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Why “Bad Santa” Is The Greatest Modern Christmas Movie

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This is the time of year where you can’t go more than a half-hour without seeing a Christmas movie on TV. We’re basically in the heart of the holiday season. People have finally stopped complaining about Christmas decorations going up too early or getting a head start on their shopping. It’s not just fast-approaching anymore. The holidays are here.

Now, I love the holidays as much as anyone. As such, I have a strong appreciation for Christmas movies. I often go through stretches in December where I’ll watch at least part of a Christmas movie every day. It’s a beautiful thing that gets me in the spirit and gives me an excuse to drink eggnog spiked with whiskey.

I have a long list of personal favorites. I’m also among those who argue vehemently that “Die Hard” qualifies as a Christmas movie. Despite what Bruce Willis himself says, this movie will always be part of my holiday viewing schedule. I could write multiple articles to justify that position, but that’s not my intent here.

In recent years, I’ve found myself immersed in another argument surrounding a unique kind of Christmas movie. That movie is a lesser-known, but underrated gem called “Bad Santa.” If you’ve seen it, then you probably understand why it inspires such colorful discussions during the holidays. If you haven’t, then I urge you to check it out, but do not watch it with your children.

Make no mistake. “Bad Santa” is to Christmas movies what the McRib is to fast food fans. It’s one of those rare movies that doesn’t just go in the opposite direction of every classic trope associated with a particular genre. It gives those themes the finger, kicks it in the balls, and throws up on them for good measure.

This movie has no holiday miracles. There’s no magic at work. There’s no heartwarming moments that reaffirm the spirit of the season. This movie is weapons grade cynicism for all things Christmas and it goes about it in a way that’s vulgar, crude, disgusting, and hilarious.

The story is not for the faint of heart. It follows Willie Soke, a degenerate, misanthropic, womanizing, alcoholic who makes his living cracking safes with his dwarf partner-in-crime, Marcus Skidmore. Their tactics are the antithesis of the holiday spirit. Willie works as a mall Santa while Marcus works as an elf. They work at malls during the holidays and then rob them on Christmas Eve.

If you expect the movie to be a feel-good holiday story about a criminal redeeming himself during Christmas, then prepare to be disappointed. Willie is not that kind of character and “Bad Santa” does not tell that kind of story. While Willie does undergo some growth, he’s still an asshole by the time the credits roll.

The story doesn’t try to redeem Willie. It doesn’t even try to put him on the path to becoming a better person. All the Christmas miracles in world can’t do that for someone like him. However, his story does bring something uniquely festive to the table. The way things play out for Willie and those around him convey a powerful message that resonates with the holiday season in its own perverse way.

Some go so far as to argue that “Bad Santa” is an anti-Christmas movie. I can understand that sentiment to some extent. However, I would argue that “Bad Santa” is one of those movies that has become more relevant with time. I would even argue that, in the context of the modern spirit of Christmas, “Bad Santa” is the greatest modern Christmas movie.

Now, I know that won’t sit well with those who still love “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” I don’t deny that those are great Christmas movies that deserve to be classics. I’m not arguing that “Bad Santa” is better than those movies or deserves to be in the same category. I simply believe that “Bad Santa” is the greatest Christmas movie for the current times in which we live and these are my reasons why.


Reason #1: It Reflects The Real (And Increasingly Jaded) World

Let’s face it. These are not the upbeat, idealistic times of yesteryear. People no longer trust in their government. People keep seeing once-beloved celebrities self-destruct. In general, people just aren’t confident about the future anymore. As a society, we’re becoming more and more jaded. That’s exactly the kind of sentiment that “Bad Santa” appeals to.

This movie is a world where assholes keep being assholes. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That may not be a great basis for a Christmas movie, but it perfectly represents the real world, now more than ever. In this day and age, we see famous and powerful people get away with awful things time and again. There’s no miracle that comes around to right all the wrongs.

In “Bad Santa,” this harsh view of the world isn’t avoided. For the entire movie, Willie essentially channels the defeatist attitude of Al Bundy. His life sucks. He hates himself. He barely even flinches when he’s staring down the barrel of a gun at one point. Beyond the self-loathing, though, he finds a way to provide real insights into the holidays.

Do we really need all the crap we ask for on Christmas? Do we really need magic, miracles, or some grand spectacle to appreciate it? Willie’s entire persona is an indictment of those who rely too much on magical thinking during the holidays. In the real world, that doesn’t get anyone anything other than a gut punch and a kick in the ass.


Reason #2: It Relies On Choices Rather Than Miracles

As deplorable a human being as Willie Soke is, he does have one defining trait that makes him somewhat sympathetic. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t blame the world or everyone else for his lousy lot in life. He’s very much a product of his choices. He chooses to drink, spit, swear, and piss himself while wearing a Santa suit. There’s no extenuating circumstances. These are his choices.

Granted, they’re deplorable choices from someone inclined to self-destruction, but he makes them freely and doesn’t hide from the consequences. These same choices are what makes his relationship to the dense, but lovable kid in the movie, Therman, so meaningful. Willie has no reason to care or help this kid in any capacity and the kid is in no position to stop him.

In the end, though, Willie doesn’t need a miracle or some visit from Christmas spirits to make his choices. Therman’s influence on him, while ridiculous and downright pathetic at times, is sufficient for him to make the choices that make the story work. While they don’t necessarily redeem Willie for all his misdeeds, it does show that even a drunk like him can do the right thing without a miracle.

That, in and of itself, is a testament to the spirit of Christmas. When someone like Willie Soke can actually choose to do something good for a gullible kid, then that offers hope to any jaded soul on the holidays.


Reason #3: It Highlights Small (But Meaningful) Gestures

Many of the most memorable Christmas movies often have these big, elaborate gestures that attempt to make our hearts gush with holiday cheer. Whether it’s embracing loved ones at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or reuniting with family in “Home Alone,” it feels like a Christmas movie has to go overboard with holiday sentiment.

Bad Santa” takes the exact opposite approach, but somehow finds a way to make those gestures more meaningful. The movie doesn’t take place in the North Pole or some fanciful holiday setting. It takes place in Phoenix, Arizona where it doesn’t snow and heavy coats are useless. It effectively removes the ambiance of the holidays beyond the tacky decorations that people put up.

That works perfectly for “Bad Santa” because it ensures any gesture carries more weight. Whether it’s Willie trying to get Thurman his Christmas present or Willie putting back together the Advent Calendar, these small moments feel bigger in a setting devoid of traditional holiday magic.

There’s no sweeping change that turns Phoenix into some sort of Christmas haven. The world of “Bad Santa” never tries to be anything other than a world of shallow holiday imagery because that’s all it needs. Anything more than that is just fantasy and there’s only so much fantasy you can muster in a story that follows a misanthropic drunk.


Reason #4: It Offers Perspective Rather Than Hope

Another major trait of classic Christmas movies is the hope they inspire. When you get to the end of a Christmas movie, you’re supposed to feel a sense of hope. There’s this sense that the story has somehow rekindled someone’s holiday spirit. While there will always be a place for that kind of hope in a fantasy world, “Bad Santa” offers something different, but valuable.

More than anything else, “Bad Santa” conveys a sense of perspective about the holidays. It’s not this wonderful, heartfelt occasion for everybody. There are a lot of miserable, self-loathing drunks like Willie Soke out there who don’t want or need hope. They’d rather have something that’ll make life suck a little less.

That’s the best Willie can strive for in “Bad Santa” and that’s exactly what he does. Being around Therman doesn’t make him a beacon of Christmas spirit. It just makes his miserable life slightly less miserable and he’s grateful for that. As a result, he makes an effort to help the kid have a good Christmas.

Sure, his efforts result in him getting roughed up and shot, but that’s perfectly appropriate for the tone of the story. In the real world, noble efforts like that aren’t always rewarded. Sometimes, they end up pretty messy, which Willie finds out the hard way on more than one occasion. It’s not the most uplifting message, but it’s the most honest.

Perspective today is more precious than it has ever been before. In the era of fake news and alternative facts, it’s hard to maintain a firm grasp on reality. Christmas movies tend to obscure reality for something more cheerful, but “Bad Santa” for something more real and that’s what makes it so effective as a story.


Reason #5: It Finds Humor In Bad Situations

To this point, if I’ve given the impression that “Bad Santa” is one depressing slog of a movie, I apologize. Yes, it can be depressing and bleak, but it’s also obscenely funny. There are dark moments in this movie that involve depression, alcoholism, and even attempted suicide. However, many of these moments are perfectly balanced with moments of raw hilarity.

Whether it’s Willie beating the snot out of a bunch of bullies or Marcus berating Gin with a masterful string of profanity, this movie invests heavily on humor. Granted, it’s a very adult form of humor, but it works perfectly within the context of the story. From the very beginning, Willie and his supporting cast are in all sorts of awful situations. Injecting humor into the mix helps balance it out.

It helps create a particular tone for a movie that goes out of its way to spit on so many holiday traditions. Things are ugly for these characters. They’re miserable excuses for human beings, but they often find themselves in funny situations that they make more hilarious with their reactions. No matter how bad it gets, they find a way to make their devolving situations entertaining.

In an era were awful situations unfold in real time because of social media, it’s important to find humor wherever you can. There’s only so much we can do to change a situation. Willie makes that clear from the very beginning of “Bad Santa.” Sometimes, all you can do is just laugh at the absurdities and that’s exactly what this movie does.


I won’t claim that “Bad Santa” is the new standard for Christmas movies. I doubt it’s going to start the kinds of trends we’ve seen in other genres. However, the story it told and the dark humor it utilized struck a chord when it first came out. As the years have gone by, it keeps finding new ways to resonate with an emerging audience.

There will always be a place for “Home Alone” and the Grinch. However, I think for the current generation and all the others who have watched this world embrace new levels of absurdities, “Bad Santa” deserves a special place in our holiday traditions.

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How “Into The Spider-Verse” Embodies The Best Aspects Of Superhero Movies (And Sets Up A Promising Future)

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In the modern era of superhero movies, Spider-Man is one of the bedrock franchises that has guided the genre through its journey from niche market to global box office dominance. Alongside the first “X-men” movie, Sam Raimi’s original “Spider-Man” is credited with ushering in this golden age of superhero cinema.

It has been a bumpy road at times. We had high points with “Spider-Man 2” and not-so-high points with “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Regardless of how these movies fared, the story of Peter Parker shouldering the power and responsibilities of Spider-Man has become ingrained in pop culture. We still could’ve done without that awful dance scene, though.

Given all the weight Spider-Man has for the genre, a movie like “Into The Spider-Verse” has a lot going for it and just as much working against it. The story of Peter Parker has been done, redone, and overdone so much that it feels like there’s no room left for nuance. Well, “Into The Spider-Verse” definitively proves there’s still untapped potential and it runs even deeper than anyone thought.

I don’t want to spoil much about this movie, but I will spoil this. “Into The Spider-Verse” is every bit as awesome as critics and audiences alike have said. It’s a truly groundbreaking achievement for superhero movies, animation, and the Spider-Man franchise. The fact that it managed to do this without being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes that accomplishment all the more remarkable.

This movie succeeds on so many levels. It takes a concept drawn directly from the comics and expands on it, creating a whole new world in which all things Spider-Man do not revolve entirely around Peter Parker. That’s not a typo, by the way. This is a Spider-Man movie in which Peter Parker is not the main driving force of the story.

It’s this kid.

He’s still there. He still plays a major part in the story. However, this movie is a story about Miles Morales. Those who follow the comics will recognize that name. He’s not just some unknown character who gets thrust into a central role in the vein of the “Ghostbuster” reboot. Miles has a fairly comprehensive history going back to 2011 and this movie captures the heart of that history perfectly.

Miles is not like Peter in many ways. Beyond the fact that he’s half-black, half-Latino, and the nephew of a dangerous super-villain, his powers are slightly different. His personality is different, as well. He’s not the same nerdy dork that Peter Parker was, but he is very much an outsider who struggles to fit in.

Miles has more confidence, but not in the arrogant hipster Andrew Garfield sort of way. He’s someone who isn’t sure of who he wants to be or where he wants his life to go. On one hand, he’s got his parents who want him to aspire to something greater than a life in Brooklyn. On the other, he has influences like his Uncle Aaron pulling him down a darker path.

Him getting bit by a radioactive spider only compounds these conflicting forces. Part of what makes Miles work when other would-be Spider-Man replacements failed is that his struggle feels genuine. He never comes off as a rip-off or a substitute. What makes Miles a Spider-Man worth rooting for is how Peter Parker inspires him to take on that responsibility.

The comics went about that in one particular way that worked brilliantly. “Into The Spider-Verse” utilizes a different, but similar approach that’s every bit as compelling. Peter Parker has a major influence, but the movie throws in many other influences that send Miles down the path to becoming Spider-Man.

Some of those influences come in the form of other famous alternate-version Spider-Man characters, including the likes of Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham. “Into The Spider-Verse” manages to give them their own stories that show how they fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos, but for Miles, they embody the responsibility before him.

Like Peter, and so many other Spider-Man characters, he’s initially reluctant to bear that burden. Over the course of the movie, he endures plenty of agonizing decisions and crippling self-doubt. He struggles in ways that we’re not used to seeing Spider-Man struggle, but that’s exactly why “Into The Spider-Verse” works so well in the current landscape of superhero movies.

Going back to the first “Iron Man” movie, we’ve come to expect struggles and setbacks from our heroes. Miles has a lot more than most and not just because of his youth or inexperience. He has huge shoes to fill and the history of characters filling the shoes of iconic heroes is mixed at best.

By the end of the movie, though, Miles effectively proves that he’s worthy of being Spider-Man. He deserves a spot in the greater Spider-Man mythos. It doesn’t have to revolve entirely around Peter Parker. For some Spider-Man fans, that may seem outrageous. “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there’s plenty of room for characters like Miles.

How it goes about this has greater implications for the future of superhero movies than it does for the present. I would even go so far as to say that “Into The Spider-Verse” might end up being a major turning point for the superhero genre because of how it tells Miles’ story alongside that of Peter Parker.

Aside from just raising Miles’ profile, “Into The Spider-Verse” does something that is overdue for Peter Parker’s story. Specifically, it ages him. The Peter Parker in this story is not some wide-eyed kid with Tom Holland’s baby face. He’s an older, more jaded version of Peter who has made mistakes and lost confidence in himself, as often happens to those who survive to middle age.

The look of a man who has fought one too many muggers.

It’s part of the paradox of heroism that I’ve mentioned before in that many popular superheroes aren’t allowed to age beyond a certain point. In fact, that was cited as the primary reason for breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson in the comics. Aging a hero beyond the mold Frank Miller’s version of Batman just seems like a dead end.

Into The Spider-Verse” makes the case that this doesn’t have to be the case. Peter Parker can grow up and even endure a mid-life crisis. For a character who has been around since the early 1960s, it almost feels overdue. His struggle doesn’t have to be the end of his story. If anything, it helps further Miles’ ascension to becoming the new Spider-Man.

It’s a theme that has played out in the comics more recently. Older heroes are inspiring a new crop of younger heroes. Miles Morales was among the first. Others like Kamala Khan and Riri Williams have followed. It feels like a natural progression of the superhero archetype, inspiring others to take up the responsibility and aspire to something greater.

Miles Morales isn’t a replacement for Peter Parker. He’s a supplement to the greater Spider-Man mythos and “Into The Spider-Verse” establishes how well this can work. His story is every bit as endearing as Peter’s, but without supplanting him. As such, it provides a new template for superhero movies in the future.

Not every story has to rely on rehashing and revamping iconic characters from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko era. It’s possible for new characters to emerge without replacing older ones. The world of superheroes can grow and evolve with subsequent generations. It’ll have to and not just because of actors’ contracts expiring.

If I had to score “Into The Spider-Verse,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It’s a great movie, but it does have some shortcomings. They’re very minor. The pacing of the movie is erratic at times and the designs for certain characters, namely Kingpin and Scorpion, have room for improvement. It never feels chaotic or disconnected, though. The movie has a unique artistic style that fits perfectly with the story.

Every now and then, someone will claim that superhero movies will one day go the way of the western. That may still happen at some point, but “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there are whole new paths to explore and they have to exist in the MCU. This movie is an incredible achievement beyond just being a great superhero movie and one I hope inspires others for years to come.

Also, the tribute to Stan Lee at the end will bring a tear to your eyes. Be certain of that.

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The Future Of Villains And Villainy

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What is happening to villains these days? That’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a remarkable shift in how we approach villainy in movies, TV, comic books, and video games. I’m not just talking about the superhero media, either. However, that happens to be the most visible manifestation of this change.

As a long-time fan of both superheroes and quality villains, I welcome this change. At the same time, I’m curious about where it’s leading and what it means for the future. Villains are as old as storytelling itself. From the Bible to “Star Wars,” these stories work best when there’s villainy to oppose the unfolding narrative. Villains have always evolved alongside the heroes that oppose them, but that evolution seems to be accelerating.

I’ve discussed the unique journey that villains undergo and how they set themselves apart from heroes. Traditionally, a villain’s primary purpose was to both oppose the hero and highlight how heroic they are. The sheer malice of characters like Lex Luthor help contrast the pure selflessness of characters like Superman. It’s easier to appreciate those heroes knowing they have to deal such malicious opponents.

Then, something remarkable happened. Audiences began demanding more of their villains. It wasn’t enough to just have a villain oppose a hero. People began wanting villains who were understandable and even relatable to some extent. Ironically, they wanted a villain they could root for.

That helped lead to characters like Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” His impact was so profound that I even called his influence the Walter White effect. However, I think there were others who paved the way for Walter White. If I had to pick one villain that helped kick-start this trend in villainy, it would be Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.”

From this portrayal of villainy, the emerging state of villains emerged and it may very well set the tone for the future. On the surface, this version of the Joker wasn’t too different from the one who had existed in the comics for years. He’s dangerous, destructive, murderous, and callous, like many villains. Unlike most, though, he does what he does with a laugh and a smile.

What made this version of the Joker so memorable was the principles behind his madness. To him, society is corrupt and people aren’t inherently good. As such, he seeks to point out how laughable it is when others try to save it. Batman’s crusade against crime is the biggest joke of all, which helps drive their rivalry.

It’s a philosophy that few other than terrorists and extreme nihilists would buy into, but it’s one that’s understandable to some extent. We don’t have to agree with them or their methods. We just have to see their twisted logic. They can’t just be standard James Bond villains whose motives are indistinguishable from fascists, communists, or terrorists. There needs to be something more personal at work.

We saw plenty of that in 2018’s biggest movies. From “Black Panther” to “ Avengers: Infinity War” to “Incredibles 2,” the villains all had something personal at stake. Erik Killmonger saw his villainous actions as heroic. He wasn’t out to just take over Wakanda. He had a vision in mind that felt justified to some extent, especially to those familiar with real-world historical injustices.

Thanos raised the bar even more in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He never tries to come off as a hero, but he never sees his actions as villainous, either. In fact, when heroes like Dr. Strange call him out, he frames his desire to cull half the population in the universe as mercy. For him, it’s simple math. Half a population is better than no population at all.

These motivations, as devious they might be on paper, have some semblance of merit to it. Both Thanos and Killmonger think they’re doing the right thing. That significantly impacts how the heroes in their stories go about thwarting them, although I would argue that one story was more complete while the other remains unresolved.

In “Black Panther,” T’Challa doesn’t just stop at defeating Killmonger. He actually sees some of his enemy’s points and takes steps to address them. He doesn’t revert things back to the way they were. Wakanda doesn’t return to the same isolated state it had been at the start of the movie. Instead, he seeks to find a middle ground. That, I would argue, is the new template for how heroes defeat this kind of villain.

The resolution in “Avengers: Infinity War,” however, is not as clear. That’s largely due to the story not being complete. There is a sequel planned, but at no point in the three-hour spectacle did the Avengers attempt to prove Thanos wrong. They only ever tried to stop him. That oversight has not gone unnoticed by audiences.

This, in many ways, sums up the new dynamic between heroes in villains. It’s no longer enough for heroes to just defeat their adversaries. It’s not even enough for villains to be exceptionally devious. There have to be larger principles at work. It can’t just be reduced to general greed, ego, or bullying.

Thanos seeks to kill have the population because he believes that it’ll prevent the complete extinction of all life.

Erik Killmonger seeks to empower oppressed minorities to right past injustices.

Dr. Doom seeks to conquer the world because a world under his rule is the only one free of suffering and want. That’s actually canon in the comics.

It’s makes crafting compelling villains more difficult, but at the same time, it opens the door to more complexity. On top of that, it demands that audiences think beyond the good versus evil dynamic that has defined so many stories, going back to the days of fairy tales. It’s a challenge that some are certain to fail. Some already have, sadly.

It also sets the tone for future forms of villainy. How that villainy manifests is impossible to predict, but given the current trends, I think there’s room to speculate. At the heart of this emerging villainy is the idea that the current system just isn’t working. It’s so bad that the only viable option is to destroy and rebuild it. There’s no room, whatsoever, for reform.

This is where the heroes will have to evolve, as well. They can’t just play “Super Friends” and save the day. They have to actually make meaningful changes to move society forward. King T’Challa did that at the end of “Black Panther.” Other heroes need to be as willing. Otherwise, they won’t be able to call themselves heroes. They’re just defenders of a status quo may not be working as well as they think.

It’s an ideological struggle that parallels many real-world struggles. People today have less and less faith in established institutions. As a result, more people are falling sway to populist rhetoric that promises to break down the current system entirely. By and large, people today aren’t content with just preserving things as they are. They seek more meaningful change.

That presents a serious problem for heroes and a golden opportunity for villains. Historically, heroes haven’t been able to effect change beyond a certain point. Some of that is for logistical reasons. A hero can never create a functioning utopia without ending the story completely, which is something major media companies cannot have. There’s too much money to be made.

Logistics aside, the future of villainy will have plenty of raw materials to work with and plenty of societal angst to draw upon. Heroes who save the day, but do little else won’t be able to call themselves heroes in the world currently unfolding. Villains who have a real vision with understandable motivations will find themselves with more supporters than before.

It’s no longer taboo to root for the villain, especially when the heroes don’t confront the flaws in their rhetoric. In what seems prophetic now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” may have put it best when Ultron stated:

“I’m sorry, I know you mean well. You just didn’t think it through. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.”

That’ll be the key to the future of villainy, change in a world that resists too much of it happening at once. It’ll make for some complicated villains, but it will definitely make the struggle of heroes even harder. However it plays out, I believe it’ll be worth watching.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, movies, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies, television, X-men

How The Captain Marvel Movie Could Actually Fail

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I hope everyone has had a chance to catch their breath after the release of the “Captain Marveltrailer. I certainly needed a day or two. It was one of those experiences in which it takes time to process every wondrous detail. I don’t know how many times I watched it. I just know that March 8, 2019 cannot get here fast enough.

The response to the trailer has been overwhelmingly positive, which has become the norm for all things affiliated with Marvel Studios. The bar for this movie is high, but matching and exceeding high bars is exactly what Carol Danvers does. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already on an unprecedented win streak, both in terms of acclaim and box office. By all accounts, “Captain Marvel” is poised to continue that streak.

If I had to bet on it, I would place a hefty wager on “Captain Marvel” succeeding. Marvel Studios is riding such a huge wave of hype after “Avengers: Infinity War” that the idea of one of their movies failing seems unthinkable. However, it wasn’t that long ago that people felt the same way about “Star Wars.” Then, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” came along and shattered that notion with the force of a thousand Death Stars.

Like it or not, the law of averages dictates that Marvel Studios will fail at some point. Whether or not that happens with “Captain Marvel” remains to be seen. For the moment, that doesn’t seem likely, but the possibility is definitely there. I would go so far as to say that “Captain Marvel” is more vulnerable than previous Marvel movies and not just because the bar for success is so ridiculously high.

Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios, has gone on record as saying that Captain Marvel will be one of the most powerful characters in the MCU. Her presence will be a game-changer for the immediate and distant future. That means the margin for error is ridiculously small. Marvel Studios literally cannot afford for “Captain Marvel” to fail. That may end up being what makes this movie so vulnerable.

As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and a Captain Marvel fan, I feel like it’s worth contemplating this most distressing possibility. Never mind the implications for Marvel, Disney, and the entire superhero genre that may unfold in the event that “Captain Marvel” fails. How could a movie with so much going for it and an Oscar-winning actress in Brie Larson end up failing in the first place?

After watching the new trailer multiple times, reading multiple articles, and contemplating my previous comments on this movie, I’ve surmised a handful of concerns that I believe could derail this movie. Some of these concerns assume certain details that may very well be dead wrong by the time the movie comes out. I have no insight beyond the trailers I’ve seen and the details that have been made public.

I don’t expect everyone to share these concerns. Some may even have entirely difference concerns and I’d be happy to discuss them in the comics. For now, this is just me, as a fan of both Carol Danvers and superhero comics, contemplating what could go wrong for a movie that aspires to do so much.


Reason #1: Limiting The Extent Of Carol’s Agency (Inadvertently)

One of the biggest revelations from the second trailer had to do with an important plot point that was ripped directly from the comics. In the first minute, we find out that Carol’s memory has been erased and she’s caught up in the agenda of the Kree. Given how the only notable Kree character in the MCU to date has been Ronan the Accuser, this does not bode well for her.

This is a critical detail because in the comics, Carol lost both her memories and her powers at one point and had to effectively rebuild herself. That struggle helped establish how resilient she was, as a character. It also helped build her appeal. More importantly, though, it emphasized her struggle to regain her sense of agency.

Being mind-wiped is always a tricky plot point, as was nicely demonstrated in “Captain America: Civil War.” The biggest problem is being mind-wiped really hinders a character’s ability to make weighty choices. For Bucky Barnes, that isn’t too controversial. For Carol Danvers, a female hero in an era where female heroes have become fodder for identity politics, it could be an issue.

If, from the get-go, Carol is just a puppet of the Kree and her entire story revolves around her escaping their control, then that doesn’t just narrow the plot. It limits her agency because it makes her choices predictable. If, at any point in the story, she’s faced with a choice to follow the agenda of the Kree or go against them, it’s not going to surprise anyone when she chooses to go against the aliens trying to use her.

By making too much of the story about Carol re-asserting her agency, it makes the movie less about her fighting shape-shifting aliens and more about her regaining her independence. While that too can be a compelling story, and one in line with her history in the comics, it hinders the plot by making every choice obvious. When none of the choices in a story seem difficult, it can get boring fast.


Reason #2: Not Allowing Carol To Be Wrong

This is another factor that could make “Captain Marvel” too predictable and boring. Marvel Studios has made it clear that they want Carol Danvers to be the future of the MCU. Like Captain America, she’s poised to become the face of Marvel and their Disney overlords. For that very reason, it’s important that they allow her to be wrong.

To understand why, think back to “Wonder Woman,” the movie that set the gold standard for female superhero movies. In this movie, Wonder Woman doesn’t just make a fateful choice when she leaves Paradise Island. She also ends up being dead wrong about the identity of Ares. It made for a powerful moment that genuinely surprised me.

That moment didn’t just establish that Wonder Woman was fallible, despite being this overpowered badass warrior princess. It humanized her in a critical way. You could argue that this trait is more integral to Marvel’s heroes because they end up being wrong in a wide variety of ways. Tony Stark’s journey to becoming Iron Man started with him being wrong about something.

My concern for Carol is that making her this overpowered female hero who can defeat Thanos will take priority over everything else. The story won’t even give her a chance to be wrong or make a bad decision. That won’t just make the plot predictable and boring. It could earn Carol Danvers the dreaded “Mary Sue” label that has plagued characters like Rey.

That, more than anything, could derail Carol’s ascension to the upper echelons of the MCU. If she becomes a joke more than an icon, then she won’t be able to do carry out the bold plans that Marvel Studios has laid out for her. Part of what makes characters like Iron Man and Wonder Woman so popular is that they’re so easy to cheer for. Cheering for an annoyingly flawless character who is never wrong is much harder.


Reason #3: Not Effectively Explaining Carol’s Absence From The MCU

This is more a logistical concern than anything else. Before the first trailer ever dropped, it was established that “Captain Marvel” was going to take place in the 1990s. As a result, it would unfold within a world before the Avengers ever assembled and before superheroes ever became mainstream. It would also explore the origin of pre-eye patch Nick Fury, something that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” only hinted at.

That’s an intriguing idea that digs into an unexplored aspect of the MCU. At the same time, it does raise a major question. If Carol has been Captain Marvel since the 1990s, where has she been? Why wasn’t she available when Loki or Ultron attacked? While it makes sense outside the movies in that a “Captain Marvel” movie wasn’t even scheduled before 2012, those questions are still relevant in the story.

The end of “Avengers: Infinity War” somewhat compounds this issue because Nick Fury reveals that he has had a way of contacting Carol all this time. A tie-in comic also hints at his past dealings with Carol, but is vague on why he chose not to summon her. Chances are “Captain Marvel” will try to answer that question more in depth, but that answer might not be adequate.

It’s not a trivial detail that can be glossed over. If Carol doesn’t have a good reason for not being on Earth during invasions from aliens and genocidal robots, then that makes it harder to get behind her as the most powerful hero in the MCU. It can’t come off as an excuse because Marvel Studios hadn’t planned that far ahead. Without a good reason, Carol just wouldn’t come off as heroic.


Reason #4: Making Her A Female Superhero BEFORE Making Her A Great Female Characters

This is where the stakes for “Captain Marvel” get frustratingly political. I’ve mentioned before how creating quality female characters has become mired in identity politics. This movie has already been affected somewhat by those corruptive forces. “Wonder Woman” managed to avoid it from a plot perspective and that’s the most “Captain Marvel” can do.

This means that before Carol Danvers becomes the super-powerful, high-flying badass we saw in the trailer, she needs to establish herself as a character, first. This is something I’ve seen movies, comics, and TV shows get completely backwards in recent years. There’s such an emphasis on making someone a “strong female character” that they forget the part where they’re a compelling character.

Carol Danvers has decades of character development in the comics. She’s someone who has deal with upheavals in her personal life, her superhero life, and everything in between. It’s hard to fit all of that into a two-and-a-half hour movie, but both “Wonder Woman” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” showed that it’s possible.

I can easily imagine Marvel Studios feeling tempted to make “Captain Marvel” the kind of cosmic spectacle we saw in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I wouldn’t blame them for taking that approach, but having that without establishing the depths behind Carol Danvers would only be half a movie. Visual spectacles are great, but without quality characters, it’s just flashy images and nothing else.


Reason #5: Trying Too Hard To Make Carol Too Powerful

This issue is part logistics and part agenda. The events of “Avengers: Infinity War” were astonishing in terms of scope and scale. In the end, the collective might of dozens of Avengers could not stop Thanos. He was stronger than Thor, the Hulk, and the entire army of Wakanda. By default, taking him down requires a new level of power.

Carol Danvers promises to wield such power. Before the movie finished shooting, Kevin Feige dubbed her the most powerful Avengers in the MCU. That power may be necessary to defeat Thanos, but getting Carol that power could be tricky. Her power levels are already pretty extreme in the comics, but the MCU deals with different circumstances and scales.

The second trailer offers some clues as to how Carol gets her powers. Like the comics, they’re tied to her biology getting mixed up with that of the Kree. Beyond that, the scope and extent of her powers are vague. It’s not clear whether there’s something unique about her or the process that gives her so much power. At some point, she’ll have to level up and expanding powers in superhero media is always tricky.

When powers don’t have defined limits or are left vague, they tend to resolve every story in the spirit of a Deus Ex Machina trope. In short, there’s a supremely powerful threat. Then, by some contrived happenstance, the good guys gain access to power at or greater than the threat. It’s simple, but contrived. A DC movie may get a pass, but the bar for Marvel Studios is higher.


Again, I believe that “Captain Marvel” will be a great movie. Most of these concerns are just a byproduct of only knowing the movie through a couple of trailers. None of these reasons are inescapable. Given the impressive track record of Marvel Studios, there’s no reason to believe they won’t find a way to make it work and raise the bar even more.

One way or another, “Captain Marvel” is set to be a major turning point for the MCU. Whether it succeeds or fails, it will have a significant impact on the overall genre. However, it’s in the best interest for the MCU, Marvel, and superhero media, in general, that this movie succeeds.

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Marveling At The Second “Captain Marvel” Trailer

The second “Captain Marvel” trailer has dropped. There’s a lot I’d love to talk about. For now, though, let’s just take a moment to marvel at what awaits us in March 2019.

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The “Dark Phoenix” Delay: The Possible Reasons (And A Best Case Scenarios)

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It has been a week of roller coaster emotions for X-men fans. I feel like one of those fans who has ridden that ride one too many times and thrown up more than I care to admit. While our collective stomachs settle, it’s worth talking about what happened.

This week started with excitement and elation. The first trailer for “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” or just “Dark Phoenix” as it’s officially called now, finally dropped. As someone who has been eagerly awaiting this movie and written more than a few pieces about it, this moment was the biggest thrill I got since I first saw the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer.

Then, just a few days later, Deadline dropped some frustrating news. The release date for “Dark Phoenix” is being pushed back for the second time to June 7, 2019. Originally, it was supposed to come out in November 2018, but it was delayed for entirely understandable reasons.

This movie boasts a cast of big names who are busy with major projects. Sophie Turner, the fiery woman tasked with bringing Jean Grey and the Phoenix Saga to life, was busy shooting the last season of “Game of Thrones.” Since you can only do so much with CGI and body doubles, the movie had to be pushed back to February 2019 to accommodate her schedule and that of the other stars.

I was okay with this. In fact, I thought it would be perfect. Now, “Dark Phoenix” was set to come out in mid-February, which has become a hot slot for movies in recent years. The massive success of “Deadpool” and “Black Panther” proved that this can be a viable slot for a major blockbuster.

On top of that, the Phoenix Saga is very much a love story. If “Dark Phoenix” could capture even a fraction of the heart that Chris Claremont’s original story did in the comics, then this movie could’ve gone onto be a true Valentine’s Day classic. Being both an X-men fan and a romance fan, I couldn’t have been happier with this situation.

Now, it seems, that ideal scenario is no longer happening. I’ve got nothing against a June release date. Historically, that’s when most major X-men films come out, going all the way back to the days of the first “X-men” movie. At the same time, though, this news has me worried, but not necessarily for the content of the movie.

As I’ve noted before, “Dark Phoenix” has a bit of a branding problem that it doesn’t deserve. Unlike other Marvel movies, this movie is assumed to be awful for the simple reason that it isn’t in the MCU, the gold standard for all superhero movies. A good chunk of the comments for the trailer are people whining that this movie doesn’t have Kevin Feige’s magic touch, among other things.

Never mind the fact that this movie is actively trying to undo the mistakes that were made in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Never mind the fact that the trailer already revealed that it’s doing the exact opposite of what its predecessor did, from embracing the cosmic elements of the Phoenix Force to giving Cyclops a major role. It’s still getting crap because it’s not in the MCU.

This latest delay is only going to give those people even more excuses to whine about it. It doesn’t matter if that whining has no basis in truth. They can claim that this is another sign that this movie is awful and, no matter how great it ends up being, they’ll cling to that notion until their dying breath.

I’m not going to try and convince those people that “Dark Phoenix” will be good or that this delay has a perfectly reasonable explanation. I don’t have any connections in Hollywood and I’m not a mind-reader on the level of Charles Xavier. I’m still hoping we’ll get some explanation in the coming days, but I doubt anyone will believe it.

Half the comments in the comments section will say, “Cancel the damn movie and give it to Feige!” They say this as though the people who work at Fox and Disney don’t like money and can just throw away a movie that costs $200 million. This isn’t Roger Corman’s dirt cheapFantastic Four” movie. This is a movie with major star power that can definitely turn a profit.

It even has the potential to be very good. Director/Producer, Simon Kinberg, has made it very clear that he’s trying to get back to the source material of the Phoenix Saga. Even so, people are still whining about it because his name isn’t Kevin Feige.

I’m still very excited for this movie, but I think this is the worst move Fox could’ve made. They’re just feeding the perception that this movie will be awful and even if it’s objectively good, those perceptions will sink this movie. Even if it makes a lot of money, it’ll be branded as that movie that was so bad that it got delayed twice.

It leads me to wonder why Fox made this decision and why their soon-to-be overlords at Disney let it happen. At the moment, I can only come up with three scenarios. One is the best possible case. The other is the worst possible case. The third is probably the most likely. Again, I claim no inside knowledge. This is just me speculating on what could be at work, based on what little information we can get from Google.


Worst Case Scenario: Fox Has No Faith In This Movie, But Has Faith In “Alita: Battle Angel”

Lost in the whining about what the trailer did or didn’t have, there’s another detail to the delay of “Dark Phoenix” that’s worth mentioning. Its previous release date, February 14, 2019, is now the release date of another Fox movie, “Alita: Battle Angel.”

This $200 million spectacle has James Cameron’s name attached to it so you know it carries weight. Its former release date also happened to be in the middle of December, which is packed with some heavy competition from multiple studios. As a movie that has also been delayed before, “Alita: Battle Angel” is a potential franchise that Fox wants to succeed.

Again, look no further than “Deadpool” and “Black Panther” to see how a franchise can blossom in February. The fact that Fox delayed “Dark Phoenix” implies that they think “Alita: Battle Angel” has more potential. Given how the X-men franchise has made $5.7 billion worldwide, that’s a pretty big downgrade.

Dark Phoenix” coming out in June means that Fox is just willing to dump the movie in the middle of crowded summer box office that will already be burnt out by “Avengers 4” and “Captain Marvel.” On top of that, it has “Toy Story 4” and “The Secret Life of Pets 2” as competition. Since the X-men are heading to the MCU anyway, they’re just throwing it away and hoping to scrap what little profit they can.

That’s the worst case scenario. Once a studio gives up on a movie, it really shows. Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” is proof of that and no movie, especially not “Dark Phoenix,” deserves that.


Best Case Scenario: The Delay Is Intended To Set The Stage For The X-men’s MCU Debut

This is probably the only reason I and even the most ardent detractors of the movie will accept. If it turns out that the reason for this delay is to set up a teaser for the X-men’s arrival into the MCU, then I would totally be okay with that. In fact, that would probably bump up the box office for this movie in a big way.

While I doubt this is likely, it’s worth pointing out that June 2019 is exactly 18 months after Disney and Fox announced they were merging in December 2017. At the time, it was said outright that the merger would take 18 months to complete. For all we know, the day “Dark Phoenix” premiers is the day the X-men are officially under Disney’s domain.

That means they could use this extra time to tac on a few scenes to connect “Dark Phoenix” with the MCU. Given the universe-shattering events of “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s not that crazy an idea. Trust me, if fans saw a hint of Thanos’ finger snap at the end of the movie, their jaws would hit the floor and they would throw all the money in their wallets at Disney as thanks.

Now, this is unlikely for a very good reason. As far as we know, Fox and Disney still haven’t completed their merge. That means that legally speaking, Disney still can’t mention mutants in their movies. However, seeing as how Feige got his start at Fox, it’s not inconceivable that he would try to pull something like this.

If Fox could do this and move “Alita: Battle Angel” out of a crowded holiday season, then that’s just icing on the cake.


Most Likely Scenario: It’s Just A Mundane Marketing Decision

This is the most boring, but likely scenario. At the end of the day, it all comes back to marketing. Delaying “Dark Phoenix” had nothing to do with agendas, Disney conspiracies, or production issues. It was all about marketing.

Unlike the previous two scenarios, this one has some actual merit. In the same Deadline article, there’s this quote.

“Summer is not only a better date, but again, it gives the film a better shot to have a bigger opening in China. Why? The trailer clocked 44 million views in first 24 hours of release online this week out of China. Also, premium screens previously reserved for Gambit will be in play and provide an even bigger upside for the film.”

It makes a bland bit of sense. The long-delayed “Gambit” movie was slated for a June 7, 2019 release and that movie hasn’t even started production. On top of that, it’s not as close to other major Disney/Marvel movies. February 14, 2019 is just a few weeks before “Captain Marvel” drops and “Dark Phoenix” could end up undercutting it, which is not what Disney wants.

In addition, if launching the movie in summer means a bigger opening in an overseas market, which has become a big deal in the movie business, it’s just more practical in the long run. That still won’t stop people determined to hate this movie from finding an excuse to hate it. Those people aren’t the millions of Chinese movie-goers this movie is now aiming for.

I’m still hoping we’ll get a more complete explanation from someone like Simon Kinberg or Sophie Turner very soon. In the end, though, I doubt it will matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to me. I’m very excited about this movie. I’m determined to see it. If it’s as good as I hope, then I’ll gladly praise it. I just worry that too many people have already made up their mind and won’t stop looking for excuses.

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The Dark Phoenix Trailer: What’s There, What’s Missing, And What’s Uncanny

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It’s finally here! It was subject to delays, bogus leaks, and misinformation about the extent of reshoots. None of that matters now because it’s really here. The trailer for “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has finally arrived in all its fiery glory.

Before I write another word, let’s all just take a moment to watch it again and appreciate the promise of a movie that may actually do justice to the Phoenix Saga.

I’ll give everyone a minute to process it again. Whether you loved it or hated it, there’s no way around it. This movie is coming, despite the rumors that claimed otherwise. On February 14, 2019, this movie is coming out and I hope to be among the first to see it. That had been my intention since the movie was announced, but this just gave me more incentive.

For the next several days, there will be plenty of talk about the reaction to this trailer. I already have a pretty good feeling of how it’ll play out. X-men fans, like, me who were deeply disappointed by how this story was handled in “X-men: The Last Stand” will be elated. Those who just want the X-men to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe will whine about how this movie is a waste of time.

In between it all, there will be trolls and assholes who will find an excuse to hate the trailer and this movie, but that’s to be expected of any movie these days. There’s no helping those people. Instead, I’d rather focus on what we can and cannot glean from this trailer.

It goes heavy on the drama, which is perfectly appropriate for any movie involving the Phoenix Saga. It also answers some questions about the details of the story while posing a few others. I won’t break down every frame, but here are a few key insights that should get X-men fans like myself very excited.


What’s There

In short, there’s a lot. In fact, I would go so far as to say this trailer had more elements of the original Phoenix Saga from the comics than the entity of “X-men: The Last Stand.” Most importantly, this trailer established that the story of Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix will not be relegated to a side-plot.

That’s something I belabored last year when I listed several critical ways to avoid screwing up this movie. In fact, it was near the top of the list. One of the many mistakes “X-men: The Last Stand” made was trying to squeeze the most iconic X-men story ever written into several other plots involving completely unrelated themes. That’s just one of the many reasons it turned out so poorly.

This trailer starts and ends with Jean Grey’s struggle against the emerging darkness. That’s not just key for the basics of any Phoenix Saga. It makes clear that the main plot of this movie will focus on her and give Sophie Turner plenty of opportunities to show off her fiery persona. That, alone, is very promising for those hoping for a competent movie about this iconic X-men story.

In addition, the trailer offered hints that this movie will actually develop the Cyclops/Jean relationship that’s so critical to the emotional weight of the Phoenix Saga. That was another massive mistake in “X-men: The Last Stand.” A big part of why this story is so powerful is because it’s fueled by a love story between two characters trying to overcome obstacles of cosmic proportions.

Phoenix

Those are two critical factors in ensuring that this movie has the necessary elements to make a Dark Phoenix movie work. The trailer also hints at a few other details that aren’t related to the main Phoenix story, but nicely connect with other moments from the recent movies.

The most ominous scene, in my opinion, was the brief shot of Beast and Mystique. If you saw the “Rogue Cut” of “Days of Futures Past,” you saw that these two have had some romantic undertones that began way back in “X-men First Class.” From the looks of it, something happens to Mystique that sends Beast over the edge. That could also be what pushes Jean further down the path of the Dark Phoenix.

It’s hard to say what this means, but the shots of a funeral do not bode well for Jennifer Lawrence’s character. The fact that Beast is siding with Magneto later on in the trailer hints that he does not agree with how Xavier is handling Jean’s situation. Considering how Beast helped defeat Magneto in “Days of Futures Past,” that would be a major shift, but one that could add even more weight to the story.

There are so many hints and clues as to how the story will play out, but I’d rather not speculate too much. This trailer does manage to avoid excessive spoilers, but it’ll be interesting to see what else will be revealed as the release date draws near.


What’s NOT There

There’s not a lot, but I don’t deny that this trailer did have some glaring omissions. The biggest one, in my opinion, has to do with Jessica Chastain’s still-unnamed character. The only thing we know about her is that she plays the main villain of the story. While some took that to mean she would be playing the alien queen, Lilandra Neramani, that has since been debunked.

On her IMDB page, her character is only named Smith. That could mean any number of things. She could play a shape-shifting Skrull, who have clashed with the X-men many times in the comics. She could play Deathbird, an alien hunter with close ties to Lilandra’s alien race, the Shi’ar. She could be someone else entirely. We really don’t know.

Other than Chastain’s character, we don’t see much of Storm, Quicksilver, or Nightcrawler. They’re clearly present, but they don’t get to say or do much. That’s to be expected, though. This is a Dark Phoenix movie, after all. The focus should be on Jean Grey, Charles Xavier, and Cyclops.

That said, the other glaring omission in the trailer has to do with the Phoenix Force itself. While we do get some signs, we don’t get anything like the fiery display Jean showed at the end of “X-men Apocalypse.” We also don’t get any signs of the more cosmic elements of the Phoenix. While there are a few shots that hint of a scene in space, it’s only a tiny part at most.

That’s to be expected, though. This movie just finished up reshoots so I imagine the effects aren’t fully polished yet. There’s plenty of time between now and February to make it look as beautiful and stunning as a Dark Phoenix movie should. Perhaps a second trailer will reveal more. It worked for “Venom” and it can definitely work for this.


What’s Uncanny

More than anything else, this trailer showed that Simon Kinberg, Fox, and everyone else who got crap from what happened in “X-men: The Last Stand” is making a concerted effort to right the wrongs of the past. Kinberg has said in the past that he did not like how things played out in that movie. I’m all for giving him a chance to do so.

This trailer doesn’t prove he managed to fix everything. However, it does offer hope that this time will be different. This time, the Phoenix Saga won’t be a sub-plot. The story won’t be radically changed to make it all about Wolverine. It’s going to genuinely try to tell this iconic X-men story in the most complete way possible.

As much as I hated the first attempt, I’m more than willing to give this one a chance and then some. I know as well as everyone else that this will be the last X-men movie of the era that began back in 2000. It has already been confirmed that Kevin Feige, the architect of the MCU, is going to take control of the X-men’s cinematic future after the Disney/Fox merger.

Some are already looking forward to a completely rebooted X-men movie, complete with a new Wolverine who isn’t played by Hugh Jackman and a new line of stories that’ll give the X-men a chance to participate in the global juggernaut that is MCU. I’m excited for that too. However, that makes it all the more important that “X-men: Dark Phoenix” be the best, most uncanny movie it can possibly be.

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