Guest Post – Prometheus: A Study in Villainy

Always 10 steps ahead.

This piece is written by my good friend Uday, and I’m thrilled to have him contribute the first guest post on Soggz Blogs! Uday Mehta is an engineer, columnist, podcaster, and aspiring author. He writes for ‘Eudaymonia’, hosts ‘Coming Soon’, and in his spare time works with radioactive waste management at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. He has a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering from UC Berkeley. Be sure to check out Uday’s podcast over at this link! A familiar name may or may not be appearing on it soon…
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A show like Arrow is fundamentally designed for different audiences than any other show on television – coming before its Arrowverse counterparts, it had the luxury of picking its niche. The Flash has its roots in nerd-dom and comic book storyline that fuse with a soap opera relationship vibe. Legends of Tomorrow is a fun ensemble show where you can watch a single standalone episode and enjoy it. Supergirl is a fresh, pleasant escape.

But Arrow attempts to satisfy the most difficult demographic – the generic superhero fan. The fan that can range from a die-hard comic book consumer to a middling cinematic admirer to a casual action aficionado. These are the same group of fans that are uniquely split on the primary love story, the same ones that argued the merits of the villains while also somehow agreeing on the need for a better protagonist arc. And this season, it’s that second point of debate that turned from just that – a debate – to acclaim. after 1.5 to 2 (depending on which of those fans you ask) lackluster to mediocre seasons, the consensus is that the show has offered up a contender for its best season yet.

Prometheus – the throwing-star killer – serves as this season’s big bad, a villain that on the surface seems to hold no more or no less appeal than Ra’s Al Ghul or Damien Darhk, the respective final bosses for Seasons 3 and 4. In terms of history, he’s somewhere in the middle of Ra’s famed comic track record (including a headlining villain role in Batman Begins and an upcoming appearance in Gotham) and Damien Darhk’s relative obscurity. With respect to ability, he’s once again right in the middle, his shurikens likely more than a match for Ra’s’ fighting prowess and Darhk’s magic. But it’s not like executive producer Marc Guggenheim just struck gold with this actor or his ability – Prometheus serves as an example that when the show defines the character, it creates a far superior product than when the character defines the show.

Think of all the great villains in movie and TV history – Vader. Moriarty. The Joker. Even Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. Throw in Loki since we need a Marvel representative (we see you sitting on that damn chair, Thanos). Every one of these characters, if written slightly differently, could have been antiheroes. But the way they are, they’re a little bit more ‘anti’ than ‘hero’ and it’s because they’ve managed to follow this archetype to a t.

Through the 23-episode gauntlet, the curtain is slowly drawn back on Prometheus. Shrouded – literally, with his scary black garb – in mystery from his first extended appearance a fifth of the way in, more is gradually revealed about him all the way through ‘til the end. He isn’t dragged out for public consumption from the beginning, a la Darth Maul, nor does he end his arc by remaining an unknown quantity. From the explanation of his name (a reference to challenging the Gods), to his literal unmasking – which the show doesn’t play around with, considering Prometheus’ identity is revealed to Arrow not too long after it’s revealed to the audience – to the final control of his own destiny, Prometheus maintains a firm grip on how the protagonist and the audience see him.

Prometheus was truly formidable, but more importantly he was consistently formidable. Damien Darhk’s totem powers were flexible dependent on the plot, and his organization H.I.V.E. would conveniently ‘go to ground’ when Team Arrow needed a few episodes to recoup. Ra’s could seemingly ‘kill’ Oliver effortlessly halfway through his season, but was killed just as easily in the finale with his weapon of choice (a sword, as opposed to Arrow’s… arrows) and hundreds of years’ more experience. It was one of the defining marks of the Jason Bourne franchise – Bourne was so much better than everybody else, and they never strayed from that. It stands in stark contrast to the Flash’s powers – where the show changes the rules to fit whatever villain they’re fighting, letting the character define the show. Prometheus was never solely a physical adversary, but one strengthened by motivation, something that can’t be said of the previous two.

Many writers make a genuine effort to make villains ‘relatable’, but end up conflating that term with ‘vulnerable’. We don’t need to see that the bad guy can be defeated until he’s actually defeated, because then he stops being bad. He goes from Agent Smith from The Matrix to Agent Smith from The Matrix: Reloaded, where they just copy him a hundred times, effectively making him faceless. While Prometheus doesn’t get a win every episode, the losses he takes avoid uncovering any true weaknesses that he’s had. The true standard of relatability is when you can see the character’s point of view and think, ‘yeah, I could go for that’ – akin to Khan from Star Trek: Into Darkness. By not overplaying the dead-father cliché, coupled with his connection to Arrow’s fundamental premise (Prometheus is to ‘You have failed this city’ as Game of Thrones’ Petyr Baelish is to the death of Jon Arryn), the show is able to cultivate relatability without making him seem like ‘just one of us’.

None of these elements had anything to do with the plot, or the character’s actions, or even his dialogue, but how he was portrayed thematically throughout. His character was developed on a level akin to that of a hero’s, perhaps more so than Oliver himself. Which was necessary, because pure, unadulterated evil is at its core somewhat boring. It’s a good thing that Prometheus – and Arrow – didn’t stoop to such a level.

Welcome back, kid.

Invasion! (The CW’s DCTV Crossover) – TV Review

As many of you know, the CW is currently home to four different DC Superhero shows: Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. Even though I’m aware that most of my readers and friends only stick to watching Barry screw timelines on “The Flash”, that would still mean they were aware that this was happening due to all the marketing and effort the CW has put out for this crossover event. Despite the four shows attracting different audiences and receiving very different reception (I’m not going to open the can of worms that is “Arrow”‘s 4th season…at least not on this review), I’ve gotta say I’m a fan of this crossover event and I enjoyed a vast majority of it.  

DC managed to find their strength when it comes to live action media, and that strength happens to be making corny, fun, awkward, and exciting TV shows over at the CW. I stuck with “Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow” since day 1, had to catch up on “Arrow” before its 3rd season and went from there, and I haven’t had the chance to check out “Supergirl”…but man oh man, I enjoyed almost EVERYONE in this crossover. The four episodes managed to entertain me and actually have implications and consequences for the individual plot-lines of each show. I’m really excited about this, so I’m going to go into spoilers and talk about each of the 4 episodes briefly. Here it goes!

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All of the hype.

[SPOILERS START HERE]

 

Supergirl – Okay so a lot of people missed this, but it was already revealed that this episode of Supergirl would serve as a “small prologue” for the crossover rather than being the actual first part of it. I know some people feel like they got tricked into watching an episode of Supergirl when they didn’t want to…but honestly I could watch Melissa Benoist any time of the day and never complain…siiiiigh…..Huh, what? Oh, right, the review. Basically we get an episode of Supergirl that gives some insight into her personality and her world until the last 30 seconds where Barry and Cisco show up and tell Kara that her help is needed on their earth. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

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If I had a type…yeah…in case anyone was wondering…

Flash – So THIS is where the crossover really starts. We’re introduced to The Dominators, a group of aliens that have attacked earth before and do not come in peace. The all-star team is assembled and consisting of: Flash, Green Arrow, Spartan, Speedy, Supergirl, Heatwave, Atom, White Canary, Firestorm, Overwatch, and Vibe….aka (respectively) Barry, Oliver, Diggle, Thea, Kara, Rory, Ray, Sara, Jax/Martin, and (unfortunately) Felicity and Cisco (who’s basically the Felicity of “Flash” right now). Barry, Oliver, Jax, and Martin stay back to talk while the rest of the team goes out on reconnaissance, which gives us a scene here with the Future Barry’s message (revealed in Legends of Tomorrow) and the consequences of Flashpoint being realized by everyone in this universe. This was great because we really get to see Barry appear to be the “villain” in this group of heroes after he’s been looked to as an amazing guy this entire time…it shows that Barry is flawed and now even his friends are beating up on him rather than just himself. There’s a scene here where Oliver explains the deaths of his parents to Barry…and boy, that gets intense. The chemistry between Stephen Amell and Grant Gustin has never been stronger than it was in all the crossover episodes, and I REALLY hope we see these two interact more often. The episode wraps up with Barry and Oliver freeing the rest of the team from the Dominators’ mind control devices, only for five members of the team to be immediately abducted by a Dominator ship.

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Quicksilver who?

Arrow (Happy 100th episode!) – I’m going to be honest, this show hasn’t had an episode this good since season 2. The 100th episode of Arrow reminded me of why I stick with it: for moments like the ones we saw here. Oliver, Ray, Sara, Diggle, and Thea all end up in a shared hallucination that represents their ideal lives. Oliver is marrying Laurel (IT’S WHAT I WANTED ALL ALONG), Thea and Oliver’s parents are still alive, Ray is engaged to Felicity, and Diggle is the Arrow. Oliver is the first one to realize what is going down here and convinces everyone one-by-one that this isn’t real. The tension is so well done here…Oliver and company can actually enjoy this hallucination and choose to live happily for, what it seems like, the first time. After realizing that its best for them to face reality and fight, they’re greeted by the villains of the past season for this EPIC fight scene where our heroes fight the ones they have super personal beef with. Thea fights Malcom Merlyn, Oliver fights Deathstroke, and Sara finally gets to have her revenge against Damien Dahrk…and this whole thing was one of the best action scenes I’ve seen on any of these shows. Our heroes wake up and try to escape the Dominators’ ship on an alien pod, and are saved by the Waverider, where Gideon reveals to us that the Dominators are planning on using a weapon against earth.

Legends of Tomorrow – The concluding episode of the entire crossover felt like Television’s “Avengers”. Most of the action takes place here as everything wraps up,  after a time-traveling shenanigan with some of the Legends (what else is new?). It was one of those moments where your inner-12-year-old was so hyped that you begged your mom for a Flash action figure as soon as the episode was over. I can’t even explain it through words, its one of those things where you just need to watch it yourself. Oh, and that final scene with Barry and Oliver having a drink? Perfect.

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The funniest thing I heard all week (Superman Returns, if you don’t get it).

I’m not sure that a crossover would be such a good idea in the future, since there are few circumstances that could actually get the 4 shows together. Since this was the first one, it was acceptable to use “generic faceless army” as an excuse for some awesome superhero fan-service. This is one of those things where I geeked out so hard, probably to the point where my rationality gets a little skewed…knowing that, I’m still giving the DCTV “Invasion!” crossover event an 8/10.

I apologize that my Pokemon Sun review is taking so long, i’m still playing through it! I WILL write about it once I’m done. As for the Suicide Squad extended cut, I’ve decided not to review that and instead give my thoughts on the DC films as a whole in a future post. Let me know if there’s some content you think I’d enjoy that you’d like me to review, and please help me get my blog some more exposure if you like what you see!

That’s all for now,
Soggz out!

 

What Hurts the Modern Comic Book Movie?

From the 70s-90s, DC reigned supreme on the silver screen with their Superman and Batman movies, which captivated audiences everywhere. Fast forward to the early 2000’s, and the world was blessed with two X-men and two Spiderman movies, showing everyone that comic book movies could be amazing summer blockbusters, be entertaining and well-done, and be a gold-mine for Hollywoo (that’s not a typo, watch Bojack Horseman). Unfortunately, we were then hit with a barrage of horrible comic book movies that never seemed to end: Ghostrider, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic 4, Green Lantern, etc. In 2008, we were all blown away by DC and Marvel as “The Dark Knight” gave us Oscar-Worthy performances, and “Ironman” took a B-list superhero and propelled him to greatness (we can excuse the small hiccup of Ironman 2). Now we are in 2016 with three major cinematic universes for comic book movies. Comic book sales have been bumped up by new and eater readers. Its safe to say that Comic Book movies are here to stay and have become a major part of our pop culture.

So what makes a comic book movie “bad” nowadays? I’m not talking about the dry argument of “they’re formulaic, they’re all the same, I don’t like them”. I truly believe that we’re past the absolutely atrocious films (excluding the 2016 “Fantastic 4″…oh my) that are so poorly written and done, so what mistakes are being made in the modern Comic Book Movie? In this piece, I’m going to hit a few points that I’ve noticed in my long history of watching these movies. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] for the movies I use as examples, even though anyone reading this has probably seen most of them or (at this point) shouldn’t care about getting them spoiled.

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Already accepting that I’m going to sound like a butthurt fanboy for the duration of this piece

1. “Spiderman 3 Syndrome”

Yes, this is a term I just made up, but I’m going to tell you why. Think back to “Spiderman 3” and where the first two movies left off. All the major events that have moved the plot forward have culminated into Harry Osborn being the villain. However, for some reason this movie decided not only to have Harry and Peter’s conflict happen, but to include the entire fiasco involving the venom symbiote, AND add in the subplot of Flint Marko being accused of Uncle Ben’s murder and turning into Sandman? It sounds a little ridiculous to put all of that into one movie, and it was! Especially when you throw in more MJ/Peter drama (which felt like the same fight that they’ve had for the past two movies), Gwen Stacy, and inappropriate jazz choreography. When it comes to the flow of the story, Spiderman 3 can be simply described as a trainwreck.

Other examples include:

Dark Knight Rises: They tried to have Bane, Catwoman and Talia be important and have Bruce Wayne suffer a broken back, heal a broken back, and return to Gotham to fight his nemesis, save the day and name a successor. Despite still being a well-done film, it ends up being the least compelling of the trilogy with parts of the movie that felt too slow and other parts that felt too rushed.

Suicide Squad: I didn’t speak about this too much in my Suicide Squad review, but dear lord what a sloppy movie. Upon rewatch, when they introduced Katana in about 30 seconds, I definitely had my hands in my face. She’s such a cool character that we’re probably not going to see again, and her presence didn’t really hurt or add to the movie. There’s just too much in this movie that the audience ends up disregarding. Side-note: When you spend literally 5 seconds on Slipknot’s exposition, we all know that he’s totally going to die within the next few scenes.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be more than one villain in a Comic Book movie. I’m even open to having more than one sub-plot that’s also taking place. But when a movie tries to rely on bringing multiple iconic characters and scenes to life in the same movie, often times the characters and their motivations become overshadowed by other poorly executed sub-plots. What was originally a selling point in the trailers becomes a weak point in the overall story structure. If you want to see a movie that did this right, “Captain America Civil War” made it work by focusing everything back to the central conflict.

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Lord have mercy on my soul

2. Set-Up Movies

Remember when Sony had claims to a Spider-Man Cinematic Universe? It felt like they were trying to give Disney and the Avengers a huge middle finger, and they announced a slew of Spider-Man movies, including a “Sinister Six” and “Venom”. One of the big reasons that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” just wasn’t a great movie was because they spent so much quality run time trying to establish a cinematic universe that they didn’€™t really accomplish anything big in the movie itself. When movies get so caught up in the big picture, we lose quality in the standalone film that we paid 10 dollars to go see, leaving the audience feeling somewhat empty and unfulfilled.

Other examples include:

Any movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that sets up an infinity stone or feels like a glorified advertisement for a new Avengers film. I’m looking at you, “Thor: The Dark World”.

Fant4stic: I’m not joking when I say that this movie is about 90% exposition that leads up to nothing notable and keeps acting like there are 4 sequels confirmed to follow it. It feels like you’re in stasis for a good 100 minutes only to be slapped in the face at the end.

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Apparently, we only start after 3 set-up movies

3. Crossing into the realm of obscurity

This is something I’ve only really noticed recently. Casual fans of comic books, think back to “Batman V Superman” and be honest with me. Did any of you fully understand what was going on during Bruce Wayne’s dream sequence when some guy in a portal started yelling something at Bruce about Lois Lane being the key? I’d be shocked if any of you did. It’s always nice when filmmakers throw in a nod or two to the comic books, but sometimes it just leaves the audience even more confused than they originally were.

Examples include:

Batman V Superman: The “knightmare” sequence was undoubtedly a cool and well done scene on the cinematographer’s end. However, If I leaned over to my Dad and whispered “Psst, this is a nod to the Injustice series. Also that’s Darkseid’s insignia and those are Parademons from Apokolips”,, his head might’ve exploded on the spot.

X-Men Apocalypse: I watched this one with a friend who’s seen the other X-men movies, but isn’t a comic book fan by any means, and he didn’t really know how to react to a few scenes. It’s great that you wanted to give us Caliban talking to Mystique and then Apocalypse, but to most of the audience, he’s just a guy that looks weird. Not only that, after the post-credits scene revealed that Nathaniel Essex was going to be a part of the big picture now, some guy in my theater yelled out “Does anyone get that?” and the rest of the theater erupted into laughter.

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Casuals be like: Darkseid confirmed! (no, seriously, who the hell is Darkseid?)

4. “3Edgy5Me” Syndrome

This is another phrase I tend to use that no one else does, but I can explain! I love Nolan’s Batman trilogy…but I also hate that other creators said “Holy tragic story, Batman! This is so successful, maybe we could do this with every superhero!” Unfortunately this led to an onslaught of superhero stories that are described as “Dark and Gritty”. Most of these were so ridiculous that I’ve reached a point where I laugh when I hear those two words because I just know that the movie is going to be bad to an extent. It is a given that the protagonist of a film faces struggle and adversity constantly. However, when an uplifting character is turned into a tragic character, it tends to be forced and poorly executed. Not everyone can be Batman or Daredevil, that’s why unique and different characters are created so that more audiences can relate! Being edgy just for the sake of being edgy is just dumb, the movie doesn’t need to be dark to be compelling.

Examples:

The Amazing Spider-Man: Did anyone find all of that “untold story” nonsense about his parents and finding subway tokens in his dad’s calculator to be memorable at all? Throw in his romance with Gwen being “so wrong but so right” or whatever they were going for. I swear when I was watching both these movies I got Deja Vu from the “Twilight” series (I promise we can make fun of the fact that I’ve seen more than one of those later). At the end, it felt like the only reason they killed Gwen Stacy off was to have something bad happen to throw Peter into a depression that eventually gets out of in about 5-10 minutes of run time.

Arrow: This obviously isn’t a movie, but ever since season 1 of the show, people kept commenting about the odd similarity to Batman. I had an open mind, but I just had to point out that in season 3 they LITERALLY tried to make him Batman. Almost everything that happened to the character in season 3 of the show was derivative of Batman. The two were about as different as “A New Hope” and “The Force Awakens”. It was just so odd, I watch Arrow because I want to watch Arrow. I don’t watch Arrow to get a poorly-done version of any given Batman vs Ra’s Al Ghul comic.

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So there’s my humble opinion on what common errors are made in the modern era of Comic Book Movies! As always, let me know what you think because I love discussion and help a nerd out by sharing!

That’s all for now,
Soggz out!