The Thing about Cinematic Universes..

Let’s ignore the fact that I disappeared for a few months because life is crazy and just go into a deep dive on Cinematic Universes. So I recently, like a few optimists out there, watched the movie known as “Justice League”. I also, like a majority of the population, saw “Thor Ragnarok”. Additionally, me and a few other nerds on r/marvelstudios spent weeks praying for a trailer for “Avengers: Infinity War” that was given to us last week and blew all of our minds…and just happened to break the record for most viewed movie trailer on Youtube.

I know that not writing reviews for either Thor or Justice League were very out of character for me (although not as out of character as Batman was…), so just to be really quick about it:

  • I loved “Thor: Ragnarok”. It was unexpected, the improv feel made me happy, I got to see more obscure comic book things I never thought I’d see on the big screen, sure it was pretty weightless on the universe when compared to the Ragnarok comic book but I’m fine if we goof off with Thor and Hulk before we get real for “Black Panther” and before the potential for a major shake-up in the next two Avengers movies. Lastly, Jeff Goldblum is a national treasure and I won’t accept anything less.
  • “Justice League”…I’m not mad, I’m just frustrated. There is a decent movie in here bogged down by unfortunate tragedy behind the scenes, bad production decisions separate from that, and absolutely horrible executive decisions. However, the more I think/talk about it, the more I actually do get mad because it finally became very obvious that whoever is making the decisions behind the DCCU doesn’t actually care about the characters and what they’ve done for people (there is an entire generation of us that grew up on the Justice League Animated Series). I’m sick of being an apologist about it, this thing was a mess and frankly I’d be okay if they cancelled the DCCU.

Between the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios (coming up on their 10th anniversary) juxtaposed with the potential $500k loss on “Justice League” for the DCCU, the laughably bad attempt at a “Dark Universe” by Universal, Sony literally making a deal with Disney so that Spider-Man can be better, and the upcoming X-Force from Fox that spawned from the success of “Deadpool”…It’s becoming obvious that studios are struggling and scrambling to achieve what Marvel Studios has. In this post I’ll attempt to limit being an MCU fanboy/gushing over my idol Kevin Feige to try and pinpoint why studios that are trying this “Universe” thing are failing.

(P.S: Vanity Fair published this article for the MCU’s 10 year celebration, I’ll be referring to it quite a bit.)

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Making a Franchise Before Making a Good Movie

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Take a good look at that picture. That was a promotional image released by Universal for their “Dark Universe”. Objectively it looks cool, especially the inclusion of A-list celebrities, so what’s the issue? This thing was circulating the internet BEFORE the first film in the franchise, “The Mummy”, was even released. Universal jumped the gun to announce and plan this multi-billion dollar list of movies…and the box office revenue/critical reception to the first film speaks for itself. Here we are now with rumors of the thing possibly being cancelled due to top members of the production teams wanting out.

It was pretty gutsy of them to go for the power move, but now it just looks silly. Its even more embarrassing than that scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Harry literally walks down the aisle of Sony’s slated “Sinister Six” movie that we now know never happened and never will.

It’s great that you want to be ambitious and bold, even Feige took a huge risk with the initial phases of the MCU. Still, we come back to the fact that that first Iron-Man movie was absolutely amazing and is still the gold-standard for superhero origin movies, not to mention that the Avenger initiative wasn’t brought up once in the movie until the credits rolled. In some of these other franchises…the first movie wasn’t exactly great (“Man of Steel”, “The Mummy”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and felt the need to rub their non-existent franchise in your face. It was a “start smaller and build” strategy for Marvel, versus a “We have a Franchise coming up, the first movie will be out in a year” strategy for the others, and that is a HUGE difference when it comes to building fans as well.

Overreacting and Overcorrecting

If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that a very common theme in production for the DCCU movies included extensive re-shoots and even re-writes. Justice League had to go through so many changes that they had to use CGI to remove Superman’s mustache that actor Henry Cavill needed for another role. The “Suicide Squad” script was heavily revised after the accidental enormous success of Fox’s “Deadpool”, and a ton of movies were announced and had casting rumors after response to “Batman vs Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, notably an Affleck directed Batman movie and a possible Gotham City Sirens movie starring Margot Robbie. At some point, it felt like DC was making it up as they went along and that isn’t on accident.

By changing their scripts, movies, and production plans on a whim, Warner Bros. showed us that this giant narrative they’re trying to accomplish wasn’t being given much thought. Rather, they were being extremely reactionary to the criticism and little praise their movies got. Now obviously things change for studios and it is good to cut what isn’t working and what is, but it’s like they would open up Facebook the day after their movie showed, compile every stupid comment they could find, and make huge executive decisions off of those.

For example: Suicide Squad’s reception was bad > but people liked Margot as Harley Quinn > Let’s announce “Gotham City Sirens” > What about all the issues about this movie? > They wont care once we announce “Gotham City Sirens”, we’ll seem progressive and it’ll be fine.

Similarly, think about the X-Men movies and “Days of Future Past”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a damn good comic movie, but it arguably did seem like a response to the frustration behind “The Last Stand” and the success of “First Class”. If that doesn’t seem odd to anyone, think about “Apocalypse” (yikes) and the hinting of a very obvious intention to re-start the Phoenix Saga in a future movie…even though it would make more sense to do something new rather than to keep fixing Brett Ratner’s screw-up.

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Interfering with Creators

It’s such a shocker that the most successful movie DC had was the one where Warner Bros hired a good director and gave her a lot of creative freedom! That was sarcasm, that isn’t shocking it all. It also isn’t surprising that the less-than-successful MCU movies were the ones where Feige was least involved and Ike Perlmutter was still making huge decisions. I really don’t have to emphasize that the most successful comic-book movies had talented directors with creative freedom, that should be obvious. Yet somehow, bad decisions kept being made and in 2017 I got to see Batman suck in a movie for the first time since I watched “Batman Forever” (so many regrets).

Actually Caring

It warms my heart to read the Vanity Fair article and find out that Feige, like so many comic-fans/movie-nerds, is just an innocent fanboy with a desire to see his favorite characters represented properly on the big screen. That is the kind of person that should be in charge that rarely ever gets to be. What needs to be realized is that a lot of these characters that studios can “build a universe” around are all unique and can hold a lot of significance to a lot of people. Often times, people don’t even want to see a character in a live action movie because they’re scared it’ll be ridiculous (such is the case for me and Batman Beyond). So when executives view these characters as simple cash cows or good PR for their corporate image, it feels a little insulting to the fans. Again, this should be obvious, yet here we are.

Well that’s enough rambling about comic movies for now, see you soon for my review of *inhales*…THE LAST JEDI!!!!

Logan – Movie Review

Insert “Hurt” by Johnny Cash here

Back when Y2K was the most ridiculous thing we had ever heard of and back when I was in the first grade (I know…), Australian actor Hugh Jackman first appeared on the big screen as Wolverine, one of the most iconic comic book characters/Poster-Hero of the X-men. For 17 years, Jackman appeared as Wolverine in various X-men movies and was always met with positive reception.

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It has been a crazy ride seeing so many superheroes come and go on the silver screen, but Jackman has been a constant for me through my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. I’m a HUGE fan of Jackman’s Wolverine, and when I heard this was his last time, all I wanted was for him to have his swan song and be remembered for how amazing he is.

To be perfectly honest…this is a tough one. I was silent for a few minutes after the movie was over, I distracted myself, slept on it, and thought about it on my morning commute…and I’m still a little unsure of where EXACTLY I stand. However, as of me writing this sentence…”Logan” is one of the best comic book films I’ve ever seen.

First thing to get out of the way, holy WOW this is a bloody one. The R-rating is fully utilized, and every fight scene is a plethora of gore and stabbing…and I LOVE IT. They even got Wolverine’s fighting style right, adapting it to account for the lacking physical state of the character as well.

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The lazy analysis I’ve been seeing lately is along the lines of “Logan is the Dark Knight of X-Men” or that “People are going to debate for years between Logan and the Dark Knight”. Let me shut this down right now, “Logan” is different from, and not as good as, “The Dark Knight”. The reason I understand why this comparison is being made is because, like Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films, Director James Mangold decides to incorporate a lot of realism when it comes to the themes of the film. Add in the fact that both directors understood their characters and the situations these characters are in 100%. While different in the sense that “The Dark Knight” is Batman’s fall from grace, and “Logan” is about what Wolverine will do after already fallen far beyond recognition, the two films both feel very real and can connect to a larger audience. Similarly, this is why “The Empire Strikes Back” is revered as the best of the Star Wars films, because we see the Rebellion struggle in a very human way and we love those characters. Unfortunately, this translated over to “So ALL OF IT has to be dark and gritty?” in the realm of comic/sci-fi movies and caused some problems, but Logan was a nice reminder that it is possible to achieve similar tones without sacrificing clarity, sanity, and originality. So, yes, I see why the comparison is being made…and while you can draw similarities, other criticism of “Logan” using the Nolan trilogy should stop there. Its different, and X-Men deserves this win.

Emphasizing on Mangold’s understanding of the character, even the first sequence we see with old man Logan just feels like he’s letting himself down. This is the most beat-down version of a hero I’ve seen…Logan isn’t just depressed for the sake of it. This guy is so obviously broken, lost, apathetic…he’s simply lost all will to do anything, and therefore doesn’t know why he is doing anything in the first place. Throughout the film, Logan avoids purpose even when it is staring him right in the face.

Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier also delivers one last time. To me, he represented the small good part of Wolverine that might still be in there, which is why I love that the two constantly bicker, almost as if Logan is constantly denying who he is “supposed to be”…but he is still taking care of the 90 year old Professor because he owes that much to Xavier and himself.

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There are a few imperfections I think are present in this film. The first one being, there isn’t much of a villain. You don’t really have a “Joker”  or…anyone really. Yes, there’s a solid plot structure and there are “bad hombres” (couldn’t resist)…but you can’t really point to someone to bring out a unique anger in Wolverine…because he’s pretty much just angry half the time anyway. Additionally, the flow gets somewhat interrupted in the second act and focus veers off a bit from Logan himself. It ties together when you look at it as a whole, but in the moment one could feel a slight drag in the 2nd act.

Despite the lack of a sinister presence, Logan does have a motivator. Logan and Xavier are traveling with a young girl, Laura…who I will not say much about for the sake of keeping things spoiler free.

The other notable thing is that this movie doesn’t do the “classic comic book movie” thing of setting anything up. This is it, what you see is what you get..and they’re focused on telling this one story. The greater X-Men universe is referenced slightly, but a new fan could jump right in to “Logan” not knowing much and still feel unexpectedly moved by it.

Since the X-Men have come and gone in this distant future where “Logan” takes place, the stories and legends are all documented in the form of comic books, where Wolverine is viewed as a fearless hero…so to see him at such an opposite end of who he used to be just makes the film so tragically beautiful.

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I feel almost blessed to have seen Jackman’s Wolverine portrayal through for 17 years. This is one of those things that I’m going to be an annoying Grandpa about ~60 years from now…never shutting up about how back in my day, Hugh Jackman was Wolverine and he was the best (assuming the X-men get a reboot at some point because studios love money and eventually people run out of ideas….right?).

“Logan” is gut-wrenching, and feels somewhat fresh after being bombarded with DCEU nonsense and the MCU doing what they have to do…at the risk of overselling it just a little bit, “Logan” gets a soggz-blogs rating of 9.5/10.

 

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!