weren’t even given a list of what to put on the movie, like a first-run theatre would get. The only rule was that the trailers had to be for movies of the same rating or lower than the movie they were on.

A simple rule. Prevents us from putting Texas Chainsaw Massacre trailers on Finding Nemo. But, then, it also prevents us from putting Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Jeepers Creepers or any other horror movie with minimal gore and no nudity.

There aren’t a lot of movies rated 18A. Horror movies, sometimes. American Pie sequels. We’d get one 18A every few months. So if we got an 18A movie in (say, Empire, which you also don’t remember), I made sure to throw every 18A trailer I could on it, and not, say, Treasure Planet, like one of my coworkers wanted to.

This… did result in one leettle hiccup, though. Such was my determination to use whatever 18A trailers I could whenever an 18A feature came a-calling that I gave no thought to the film’s target audience.

We were weeks away from opening Kill Bill vol. 2, The Punisher, and Man on Fire, all 18A-rated revenge movies. Obviously, I’d be able to advertise the other two on whichever opened first. But until then, I only had one 18A feature to run them on…

The Passion of the Christ.

Because, really, why wouldn’t a horde of Christians who’ve come to pretend it was anything other than religious-themed torture porn want to open the feature with a trilogy of ads for violent revenge movies? You’d be crazy to assume they wouldn’t.

So, yeah, kind of regret that one a little.

Anyhoo… see you Friday to talk about the penultimate episode of Writers Circle’s first season.

Should really get around to filming more of those.

Dan at the Movies Speed Round

I don’t deal well with not being able to fix things. Problems affecting me or someone close to me that I can’t personally address weigh on me something terrible. Right now it’s internet shenanigans, plumbing issues (is that who fixes garburators? Plumbers? I don’t even know), technical problems on Ye Olde Webseries, stalled career issues, all hitting a general sense of malaise.

What I’d love is something great to happen to counter-act all of this, but since that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon, instead I’m going to talk about movies I’ve seen recently, something that’ll be happening more and more as we head towards Oscar night.

In no particular order…

BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

The story of a Hollywood actor, best known for the superhero movies he did 25 years ago, trying to revitalize his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play. You’ve probably heard about it, since it stars Michael Keaton, who as you may recall had some superhero experience himself 25 years back, before there were three or four superhero movies a year to choose from.

There are so many fascinating things to pick apart here. There’s the fact that, despite taking place over several weeks, virtually the entire movie is shot as though it were a single take. There are the brilliant performances from Keaton, Edward Norton as his supporting actor who’s brilliant onstage but a nightmare to work with, Emma Stone as Keaton’s estranged daughter, and more. There’s the way it attacks Hollywood stars for thinking of live theatre as a holiday gig they can do between films, yet has a repugnant character make that argument so that they can also attack Broadway for thinking they’re above it.

They are not.
They are not.

Plus the fact that I’m still not entirely certain what happened in the final minutes, where the line is drawn between Keaton’s growing delusions and reality, though I can’t really go into that without spoiling stuff, so… just watch it. Watch it so we can talk about it.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

Second Breakfast

A year back I wrote about some of the challenges of adapting the Hobbit into film. And yes, at the time, I stood by some of Peter Jackson’s choices, including adding female characters, showing what Gandalf was up to instead of having him pop in and out of the story almost at random, and having the dwarfs be a little less helpless. But there is one choice made that I can’t support, and that is where the Desolation of Smaug ended and Battle of Five Armies begins. Ending the second movie where they did, with Smaug about to attack Lake Town, was stupid. Because that isn’t an ending. The action beat enters its second phase, and they roll credits. That’s bad narrative so matter how you slice it.

That said, once you get past the fact that Battle of Five Armies starts with what should have been the last 15 minutes of Desolation of Smaug, the actual Battle of Five Armies is worth watching. If you disagree with any of the choices made to pad out the fairly simple story of the book into three movies, this won’t bring you around, but the brinksmanship between gold-mad Thorin and the lurking armies of elves and men who feel they’re owed a piece of the hoard is well done, and when the orcs roll up, Jackson proves he still has some gas in his “epic battle” tank.

There’s really only one other thing to say here, and that’s to address one more novel vs. movies complaint: that we spend basically an entire movie (again, once the rightful end of the last movie is done) on something that lasts less than a page in the book. Well, to this I say something that will likely bring the wrath of my Tolkien fan friends down on me…

There are things that Tolkien wrote that needed to be changed.

Arwen needed a bigger part in the Lord of the Rings movies because if you want audiences to care about her relationship with Aragorn she can’t just be a background decoration like in the books, and by the same token, the Battle of Five Armies can’t really be the quick little epilogue that it was in the book.

In the book it’s this quick little skirmish in which the elves, dwarfs, and men are forced to team up against the attacking goblins to teach a lesson about the futility of war and lust for gold. It’s quickly skimmed over because the lesson is more important than the details. But the problem with that, you see, is that several of the dwarfs die in the battle, even in the book. Either the Battle of Five Armies is this little epilogue to the larger story not worth expanding, or it’s how several main characters die, but it cannot be both.

So the Battle of Five Armies doesn’t justify turning one short children’s book into three lengthy movies, but it does justify spending two hours on the battle itself, and makes it worth watching. Well, except that scene where the Mirkwood elf king tells Legolas that he should find this ranger going by the name of Strider. Come on, man. We KNOW. We GET it. There was no need for that.

Anyhoo, since it’s Oscar season, time to talk about some Inspirational Biopics™.

The Theory of Everything

Not necessarily representative of the movie
Not necessarily representative of the movie

One night, at a party at Cambridge, a girl named Jane meets a boy named Stephen. They hit it off, and Stephen pursues her, but their relationship hits a few snags: she’s a devout Christian, and he’s a brilliant physicist with an annoying habit of trying to disprove the need for God. Oh, also he has a debilitating neural disease that’s slowly shutting down his body.

The Theory of Everything, while a biopic about Stephen Hawking, is not about Hawking’s work in physics. Well, it is a little. That’s a big enough part of his life that you can’t really skip over it. But the heart of the movie is the relationship between Stephen and Jane: the religious debate that divides them, the debilitating illness that makes their lives harder and harder. And Jane’s growing friendship with church choir director Jonathon, who might be a perfect match if she weren’t already married.

Eddie Redmayne does an excellent job portraying Stephen’s long, slow slide into a weirdly non-lethal case of ALS, conveying his emotions even after he’s lost the power of speech. The movie really makes you feel for both Stephen and Jane, and the sense that however much they love each other, the marriage eventually becomes something neither of them ever signed on for.

The one thing I would have liked that wasn’t there is a potential debate between atheist Stephen and spiritual Jane on the topic that no one except John Stewart seemed to be asking… when Stephen was diagnosed, his life expectancy was two years. That was over half a century ago, he’s still going, and nobody knows why. Stephen’s always been too busy an not interested enough to look into it. Maybe his religious wife never asked the question in real life, but I’d have liked to have seen that moment.

On the other hand, probably wouldn’t have advanced the story much and would have been cut. Oh well.

The Imitation Game

Switching now from the British physicist biopic to the British mathematician biopic. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, who broke Nazi Germany’s unbreakable Enigma code, shortening World War II by two years (historians estimate) and saving millions of lives, then had his life destroyed by his own government when he was outed as a homosexual. Uplifting!

There are flashbacks to his childhood, and flash forwards to the police inquiry that outed him, but the main focus of the movie is Turing’s quest to beat Enigma not through conventional codebreaking, as the rest of his team and employers wish he would, but by building a machine capable of beating the code. In essence, Turing won the second world war by inventing computers. Or by making a substantial breakthrough in computer technology if you hate drama.

The film paints Turing as a perpetual outsider, loathed by his colleagues. Not because he was secretly gay, but because he was what we’d now recognize as on the autism spectrum (obviously I cannot verify if that’s true, but that’s clearly what the movie claims). Clueless at social nuance but brilliant at puzzles, he struggles just as hard to win over his co-workers as he does to build his machine and make it work.

Benedict Cumberbatch is going to give Eddie Redmayne a run for his money in the best actor category, I can tell you that. Although there are still other biopics in play, so who knows who’ll be on top? Could even be Steve Carell.

STEVE CARELL is in a movie, wearing a FAKE NOSE, and it's not a comedy but a serious Oscar contender. What happened to the world.
STEVE CARELL is in a movie, wearing a FAKE NOSE, and it’s not a comedy but a serious Oscar contender. What happened to the world.

Ready for your biopics to get less inspirational?


Theoretically, Unbroken is an inspirational biopic about the triumph of the human spirit. I say “theoretically” because the only word of that I actually agree with is “biopic.” Well, and “is,” I guess.

See that trailer I posted up above? Watch it and you’ve basically seen the whole movie. Louis Zamperini uses track and field to stay out of trouble as a kid, competes in the 1936 Berlin Olympics (setting a record for fastest lap but not winning a medal), enlists in the air force, crashes at sea, spends a month and a half in a lifeboat, is captured by the Japanese, and has a pretty crap time of it. And manages two or three acts of defiance and resilience, most of which are in the trailer. Takes a beating from fellow prisoners to protect other prisoners, lifts a heavy piece of wood until his tormentor is sad, and thus is Unbroken or whatever.

And the end result is Just. So. Boring.

Seriously, you hit a point of diminishing returns on “Wow, he endured a lot,” and that point happens before he even reaches the POW camp. The lifeboat gets dull. The cruelty of the head of his POW camp gets old in a hurry. But my real issue? All the other big biopics this year are about people who did something. Martin Luther King Jr., Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, even the guy from Foxcatcher was trying to do something of note. Louis Zamperini just endured something. He didn’t inspire his fellow prisoners to keep hope (in the end they all march quite willingly to their almost certain death, only to be saved by a US plane flying overhead causing the guards to decide executing their prisoners might not be as good an idea as they’d been told), he didn’t escape, his only accomplishment was not dying. A lot of people in the same camps managed to not die. Only one of them got a movie.

The spiritual journey Zamperini went on after the war, which led him to forgive his captors (the worst of which escaped war crime charges due to an amnesty offered by the US to smooth US/Japan relations) might have made the story worthwhile, but all we eventually got was “This guy had a crap three years but didn’t whine about it much, isn’t that inspiring.

No. It wasn’t.

So feel free to skip this one and watch Big Hero Six instead. I like Big Hero Six.

Next time… a probable return to old plays, as there’s some relevance to my current goings-on.

Marvel’s Civil War? Huh. What is it good for?

I was going to take a break from geek media this week. I really, really was. Even started a different post yesterday. And then… well, and then this happened. In short, Marvel announced that Captain America 3 will feature Tony Stark, and will kick off (or possibly be) an adaptation of their 2006 event miniseries, Civil War.

Let me sum that up for you. After a group of superpowered youngsters trying to launch a reality series attacked a group of super villains in Stanford, Connecticut, leading to a massive explosion next to a school, the US government decides that maybe all these super heroes shouldn’t be running around unregulated and passes a law requiring anyone with powers to register their identity and powers.

I know, right? After a national tragedy the US government attempts to pass laws restricting the thing that made that tragedy possible. What kooky impossible scenario will those comic writers come up with next?

Anyhoo, Tony Stark leads the pro-registration charge, feeling that this law is both necessary and inevitable. Captain America isn’t sure about this, seeing it as encroaching on the liberties of his friends and allies, and when he’s informed by SHIELD that he either rounds up all of his friends who don’t register or gets shot full of tranq darts and thrown in a cell right about now, he goes on the run and forms the resistance.

Since the book was called “Civil War,” I think you can guess where things go from there.

You can see why Marvel Studios might be eager to bring this Captain America/Iron Man slugfest to the big screen, since despite its many flaws and frequent shipping delays it remains one of the biggest Marvel events of the last 10 years (not that the recent ones are anything to brag about, but still). And you know what? I’m not even going to speculate that they decided to do a movie about Iron Man and Captain America fighting because DC is doing a movie featuring Batman and Superman squaring off. Gonna give Marvel the benefit of the doubt here, and say that either this was already the plan when Batman V. Superman was announced, or they honestly don’t give two shits about what Warner Brothers and DC are up to, because why would they need to?

But maybe they should have given this one a little more thought. Because there are some real problems in trying to adapt it.

Here’s some examples.

Need actual armies for a war

The comic Civil War featured two entire armies of super heroes going at it. Dozens of A and B list characters at war in the streets while dozens more C and D list characters got rounded up by Iron Man’s forces. And as a reminder, one of the key issues involved divulging their secret identities to the government.

Right now, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe has eight super heroes.


Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, and War Machine/Iron Patriot. Three of them don’t even have powers, and not a single damned one of them has a secret identity. Hell, three of them were government employees until SHIELD shut down, and one of them works for the military!

But that’s not entirely fair. Between now and May of 2016 that number will go up a bit. Between Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and the launch of Daredevil on Netflix, they’ll be up to… let’s see… 12 super heroes. And one, maybe two secret identities.

Still not quite enough for a war, is it? Yes, they could introduce a wave of new super heroes through Agents of SHIELD… but will they? Will they really? They’ve shown no interest in doing that so far, and Agents of SHIELD might not last past this season if their ratings keep sliding. Which is a shame, because unlike this time last year, they really don’t deserve to be cancelled.

But it doesn’t really matter how many C-list heroes Agents of SHIELD introduces. There will still be some glaring absences.

They can’t do half the story

Here’s some key plot points from Civil War that the movies can’t realistically use.

  1. Spider-Man unmasks. The one big jaw-drop moment of Civil War was Spider-Man revealing his identity on public television, because Iron Man said he had to. There is some rumbling that Sony and Marvel might be nearing an agreement regarding Spider-Man, which would allow Marvel to use Spider-Man in their team-up movies, but Peter Parker had been Tony Stark’s right-hand man for months prior to Civil War in the comics. Tony Stark had become his friend, boss,  and mentor, and that’s how he convinced Peter to unmask at all. Even if Marvel and Sony figure this out, they’re not going to be able to establish that bond between Age of Ultron and Captain America V. Iron Man: Dusk of Shwarma. Not unless they do some serious rewrites to Ant-Man.
  2. Tony Stark builds a super human prison in the Negative Zone. As part of the overall theme of “Tony Stark embodies the worst elements of the Bush administration, but we pretend it’s okay that he won for some reason,” Tony Stark built a prison to lock up all the unregistered super heroes in something called the Negative Zone. No, you don’t know what that is. Nor do the majority of the people who watch Marvel movies. So I can’t see them fitting it in. And odds are Fox is going to claim they own it, because it’s linked to the Fantastic Four. Hey, that reminds me…
  3. The Fantastic Four split up. Mr. Fantastic was on Tony’s side from day one, but Invisible Woman and Human Torch sided with the resistance and the Thing decided to emigrate (he didn’t get far). Aside from Cap and Iron Man being at each other’s throats, the Civil War splitting up Marvel’s first family was one of the big emotional beats. And since Fox would rather release a Fantastic Four movie they seem weirdly ashamed to talk about than give the rights back to Marvel, kiss that plot point goodbye. Why did Susan leave Reed? Well, it had something to do with…
  4. That clone of Thor that killed a fellow hero. Iron Man’s side accidentally drew first blood when their cyborg clone of Thor went a little nuts and killed Goliath, a fourth-string Giant Man knock-off. The only reason they had a clone of Thor is that the real Thor had been missing for quite a while, as Marvel had taken the character off the bench for a few years. So even if cyborg clones were something the Cinematic Universe did… and I guess there’s no reason it couldn’t be… why would they have a clone of Thor when the real Thor is right there? Unless he dies at the end of Age of Ultron or something–holy shit are they going to kill Thor in Age of Ultron? It would explain why they aren’t even talking about a third Thor movie…
  5. The Punisher joins Cap but Cap doesn’t know how he feels about that. Doesn’t sound like much of a plot point, but that is literally all that happened of note in issue five. Civil War spent three issues treading water and then crammed all the plot into one big fight scene in issue seven. But anyway, Marvel does own the Punisher again, but they’re not doing anything with him. Unless he turns up on Daredevil (he should), nobody in the Cinematic Universe knows or cares who the Punisher is, so this would be even less of a plot point than it was in the books.

So, yeah. Can’t do any of that. Well, maybe the Thor clone. And the problem is…

There’s not much plot left

Once you’ve taken out Spider-Man unmasking, the Thor clone killing Goliath, the Fantastic Four breaking up, the Negative Zone prison, Spider-Man switching sides, and the X-Men not giving a fuck, there’s barely any plot left. All you really have is Iron Man fights Captain America until the Real Heroes of 9/11 tackle Captain America and shame him into surrendering.

No, I'm not kidding. Yes, it was that ham-fisted.
No, I’m not kidding. Yes, it was that ham-fisted.

And is that really a whole movie? Is it?

Seriously, Civil War was the second most underwritten Marvel event in recent memory (the most underwritten was Secret Invasion, but that’s a whole other rant). Seven perpetually delayed issues with four issues’ worth of story and a hackneyed ending in which Iron Man happily sails a helicarrier into the sunset because normal people didn’t seem to mind all that terrible stuff he did, so it must have been okay. It set up interesting stories, as the Avengers were split into two teams, one team being anti-registration fugitives, and it led to the death of Captain America, but Civil War itself was all sizzle, no steak.

But when did Hollywood start minding that.

Moving along.

The actual plot doesn’t make any sense with the cinematic Avengers

So two things have to happen for this story to get going. Tony Stark has to support a government bill clamping down on super heroes, and Captain America has to oppose it. And both of those things have some problems through the lens of the Cinematic Universe.

Why, why I ask you, would the Tony Stark of the movies go along with this? It makes no sense. No sense at all. This isn’t the comic book Tony Stark who was Secretary of Defense until Scarlet Witch got him fired (yes, that’s basically what happened). This the movie Tony Stark, who basically flipped off a Senate committee while declaring he’d “privatized world peace.” The Tony Stark who, upon joining up with everyone on the SHIELD helicarrier in Avengers, spent as much time trying to figure out what SHIELD was up to as Loki. The Tony Stark who, we’re told, founded his own private spy agency in the wake of SHIELD’s collapse in The Winter Solider.

This is a Tony Stark who gives zero fucks about what the government thinks is best. Unless something in Age of Ultron happens to seriously change his perspective… and yes, I admit that it could… this Tony Stark seems completely unlikely to start chasing down Bruce Banner or Steve Rogers because some senator or general asks him to.

And then there’s Captain America. Cap opposed the registration act because of its violation of civil liberties, especially the “round up everyone who doesn’t give us their secret identity” part. But with no real secret identities in play, what’s driving this act? One theory I’ve heard is the whole “Your powers are too dangerous to be unregulated” angle.

Okay, I was just kidding around in the intro, but everyone sees how this then becomes about gun control, right? And Captain America would be the figure leading the charge against gun control. That’s… problematic. Captain America is always used as the face of what’s morally right in Marvel projects. Maybe it’s because I’m not from a flyover state, but given all the mass shootings that keep happening in the US, having their moral center on the other side of this issue is… well, it’s uncomfortable.

They’re going to make this movie. It’s going to be a hit, especially if rumours that Cap 3 is slowly becoming Avengers 2.5 are true. But it’ll have to be a HUGE hit to pay for all the additional cast it needs. And I thought that somebody should be bringing up all the ways in which trying to make this story work on screen is flawed.

Cinematic universe or Cinematic multiverse?

It is, as Hardison from Leverage often said, the Age of the Geek. And nothing drives that point home like the massive surge in superhero properties being adapted to the big and small screens. There are those in the media questioning whether the market’s getting saturated, but my opinion remains largely unchanged:

I'm pretty much okay with it.
I’m pretty much okay with it.

The two largest players in the superhero market, Marvel and DC, are developing two very different tactics to exploit this.

Marvel, as anyone in western society is now aware, has the Marvel cinematic universe, a series of interconnected films that range from “kind of okay” to “amazing” in terms of quality, but “acceptable” to “massive hit” in terms of box office. After Guardians of the Galaxy became the year’s biggest success story (beating out Captain America, the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Transformers) despite having no A or even B list characters, Marvel Studios is seen as pretty much bulletproof at the box office. They’re also trying to expand into television, but Agents of SHIELD’s so-so reception and slow-bleed ratings mean it’s come the closest to being their first failure, it remains to be seen how Agent Carter will do at midseason, and their Netflix series are still at least a year away.

DC, on the other hand, is swiftly moving to dominate the television landscape. Arrow is into its third season, and now has a spinoff in the Flash; Gotham has opened strong on Fox; Constantine and iZombie are still on the way; and deals are in the works to bring the Titans and Supergirl to TV next year. If even half these projects achieve Arrow-level success (the first step towards Smallville-level success, something I am defining here exclusively by its ten-year run and not how warranted said run was), DC will be dominating the TV market. On the other hand, they haven’t had a movie that’s an unqualified success since 2008. Since The Dark Knight, they’ve managed “moderate hits that aren’t fondly remembered” (The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel) and “outright failures,” (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex), with their next big movie raising a few concerns.

But who’s dominating which medium isn’t what I wanted to talk about. No, it’s clear that both companies want a piece of all the pies. The difference in tactics comes down to how their various properties are interacting. Marvel and DC have taken different paths here, with Marvel bringing all of their film and TV projects into one shared universe, while DC has built a Chinese wall in between film and television, and with their shows already spread across three networks (five by next year if everything goes forward), that looks to get worse before it gets better.

So let’s take a look at each strategy. See how they stack up.

Pro for Marvel: Everything is connected!

Well, everything except Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four. You know, the A-list properties.

This is slightly harder to describe than I thought. Let’s try a story.

There’s a moment in Batman Forever when Bruce Wayne asks newly orphaned Dick Grayson what he’s going to do next. “The circus must be halfway to Metropolis by now,” he says. And so excited was Young Me in that moment, that quick little reference to Superman’s home city, that I barely even noticed how wooden Val Kilmer’s delivery was, and briefly forgot how ridiculous this movie was in general. And this is something Marvel movies manage each and every time. They are filled with references to each other and Easter eggs pointing elsewhere in Marvel lore.

And if one quick reference to Metropolis can brighten Batman Forever, imagine what that can do for movies that are actually fun, like Iron Man or Captain America. Or, to a lesser extent, Thor. And when all the various characters get to interact in one movie? Well, The Avengers happens. A massive success that everyone loves. Yes, okay, getting Joss Whedon to write and direct it certainly helped. Just throwing all the characters into one movie and hoping it works out isn’t a recipe for The Avengers, it’s a recipe for the largely reviled third X-Men movie.



That said, the interconnected Marvel Universe is also a demonstrable cash cow. Not only was the Avengers a massive success, every single movie since then has enjoyed a bump. Iron Man 3, Thor: the Dark World, and Captain America: the Winter Soldier all out-grossed their predecessors (something not every superhero franchise has been able to say lately), and Guardians of the Galaxy rode the Marvel name to box office supremacy.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is working so well that everyone wants a piece of the action. Warner Bros./DC is trying to bolt right to the big money by fast tracking Justice League instead of spending the time/capital on individual franchises. Despite the demonstrable diminishing returns on their current Spider-Man plans, Sony is trying to build their own cinematic universe off Spider-Man and his various… villains? That’s the plan? Really? That is going to crash and burn so hard… Fox is rejuvenating the X-Men (and releasing a Fantastic Four movie they seem weirdly reluctant to talk about), and Universal is trying to get into the game by making a connected universe out of Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein. Which could work…

…or it could not.

Spoiler: he was an archangel the whole time. There was no need for that.

On the other side of the fence…

Con for DC: Everything is in a silo

Meanwhile, everything DC is doing is compartmentalized. There’s the new cinematic universe they launched with Man of Steel, and are trying to kickstart into full Marvel mode through Batman V. Superman: Cameos of Justice. Then there’s what’s known as the “Arrowverse,” the CW TV universe that started with Arrow and has expanded into the Flash. Constantine’s off on his own on NBC, and Gotham isn’t tying into anything.

Nor should it, really. I mean, they snuck in a Queen Consolidated Easter egg in the second episode, but really this show should take place at least a decade before Oliver’s fateful voyage on the Queen’s Gambit, 15 years before his return to Starling City.

So no, Stephen Amell’s Arrow and Grant Gustin’s Flash will not be joining Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and the rest of the BvS cameos in the Justice League movie. Nor will John Constantine be swaggering into Starling or Central Cities. Which is a little sad in its own right, but there’s a bigger problem.

Have separate continuities if you want. DC is often built around the idea of a multiverse anyway. It’s the fact the characters from one continuity seemingly can’t appear in any of the others for fear of confusing the audience or whatever that’s killing us.

Smallville was banned from having Batman or Bruce Wayne appear. They brought in Green Arrow, Flash/Impulse (long story), Cyborg, Hawkman, Aquaman, Black Canary, the Legion of Superheroes, even Booster Gold… but never Batman, because they didn’t want to mess with the films. And now Batman, Superman, and their respective cities are verboten to the Arrowverse. Reportedly, the producers of Flash were told to cut a Luthorcorp Easter egg from the pilot, and it remains to be seen what sort of crackdown on Bat-verse references is going to spill out of Gotham being on the Fox network.

There is some small hope that it might be less stupid going forwards. The president of the CW network teased the possibility of Arrow crossing over with the proposed Titans series heading for TNT. And Supergirl will share a showrunner with Arrow and Flash (besides the ever-present Geoff Johns), and its network, CBS, is from a corporate perspective the CW’s older, more successful brother, both of them being owned by Warner Brothers, owners of DC Comics. So there’s some talk that Supergirl might not necessarily stand alone like Gotham or Constantine.

Except how would either of those even work? Arrow has had zero mentions of Batman, Gotham, Wayne Enterprises, anything (the leaked pilot of the Flash does, but it remains to be seen if that lasts until broadcast). How do you have a Titans show, starring Batman’s ex-sidekick Nightwing, cross over to a show where Batman doesn’t exist? Moreover, there are no aliens in the Arrowverse. They just introduced superpowers on the Flash, but neither series is currently touching aliens. So how do you have Starfire? And if there’s no Superman in the Arrowverse, does it even make sense to have Supergirl?

And it doesn’t even have to be like this. When Superman Returns came out, Smallville was still on the air. Whatever prevented Superman Returns from being the franchise launcher they hoped, people being confused by the multiple Clark Kents wasn’t it. And the producers of Gotham certainly aren’t planning to pack up and call it a day when Batman V. Superman opens partway through what they hope to be their second season. And their animation division keeps cranking out product regardless of what the characters are doing in live action.

Marvel can’t have Spider-Man or the X-Men turn up in the Avengers because they sold the film rights in order to keep the doors open after the comic crash in the 90s. Warner Bros. doesn’t have that excuse, yet they act like that anyway. And it’s maddening sometimes.


Con for Marvel: Everything’s connected, but nobody’s talking

The Marvel cinematic universe has introduced film and TV audiences to a nitpick comic fans have known and traded for years: “Why wouldn’t [x-character] call [y-character] for help?”

Happens all the time. “Superman could have stopped the riot in Arkham Asylum in five seconds. Why not call him?” Or, one I asked recently, “Captain America is the head of SHIELD, why is he letting a crooked weapons developer and the general in her pocket push Iron Man around like this?”

And while answers exist (Batman is able to protect Gotham because the criminals are afraid of him, not because they’re afraid that he’ll tell on them to Superman if they’re too mean), the single greatest argument against this nitpick is “He was busy, read his book.” Of course Captain America couldn’t bail out Iron Man, he’s been going through hell with the Red Skull. Of course Wonder Woman couldn’t come to Gotham, she’s been dealing with civil war on Olympus for months. Of course Green Lantern hasn’t been around to help the Justice League, shit is falling apart out in space.

The movies don’t have that. Avengers movies aside, we check in with Tony Stark or Captain America once every two years. Less than that for the Hulk. So we don’t have any idea what they’re doing between movies. So here’s a quick list of questions that arise when everyone’s movie is connected but nobody appears in each other’s movies because Robert Downey Jr. isn’t free. (Some spoilers for The Winter Solider and Iron Man 3)

  • Tony Stark’s house gets blown up by terrorists, after which said terrorists kidnap The President of the United States off of Air Force One, and nobody thinks that maybe SHIELD should get involved? Captain America has nothing to say about any of this?
  • Captain America has to bring down three heavily armed helicarriers in the Winter Solider, and for backup he brings Black Widow and some guy he met while jogging? This doesn’t seem like something that Tony Stark, the guy who helped design the helicarriers, or Bruce Banner, the unstoppable rage monster, might be useful for?
  • Actually forget them. Where the hell is Hawkeye? Black Widow finds out SHIELD is compromised and Clint Barton wasn’t her first phone call? They were partners! She joined the Avengers to help out Hawkeye for gods’ sake, and when their mutual employer turns on her, she doesn’t even try to get word to him? He even has experience bringing down helicarriers! Managed it with two fucking arrows!
  • And where the bloody hell is Thor since his last movie? He left Asgard at the end of the Dark World to hang out with Jane, and since then… what? Just bumming around Europe? “Pagan anarchists” (oy…) got their hands on an Asgardian weapon, an Asgardian criminal was on a rampage in the southern US, and Captain America was being hunted for treason, and Thor just doesn’t give a shit.
  • Everyone knows Coulson’s alive again, right? I mean, that’s got to be clear by now. He wasn’t exactly keeping his head down in the first season of Agents of SHIELD, and now he’s being publicly hunted by the US government. I have to believe Tony Stark would have noticed he’s not dead by now.

Swear to god, if they open the second Avengers movie with the team hanging out together and the implication that they’re in regular contact, fans would be within their rights to riot.

But that aside, there’s another problem with the Cinematic Universe’s approach.

Pro to DC: no one is beholden to anyone

The greatest flaw of Agents of SHIELD’s first season is that they didn’t have an interesting plot or an engaging villain for 15 episodes. Their money storyline involved the Hydra revelation from Winter Soldier, so they couldn’t really kick that off until after Winter Soldier had opened: eight months and sixteen episodes into the season. As a result, and I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, they hemorrhaged viewers and good will and only barely squeaked out a renewal thanks to corporate synergy making low ratings acceptable. The fact that they did nothing but spin their wheels up until that point is a whole other conversation, but the fact is their first season’s stories were beholden to the Winter Soldier’s release date. It remains to be seen what impact Age of Ultron will have, but for their sake, I hope it’s “none,” or at least “none until the third season” (if there is one, given that their second episode this season tied their series low point).

The Arrowverse doesn’t have that problem.

The Arrowverse can do whatever the hell it wants to do. We’re not going to connect to the Justice League movie? Fine, we’ll build our own Justice League with the Atom and Firestorm. Can’t use Batman? Fine, but we’ll borrow whichever of his villains you aren’t using. Ra’s Al Ghul’s available now, right?

In a strictly narrative context, they don’t have to hold anything back until the next movie opens. They’re not beholden to Zach Snyder’s plans. They can crossover as much or as little as they like, and when finale season rolls around, I imagine both Flash and the Arrow will be a little too busy with their own problems to come bail each other out.

Likewise, Gotham is free to play around. They won’t have to stick to someone else’s vision of Batman or the Penguin’s journeys. I doubt they’ll get too experimental, but they have some breathing room.

So while not being connected to the movies or several of the other series can be frustrating, it’s also the reason Arrow is thriving while Agents of SHIELD fizzled.

Also, nobody ever has to ask where Superman was during the Starling City earthquake.

Wrapping up

So the two strategies have their strengths and weaknesses. Linking all the movies works like gangbusters (a few narrative holes aside), but letting TV shows do their own thing seems to be working out better than chaining them to a movie release schedule.

Do I want to see Titans and Supergirl cross over with Arrow and Flash? Damn right I do. Am I afraid that the Flash won’t be in the Justice League? Damn skippy I am. But am I glad that they’re getting to tell their own stories on their own terms? You’d better believe it.

Geek Talk Junk Drawer

It’s Thursday, things are slow, I’m listless and a little agitated. This would be a perfect time to lose myself in another hilarious and slightly heartbreaking episode of Bojack Horseman, My New Favourite Thing… only I’ve run out. There are no more. Not until next year. And I don’t seem to have the attention span for much else.

So let’s chat, you and I. Let’s pass some time on these here interwebs by discussing things that wouldn’t fill a full blog. Which might be difficult because apparently I had 2,000 words’ worth of things to say about the new Sin City movie, when “Two hours of sub-par to terrible Sin City fan fiction” would have summed it up.

But this will spare all of you from getting an earful about Bojack Horseman. It’s hilarious, it’s got a surprising amount of heart and emotion in the back half of the season, Will Arnett and Alison Brie are both in it, just go watch it already.

New Doctor!

Check it!
Check it!

Part of loving Doctor Who is learning to accept new Doctors, even if you’re not ready to. I was just a kid when I heard that Tom Baker was leaving. I was taken completely by surprise when Colin Baker changed into Sylvester McCoy (despite it having been a rerun… this was pre-internet, there weren’t easy ways to learn these things). I was heartbroken when I learned Christopher Eccleston was only doing one season… and those were the easy ones. I may have actually screamed “NNNOOOOO!” out loud when word got out that Matt Smith was moving on.

But now the new guy, Peter Capaldi, aka. Twelve, has had two episodes to establish himself. And I think he’s doing okay. He has a sterner style, which sets him apart from Ten and Eleven. He wants to be a good man, but isn’t sure he is (something he has in common with Bojack Horseman–sorry, sorry, it just slipped out). And Clara’s finally getting more to do, after the whole Impossible Girl story kind of prevented her from being properly developed. All in all, Capaldi’s crushing it, and they still have my devotion.

But I haven’t figured out his theme music yet.

Not the opening credit theme, of course I know that. The in-episode theme music. Nine had The Doctor’s Theme, Ten started with that, then switched to The Doctor Forever in season three before returning to an amped up Doctor’s Theme in season four. The Doctor’s Theme played for the last time (well, until the 50th anniversary) in Ten’s final moments, and when Eleven began his tenure in the 11th Hour, so too debuted I Am the Doctor, which later evolved into The Majestic Tale (of a Madman in a Box). And as someone who clearly thinks about background music in TV shows a lot, those two were my favourites.

I don’t know the 12th Doctor’s theme yet. Sure, there’s some Youtube videos claiming to have it, but I need to hear it in action. I need to hear it against the Doctor telling the Atraxi to run, or facing down the Silence alongside River Song and the Ponds. I probably have, I just haven’t figured out what it is. Guess I should rewatch Deep Breath and Into the Dalek when I get a chance.

There are worse fates.

Shazam’s getting a movie!


This has been running around the web for a while, but the rumours and suggestions have finally been confirmed: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be playing Black Adam in an upcoming Shazam movie.

Seeing a lot of blank looks out there. What? You didn’t know reading my blog activates a camera in your computer/phone? I am always watching.

Erm… by which I mean, what, you don’t know Black Adam? Let me explain.

When I say the word “Shazam,” you think of Captain Marvel: a kid named Billy Batson who shouts the word “Shazam” and turns into an adult with magical powers that make him a nigh-equal to Superman. Black Adam had the powers of Shazam centuries earlier, but his more… forceful way of defending his home nation of Khandaq (think ancient Egypt turned into modern day Iraq) got him shut down by the wizard who made him his champion (that wizard being Shazam). But when Captain Marvel comes onto the scene, Black Adam finds a way to come back. So, Captain Marvel is the kid-turned-hero, and Black Adam is his nemesis.

That’s the classic stuff. Fast forward to today. Now Billy Batson’s alter ego is just called “Shazam,” because DC got tired of never being able to put “Captain Marvel” on the cover of a book thanks to their competitors, and decided that if everybody mostly knows him as the Shazam guy, they may as well call him Shazam and be done with it. I still haven’t fully adapted to that but it’s happened.

Black Adam, meanwhile, is still a primary nemesis of Captain Mar–Shazam, but he’s not always a straight up villain. While writing Justice Society back around the turn of the century, Geoff Johns altered the character: no longer was he a modern day thief who accessed the powers of Shazam to become Black Adam, but was instead the original reborn in the modern era. And the original never saw himself as a villain, simply the protector of the Khandaq who draws a different moral line than some prefer. In the last fifteen years he’s crossed the line to hero almost as often as he’s been a villain. He served in the Justice Society for years, possibly outlasting Captain Marvel*. Most recently, in the event book Forever Evil, when the Crime Syndicate (an evil version of the Justice League, I’ll spare you the explanation) wiped out most of the superheroes and conquered the Earth, Black Adam was the first of a small band of villains to step up and try to bring them down.

So Black Adam isn’t a mustache-twirling, magic-space-rock-wielding world conqueror like so many other superhero movie villains lately, and talk from Dwayne Johnson and the studio is that they’re going to keep him on that blurry line between villain and anti-hero, which I for one am excited to see.

Less excited by the rumours that Shazam will not connect with Justice League, but… well, we’ll see.

*Interesting story with no connection to Black Adam: Captain Marvel left the JSA in disgrace after his budding romance with teenage hero Stargirl (who had discovered that he was actually a teenager himself) was discovered by either the golden age Flash or Green Lantern, who, not knowing that Captain Marvel was really teenager Billy Batson, obviously disapproved. Cap left the team rather than reveal his true identity/age, because “too many people know, and it always changes things.” Sad story, but interesting reading. Anyhoo.

Supergirl back on TV?


New in the rumour mill: DC may be shopping around a Supergirl TV series. Now, this is a very young rumour, and even if it is totally accurate, a lot can go wrong between here and being given a series order, if two failed pilots for Wonder Woman and one for Aquaman teach us anything. But I like the idea. There is a risk that, even though the CW is currently believed to have passed, the makers might embrace the teen soap opera that defined Smallville and remains a part of Arrow. But you know what? Let ’em. As I said in an earlier post, Supergirl (well, Kara Zor-El) has never been better written than when they were targeting her towards younger women/girls. So I say, even in the face of ten years of Smallville striving to prove me wrong, it can work. But maybe try to make it more like Arrow and less like Smallville. In fact, always do that.

But making it appeal to girls without becoming female-oriented-Smallville, or Gossip Girl with super strength, is only challenge one. Well, challenge two, after getting a network to bite.

Next challenge: is this another stand-alone like Constantine? Or will they tie it into one of their other properties? And that’s a trickier question than I like. Because I don’t know that I want a Supergirl series set in a world where Superman doesn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong: Supergirl’s been around long enough that she deserves an identity of her own, rather than being defined as “Superman’s cousin.” The current writers of her book are trying, but her more famous relative is never that far from her narrative. A weekly series (or Netflix series) might give her the chance to be her own character as well. So I’m not saying I need Henry Cavill to pop by on a regular basis, but… Superman should still exist. Putting each character in their own box, where no other DC character is allowed to be, is something I’d hoped DC was moving past.

So that means I also don’t want Supergirl to join the Arrowverse, something that feels alien to say. But it’s true, for the same reason I don’t want Nightwing showing up: for all the characters that they’re adding to the Arrowverse, Superman and Batman aren’t on the list, and Nightwing without Batman doesn’t even make sense. Ra’s Al Ghul, okay, fine, he can exist without overt references to Batman, but not Nightwing. Why not use any other similar character, like Blue Beetle or the Question or Manhunter? Oh, right, they are using Manhunter… no not the Martian one, one of the other 20 DC characters named “Manhunter.”

Right, sorry, Supergirl. There may be super powers in the Arrowverse now, thanks to the Flash, but no aliens. And if we’re going to add Kryptonians, let’s start with the big guy. Or if you want a Supergirl type, introduce Wonder Woman, or Hawkwoman, or Big Barda–no, no, bad call me, you do NOT want Apocalypse and the New Gods on TV, you want them in the Justice League movies. That last bit might not have made sense to you. But you’re reading this on the internet, and I assume you know how Google works. Must I hyperlink everything?

That said... there are worse characters you could introduce in Justice League...
That said… there are worse characters you could introduce in Justice League…

Anyway. A Supergirl TV series that ties into Man of Steel and Superman V. Batman: Dawn of A Thousand Internet Complaints may be too much to hope for. But a Supergirl series where Superman is nowhere to be seen is like, I don’t know, making a TV series about Batman’s daughter where Alfred is a main character but Batman himself is never seen or heard from.

Hint: that didn't work.
Hint: that didn’t work.

The New Pornographers have a new album!

Finally… if you can listen to this without feeling at least a little happy, I feel sad for you.

Until next time, have a good day and WATCH BOJACK HORSEMAN.

Dan at the Movies: Sin City: a Dame to Kill For

It was nearly ten years ago that Sin City swept into theatres, and man alive was it a sight to see at the time. From the way Robert Rodriguez took the exact images from Frank Miller’s original comics and brought them to stark, mostly black and white life, to the way the incredible cast made the pulp dialogue sing. I loved Sin City, and used to watch two of the four stories over and over again from the booth of the Moviedome. So naturally I was thrilled at the talk of a sequel, since there were still Sin City graphic novels very much worth adapting. Which meant that talk of Frank Miller writing new stories to include in the sequel was a little discouraging. First of all, because that lowered the odds of them using the stories I wanted to see on the screen, and second of all, because Frank Miller has lost it.

No, seriously, he’s lost it completely.

Frank Miller did some good comics work in the 80s, but these days he’s gone around the bend, and nothing proves that more than his attempts to revisit past glories. I would have thought that The Dark Knight Strikes Back would have proven that for everyone, but apparently we needed more evidence, and now we have it.

But instead of a fresh installment of what has always been an anthology series, what we got was a movie trying to remind us of the original, by re-using as many of the characters as possible.

Included in the movie are two stories from the comics: Just Another Saturday Night, a short featuring Mickey Rourke’s Marv, back from the first movie’s The Hard Goodbye (the very first Sin City story), and the titular A Dame to Kill For, featuring Dwight from the original’s The Big Fat Kill (played by Josh Brolin, as this story takes place before he had plastic surgery to instead resemble Clive Owen… no, really, that’s what happens). Added in are one new story featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a card shark targeting Senator Roark, who you may remember from the first film’s That Yellow Bastard, part of the Roark family which controls Sin City and keeps it the pit of crime and corruption that it is, and the long-discussed direct sequel to That Yellow Bastard in which Nancy the stripper (Jessica Alba) is out to avenge her savior/lover Detective Hartigan (Bruce Willis, back as a ghostly presence in Nancy’s life), who killed himself in the hopes that it would spare Nancy from Senator Roark’s anger over the death of his horrifying, serial killing, child molesting son at Hartigan’s hands.

Okay. Let’s break this down entry by entry.

Just Another Saturday Night

This is meant to be a quick intro back into the world of Sin City, as Marv goes after four frat boys for setting hobos on fire, ending with two of them being taken out by the army of prostitutes that rule Old Town (because Frank Miller loves him some whores).

What it actually does is underline the problem with this entire movie. Where the first film’s cold open, The Customer is Always Right, provided a perfect intro to the noir storytelling, visual style, and general lack of what you’d call happy endings that we the viewers could come to expect, Just Another Saturday Night shows us that Rodriguez and Miller don’t fully recall how the visual style worked last time while shouting “Hey everybody! It’s Marv! Remember Marv? We all liked Marv vengeance-murdering his way up the criminal ladder last time, right?”

In other words, it’s Marv without the thrills, occasional wit, and “I can’t believe they just did that” winces of The Hard Goodbye. They brought back the characters we loved, with none of the reasons why we loved them. Roll opening credits, and try to lower your expectations.

The Thing With Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I don’t know what this one’s called. I do know that I’ll watch Joseph Gordon-Levitt in practically anything, because he’s awesome.

Sadly the material doesn’t always rise to his level.

Johnny is an interesting character, and his motivations and methods for taking down Senator Roark are unexpected, but this story has the same issues as the rest: it’s a little too grim. I mean, they’re all grim. That’s the point. But the first film had lighter moments. This installment comes closest to recreating that, if only through Johnny’s undeniable charms, but there’s still not a lot of smiles or laughs to be had, and a lot of asking ourselves “Why are you showing this illicit poker game how good you are at manipulating cards, do you want them to know you’re cheating?”

It’s… okay. It would have been the worst if it had been part of the original, but here it’s almost a highlight.

Also Marv is in it. Because heaven forbid we have even one entry without Marv this time around.

A Dame to Kill For

Now this entry had every possible advantage it could. It’s a prequel to The Big Fat Kill, my favourite of the original entries, and (of course) also features Marv as Dwight’s emergency muscle. It has the most returning characters, featuring Rosario Dawson’s violent madam Gail, twin prostitutes Goldie and Wendy, and a re-cast deadly little Miho giving us our only taste of the blood-splattered “holy shit” action sequences of the first film, just with less charisma than when it was Devon Aoki (who had to bow out due to pregnancy). And it has the film’s real breakout performance, Eva Green as Eva Lord, the so-called dame to kill for that’s getting Dwight into more trouble than a trunk full of dismembered cops did last time around.

But it’s pretty clear this was a later entry in the Sin City graphic novels. The narration already feels forced and less engaging. Two minutes into the story and I was already getting tired of Dwight narrating about how hard it was to keep himself under control. And again, there’s less fun, less endlessly quotable moments, less to enjoy here than in its predecessor. It’s still the most fun, the most interesting, and the best written story of the entire movie, but you’re probably starting to get the impression that that isn’t a huge accomplishment.

As to Eva Lord. She might well be the most compelling and powerful female character either movie managed to present (even if her motives become a little cliche and two-dimensional), and Eva Green plays the hell out of her… but it’s hard to deny one little sticking point.

She is naked a lot. I mean, a lot. Which, depending on your perspective, could read as an endorsement rather than a condemnation, I suppose, but here’s the thing. I saw this with several female friends, and the fact that Eva might have been exposed more often than not really started to feel awkward. I could picture other women I know asking how necessary this was, and I didn’t have a good answer.

Now, a certain amount of nudity works well with this role: Eva Lord uses her sexuality to control men, it’s her primary tactic, and she’s adept at it. But I’m just going to admit… they could have dialed it down a touch. One could argue they were just sticking with the imagery from the comics, but if one were to argue that, I would ask one to recall how naked Nancy the stripper was supposed to be, and how many fucks Jessica Alba gave about that.

The answers are “Very naked” and “Zero fucks.” So there were other choices they could have made.

Still, if one were to watch this movie, A Dame to Kill For is going to be your one big highlight. It’s all downhill from there.

Fun fact: Clive Owen was going to reprise post-surgery Dwight, but he had a schedule conflict, so they used prosthetics to make Josh Brolin look like Clive Owen’s Dwight. Which, frankly, is probably better for the story. Less confusing for new people. Not there’ve been many of those.

Nancy’s revenge

And here, at the end, it all falls apart.

That Yellow Bastard wasn’t my favourite of the first film. It’s the one I rewatched the least. Well, after The Customer is Always Right. But it wasn’t bad, it was just bleak. The (possibly) one good cop in Basin City (get it?) goes to prison for lethally defending a young girl from a vicious predator, simply because said predator’s father was Senator Roark, who basically owned the police, and wanted his child-murdering son to be President some day. Roark uses freakish medical science to save his son’s life and regrow some bits that Hartigan shot off, son becomes That Yellow Bastard as a result, uses a released Hartigan to find the girl (Nancy, now a stripper, as I’ve mentioned), Hartigan and the Yellow Bastard face off one more time, Hartigan shoots himself in the hope that Senator Roark won’t go after Nancy if Hartigan’s already dead and unhurtable.

Like I said, bleak. Sin City isn’t a place where a grizzled ex-cop and the much younger woman who’s loved him for half her life get to ride off into any sort of sunset. But apparently that ending wasn’t good enough, so Frank Miller wrote an all-new story in which Nancy, four years later, is still filled with rage and despair, and is trying to work up the nerve to kill Roark for revenge.

And it serves as the final proof that Frank Miller has lost whatever talent he may have had, because it is terrible. Hartigan’s ghost wandering about in torment, Nancy’s narration, the general sluggishness of the plot, shoehorning in Marv to be Nancy’s backup, none of it really works. By the halfway point I found myself just picking apart the continuity issues that having Marv in this story created, as Marv’s presence puts this solidly before The Hard Goodbye. Examples:

  • By the end, Nancy’s lost her love of dancing, died her hair black, has several cuts on her face, and is a vicious killer. In The Hard Goodbye, she’s blonde, unscarred, dancing, and seems happy and well-adjusted. So I’m forced to assume she gets over everything, because no part of the Hard Goodbye could have happened before this story.
  • Also I assume that the Basin City police have zero luck finding either of the people who broke into stately Roark manner and left a trail of bodies in their wake. Nor the Secret Service, who are typically called in to this sort of thing. I know this because Marv and Nancy are just living their lives in relative peace by The Hard Goodbye, which once again, must logically take place after this.
  • Still, you’d think that after Senator Roark was killed in his own home, Cardinal Roark might have had better security.

All in all, having Marv in this story creates a huge pile of narrative problems, and the rest of the story just isn’t good enough to allow me not to notice them. Nancy turning from stripper to assassin and teaming up with a popular character to give the audience the justice-murder they were denied last time plays like bad Sin City fanfic, and the fact that it’s from the original author is just sad.

But what’s really sad, is that since this sequel was such a disappointment and, probably as a result, is tanking at the box office, I’m never going to see an adaption of the Sin City story Hell and Back, which at one point features the protagonist assaulting an enemy compound while high on powerful hallucinogens, meaning it would have been written like Sin City but shot like Spy Kids.

And I wanted to see that. Oh well. Maybe I’ll just find a way to rewatch the original Sin City this week. Or Guardians of the Galaxy. One of those.

Let’s talk geek controversy

People who know me know how closely I follow geek entertainment news. Mostly they know it from those meetings where everybody sits me down and tries to explain how my obsession with geek entertainment news has affected them, and then I yell “No, the showrunners of Agents of SHIELD need an intervention!” and then come the tears… We have fun.

Anyway, some geek news as of late has caused ripples of controversy. Allow me to explain a few of them, and why I think they’re kind of a big deal. Well, as much of a big deal as movies based on superheroes are capable of being.

Ant-man shenanigans

What’s the deal? For eight years, as long as there has been a Marvel Studios, filmmaker Edgar Wright was pitching a movie based on Ant-man, a character who couldn’t possibly have been at the top of anyone’s list to give his own movie.

Not that the list couldn't use an edit.
Not that the list couldn’t use an edit.

Edgar Wright is behind such cult favourite movies as Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and The World’s End. He is a filmmaker of singular vision. He may not have the box office clout of a David Fincher, but damn he’s got the talent. And for nearly a decade he’s been asking for the chance to use those talents on a movie about Ant-Man. Only to pull out of the project right before it was due to start filming.

It’s now generally known that the reason for this split was that Marvel, late in the game, requested script changes Edgar Wright didn’t want to make. Whatever Wright had planned, it was too big a break from the Marvel model, and they wanted to correct that. A move not everyone on Team Marvel agrees was a great move.

Huh. Their other cult-favourite writer/director. Go figure.
Huh. Their other cult-favourite writer/director. Go figure.

Since then, other writers (three and counting) have been brought in to rewrite the movie, because nothing says “Quality movie” like four different screenwriters.

Why does this matter? A lot of the buzz following the split looked at what this might mean for future Marvel films. Are they anti-auteur? Why is a company that built its reputation being different and taking risks now pushing for safety and sameness? Were they worried that Guardians of the Galaxy might be their first failure? (Announcing a release date for the sequel before it was released says no, and their box office to date says they never needed to be) Will they have trouble attracting actors if they’re going to make a habit of changing the entire project (at least the script and director) after everyone’s already signed on? The cast committed to Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man, after all, not the version they’re ultimately shooting.

But that’s not why it matters.

First of all, those are questions thought up by a media that loves a good downfall story. Marvel’s on a winning streak on the big screen. Nine movies in, and eight are unqualified hits (Incredible Hulk didn’t bomb, but they’ve certainly been reluctant to talk sequel). Their movies have flaws, yes, mostly their inability (or unwillingness) to write good villains… fine, except for Loki that one time… but they’re reliably fun to watch and typically make a decent profit, and as long as that second thing is true, losing Edgar Wright will not hurt them as a company. Actors like being in blockbusters, so as long as the movies are hits, Marvel won’t have problems finding casts. It probably won’t even hurt Ant-Man’s box office much. More people were going to watch it based on “From the studio that brought you Avengers: Age of Ultron” than “From the director of Shaun of the Dead.” That’s just a fact.

It matters because it’s sad.

It’s sad that Edgar Wright chased this project for so long only to have it mutate into something else, something he couldn’t be a part of. It’s sad that Edgar Wright will never get to make his Ant-Man movie, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to see it. Because while I don’t know what the new writers are changing, or how much if any of Wright’s original story will still be there, I have seen every movie Wright has directed, and each and every one of them is amazing. So I cannot believe that this new Ant-Man movie will be anywhere as good as Wright’s would have been.

Doesn’t mean it won’t still be worth watching. Most of Marvel’s product is. But it could have been more. And it’s sad that the world’s most consistently successful film studio is now publicly against doing things differently.

Lady Stoneheart

What’s the deal? Game of Thrones is huge these days, but the fandom is split into two factions: those who read the books, and know it better as “A Song of Ice and Fire,” and those (like myself) who are just watching the TV show. As such, discussion of Game of Thrones (the show) is carefully divided, so that fans of A Song of Ice and Fire (the books) can discuss things without spoiling it for those of us who haven’t been reading ahead.

A covenant that was broken in the wake of the fourth season finale.

Now I’ll do what most websites didn’t and refrain from spoiling anything. Suffice to say, many of the book-reading fans expected the fourth series to end with a jaw-drop moment from the end of book three (which is approximately where they’ve gotten), that jaw-drop moment being the arrival of a character referred to as Lady Stoneheart. When the Lady didn’t appear, the internet went crazy, wondering why she wasn’t there and if we should expect her next season, spoiling who she is for the TV crowd all the way. Even the article headlines and choice of photos made it hard not to know what they were talking about.

As it stands, the producers are not claiming Lady Stoneheart will be turning up next year. They could just be lying in an attempt to preserve the surprise… which would be odd, given how badly that blew up in JJ Abrams’ face with Star Trek: Into Darkness (of course he was Khan, he was always going to be Khan, telling us he wasn’t was wasting everyone’s time). Maybe they’re hoping a few people remain unspoiled that they can shock in the fifth season premiere. Or maybe they’re authentically leaving her out. Which… seems problematic.

Why does this matter? Because this would mean one of two things, and they’re both bad signs.

Option one: they’re just skipping her. By and large, Game of Thrones has stayed pretty close to the source material. But they have left the odd thing out, and everyone from die-hard book fans to author George R.R. Martin has clucked their tongues at the showrunners over it. Some of what they’ve left out seems inconsequential (does it really matter whether someone’s death was called a suicide rather than framing some musician we haven’t seen since book one?), some of it less so (Rhaegar Targaryen might have been long dead when the series started, but he may have a larger impact than the show has suggested), but I’m not sure dropping an entire storyline is a good idea.

Especially since they might need to add stuff to fill the gap, and they do not have a strong track record. Season four, they invented a story involving the Night’s Watch mutineers in order to boost Bran Stark’s screen time, and all it brought to the series was a) yet more rape, right after they were (rightfully) accused of having too much rape as it was, and b) a near-miss where Bran and Jon Snow almost find each other but don’t, which we already did in the third season finale, and also almost finding family but then not has basically been Arya’s entire story for two seasons. The Caster’s Keep arc was pretty much pointless, so I’d kind of prefer they stick to the books rather than keep trying to add things.

Option two: they’re leaving out Lady Stoneheart because she’s ultimately not that big a deal. They’ve read book five, had some conversations with George R.R. Martin, and know that the Lady Stoneheart plot is short-lived and doesn’t impact anything, so they’re giving it a miss. In which case fuck you George R.R. Martin.

Which is apparently mutual.

I get wanting to subvert expectations. I get wanting to be unpredictable. But three times now, George Martin has taken a character I like, given them a plotline I want to see play out, and then ended it with a swift death for the guy I’m rooting for and a victory dance for Cersei goddamn Lannister. It’s getting old, and if it turns out Lady Stoneheart also ends in betrayal and swift, pointless death, then I will hold this over the head of every single person who tells me to read the books, because at that point I no longer consider the books worth reading. Because you can’t be “unpredictable” by doing the exact same thing over and over.

New look for Batgirl!

What’s the deal? Recently, DC announced a new look and a new direction for Batgirl, one which is seemingly directed towards teen girls. There was the usual wailing that comes whenever Gail Simone stops writing Barbara Gordon, but most of the reaction has been positive. Fan art of the new costume is already spreading.

It is pretty snazzy.
It is pretty snazzy.

In addition to the new look, Batgirl will be more immersed in youth culture. The most valid critique I’ve heard of this is that the new look and approach would have been better suited to Stephanie Brown, who briefly held the mantle of Batgirl prior to the New 52 reboot, than Barbara Gordon, who’s been through a bit too much to pull off the carefree youth angle. But you know what? Fair as that may be, I’m not certain I care.

Why does this matter? Because a Batgirl aimed at younger women is a bloody brilliant idea, that’s why.

I’ve accepted the fact that enough things are targeted at us 30-something (and up) white dudes as it is, and maybe other demographics could have a turn. Women like comics, women would like to be able to enjoy comics, so writing a comic with women, even girls, in mind is a good plan.

And yes, absolutely make it a major character like Batgirl.

Besides, I remember the last time DC tried this. Pre-New 52 they made Supergirl a book for younger female readers. They made her more relatable to teen girls, made her… proportions less exaggerated, her costume less form-fitting and her skirt a few inches longer (with the editorial mandate of “I never want to see Supergirl’s underwear again”), and not only did this not ruin the book, that was as good as Supergirl’s comic has been since Peter David stopped writing it over a decade ago. I still read Supergirl, but I miss her teen-girl-friendly days.

As incoming writer Cameron Stewart said, “One young girl being inspired by Batgirl is worth 20 dudes complaining that the costume looks ‘hipster.'” And that’s a sentiment I can get behind.

Just need to catch up on my comics so I can actually start reading it when it comes out…

Black Captian America and Girl Thor

What’s the deal? Meanwhile, over at Marvel, upcoming storylines will see Captain America lose his super-soldier-ness, and Thor no longer be worthy of Mjolnir, meaning they’ll both need replacements. Steve Rogers will pass his title and shield to Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, recently seen in the Winter Soldier movie, while Thor will be replaced by a female Thor.

Which, well, is kind of weird. Marvel’s been shouting “No, she’ll BE Thor!” rather than a different character wielding the power of Thor but keeping their own name, like Beta Ray Bill, Thunderstrike, or anyone else who’s done that ever. This woman (not sure what her name was earlier) will be Thor in the same way Donald Blake was Thor way back when, a story mechanic that was dropped decades ago and retconned out of existence a few years back. So that’s… that’s weird, is what it is, but that’s not what really strikes me as uncomfortable about all the press Marvel has been seeking out around these stories.

Why does this matter? Because diversity in comics is important, and I’m not sure they’re doing it right.

I’m not saying making Thor a woman or Captain America a minority is the wrong move. Making Batman black or Doctor Who a woman or what have you will have far more impact than introducing a new minority superhero whose comic gets cancelled a year or two later then drifts into obscurity. But… well…

Every single thing I know about Marvel comics says one thing: this will not last. In recent years, Marvel had Bucky take over the title of Captain America, used a mind-swap to turn Dr. Octopus into the Superior Spider-man, killed major characters off… but almost none of it took. Most deaths lasted less than two years, in one case less than two months. Steve Rogers was back from the dead right around the time his first movie opened, and Peter Parker was Spider-man again right in time for Amazing Spider-man 2 to hit theatres.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is out next May, and if Steve Rogers and male Thor haven’t reclaimed their titles by then, it’ll be a small miracle given Marvel’s track record. And if Sam Wilson hasn’t stepped down by then, he will when Captain America 3 opens the year after.

And the thing is, Marvel is the only company to actually pull something like this off long-term. In their Ultimate line, Peter Parker’s been dead for years now, and half-black, half-Hispanic teenager Miles Morales has been in his place, and that book is thriving (Ultimate Spider-man has long been the best, and often only good book in that line). But it seems powerfully unlikely that that’s what’s happening here. This looks to be two short term stories that Marvel’s crowing about like they just re-wrote the rulebook or something.

And that’s ultimately the issue I have. A black guy taking over the role of Captain America for eight months would be a non-issue if they weren’t shouting from the rooftops about what a bold move it’s going to be. Crowing about how progressive they are for character changes that almost certainly won’t last just feels… tacky.

Five Sins of Decent Videogame Movies

It’s a good time to be a geek. Hollywood never stopped looking for fantasy epics to adapt after Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter each managed to earn more money than physically exists, we’re living in a golden age of comic book movies, Game of Thrones gets nominated for Emmys, and there is a TV show about Green Arrow of all people that isn’t just “kind of watchable” like Smallville at its peak but legitimately good with flashes of greatness.

And then there’s videogames.

I’m not going to get into a thing over which side is winning, games that push the medium to grow and expand and find new ways to tell stories, or Battlefield of Duty knockoffs so generic you can’t tell one brown and gunmetal grey cover-based first person shooter from another. I’m instead going to talk about how Hollywood continues to make movies based on videogames, but also insists on not trying very hard.

It’s been over twenty years since the first major Hollywood movie based on a videogame, 1993’s Super Mario Bros., and despite that, to put it mildly, shaky start to genre, there’ve been 27 more released theatrically since then. But they haven’t gotten much better. In fact, thanks to some loopholes in German tax law, Uwe Boll was able to make several far, far worse.

We could argue back and forth for hours about why, exactly, video game movies seem unable to compete with their comic book brethren. Maybe it’s like horror movies, where the rate of return is narrow yet good enough that they don’t need to make it a great movie, just a profitable one. Maybe video games, unlike comic books, just don’t have the Joss Whedons and Christopher Nolans of the world champing at the bit to tell a story of quality in that universe. Or maybe there is just an intrinsic problem in taking an inherently interactive medium and attempting to adapt it to a medium far more passive. By way of a for instance, when I play Mass Effect, I am Commander Shepard. I decide who Commander Shepard is, what he or she does, how he or she feels, who he or she loves. Why would I want to exchange that for watching Chris Pine play a Commander Shepard I didn’t help shape making decisions I didn’t choose? Even for something as linear as Legend of Zelda, you lose something in the transition from interactive to passive.

But whatever the reason, videogame movies seem to go out of their way to make some of the stupidest choices available. Even the ones that avoid the obvious stuff, like “hiring Uwe Boll,” or “Being as terrible and as Super Mario Bros.” make stupid little choices that ensure video game movies stay stupid. Here’s some examples.

Resident Evil: just how many zombies are in that crate?

It has to be said: the Resident Evil series are the most successful videogame movies out there. We know this because they’ve managed five sequels, one of which is expected this year, none of which have gone directly to video. And they’ve managed this despite completely throwing out the basic plots of any of the games. Sure, every now and then Jill Valentine or Claire Redfield will turn up so fans of the games can say “Hey I know that person, awesome,” but in general the blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence that defined the game series has been replaced with the ongoing adventures of Milla Jovovich’s Alice, the genetically engineered superwoman out to defeat her former masters, the Umbrella Corporation.

And why not? Frankly the only surprise is that they haven’t made a game based around Alice yet. Maybe her style of combat is just too divorced from the engine they typically used to make the games. So that’s not the sin I’m here to complain about. I’m complaining about how one action beat led me to identify an annoying trope.

The third film, Resident Evil: Extinction, is set after the zombie plague has ended society. Umbrella is experimenting with a method of domesticating the zombies. However, while they do regain a modicum of intelligence, they also become hyper aggressive. So an Umbrella executive decides to bundle a group of these super zombies into a shipping crate and use them to ambush Alice and company. A standard sized shipping crate. Regular readers will be familiar with my usual complaints against what I call “infinite respawn,” in which the heroes are gradually overwhelmed buy an unending wave of generic bad guys. This can work if you have, say, a portal leading to sufficient numbers Chitauri to invade and occupy the entire planet, but not if you only have one shipping crate.

Sure enough, dozens upon dozens of zombies pour out of that crate. No matter how many team Alice kills, there are enough left over to wipe out half the main characters.  Just how many super zombies did they actually have? And how exactly did they stuff dozens of hyper aggressive extra strong living dead soldiers into one crate? One crate that, to hold all of them, must have been packed tighter than a Tokyo train at rush hour? Did they put the crate on its end and drop the zombies in through a trap door? Was there a bulldozer? How many staff died getting this crate filled?

You want a huge obstacle for the protagonist? Fine. You want the high body count that comes with horror films? Sure. Do that. But when I was watching this scene, I did not feel horror or even anxiety. I felt annoyed that they were still this many zombies no matter how many they picked off. That sort of physics bending just drags you out of the moment. Stop doing it.

Tomb Raider: worst artifact ever

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider wasn’t particularly well reviewed, and isn’t exactly the crown jewel of anyone’s DVD collection, but it remains one of the few actual success stories in videogame movies. And by “success stories” I mean it made a lot money. It was the highest grossing videogame movie until Prince of Persia, and it’s still the highest grossing if you adjust for inflation.

And at its center is the stupidest artifact you could ask for.

Lara wakes up one night as she’s heard a clock start ticking somewhere in her vast, vast mansion. She tracks it to a secret room under a staircase (must be a hell of a tick for her to have heard it while asleep on a different floor), and breaks it open to reveal an artifact. Which is a little stupid, but there’s more. She senses that it’s supposed to fit into something (like maybe a clock?), and learns that it’s the key to finding the fabled Triangle of Time, which was split into two pieces after it destroyed the city it was last used in. But it can be reunited during the planetary convergence that happens once every five thousand years or so. Which is different than all those other times the planets line up. Yes this is exactly what I was making fun of in course of true love in person the Jade Monkey. No I’m not sorry.

So Lara races against and sometimes works alongside the fabled Illuminati, and her friend/rival Alex West (tomb raider for the ladies) to find both pieces of the triangle. Why is the triangle split into two pieces and not three? Don’t worry; there’s an explanation and it’s stupid.

When both pieces are found and the Illuminati inevitably turns on Lara and Alex, the Illuminati leader attempts to reunite the two pieces which, it should be pointed out, have the jagged edge indicative of being smashed over a rock, not split into two modular pieces meant to be reunited. It does not work. Because it wouldn’t. It’s broken, you’re not getting it back together without super glue.

He turns to Lara, asking why they won’t reunite, and she throws a piece of the puzzle through a little space-time portal (I do not have space to explain why that’s a thing that happens), and as the pieces tumble out in slow motion, she grabs a single grain of sand, which is the missing piece of the triangle.


First of all, who told her that was the key? I don’t recall any mention of two pieces and a grain of freaking sand that need to be reunited! And how did it not get lost? How did anyone come up with the plan “We’ll let them reunite the Triangle once every 5,000 years, but only if they figure out that they need to throw the compass through a magical time/space hole that splits it into its component parts and then grab a fucking grain of sand out of the air, which is the third piece?”

Nothing about this tomb raiding plot isn’t stupid. If you’re going to make it that weirdly hard to rejoin the Triangle, just leave it god damn broken.

Street Fighter: That UN asshole

There was so, so much wrong with this movie. While they fit in nearly everyone from the first three Street Fighter 2 games (there were a great many Street Fighter 2s before they gave in and made Street Fighter 3), only a handful of them actually resembled their counterparts from the game. Instead of focusing on Ryu, the most popular player character (from what I could tell) and the central character of any Japanese adaptation of the game (such as the far superior anime that hit video around the same time), they instead made Guile the main character. Presumably this was to give the plot, which centered around UN forces attempting to oppose General Bison and his terrorist army in the rogue nation of Shadaloo, a noble American protagonist. Which was not aided by casting a Belgian with the thickest accent possible.

But that’s not what I’m here to bitch about. You know what? Make Guile the lead. Guile from the games was actually out to stop end-boss M.Bison, while Ryu from the games just roams the globe looking for fights. Ryu from the game is an asshole and the people who played him at arcades I visited game zero shits about plot anyway. What I’m complaining about is the set-up to the most mocked and/or ironically beloved moment in the whole awful movie. Specifically, this speech.

Jump to the thirty second mark if you want to skip to my point. Jump to the 30 second mark and look at that asshole. “The security council has just voted. They’ve decided to negotiate.” Right. Okay. “What an asshole” speed round, go.

1. Of course the jerk who’s been riding Guile this whole movie picks the douchiest way he can think of to pronounce the word negotiate. “They’ve decided to nego-see-ate.” Dick.
2. Look how fucking smug he is about this. “Sure, he’s a terrorist who has killed thousands, including several of our own troops, but we’re knuckling under! Aren’t I the goddamn best, you Belgian gun-nut.” I guess “We do not negotiate with terrorists” hadn’t come into vogue yet.
3. Of course he’s British. Why wouldn’t the stick-in-the-mud trying to prevent good ol’ American gun-style justice be British. Unless you read a history book.
4.  Guile’s troops were literally minutes away from deploying, which should mean the council had already voted and the result was “Okay, go get him.” Armies don’t mobilize without a go-order, and when they get one, there’s typically little wait time and an understanding of “No take-backs.”
5. We’re over an hour into this movie and the action beats have been few and far between. There was no circumstance in which this preening frumunda stain strolling casually up to announce his intention to nego-see-ate with the ruthless terrorist was actually going to prevent the Guile/Bison showdown, or even delay it.
6. And how was that even necessary to motivate a rousing speech to the troops? President Whitmore managed to give a speech to the troops in Independence Day without needing anyone to saunter up and say “forget this desperate counter-attack against the genocidal aliens, we think we can talk this out after all.”
7. Was it impossible for action heroes in the 80s and 90s to head off to the climax without some blustering authority figure showing up to demand their badge and gun and say they’re off the case? Because that is all this moment accomplishes. We’re supposed to believe that Guile’s charge is made more badass because some dickless bureaucrat told him not to do it.

In summary, this useless blob of taint-flesh made man was the worst, most ham-handed “But you guys, fighting is bad” strawman this side of the celebrity caricatures in Team America. All the honest-to-god hard-working diplomats in the world should have filed a class action suit for defamation of character the second this ponce opened his mouth.

Prince of Persia: now 100% Persian-free

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time managed the twin tricks of being the highest-grossing videogame movie (domestically and without inflation) and being sort of okay, which is sadly high praise for the genre. It wasn’t a thoroughly faithful adaptation of the game, as it barely used the time-reversing dagger that’s the game’s primary hook, and had no sand-infected zombies for the heroes to battle, but we can let that slide. There’s still a roguish Persian prince, a princess charged with protecting the Sands of Time, and a scheming Vizier out to control them.

Except I remember them being a lot less white in the game.

Prince of Persia is set in what we now consider the Middle East, and was one of the few North American videogames to have an entirely POC cast. Look. I don’t want to have to explain why taking some of the few roles available to non-white actors and casting white folk in them is stupid and regressive, so I’ll not. Instead, here’s a list of actors who could have played Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina other than the very white Jake Gyllenhaal and the uber-British Gemma Arterton.

Oded Fehr (The Mummy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals), Naveen Andrews (Lost), Aishwarya Rai (The Last Legion, Bride and Prejudice), Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar, House), Preity Zinta (just Bollywood movies but she’s awesome), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom), Parminder Nagra (Bend it Like Beckham, ER, The Blacklist), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes), Gal Gadot (The Fasts and the Furiosos, soon to be Wonder Woman).

There. And that’s just people from things I’ve watched (and Wonder Woman). And all but one of them are known to North American audiences. Would’ve been just that easy. If only major studios weren’t so convinced that white people are afraid of movies that don’t star white people.

Which I suppose would be easier if less white people were afraid of movies that don’t star white people.

Wing Commander: forgetting what kind of game they were adapting

The thing I remember most about the Wing Commander movie, other than being less interesting to watch than the Wing Commander full-video cut scenes, is that word had gotten out that it had the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode One, and when that wasn’t true, theaters actually had to put up disclaimers warning people. I guess people were demanding refunds, because without a Star Wars trailer there wasn’t anything worth the $10 ticket. Or whatever movies cost in 1998.

So, back then, I was powerfully fond of the Wing Commander games, even if my computer couldn’t reliably run the videos. Three and Four starred Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell, how can you go wrong with that? Well, some reviewers say “easily, as it turned out,” claiming the CGI in the cut scenes doesn’t hold up and that Hamill, McDowell, and Biff from Back to the Future aren’t exactly doing their best work, but all I know is that 15 years later I still recognize people as being from Wing Commander 4 when I see them in other, probably better paying projects.

But at the heart, this was a series based around outer space dogfights. Wing Commander the movie should have been Top Gun in space with cat aliens, but somehow they forgot about that, and instead made a submarine movie. They even had a scene where everyone on the cruiser had to stay quiet to avoid detection by the Kilrathi. Because, you know, sonar works exactly the same in the silent void of space as it does under water.

I do not remember a single decent dogfight in a movie that should have been 70% awesome space dogfights, but I remember that nonsense.

Hollywood is still determined to take some of that sweet, sweet gaming money and turn it into movie money. People are working on a new Tomb Raider (hopefully based on the new, more human Lara Croft), a new Mortal Kombat, an Assassin’s Creed movie set for next year, and possibly even a movie based on my beloved Mass Effect. I just hope even one of those screenwriters decides to put a little effort into the story. Because it would be a nice change of pace.

Are you even trying? Oscar edition

I love the Oscars. They’re my Superbowl, or Stanley Cup, or whatever big exciting sports event you prefer, and I’ve only missed them once in the last 27 years. I’ve been throwing Oscar parties for 14 years, with an annual betting pool I almost never win. And, on top of all that, I do my best to see all the best picture nominees before the ceremony. Since teaming with an even-more devoted friend, I haven’t missed a best picture nominee since 2008, when no power in the ‘verse could make me care enough to watch Atonement.

But they do not make it easy.

Every year the accusations of the Academy being out of touch with contemporary tastes fly, and every year the Academy does everything in its power to earn those complaints. Sure, now and then they’ll make a token attempt to seem “hip” or “with it,” like having Cirque du Soleil do a tribute to action sequences, or hiring someone with youth appeal to host and then immediately regretting it, but they’re still going to fill the nominee list with obscure art house movies that nobody saw.

Even after they hit a breaking point, and changed the best picture rules. They went from five nominees to up to ten, supposedly so they’d be able to sneak in some more popular films, but instead just nominate even more obscure movies nobody cares about.

Okay, fine, sometimes James Cameron slips a hit in.

And frankly, sometimes a movie makes the cut that just really shouldn’t have. A movie that makes one have to ask… Academy, are you even trying?

Examples, you ask? But of course.

2008: The Reader

2009 (the year they handed out trophies for 2008, in case you think I mistyped) was the breaking point. 2009 was the year the Academy had to stop and take stock. 2009 was the year that the North American (and, I assume, international) viewing public was pushed as far as they could by the obscurity of the nominees. And as such, 2009 was the year that the traditional “Oscar bump,” a surge in ticket sales that followed receiving a nomination, failed to materialize, at least not to the extent it typically had.

And the poster child for this? Not the bland, weirdly unambitious Curious Case of Benjamin Button (in which Brad Pitt ages backwards but nobody seems to care), but The Reader. Specifically, why nominate The Reader and not, say, The Dark Knight? One of the most highly reviewed movies of the year and a massive, massive hit. You’d think, said the populace, that a film that proved itself to be a favourite of critics and audiences alike on that scale would at least warrant a nomination. And some replied “Just because it made literally a billion dollars at the box office doesn’t mean it’s a best picture contender.”


But the real question, beyond “Why not the Dark Knight,” is “Why the fucking Reader?”

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: The Reader barely even knew what it was about. Was it about the Holocaust? Illiteracy? Injustice? Who knows. It’s all over the place.

Teenager Michael Berg has an affair with Hanna, an older woman (Kate Winslet), that supposedly affects every relationship he has for the rest of his life. Like, right away. He’s unable to connect with or commit to other women because of this three-month affair, due to… I don’t know. It’s not clear. Her only winning attribute seemed to be “Willing to have sex with him,” and while she may have been the first woman with that particular willingness she was not, by any stretch, unique.

But fine, she was his first great love and her disappearing at the end of the summer hurt him in a way that younger, blonder co-eds couldn’t cure. I’ll cede that for now. Ten years later, he sees her again… on trial for war crimes. She was part of a group of SS women that locked a bunch of Jewish prisoners in a burning church, and the other defendants are claiming she wrote out the orders and is therefore more responsible than they are. A claim which Michael knows to be untrue, because he knows her secret: she’s illiterate. She couldn’t possibly have written out the orders. She won’t admit it, because she’s been hiding her illiteracy her whole life (it’s the only reason she was even in the SS), and takes the fall. Michael, in shock over his love being a Nazi war criminal, remains silent and lets her go away.

And lets a group of other war criminals lie their way into reduced sentences. Let’s not forget that. In not defending Hanna he lets all the other defendants walk away. And that’s where I call bullshit. Either Hanna’s his one great love (again–they were together for three months when he was 17) that haunts him for the rest of his days, or she’s someone he cares so little for that he’ll let a gang of war criminals frame her and send her to prison for decades. Pick a side.

The plot makes no real sense. The characters’ motivations are fuzzy at best. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scored an anemic 61%, barely ahead of My Bloody Valentine 3D. But because it’s sort of about the Holocaust, sure, let’s make it a best picture nominee.

What should have replaced it: Even putting aside the Dark Knight, in 2008 we had the Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s heartbreaking story of a washed up pro-wrestler trying to find a purpose in life without the adoration of the crowds.

Not your thing? How about RocknRolla, Guy Ritchie’s urban crime masterpiece? After years of playing in the genre with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he was firing on all cylinders when he wrote and directed this complex story of criminals and would-be power-players all united by a purloined lucky painting.

No? How about Valkyrie, the true story of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler? There’s an all star cast of British actors (and, yes, Tom Cruise, I know that’s a dealbreaker for some of you) playing the good Nazis. But no. Let’s nominate the movie about the guy who’s so conflicted about his country’s past he’s stuck in boring, pointless inaction rather than the movie about people who tried to do something.

2009: The Blind Side

A few big hits snuck into the nominees the year after Dark Knight was excluded. There’s Up, from Pixar… there’s Avatar, proving that the Oscars are a billion-dollar whore when it’s James Cameron making it rain… and there’s The Blind Side, in which Sandra Bullock plays a rich woman who takes in a homeless black youth in order to save him from gang life and insert him onto her alma mater’s football team. But mostly the first thing.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: Maybe one day Hollywood will make an inspirational, Oscar nominated movie about a black person who accomplished something without the aid of a magical white person. It’s not The Help, and it’s not even 12 Years a Slave, but it’s most definitely not The Blind Side.

But I’m singling it out because it’s so aggressively empty. The movie does everything it can for the bulk of the running time to squash any conflict in the story. Michael is immediately accepted into his new home, there’s never a second thought, any resistance to him playing football for the college is quashed by Sandra Bullock’s southern sassiness, even the gang he used to run with is no match for her Kentucky-fried stubbornness… and then at the very end, it generates the most forced, unbelievable conflict it can to finally inject a little drama into the story. Too little, too late to save this tale of how rich white people can fix everything if they can be bothered to try.

What should have replaced it: I want to say Black Dynamite, the note-perfect parody of 70s blacksploitation films. I also want to say (500) Days of Summer, the amazing deconstruction of “manic pixie dream girl” love stories. But let’s talk A Single Man.

A Single Man is the story of a gay professor in the early 1960s, a time when it was even more difficult to live openly. His partner died in a car crash eight months earlier, and due to the times and his position, he can’t even grieve publicly. He can’t find solace in his best friend, for not even she believes that his one great love was a “real” relationship, and that he just hasn’t tried hard enough to like women (specifically, her). And so he set out to enjoy what he intends to be his last night on Earth.

It might not be as flashy as Milk, but it was an excellent examination of the subtler tragedies of being gay in a less tolerant time. Not that we’ve nailed tolerance today. Which if anything makes it even more worthwhile.

2010: …

Well I’m not a big fan of 127 Hours and had forgotten entirely about The Kids Are Alright, but I’ll give this year a pass. Nothing that was nominated really offended me. Not like the year after.

2011: The Tree of Life

Fuck this movie. Fuck this movie so hard.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: Because it’s a two hour screensaver, that’s why! The story, if there even is a story, is incomprehensible. The characters have no depth because it’s impossible to learn anything about them when they’re just wandering around a series of images whose meaning is cloaked in bizarre and off-putting lurching camera work.

After opening with aged-up Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain receiving news that their son (I think?) is dead, and Sean Penn receiving the same news, we cut back to the origin of the universe. Followed by the time of the dinosaurs. Why? I still don’t know. How can this have added to the story when there basically isn’t any story to add to?

I don’t know what the point of this movie was. I hated all of it, every minute, every artistic choice. Nominating Tree of Life for best picture is like nominating the crazy guy screaming at traffic for a Tony.

I mean that was the weakest year for best picture nominees this century, but Jesus fuck.

What should have replaced it: The Muppets. Sure, it had no chance of being nominated for anything but best song (damn right it won that), but I’m saying the Muppets anyway. First of all, because the best picture nominees were a sorry lot that year. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants were good, and The Artist… sure had a neat gimmick, but after that there’s a big drop-off in quality. And second, because no movie in 2011 brought as much sheer, unadulterated joy as the magnificent return of Kermit and crew, and being a movie that fully and magnificently fun to watch has to be better than some piece of garbage that the Academy assumed was good because they didn’t understand it.

And it has Amy Adams. Awards folk love Amy Adams. Because Amy Adams is inherently lovable and nobody can be that out of touch.

2011 Bonus Round: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

2010 got let off the hook, so I have room to mention the second worst nominee from 2011, in which a young boy’s autism cures 9/11.

No, really. He wanders around New York being autistic and people magically get over 9/11, that is what happens. Oskar Schell’s father used to delight him with puzzles and mysteries, but when he’s killed on 9/11 Oskar decides there must be one great mystery left, and in seeking it out, he accidentally helps some other people with their problems. Not that he really cares about that. Or his mother, who is alive, also grieving, and trying to reach out to a son who couldn’t give a fuck about her from what I could tell. Instead, he works with the man who rents a room from his grandmother, who turns out to have (probably) been his grandfather.

It’s a load of wank that builds into basically nothing. Its attempts at emotional manipulation are so obvious they don’t even work. The only reason I can see for it being nominated at all is the 9/11 connection. And maybe the presence of Tom Hanks.

What should have replaced it: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a tense spy drama in which Gary Oldman (doing some of his best work, which is saying something) must figure out which of four British operatives is working for the Soviets. Or My Week With Marilyn, a truly charming movie about a PA who is assigned to keep an eye on Marilyn Monroe while she’s filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier, a famously doomed pairing. Or anything that doesn’t ask me to root for a kid who’s being unreasonable and unlikable because his father died a year earlier.

2012: Zero Dark Thirty

The nominees the following year weren’t nearly as bleak as the 2011 crowd. But the low point is probably the story of the ten-year search for Osama bin Laden, which makes you feel every minute of those ten years.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: How do you make the search for the world’s most wanted terrorist so damned boring? Debate whether the film endorsed torture or revealed it didn’t provide good intel all you want, but once the torture sequence is done, we’re stuck with years upon years of nothing happening. Followed by a sequence in which bin Laden’s location is found… followed by about 15-20 minutes of the lead character (who, by the way, is a complete cipher, devoid of anything we as an audience can relate or connect to) being frustrated that months go by without action on her intel.

Months of the government doing nothing. Makes all the walking in the Lord of the Rings movies look like the battle of New York from The Avengers.

And when they finally do raid the house and kill bin Laden, it’s still boring. There’s no tension, no sense of danger. Say it’s because we know how the story ends if you like, but a quick trip to Wikipedia tells you how fellow nominee Argo ends and that one still had me on the edge of my seat.

What should have replaced it: Skyfall. Yeah, you heard me, Skyfall. An absolute triumph of a Bond movie, again beloved by critics and audiences, and the exact sort of thing they claimed they expanded the best picture category to include. Masterfully directed, tense and exciting in every way Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t, the pinnacle of its craft, with one of the best villain performances out there. The Oscars “honoured” the 50th Anniversary of James Bond with a montage and a performance of Goldfinger, but they should’ve given Skyfall a nomination.

And now we’re weeks away from the announcement of the best picture of 2013. The nominees aren’t quite as pathetic as 2011, with nothing as bad or undeserving as Tree of Life or Extremely Loud (they’d be hard pressed to screw up that hard again so soon), but there’s still a couple in there they could’ve skipped. But I’ll talk about that more soon, when I rank the nominees.

How to ruin your sequel

And I’m back. The run of a play I was in and adjustment to a new work schedule have made posting difficult as of late. Real talk, society: 5:30 AM is no time to be awake. It’s unnatural. You know how I know? The sun isn’t up yet. If the sun isn’t up, it is not “early in the morning,” it is still night.


Last night, as a final Halloween celebration, I was at a horror movie marathon, the theme of which was “A Night at the Cabin,” horror films featuring cabins in the woods, ending of course with Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s excellent Cabin in the Woods. Cabin is a hilarious and thrilling deconstruction of horror films, whose ending always makes me a little conflicted, as it basically guarantees there will be no sequel ever (the box office helped assure that as well, but that’s neither here nor there). On the one hand, the premise of all the horror movie tropes being engineered by a mysterious organization in a bunker (personified hilariously by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) is so much fun that it’s a shame there can’t be more of it. On the other hand, I can’t imagine a sequel to this movie actually working on any level. It would surely end up a retread of all the popular jokes and scenes from its predecessors.

You know, like Austin Powers.

Sequels exist because giving audiences more of something they enjoyed is a relatively safe bet for movie executives. The problem is that “People liked that, let’s make another” isn’t the best way to begin a creative endeavor. There are good sequels, to be sure: Terminator 2, The Dark Knight, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Sequels that build on what came before and manage to find new and great stories to tell with characters we’ve already come to love. Others… others screw up. Here’s some ways they do that.

“Let’s just do that again”

What might be the most common and laziest way to make a sequel: say “Hey, that worked, let’s just do it again.” And why not? Doesn’t that work for James Bond? That’s a franchise built around “And then James Bond foils another villain,” and Skyfall proved that after fifty years there’s still a surprising amount of gas in that tank, if you’re willing to try.

Sadly, not everyone is willing to make that kind of effort.

Witness Austin Powers. The first one was a delightful surprise, a breath of fresh air. The second one recycled all the popular jokes from the first movie and added some newer, less funny jokes. Goldmember did the same. And that’s why instead of being a trilogy of classic comedies with a best-selling special edition box set, they are instead our greatest case study of diminishing returns. See also the Hangover trilogy, which went from “surprise hit” to “surprise bomb” in just two movies.

The Ring 2 is another key example. The Ring was, in my opinion, an amazing horror film, replacing jump-scares with a remarkably consistent aura of dread and ending in a climax scary enough I hid in my coat rather than re-watch it on my second viewing. The Ring 2 was made by people trying to re-create the key beats of the movie based on a rough description, and was terrible.

Witness Batman and Robin, which began its many, many, many crimes against film making by kicking off the plot with Commissioner Gordon saying “There’s a new villain in town, please come stop him” and pretty much nothing else. More egregious? The Men in Black movies. Men in Black could have been a hell of a franchise, but instead of using the first movie to establish the world and then build on it in sequels and whatnot, they instead tried whatever they could to just re-do the basic story beats of the original. And they also bring us to my second sequel mis-step.

Frank the Pug Syndrome

If I accomplish one thing though blogging, let it be making “Frank the Pug Syndrome” a recognized trope. That or Infinite Respawn. You know, when the heroes have to fight a faceless horde of something, like zombies or henchmen or Chitauri, and they’re weak enough for the heroes to be able to stop while looking badass but since they never stop coming the heroes are gradually overwhelmed? Not my point. Right. Where was I.

Frank the Pug was a once-scene joke in the first Men in Black movie, and far from the best joke at that, but the makers of MIB2 thought that an alien disguised as a pug dog was intrinsically hilarious enough to make him a full-fledged member of the team in the sequel. He was not. All he did was serve as a piss-poor replacement for Linda Fiorentino (either not asked to return or not interested in doing so) and Patrick Warburton. Seriously, putting Patrick Warburton in your movie as Will Smith’s new partner and then ditching him after ten minutes in favour of a “wacky” talking dog? Bad writers. Zero points for you.

And so I came to coin “Frank the Pug Syndrome” as a term for any sequel who takes a minor character from the previous movie and inadvisably gives them a much bigger role in the sequel. Shrek 2 is another example, with bigger parts for previously one-joke characters like the Gingerbread Man, Pinocchio, and the Big Bad Wolf. I haven’t seen Shrek 2, maybe it worked okay, but I very much doubt anything the Gingerbread Man did was as funny as the Muffin Man bit from the first movie.

Or look at X-Men 3. That movie became immensely over-crowded, because they kept wanting to bring in new characters, but also wanted to give expanded roles to everyone from the first two (except Cyclops, who was killed off to punish James Marsden for following Bryan Singer to Superman Returns). It’s not that Iceman, Kitty Pryde and Colossus didn’t deserve bigger parts, it’s that there just wasn’t room to do that while introducing Beast, Angel, Juggernaut, and Jamie Madrox while giving Storm a more dominant role to appease Halle Berry and continuing to fetishize Wolverine because that’s what the X-Men empire appears to be built on.

Even just trying to bring back every single person of note from the previous movie can be a struggle. Looking at you, American Pie 2 and Ocean’s 12. But then, it is possible, very possible, to go too far in the other direction.

Throwing out too much

Sometimes people come along to make a sequel who seem to have no idea how or why the previous film worked. Now, sometimes a director will want to put his own stamp on a franchise, and good for him: Aliens was a worthy successor to Alien because James Cameron wasn’t trying to just re-do what Ridley Scott did in the first movie, he simply took the world it created and ran in his own direction. The Mission: Impossible movies, however, vary so wildly in tone and style that it’s hard to believe they actually take place in the same world.

A more obscure example: a 1990s Chinese kung-fu movie called the Heroic Trio, in which a vigilante named Wonder Woman (but not that Wonder Woman), a mercenary called Thief-Catcher and a thief called the Invisible Woman (not that Invisible Woman, but played by Michelle Yeoh!) eventually team up to fight evil. Eventually. Invisible Woman is on the wrong side for most of the movie and they don’t become a Heroic Trio until the climax of the movie. I had fun with it, so my friend the Video Vulture suggested watching the sequel. Which takes place decades later, in a post-apocalyptic society, years after the Heroic Trio have split up.

This was the second movie.

At one point one of the Trio says something along the lines of “Remember all those adventures we had as the Heroic Trio?” and I, as viewer, could only proclaim “WELL I SURE FUCKING DON’T!” Not only am I still baffled why they felt post-apocalyptic was a natural next step (there was no hint of the impending collapse of society in the first movie), they spent the entire first movie creating the Heroic Trio and then skipped over their entire existence as a unit. It would be like if Christopher Nolan had gone straight from Batman Begins to The Dark Knight Rises–no, to the second half of The Dark Knight Rises, when Bane already controls the city. The origin comes at the beginning, “years after retirement” comes at the end, but something is supposed to go in the middle.

That was a lot of time spent on an obscure Chinese film. Seem to be running out of room to also diss the Terminator franchise. Okay. Speed mode. The central premises of the first two Terminators were a) unstoppable robot assassins from the future trying to kill people in the present, aided by the heroes’ lack of access to futuristic weapons; and b) the idea that the War of the Machines can be won or even prevented through time travel. Sarah Connor clings to the belief that “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,” while the entire time travel gambit was a hail-Mary desperation ploy by Skynet to avert its impending defeat at the hands of John Connor. Terminator 2 hammered this notion, and was the best of the franchise. Terminator 3 immediately threw it all out and declared the Judgement Day could not be prevented, only delayed.

Think about that for a moment. They’re not saying that man creating an AI is inevitable, or even that man and sentient machine going to war is inevitable; they’re saying that man creating a military AI named Skynet who nukes the planet and invents Terminators and time travel is inevitable. Is that not a weirdly specific turn of events to be unavoidable? And if Judgement Day can’t be prevented, than why can a successful human resistance be stopped by killing John Connor as a child? Either future events are set in stone or they’re not. If stopping Skynet’s inventor only means that someone else invents the exact same Skynet, then wouldn’t some other visionary warrior rise up in place of John Connor? If the future can’t be stopped, isn’t this entire time travel cold war between man and machine a gigantic waste of time? Like Terminator 3 turned out to be?

Sadly I’m out of time to talk about Terminator: Salvation, except to say that it threw out the franchise’s other premise by setting the movie post-Judgement Day and having regular, modern-day weapons work just fine against the previously bullet-proof Terminators. Bad writers, no cookie.

Sequels ruined horror movies

As a final note on sequels, here’s how I think they’ve mutated the slasher movie horror sub-genre into something I have a harder time enjoying than I used to. See, in order to have a franchise, you normally need a strong recurring character or characters to hang it off. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Michael Corleone, Ripley, etc. Someone we’re happy to root for time and time again. But for slasher flicks, your central, recurring character is your monster: Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, Chucky, etc. They’re the ones who keep coming back to kill a fresh crop of victims, one of whom is a determined yet tormented heroine (or Tommy Jarvis) who despite losing friends, family, and/or potential lovers, is finally able to dispatch the fiend. Who inevitably comes back because they want to make another one.

The problem is that since the killers are typically the only or at least primary recurring characters, they eventually become the most interesting ones in order to keep the audience’s attention through fresh, new ways to kill teenagers for having premarital sex. The kills are, after all, the only variety the franchise is getting other than finding different locales for the carnage, be it Manhattan or, when they’re really desperate, space. This means that the struggle to stop the monster becomes depressingly futile. Jason had the decency to stalk a fresh new batch of teenagers each time (except for the above mentioned Tommy Jarvis, who killed Jason twice but went a little crazy in between), but Freddy Krueger usually kicked off his latest movie by finishing off the survivors from the last one. So their big triumph over Freddy lasted about a year, tops.

And that has become ingrained into contemporary slasher movies to the point where the villain’s inevitable return isn’t just hinted at any more. Now Freddy, Jason, and Victor Crowley‘s defeat at the hands of the Final Girl doesn’t even last until the end of the movie, as they’re back from the dead and killing again right as the credits start to roll. I’d call that an unsatisfying ending, but it isn’t even an ending! A four-minute lull in Jason trying to kill Jared Padalecki doesn’t mean the story is over if he’s just going to leap up and start again afterwards. Also, that’s Sam goddamn Winchester, Vorhees. Just stay down.

But to a certain audience, maybe that works. The audience that is down with rooting for the killer, not the victims. But that mentality leads to House of 1,000 Corpses, which from what I could tell was about glorifying the killers to the point that the victims make no effort to fight back, as they only exist to be creatively dispatched, and I honestly cannot think of a movie I’ve loathed more than that. I haven’t seen all of it, and I don’t intend to.

There are probably other ways to botch a sequel. Maybe you can name some. In fact, I encourage you to do so in the comments. But I’ve taken up enough of your time for now. Thanks for your time, I’ll try not to let day jobs keep me from posting for so long again.