Tag Archives: DCEU

Zack Snyder’s Justice League: Celebrating An (Overdue) Vision

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video I never thought I’d get to make. In it, I review Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” a movie that legions of fans, as well as the cast, fought for. I didn’t think it would succeed, but after years of advocacy, it came out on HBO Max. I made it a point to build my Saturday night around watching it and I’m glad I did. Watch this video to see why. Enjoy!

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Jack’s World: How “Wonder Woman” Celebrates Love And Humanity

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a video essay/celebration of the first “Wonder Woman” movie, a film that will always be near and dear to my heart. I know I recently did a review of “Wonder Woman 1984” and I was tempted to do a video about that, but I wanted to first pay tribute to the movie that started Diana’s wondrous journey into film. Enjoy!

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My “Wonder Woman 1984” Review: An (Imperfect) Emotionally Charged Wonder

We’re at a point with superhero movies where the bar has been raised to such a degree that we can’t just call them a passing fad anymore. Love them or hate them, superhero movies have evolved. They’ve developed a complexity and nuance that few genres ever gain, regardless of medium.

Plus, they make billions at the box office. Let’s not forget that. It’s why the Bill Mahers of the world won’t stop whining about superhero movies anytime soon.

Forgetting the whiners and petty nit-pickers of the genre, superhero movies have a higher threshold to achieve to be considered successful. It’s not enough anymore than to just put a famous actor or actress in an iconic costume and replay famous scenes from comics. The story, characters, and themes have to be refined and compelling.

That’s a challenge for any movie, but one that felt far more daunting for “Wonder Woman 1984.” After the success of the first “Wonder Woman” movie, which did a masterful job of establishing Diana’s origin and building her superhero persona, this sequel is tasked with building on that foundation.

As someone who loved the first movie and made it a point to watch “Wonder Woman 1984” on HBO Max with my mom on Christmas day, I had high hopes for this movie. I wasn’t expecting “The Dark Knight” level of quality, but I was hoping for a worthy follow-up.

Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll say without hesitation that it succeeded. This movie was a beautiful, emotionally driven cinematic experience and a worthy successor to the first “Wonder Woman.”

I say that knowing that some reviews were quite scathing in their assessment of the film. As is my general rule, I never read reviews before I see a movie. As I saw withNew Mutants,” that can wrongly color your perspective. As was also the case with that movie, I was genuinely surprised by the criticisms levied against “Wonder Woman 1984.”

However, I’m not going to waste my time responding to those criticisms. I’m just going to offer my take on why I thought this movie was a worthy follow-up to the first. Like any sequel, its primary goal was building on what the first movie established. In that sense, this movie did succeed.

The setup for the movie is a dazzling spectacle. Like the first, we get a brief glimpse of Diana’s youth on Themysicra. We see her living and growing amongst her Amazon sisters, showing the kind of power and potential that lies within her. It’s a true sight to behold and one director Patty Jenkins fleshes out meticulously.

Within that setup, though, is an important theme. It highlights the importance of truth and doing things the right way for the right reasons. You cannot and should not take shortcuts to achieve your goal. Doing so will always come at a price and incur consequences. It’s a simple, but necessary lesson that kids and adults alike often learn the hard way.

That leads us directly to the main antagonist of the movie, Maxwell Lord. Played by Pedro Pascal, he comes off as the very antithesis of this lesson. He’s a con-man and a huckster, always looking for a shortcut to get what he wants. That includes tampering with the forces of the gods, which puts him in direct conflict with Diana.

At the same time, this conflict ties closely to another unfolding with Diana’s new friend, Barbara Minerva. Played by Kristen Wiig, she comes off at first as the very antithesis of Diana. She’s a nobody. She has none of Diana’s power, grace, or skill. She’s basically invisible, only ever getting attention from people she doesn’t like.

This is very much in line with the characterization of Barbara Minerva in the comics. She’s Wonder Woman’s chief rival, but she started out as a friend. She’s even sympathetic to some extent. She’s not looking to become a villain, like Maxwell Lord. She just wants a taste of the power and prestige that she sees in Wonder Woman.

She ultimately gets her chance, as does Maxwell Lord. When Barbara stumbles upon the Dreamstone, a relic imbued with the power from Dolos, the god of lies, that can grant wishes to those who wield it. However, like a typical monkey’s paw narrative, every wish comes at a price.

It closely mirrors the lesson young Diana learned in her youth, as depicted in the movie’s opening scenes. Taking any shortcut to get what you desire will come at a price. You can try to avoid the consequences all you want, but it eventually compounds. The more you try, the worse it’ll get.

Maxwell Lord thinks he has a way to avoid this. He thinks he can get everything he wants by simply making the right kind of wish. That ultimately causes a great deal of destruction. I’d go into detail, but I’d rather not reveal too much. All you need to know is that it’s not the kind of destruction Wonder Woman can stop with her fists and her sword.

What happens with Barbara Minerva is even more impactful. Like Maxwell Lord, she’s unwilling to give up any power she gains. Unlike Lord, however, she’s willing to pay any price to keep it. That’s what sends her down a dark path. It’s also what turns her from one of Diana’s friends into a truly tenacious foe.

These conflicts become very personal to Diana because she too is unable to resist the temptation. She may give so much of herself to others, but she also has desires and wishes of her own. That’s where Steve Trevor, played again by Chris Pine, enters the picture.

His death and heroic sacrifice in the first “Wonder Woman” movie was so powerful. That whole movie really sold the love that blossomed between him and Diana. Even as the years go by, his death still burdens Diana. She cannot let go of that love. She wants nothing more than to have it back.

It’s sad, but understandable. If ever someone deserved a consequence-free wish from all her heroic acts, it’s Diana. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it. She still tries. She gets her chance to be with the love of her life again. As with everything else, though, it comes at a price.

That’s the biggest theme of this movie. Getting what you want by breaking the rules or cheating will always come at a price. Even if you’re willing to pay that price, it does cause damage to yourself and others. It’s a painful lesson and one that gives “Wonder Woman 1984” so many emotional overtones.

It’s because of those overtones that this movie works so well. Wonder Woman, by her nature, is a very emotionally driven character. Her love, compassion, and heart are among her greatest traits. They’re as strong as her fighting spirit. The first movie revealed this and “Wonder Woman 1984” builds on that.

Her greatest struggles always have an emotional weight to them. It’s not just a matter of her beating up the bad guy to save the day. One of those foes was once her friend. Another is someone she can’t defeat simply by beating him up. She has to use that uncanny compassion and heart to win the day. That’s what makes her Wonder Woman.

I would argue that’s the most important aspect of her character and this movie captured it perfectly. I really did feel for Diana as she went through these emotional upheavals throughout the story. It brought out her greatest strengths, as well as her greatest weaknesses.

Now, speaking of weaknesses, this is where I also have to levy some criticisms of my own against “Wonder Woman 1984.” I promise they’re not nearly as petty or overblown as some of the other reviews to this movie. Some have complained about the length and tone of the movie. I honestly think that sort of criticism is misguided.

I’ll still say outright that this movie was not as good as the first “Wonder Woman.” This movie was not as concise and polished, in terms of story. There were a number of “and then this happened” moments that made the story seem a bit jumbled at times. In some cases, it relied too heavily on contrivances and suspension of disbelief to move things along.

I get the sense this was done to keep things moving forward from a plot standpoint. I also think there were some difficulties in revealing the ins and outs of godly magic, which is considerably harder to do in a movie when compared to a comic.

None of these shortcomings kept the movie from working overall. Gal Gadot once again carried her role as Wonder Woman with grace and grit. She, Steve Trevor, and Cheetah all had well-developed characters that played their roles well throughout the story. In terms of the most important elements to a good Wonder Woman movie, “Wonder Woman 1984” got them right.

If I had to score this movie, I’d give it a 4 out of 5. It has some noticeable flaws, more so than its predecessor. However, Gal Gadot is still an amazing Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins is still a great director, and this world they explored together was full of dazzling wonder.

For a year that has been so bleak and dire, it’s just what we needed. For that, I thank “Wonder Woman 1984” and all those who helped make it happen.

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Upheavals At DC Comic: My Concerns And Hopes

Let’s face it. Pretty much every industry not associated with health care, masks, streaming media, and Zoom calls has been hit hard this year. That’s especially true for certain segments of the entertainment industry. Basically, if you’re a movie studio, a movie theater, a comic shop, or a mall, this year has been like 100 punches to the gut, jaw, and genitals by a crack-fueled Ivan Drago.

That’s how bad global pandemics are. They pull no punches and will hit anything that attempts to prosper, both directly and indirectly.

Those blows extended to the comics industry, as well. As a lifelong comic book fan, I certainly felt it. I haven’t forgotten the weeks on end of having no new comics to enjoy for the first time in over a decade. It was not a pleasant experience. As elated as I was to see New Comic Book Day return, I didn’t doubt for a second that there would be some lasting scars.

Well, now it seems some of those scars are starting to fester and the first one to feel the pain is DC Comics. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the entire DC Comics operation has been hit with major layoffs and restructuring. It’s still intact, but make no mistake. This is the single biggest purging of personnel from a major comics publisher since the mid-1990s.

THR: DC Comics, DC Universe Hit By Major Layoffs

Monday’s WarnerMedia layoffs have affected a significant number of high-level figures at comic book powerhouse DC, multiple sources tell The Hollywood Reporter.

Among those said to be losing their positions are editor-in-chief Bob Harris, senior VP of publishing strategy and support services Hank Kanalz, VP of marketing and creative services Jonah Weiland, VP global publishing initiatives and digital strategy Bobbie Chase, senior story editor Brian Cunningham, and executive editor Mark Doyle, who oversaw the rollout of the Black Label graphic novels. Jim Lee remains the CCO.

Roughly one third of DC’s editorial ranks are being laid off, according to sources.

Insiders also say the majority of the staff of the streaming service DC Universe has been laid off, a move that had been widely expected as WarnerMedia shifts its focus to new streaming service HBO Max.

I can’t understate how big a deal this is to the larger world of comics, but I don’t want to overstate it, either. This situation is objectively bad. There’s no way around it. It’s also not the definitive end of DC Comics. That’s a narrative I don’t want to fuel.

That hasn’t stopped some of the whiniest, dumbest segments of the comics crowd from claiming otherwise. I won’t name names, but they are affiliated with a certain movement in comics that has only become less credible and more insufferable with time. The box office return of the “Captain Marvel” movie is proof enough of that.

Don’t be fooled by what some asshole voices on social media claim. This restructuring is not because DC Comics had too much diversity. It’s more a byproduct of DC Comics having lost its sense of vision, scale, and identity. This is something that happens from time to time in comics. After a while, the whole line loses its sense of self and needs some revitalization.

I can say, as a longtime comic fan, that DC has become somewhat stale in recent years. Even before the pandemic, I felt as though it had lost momentum outside its mainstays. It has primarily been relying on the strength of Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Flash. As iconic as those characters are, they just can’t sustain the entire line.

There are many reasons for that. I think DC Comics, as a whole, hasn’t had a consistent vision since the days of DC Rebirth. It just got bogged down too much with competing visions, like DCeased and Injustice: Gods Among Us. It also endured way too many delays with its last big crossover event, Doomsday Clock.

The onset of the pandemic just exacerbated a problem that was starting to grow. As bad as things are now, there’s also an opportunity to set things on a better path. That’s my greatest hope for whatever restructuring DC pursues next. It still has plenty to build on. The success of the Harley Quinn show is proof enough of that. It’s just a matter of what form that will take.

That said, I do have major concerns. Comic lines have gone through upheavals before, but never during a global pandemic. This is uncharted territory for the comics industry, as a whole. This is not the era of newsstands and comic shops where top books could easily sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Paperbacks alone are not going to make this industry succeed.

Comics, in the current system, work best as a garden from which new characters, stories, and ideas can blossom. The fruits of that system can later become the basis for TV shows, movies, merchandise, and so much more. DC Comics already has a major media partner in its owner, AT&T. The structure is there. They just have to carve their niche into it.

I understand that’s easier said than done. Right now, a lot of factors are working against DC and the comics industry, as a whole. When all is said and done, comic shops may become much more diminished and trade paperback sales may dwindle to just a handful of titles. I’m not looking forward to that kind of status quo.

The ultimate setup may one day involve DC Comics just abandoning its publishing system, as a whole, and shift to licensing its characters to other companies, such as IDW. That’s very much a last resort, but one that may be more likely if DC can’t get its comics in order.

I want to be hopeful, but I’m also going to brace for the worst. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that things can always get worse and the things we love are always capable of succumbing to forces beyond our control. It’s a sad, nihilistic mindset, but one that a global pandemic tends to affirm. Only time will tell and I’ll be waiting with baited breath.

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“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” Teaser Is Here And Why I’m So Hopeful

This past weekend was a damn good weekend if you’re a fan of all things DC Comics. The festivities surrounding DC FanDome, a showcase of the revamped future of DC Comics, was truly a sight to behold. As someone who is genuinely concerned about the future of DC Comics, and the comics industry in general, this was an incredible experience that gives me some tangible hope.

In a year like 2020, hope is almost as precious as a vaccine. Let’s not lose sight of that.

There were many highlights. I already cited the new “Wonder Woman 1984” trailer as a wonder to behold. However, the one teaser that got me most excited was the first full teaser of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is set for release on HBO Max in 2021.

Now, the story and politics surrounding this movie are way too complicated, not to mention distressing, for me to go over. I’ve already touched on it before, so I’ll simply present the teaser for those who haven’t seen it. Hopefully, it evokes in others the same excitement I felt.

Now, I want to make one thing clear. I was not among those loudly protesting for the release of this movie. I saw the first “Justice League” movie in theaters. I didn’t hate it, but I could tell that it was not a well-organized movie. While I may not have joined the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, I did hope that we’d get some sort of extended cut at some point, if only because there’s a solid precedent for it.

Solid doesn’t mean good, but in Zack Snyder’s case, I think there’s a context worth considering here. Snyder’s record as a filmmaker is mixed, but the man clearly knows how to think big. For a franchise like DC Comics and Justice League, you need that kind of vision and scale to do justice to these characters. That’s why I thought he was such a good choice to turn DC Comics into a major film franchise.

Snyder approaches movies as a huge, over-arching vision. He’s great at making spectacles. His work on “300” is proof of that. However, Snyder also has a nasty habit of clashing with studios who want to chop his vision up into something people can see in a movie theater without taking one too many bathroom breaks. Oftentimes, that grand vision is difficult to condense into a commercially viable product.

It happened with both “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Watchmen.” Each movie came out in theaters to mixed reviews by both fans and critics, to put it mildly. However, each movie also has an extended version that came out later. In both cases, the extended product was far superior. They include additional plots and details that make the overall vision more complete and satisfying.

This is especially true of “Watchmen.” Seriously, if you haven’t seen the Ultimate Cut of that movie, I highly recommend it. Even if you hated the theatrical cut, this one is a lot more satisfying, even if it’s over three-and-a-half hours long.

The same goes for “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Its extended cut is far more complete and concise than what we saw in theaters. No, it doesn’t make Jessie Eisenberg any less annoying as Lex Luthor, but it is a more competent and complete movie. It’s just longer and more fleshed out.

There’s also an extended version of Zack Snyder’s other film, “Sucker Punch.” Now, I’m not a big fan of that movie and that extended version doesn’t add much, especially compared to “Watchmen.” However, those extra minutes of footage add critical context to the movie that make it work better, as a story. Even if you don’t like how the movie plays out, you can at least appreciate the context.

In every case, it shows that Snyder had a solid vision for these stories. Too much of that vision got left on the cutting room floor. With “Justice League,” we’re not just talking about an extra half-hour of footage. Basically, this version of the movie contains footage that was almost entirely scrapped for the theatrical cut. It’s the same cast and concept, but a very different vision.

It’s also a vision that will have the time and space to be complete. According to Deadline, this cut of the movie will be nearly four hours long, divided into hour-long segments. That’s a hell of a vision and if history is any indication, it’ll be a spectacle worth seeing.

I, for one, will be eager to see the finished product. Snyder has shown in the past that he can tell a damn good story when he has enough time, space, and energy. HBO Max may be a more fitting platform than a standard movie theater. It may also open the door to a bolder vision for DC Comics in the future.

Only time will tell. All I’ll say from here on out is that the Snyder Cut is almost here. Hallelujah!

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A Simple Comment On The Criticism/Whining On “Birds Of Prey”

Sometimes, a movie just fails to find an audience.

It’s not because of some larger social agenda that backfired horribly.

It’s not because of some huge backlash caused by misguided marketing strategies, either.

Most of the time, the world isn’t that fanciful. It’s just chaotic, unpredictable, and messy. No matter how much a movie, TV show, or product attempts to appeal to a broad audience, it can just fail. That’s all there is to it.

Trying to fit an agenda into that failure is like trying to build a conspiracy around why you’re stuck in traffic. The world isn’t out to get you or people like you. Most of the time, shit just happens and you’re just caught up in it. That’s not to say that agendas never squeeze themselves into the media. It happens, but it’s effect is often exaggerated. Most of the time, the final product just doesn’t work.

That brings me to “Birds of Prey.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I completely forgot about this movie. I had no excitement for it and not just because I was underwhelmed by “Suicide Squad.” I like Margot Robbie. I like Harley Quinn. She’s a great actress who plays a great character. The movie just did not grab my attention.

I saw the trailer. It was fine, but forgettable. I didn’t feel compelled to watch it 10 times in a row, as I did with “Wonder Woman 1984.” I didn’t feel compelled to see the movie, either. Even though it got good reviews, it just didn’t appeal to me. I planned to watch it when it came out on cable. Based on the early box office haul, I’m not alone in that sentiment.

I’d be perfectly fine to leave it at that. In previous years, I wouldn’t even bring it up. However, due to the growing inclination to make everything political, the under-performance of “Birds of Prey” is already getting the wrong people talking about it for all the wrong reasons.

Some are already lumping this movie in the same category as 2016’s “Ghostbusters” or the horrendously bad “Charlie Angels” reboot. Now, I don’t want to get into the politics behind it, mostly because I value the integrity of my brain cells. I’ll just say this. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, feminist, traditionalist, anarchist, or Marxist, there’s one thing to remember.

It’s a goddamn movie. Sometimes, movies just fail to find an audience. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.

Maybe it eventually becomes a cult classic, like “Blade.” Maybe it rebounds with good word of mouth. Either way, it has nothing to do with an agenda. The public, as a whole, just didn’t respond to it. Any criticism/whining beyond that is just asinine.

That’s all I have to say about “Birds of Prey.” Harley Quinn is still a great character and Margot Robbie is still a great actress. Your agenda, whatever it may be, has no bearing on that. It never has. It never will. Get over yourself and just watch the movies you enjoy.

 

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“Wonder Woman 1984” Trailer Is Here (And It’s Wonderful)!

We live in a strange, yet wonderful era when it comes to movie trailers. It’s strange in that sometimes, the trailers are basically the movie. It tells you pretty much everything and if you go to see the movie, you don’t get much more than you got out of the trailer. That’s basically how I felt about “Suicide Squad.”

That’s a downside. The upside, however, more than makes up for it. When done right, a great movie trailer can take your excitement for a movie and turn it up to 11. You might have been excited about a movie already. In the internet era, that’s easier than ever. Then, the trailer comes along and suddenly, you feel like there’s liquid awesome flowing into your veins. It’s a great feeling.

That brings me to “Wonder Woman 1984.” It’s the sequel to the first movie that was groundbreaking in so many ways. I did plenty to praise it when it came out. I even made a wish list on what I wanted to see in the sequel. I didn’t know how much I would actually get when more details came out.

Now, those details are here! The first trailer of “Wonder Woman 1984” has officially dropped. All I can say is, it’s a wonder to behold and if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it at least 10 times, like I did.

Sure, other movies can promise a lot, but can they promise a female warrior demigod swinging from bolts of lightning from a magic lasso? I didn’t think so.

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Shazam! Review: A Simple Formula For Maximum Fun

shazam

When a particular genre becomes over-saturated and overdone, it’s tempting to try and reinvent the concept in hopes of striking a new chord. It’s especially tempting when so many others have risen the bar to such an insane extent that success can only be measured in billions instead of millions.

It would’ve been easy for a movie like “Shazam” to give into such temptation. With the recent success of “Aquaman” and “Avengers Endgame” set to break all sorts of box office records, it seems like this movie has to do something extreme, just to stand out. How else would it succeed in such a crowded market in a golden age of superhero movies?

That was my greatest concern before I saw “Shazam.” As much as I loved the trailer, I was worried that this movie would try so hard to stand out that it would overlook the part of actually being a fun cinematic experience. That sort of oversight has been plaguing the DC Extended Universe since “Man of Steel.”

This picture sums up the issues nicely.

Well, having seen the movie, I’m happy to say that none of those concerns were founded. In fact, I’m elated to report that “Shazam” is another big win for DC Comics and superhero movies, as a whole. However, it didn’t win because it reinvented the genre or did something radically different. It won because it followed the basic formula for quality superhero movies and had fun along the way.

It helps that the core appeal of Shazam, as a character and superhero, is that it approaches heroics with a childlike playfulness. Billy Batson, the alter ego of the titular hero, is not some jaded adult like Batman. He’s not even a boy scout idealist like Superman. He’s just a kid and one who got dealt a bad hand, for that matter. Being both an orphan and a troublemaker, he sees the adult world through very different eyes.

That’s a novel perspective, to some extent. Every other superhero movie, even going back to the era of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” has framed the idea through an adult lens. It always starts out as something simple. An individual gets superpowers, they start carrying out simple acts of heroism, and those acts eventually get complicated, as often happens with adult issues.

With a character like Billy, things never get that complicated. Again, he’s a kid. Even in his heroic form, he sees conflict with a childlike simplicity and “Shazam” captures that simplicity perfectly. The movie doesn’t deviate much from the details and themes of the source material. Concepts like the Rock of Eternity and the Seven Enemies of Man are present and accurately portrayed.

Such details may not matter to those unfamiliar with the comics, but such accuracy is largely a bonus. What really makes this movie work is how it follows Billy’s journey and not just the one he undergoes as a hero. His evolution when he’s not a magically-endowed superhero is arguably the most meaningful aspect of the story.

When we first meet Billy, it’s hard to discern whether he has the spirit of a hero. He’s no upstanding boy scout. In fact, he’s very much a troublemaker who’s willing to thumb his nose at police, break the rules when it benefits him, and run away from anyone who tries to help him. However, he never comes close to crossing that might send him down a darker path.

It’s that trait that sets him apart from his villainous counterpart, Dr. Sivana. While he’s no Thanos, he demonstrates that he’s a lot like Billy in a few key aspects. He’s given a chance to become a hero, but is unable to refuse the temptation that often comes with immense power. That failure haunts him and pushes him down a darker path.

For a time, it seems as though Billy could walk a similar path. When he first gets his powers, he reacts in ways that most would expect of a 14-year-old boy. He tries to buy beer. He tries to make money. He even ventures into a strip club. It’s hilarious and cute, but it also establishes the perfect tone for a movie that avoids complicating the standard superhero narrative.

Within that narrative, there’s a hero who makes choices and learns from his mistakes. There’s also a villain who makes choices and refuses to learn from them. When they eventually clash, it’s a flashy spectacle with simple, understandable stakes. It’s no Battle of Wakanda, but it doesn’t have to be.

The look of someone who DIDN’T get to work with Josh Brolin.

From the moment he first gets his powers to the final showdown with Dr. Sivana, Billy develops into his own hero, but never loses his childlike mentality. He’s not forced to grow up too fast, nor does he have to abandon the civilian life he’s trying to establish. Whereas being Bruce Wayne is often an inconvenience for Batman, being Billy Batson is necessary for Shazam.

This shows in the seamless characterization provided by Asher Angel, who plays young Billy, and Zachary Levi, who plays Shazam. At no point does either manifestation feel like a different character. They both wield the same childlike charisma as they navigate their superhero journey. The same lovability that made Levi so great in shows like “Chuck” help him and Angel bring out the best in Billy Batson.

When the movie begins, it’s not clear that Billy has what it takes to be a competent hero. Trying to determine his worth is like trying to determine if some random 14-year-old will one day play in the NFL. The odds are against them, but the potential is still there. By the time the credits roll, the message is clear. Billy has the spirit that Shazam was looking for and you can’t help but root for him.

At its core, “Shazam” checks all the right boxes for the classic hero’s journey. Billy Batson is perfectly poised to take that journey and not just because he’s one of many orphans who become superheroes. The movie doesn’t try to subvert these tried and true tropes. If anything, it embraces them and dares to have a little fun along the way.

It’s easy to share in that fun. The humor is exactly what you would expect of a movie that involves 14-year-olds getting superpowers. It’s serious when it needs to be, but never too serious. Given the grim and gritty settings of other DC Extended Universe movies, it’s a breath of fresh air that the superhero genre badly needed.

It’s not without its flaws. Some details of Billy’s life are underdeveloped and glossed over. There were also inconsistencies with Dr. Sivana as well, but none were egregious to the point where they derailed the movie. It simply stuck to a simple formula, mixed in a few twists along the way, and made the most of what it had to work with.

If I had to score “Shazam,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It didn’t reinvent superhero movies or raise the bar. It was simply a fun, entertaining movie that gave a character with little star power a chance to shine. It even managed to accomplish all this without trying too hard to make him like Batman. For a DC Comics movie, that alone is a major accomplishment.

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The Emerging Problem Of Superman And Lois Lane

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I think I’ve made it fairly clear that I’m a big fan of superhero romances. I’m a big fan of romance in general, but romance between superheroes has a special place in my heart. I was a comic book fan before I was a romance fan. As the years have gone by, it has been among my favorite combinations. I put it up there with pizza and a cold beer.

It certainly helps that superhero comics have inspired some of the most iconic romances of the past century. Say what you will about Rose and Jack in “Titanic.” I still find the love story between Batman and Catwoman is much more complex and compelling in terms of depth, not to mention many times sexier.

Superhero comics have informed a lot with respect to my fondness for romance. I also think they offer unique insights into the complexity of romance. Love is complicated enough. Adding superpowers and super-villains into the mix only compounds the drama. Sometimes it can end in tragedy. Sometimes it can make for some truly epic romance that strikes all the right emotional chords.

In some instances, though, mixing romance and superheroes can cause problems. Like relationships in the real world, there are many ways to screw it up. Comics have done plenty to mishandle romance. Just ask any Spider-Man fan about a story called One More Day and watch them recoil with disgust. I’ve even noted a few examples.

However, there are some instances where romance in superhero comics cause unique problems that are subtle in substance, but vast in implications. It doesn’t always involve relationships that are inherently toxic to multiple characters. Sometimes, those problems can emerge in even the most iconic relationship.

In the pantheon of superhero romances, the top spot is usually reserved for Superman and Lois Lane. In terms of romance in superhero comics, they are the gold-encrusted diamond standard by which all others are measured. Their love is isn’t just iconic. It’s a foundational component for both characters.

Superman loves Lois Lane. Lois Lane loves Superman. That romance is established in the pages of Action Comics #1. It’s a critical part of how both characters evolve over the years. You can’t tell Superman’s story without Lois Lane and you can’t tell Lois Lane’s story without Superman.

In the same way Superman always does the right thing and Deadpool always makes the dirtiest joke, this dynamic is fundamental. It establishes the kind of romance that is pure, unconditional, and uncorrupt. There’s no need for a previous love interest to die or a love triangle to provoke drama. Superman and Lois Lane just love each other and that’s all there is to it.

However, even with a romance this iconic, there is a problem and it’s actually a very recent problem. It affects both Superman and Lois Lane, but I believe it affects Lois to a much greater extent. It stems from an issue that I’ve been noticing more and more lately with certain romances. When it shows up in the most iconic romance in the history of comics, though, I take notice.

The nature of the problem has less to do with love and more to do with how a relationship defines certain characters. In both fiction and real life, it’s common and even romantic for two people to become so close that their lives become heavily entwined. There comes a point, though, where it stops being romantic and starts being destructive.

For most of their history, Superman and Lois Lane’s romance was built around simple, but effective dynamics. Lois Lane loved Superman, but not Clark Kent, who she didn’t know was Superman. Superman kept his identity from her to protect her many years, which created plenty of tension and made for some great moments.

Eventually, Superman reveals his identity to Lois and they eventually get married. I remember that moment. It was an amazing milestone for both romance and comics lore. The problem only came when that dynamic was complicated by a new theme that has since permeated the narrative.

It didn’t start at any particular date, but I think “Superman Returns” marked the unofficial turning point. That movie, on top of turning Superman into a deadbeat dad, made a small, but critical tweak to the Superman/Lois romance. In essence, it turned their love from a strength to a liability that is detrimental to the ideals of Superman and romance, as a whole.

At the beginning of that movie, Superman’s actions are the same as they’ve always been. He does the right thing because it’s the right thing. That’s who he is and why he’s so iconic. Towards the end, though, what he does becomes less about doing the right thing and more about resolving his relationship with Lois Lane.

Suddenly, doing the right thing and saving Lois aren’t just supplementary plots. They’re indistinguishable. One is the other and that’s a problem for reasons that go beyond romance and heroism. It wouldn’t have been that big an issue if it had only played out in one sub-par Superman movie, but in recent years, the problem has escalated.

It manifested in its most overt form in “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” a video game with a comic book series tie-in that essentially provides a worst-case-scenario for Superman. In this story, Superman is tricked into killing both Lois and his unborn child by the Joker. It’s not just an atrocity and a tragedy. It fundementally breaks Superman.

I’m not just referring to his spirit either. The death of Lois Lane also marked the death of Superman, as an ideal. In both the game and the tie-in comics, he’s no longer a hero. He’s a tyrant who becomes everything he once fought against. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a villain, but he’s definitely not the beacon of goodness that so defines his character.

While it makes for a powerful story, the particulars of that transformation are profound and not in a good way. It implies that Superman’s heroism is directly tied to Lois Lane and not supplemented by it. If she dies, then Superman ceases to be that iconic hero who stands for truth and justice.

That sends the message that Superman’s love for Lois Lane isn’t a strength. It’s a crutch. She’s not just his connection to humanity. She’s his lifeline. Beyond putting a burden on a character whose appeal is her ambitious pursuit of truth, it reduces Lois Lane to a singular role and one that’s impossible to maintain.

Unlike Superman, Lois is human. She’s going to age. She’s going to eventually die. Under this dynamic, Superman will eventually lose sight of his ideals. He’ll eventually stop being the hero that fights for truth, justice, and the American Way. Without Lois, he’s destined to give up and for a character who once moved the sun, that’s pretty weak.

This issue came up again in the plot for “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” While I enjoyed the movie and don’t think it deserved half the criticism it got, there was one major issue that I felt undercut the story. Once again, it came back to Superman’s relationship with Lois.

Throughout the movie, Superman constantly questions his role and responsibilites as a hero, especially after seeing Batman’s approach to pursuing justice. That’s perfectly appropriate with respect to humanizing his character, but at the end of the day, he bases much of his decision to save the day around saving Lois.

That’s not to say that there isn’t merit to saving a lover, but this is Superman we’re talking about here. This is a hero whose entire appeal is built around him having god-like power, but still doing the right thing. When the right thing is only ever in the context of saving his girlfriend, then that undercuts both the ideals and the romance itself.

It’s largely for that reason, among others, that I find the romance between Superman and Wonder Woman more compelling. Back in 2012, there was a brief period in DC Comics where the timeline was tweaked, which happens fairly often, and Superman’s marriage to Lois Lane was nullified. That gave these two iconic heroes a chance to be together.

I could probably write several more articles about why I think the Superman/Wonder Woman romance is special in its own right. In many respects, I think it’s healthier than the Superman/Lois Lane relationship. It may never be as iconic, but it fundementally avoids this problem.

Wonder Woman can take care of herself. She can save herself and be a hero on her own terms. Lois Lane, however, is becoming more and more defined by how she defines Superman. For the most iconic superhero couple of all time, that’s pretty shallow.

The recent comics have done little to address this issue. With yet another tweak to the timeline, Superman is back with Lois. They even have a child now. However, the nature of their relationship is still on uncertain ground. I still feel it lacks the complementary dynamics that made it work so well for so many years.

There’s a chance it could change. Given the fickle nature of comic book continuity, it’s very likely that the Superman/Lois Lane dynamic will continue to evolve. However, I think it’s going in the wrong direction if Superman’s reasons for doing the right thing are that dependent on Lois.

Whether or not this problem deepens or subsides remains to be seen. Superman and Lois Lane are still the most iconic romance in the history of comics. That will continue to hold true, even if the problem deepens. Superman and Lois Lane are great characters in their own right. That aspect cannot and should not get lost under the weight of their iconic romance.

As much a romantic as I am, I don’t deny that it is possible for a love story to go too far. Loving someone and being dependant on them are not the same thing, especially when superpowers get involved. If a relationship becomes too dependent, then it can be more damaging than a mountain of kryptonite.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marriage and Relationships, romance, superhero movies

Heroes, Villains, And The Forgotten (But Relevant) Message Of “Megamind”

megamindfilm

Every now and then, a movie comes along that was unremarkable in its time, but gained greater meaning years later. It’s one of those unspoken challenges of movie making that doesn’t involve dealing with difficult actors. Sometimes, a movie is either ahead of its time or too late to make much of an impact. Like cooking the perfect steak or good fart joke, timing is everything.

That brings me to “Megamind,” a very well-done, but often overlooked animated movie from Dreamworks. Since it’s not Pixar and doesn’t involve “Shrek,” it had a lot working against it before it came out. However, it also had plenty more going for it and not just in terms of quality 3D animation at a time when “Avatar” finally made that gimmick viable.

The movie boasted an amazing voice cast that included Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, and David Cross. It also did plenty to leverage that star power. Will Ferrell even famously dressed up as the titular character at the San Diego Comic Con to promote the movie. I’m not saying that, alone, would’ve made that movie a success, but Will Ferrell is one of those rare talents who can make anything more appealing.

You can’t argue with THAT kind of appeal.

In addition, the movie told a compelling story in a way that was concise, enjoyable, and appealing for adults and children alike. It showed in the favorable reviews it received from critics and the high scores it earned from audiences. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite show in the box office totals. The movie did well, but it fell short of the high bar that both Pixar and “Shrek” have set for animated features.

The reason for the movie’s shortcomings are numerous and varied. It came out in 2010, just in time for titles like “Toy Story 3,” “How To Train Your Dragon,” and “Tangled” to steal the show. It also came out at a time when superhero movies were just starting to ascend. “Iron Man” had just come out and the scars from “X-men Origins: Wolverine” were finally starting to heal.

However, “Megamind” really jumped the gun in terms of timing. We were still a few years before “The Avengers” cemented superhero movies as ultimate box office gold encased in vibranium. As a result, the remarkable concept that “Megamind” introduced went forgotten, but I believe it’s worth remembering.

The plot of “Megamind” is simple on paper, but complex in its implications. It tells the story of a self-proclaimed super-villain named Megamind, who was voiced by Will Ferrell. His persona is essentially a comedic parody of every super-villain trope that ever existed. He’s a mad genius bent on conquest and domination, but is constantly thwarted by an overly-powerful, overly-handsome hero.

That hero, appropriately voiced by Brad Pitt, is Metro Man. Like Megamind, he’s also a parody of every superhero trope. He’s part Superman and part Captain America, grossly overpowered and so morally pure that it’s laughable. As such, the movie never attempts to frame Metro Man’s heroism or Megamind’s villainy in a serious sort of way.

That approach is key because the way the story plays out essentially flips the script on the standard narrative surrounding superheroes, super-villains, and what motivates both of them. It conveys a message that didn’t really have much impact in 2010, but if it came out just five years later, its themes would’ve been much more relevant.

At its core, “Megamind” asks what would happen if an over-the-top villain like Megamind actually defeated an over-the-top hero like Metro Man. How would he react? How would the society around them react? These are questions that often have simple answers in other superhero movies. “Megamind” dares to add an extra layer of complexity.

Early on in the movie, Megamind achieves what Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and every other mustache-twirling villain failed to achieve. He defeats his heroic nemesis. He takes over the city he seeks to rule. There is no longer anyone or anything to stand in his way. He is, for all intents and purposes, the most powerful being in Metro City.

That’s not the end of the story, though. That’s just the beginning. Shortly after this achievement, which caught Megamind himself by surprise, he has an existential crisis of sorts. Suddenly, there are no more plots left to hatch. There are no more battles left to fight. He has everything he ever wanted, but it still leaves him feeling empty inside.

It leads him on a path that reveals some unexpected insights into the whole hero/villain dynamic. At first, Megamind doesn’t know how to handle his new situation. It’s so unfamiliar and so jarring that it causes serious distress. Even for a super-genius, sudden change and unfamiliarity can be very difficult to handle.

Megamind’s first instinct, which is usually the same instinct most ordinary people act on in such distressed states, is to return to something familiar. He attempts to recreate the status quo as he knew it, which led him to create a new hero in Titan, who is voiced by Jonah Hill. He says outright that without a hero to fight, he has no purpose. Since he happens to be a super-genius, he just decides to create one.

In doing so, he learns as well as everyone else in Metro City that creating a hero is not as easy as just giving someone heroic abilities. On top of that, he also learns that it’s not always possible to go back to that comfortable status quo. In fact, attempting to do so could only make things worse.

Without giving away the entire movie, which I encourage everyone to see, “Megamind” presents some pretty insights into what it means to be a hero and a villain. At a time when more complex villains like Walter White and Erik Killmonger are gaining greater appeal, I believe these insights are more critical now than they were in 2010.

A great deal of what drove Megamind early on was his assumption that he’s the villain and Metro Man is the hero. As such, they’re destined to fight each other with the hero always triumphing. He never stops to question that assumption, nor does he contemplate his goals for after he succeeds. It’s not until he actually succeeds that he realizes how flawed those assumptions were.

Metro Man realizes that even sooner. In one of the main twists of the story, “Megamind” shows that even idealized heroes aren’t immune to this inescapable dynamic. Like Megamind, Metro Man does what he does because he assumes that’s his role. He doesn’t question it until it becomes untenable.

By breaking that classic hero/villain dynamic, both Metro Man and Megamind reveal that the nature of the struggle between a superhero and a super-villain is often incomplete. They may think they know what they want. Heroes want to save the day. Villains want to conquer and rule. Beyond that, though, there’s no other vision. It’s just an endlessly repeating cycle that eventually goes nowhere in the long run.

In a sense, the entire story of “Megamind” is a reflection of the paradox of superheroes. Heroes may save the day and defeat the villains at every turn, but they never go beyond that struggle. They never attempt to change the conditions that allow the villains to instigate conflict, nor do they do anything to prevent new villains from emerging. They save the world, but don’t do anything to change it.

This shortcoming is a big part of “Megamind” from the beginning. No matter how many times Metro Man defeated Megamind, he always ended up back in jail. From there, he always escaped. He never changed or reconsidered his actions until he actually succeeded. To some extent, Metro Man does exactly what keeps Spider-Man and Batman from effectively achieving their heroic goals.

Ultimately, the resolution that “Megamind” offers in the end is something that undercuts the hero/villain dynamic completely. In the end, both Megamind and Metro Man stop making assumptions about their roles and actually make choices of their own, for once. In Megamind’s case, his choice conveys something that no other superhero movie has dared to attempt.

He takes the same traits and abilities that make him a villain and uses them to become a hero. More importantly, though, he doesn’t do so because of a role based on an assumption. He does it because that’s what he chooses. When finally given a choice to do something with his abilities, he chooses to do good. That’s not just uplifting, even for an animated movie. It speaks heavily to the forces that shape our identity.

In the context of modern superhero movies, “Megamind” both parodies and subverts the foundation of the genre. It doesn’t just ask the question as to what would happen if a villain actually beat the hero. It asks whether those who identify as villains are capable of doing heroic things, if given a choice.

Even with more complex villains like Walter White, most superhero movies and superhero media, in general, still follow the same dynamic that trapped Megamind. They have a villain, put them in a particular role, and keep them in that role by locking them into a cycle.

For some inherently villainous individuals, like Lex Luthor, that cycle isn’t necessary. For others, though, it poses interesting questions that rarely get answered. The villains have their roles. The heroes have theirs. The story plays out and the heroes triumph, but does that have to be the end of the story?

Megamind” dared to expand on that story and while it may have been ahead of its time, those themes are still relevant. As superhero movies continue to set new box office records, they will likely become even more relevant and “Megamind” will get the appreciation it was just too premature to achieve.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, movies, philosophy, psychology, superhero movies