Tag Archives: movies

A Meta-Level Marvel: A Review Of “Deadpool 2”

large_dp2

When a movie becomes an unexpected hit, both with critics and at the box office, the biggest question isn’t whether or not the studio will make a sequel. Major studios just love money too much. It’s just a matter of whether or not the sequel will be able to capture the magic of what made the first movie so great.

The first “Deadpool” movie was an unexpected hit that Fox didn’t even want to make. It broke so many rules, both with its R-rating and with its unorthodox approach to making superhero movies. In fact, it spent a good chunk of its overly violent first act establishing that “Deadpool” is not a superhero movie and Deadpool, the character, isn’t a traditional superhero.

By daring to be different while also embracing everything that’s lovable and unique  about the character, “Deadpool” found a way to work, despite a paltry budget and an audience that still hadn’t forgotten Deadpool’s disastrous first appearance in “Wolverine Origins.” Now, “Deadpool 2” faces a new, but less daunting challenge in following up the unprecedented success of its predecessor.

Well, I’ll gladly spoil one detail about this movie. It matches, exceeds, and kicks the ever-loving shit out of those challenges. If you enjoyed the first “Deadpool” movie, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy with “Deadpool 2” and then some. Even if you found yourself unsatisfied with the first “Deadpool” movie, “Deadpool 2” will hit leave you feeling content in a way not possible without the aid of heavy stimulants and skilled hookers.

I realize that’s an overly vulgar way of saying that “Deadpool 2” is a great movie, but after seeing it, I think that’s perfectly in keeping with the spirit of the movie. It is, like its predecessor, an R-rated spectacle that does plenty to earn that rating. There’s plenty of profanity, violence, adult themes, and a lot of butt jokes.

Seriously, this movie doubles down on the appeal of butt jokes. It’s not quite in the same cartoonish mold as “South Park,” but it works because it’s a Deadpool movie. It needs to be vulgar and crude for the same reason water needs to be wet.

However, it’s not just the butt jokes, the violence, the crude humor, or the inherent lovability of Ryan “Mr. Blake Lively” Reynolds brings to the table. There are deeper, less juvenile appeals in “Deadpool 2” that help distinguish it from other superhero movies. It’s true to the Deadpool brand, but still finds a way to transcend its genre.

In the same way the first “Deadpool” movie mixed its superhero narrative with that of a genuine, sex-positive romance story, “Deadpool 2” does something similar. Instead of a romance story, though, the movie frames itself as a story about family and how to find one in an unfair, unjust world.

It’s a story that deals with serious issues of abandonment, abuse, and injustice. It does much more than its predecessor to incorporate the struggles minorities face that have played out in previous “X-men” movies. However, “Deadpool 2” never feels too much like an X-men movie. It keeps things personal and that’s key to making its story work.

Besides butt jokes and breaking the 4th wall, the underlying theme that drives the narrative in this movie is how everyone’s family gets shattered by various forces. Deadpool loses his family. Cable loses his family. Russell, also known as Firefist, is basically without a family from the beginning.

Those respective losses are what drive the characters through the story. That gives it a level of emotional weight that you wouldn’t expect for a movie based on a wise-cracking, exceedingly violent character who was heavily derived from an established DC character. That emotional weight is critical for both Deadpool and his supporting cast.

It’s here where “Deadpool 2” further improves on its predecessor. Unlike the first movie, it digs a little deeper into the vast catalog of X-men characters. The most important of those characters is Cable, the time-traveling badass whose convoluted origin story involves a clone of Jean Grey. It’s a character that Josh Brolin brings to life perfectly.

Already riding high from how he played Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” Brolin’s Cable brings a gruff balance to Deadpool’s quirky persona. That’s not just critical for the overall feel of the movie. It’s a critical element to their relationship, as established in the comics.

It’s not at all necessary to be familiar with their history in the comics to appreciate it in this movie, but as a life-long X-men fan, it’s nice bonus to see the spirit of the comics find their way into the movies. Given how often superhero movies take liberties with comic lore these days, that does count for something for fans like me.

As a result, Cable’s gruff, overly serious demeanor complements Deadpool’s eccentricities perfectly. Having both suffered immense personal losses, they both seek the same thing. Their methods are just very different and that makes for some glorious conflict, complete with references to Brolin’s role as Thanos and his role in “The Goonies.”

Aside from Cable, “Deadpool 2” also brings in other familiar X-men characters. That includes Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, who had significant roles in the first movie. It also involves newcomers Bedlam, Shatterstar, and most notably, Zazie Beetz’s Domino. While not all these characters get a chance to shine, Domino does plenty to steal the show in multiple scenes.

There’s even a lengthy list of cameos throughout the movie and not just of the Stan Lee variety. The movie, even with its more serious themes involving family and loss, still finds plenty of ways to lighten the mood and have fun with itself. It never takes itself too seriously or gets too dark. It finds a way to mix in just the right amount of humor into everything.

By nearly every measure, “Deadpool 2” checks all the necessary boxes for an appropriately uncanny sequel. It offers a rich array of content that builds on what the first movie established along with plenty of bonus material, including one of the best post-credits scene of any superhero movie. Even if you don’t care for the movie, that post-credits scene will put a smile on your face, especially if you hatedWolverine Origins.”

That’s not to say it’s a flawless movie. I wouldn’t put this movie above “Avengers: Infinity War” and not just because it’s a different kind of movie. “Deadpool 2” does a lot of things right, but it leaves some things unfinished. There are times when it rushes certain plot elements. As a result, characters like Vanessa and the lovably under-powered Peter feel wasted.

There are also a few instances where the the story feels choppy. Those instances are minor, though. While it would’ve been nice to establish a few other details about characters like Cable and Domino, the overall structure of the movie still works because it keeps the plot of “Deadpool 2” concise. It never tries to cram too much into the story, which has derailed more than a few superhero movies. See “Spider-Man 3.”

Overall, “Deadpool 2” is awesome because it has an identity and sticks to it. There’s crude humor, violence, and plenty of 4th wall breaking. There’s also genuine heart. In the same way the romance elements in the first movie felt sincere, the themes of family and finding a place in an unjust world feel just as sincere in this movie.

You’ll laugh and you’ll feel throughout “Deadpool 2,” but chances are you’ll probably do more laughing. As a whole package, “Deadpool 2” gives you plenty of reasons to leave the movie with a big smile on your face. Whether you’re an X-men fan, a superhero fan, or a fan of neither, this movie gives you something to enjoy.

If I had to score “Deadpool 2,” I would give it a 9 out of 10. It’s not flawless, but it’s pretty damn close. It’s exactly what you want it to be and then some. The ability to make more butt jokes is just a nice bonus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, superhero movies, X-men

Infinitely Astounding And Then Some: My Review Of “Avengers: Infinity War”

https3a2f2fblogs-images-forbes-com2fcurtissilver2ffiles2f20182f042favengers

We’ve heard it all our lives from parents, teachers, and cartoon characters. Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue. If something is worth having, then taking your time and going through the process will make it that much more rewarding.

As impatient, overly energetic kids, we hated that. As adults, we still hate it to some extent. However, those inane words of wisdom have proven themselves valid time and again.

To some extent, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a been a decade-long exercise in patience. That patience has already paid off in so many ways with so many memorable moments, raising the bar for cinematic excellence every step of the way. After ten years of that process, though, how could it possibly vindicate all the patience?

Well, having seen “Avengers: Infinity War,” I’m comfortable saying that all the waiting, hype, and post-credits teasers was totally worth it. Never before has a movie come along that required so much build-up and so much connection from other films over such a lengthy period of time. Never before has a film franchise ever achieved such sustained, consistent success that has raked in billions for its Disney overlords.

By nearly every measure, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the culmination of all those efforts. It’s an effort that spans dozens of movies, made and re-birthed entire careers, and dared to tell the kind of story that required such a lengthy, elaborate process. It’s the kind of movie that, a decade ago, seemed impossible. Well, the impossible has been done and the results are nothing short of astounding.

Beyond the hype, setup, and process that went into making this movie, “Avengers: Infinity War” is a ride like no other. It’s not just about superheroes coming together to battle a common enemy. It’s not just about big battle scenes and witty quips between gods and talking raccoons. This is a movie with a powerful, impactful story that strikes so many emotional chords.

That may seem strange for a superhero movie, which have traditionally been big-budget spectacles meant to delight the inner child/fanboy in us all. The idea that a superhero movie could generate real drama and evoke powerful emotions almost seems like a subversion of the underlying appeal of the genre.

It’s for that reason that “Avengers: Infinity War” is so special. It doesn’t just build around the appeal of all these iconic characters, most of which are older than the actors and actresses playing them. It crafts a story that takes all the emotional stakes that had been set up in other movies and pushes them to the absolute limit.

The emotional journey that began in “Iron Man” and “The Avengers” comes to a head in a way that’s both definitive and powerful. There’s no more teasing surrounding Thanos, the Infinity Stones, and all the agendas surrounding them, many of which began in the earliest phases of the MCU. The stakes are clear, the threat is there, and the battles surrounding both are appropriately epic.

Beyond just the spectacle, though, “Avengers: Infinity War” succeeds in what might be the most important aspect for a movie of this scope and scale. The story and the high-octane clashes that fuel it all unfold in a way that makes the last decade of Marvel movies feel even more relevant.

Marvel big-wigs like Kevin Feige love to say it’s all connected. Well, “Avengers: Infinity War” strengthens those connections. Suddenly, the plots involving the infinity stones, going all the way back to “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” matter that much more.

All those plots gain much greater weight as Thanos fights to retrieve all six stones. Now, all the triumphs and failures of these characters more weight. These characters we’ve been cheering for and connecting with now have to push themselves beyond their limits. The end result is an experience that hits as hard as a punch by the Hulk.

Beyond the connections created by the past ten years of Marvel movies, “Avengers: Infinity War” succeeds in another important way. It crafts the conflict around a powerful, compelling villain. After seeing the movie, I think most would agree that Thanos really steals the show and not just because Josh Brolin’s voice gives us all the right shivers.

It was probably the biggest challenge of this movie, beyond having to build it around a decade of overarching plot points. This movie needed to make Thanos more than just a daunting threat. It had to make him compelling. Given his colorful history in the comics, that was more challenging than most non-comic fans realize.

Thanos needed to be adapted, to some extent, in order for him to work. He couldn’t just be this mad, death-obsessed monster. In a universe that has birthed compelling villains like Loki and Erik Killmonger, he has to have some level of complexity. “Avengers: Infinity War” gives him more than any CGI-generated character could ever hope for.

It’s not just that Thanos is menacing, powerful, and able to subdue the Hulk. It’s that he has a clear, unambiguous motivation. He’s very overt about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. What makes it all the more remarkable is that he finds a way to justify it that doesn’t come off as outright villainous. I would argue that he justifies his actions are better than any other villain in the MCU.

That doesn’t just make Thanos compelling, as both a character and a villain. It helps create moments that establish he’s not just some overwhelming force of evil. He’s a being who has feelings and emotions. Even in the comics, Thanos is a very emotion-driven character. The emotions, in this case, are directed towards something other than wanting to hook up with the living embodiment of death.

As menacing as Thanos is, though, he’s driven by his passions and those passions push him to the kinds of extremes that make all villains so dangerous. It’s not the same kind of greed and ego that makes Lex Luthor’s villainy so overt. As a result, the Avengers have to tap into their own passions to stop him.

This brings out the best in them as well. There are moments between Iron Man, Spider-Man, Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Starlord, Gamora, and Thor that really elevate the drama. There are moments of romance, building on romantic sub-plots from previous movies. There are moments of heart-wrenching loss, more so than any other Marvel movie to date. Most importantly, though, those moments carry weight and impact.

That, more than anything, is what makes “Avengers: Infinity War” a special cinematic experience that was worth waiting a decade for. To some extent, the movie makes clear that it needed those ten years to build up the drama and story. It also needed those ten years to make us, the audience, really care about all these characters. That way, when the final credits roll, we all feel the true breadth of that impact.

You could, in theory, still watch “Avengers: Infinity War” without having seen any other Marvel movie or superhero movie, in general. Even in that context, it’s still a great movie full of action, drama, and memorable moments featuring gods, super soldiers, and talking raccoons. However, without all the movies that came before it and all the connections from them, it just doesn’t carry the same weight.

If “Avengers: Infinity War” has any flaws, it’s that. To truly appreciate the impact of the movie, it’s necessary to know and somewhat care about the other movies in the MCU that helped set it up. Without that, the movie is just another spectacle. It’s still an amazing spectacle full of quality acting and stunning effects. It just relies so much on the foundation that other movies have crafted.

I’ve no problem saying that “Avengers: Infinity War” is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It may very well go onto become the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time. However, it’s not without flaws. They are very minor, but they are there.

If there’s one glaring flaw in this masterful superhero saga, though, it’s that the movie is clearly organized to be in two parts. Like “Kill Bill” or the latest “Star Wars” trilogy, the story is incomplete, by necessity. As a result, the ending feels abrupt. It’s still more impactful than gut punch by an army of Hulks, but it’s one of those endings that never comes off as an endpoint.

This movie is presented very much in the mold of “The Empire Strikes Back” in that it hits the heroes hard, allows the villains to make devastating gains, and really raises the stakes for the sequel. Just as that movie made you want to see Luke Skywalker battle Dearth Vader again, “Avengers: Infinity War” makes you want to see the Avengers take down Thanos.

There’s so many things to love about “Avengers: Infinity War” and what it managed to accomplish. It is definitely a historic achievement for movies and the superhero genre, as a whole. If I had to score it, I’d give it a 9.5 out of 10. It’s not perfect because it’s incomplete, but it’s as close to perfect as anything can get after ten years of build-up.

The wait was long and agonizing, but so worth it. The wait for “Avengers 4” will likely be agonizing as well, but Marvel Studios has made a glorious habit of rewarding such patience so I certainly don’t mind waiting. “Avengers: Infinity War” once again raised the bar. I look forward to seeing how Marvel and Disney raise it again.

3 Comments

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Movie Reviews

How To Do Romantic Sub-Plots Right (And Why Some Fail)

3586038c620fcc65ac400b9fc3bc86ca1

This will probably surprise no one who regularly visits this site, but I love romantic sub-plots. In many cases, they’re my favorite part of a movie, TV show, or comic book. I’ve made my love for romance in general fairly well-known, but romantic sub-plots offer a special kind of appeal.

Now, when I say romantic sub-plots, I’m not referring to the stories built solely around romance, like many of my novels. I’m referring to stories that are primarily presented as another genre, be it sci-fi, fantasy, or a blatant “Die Hard” rip-off, but include a secondary romantic story that runs parallel to the main story.

Sometimes, that story is subtle. Sometimes, it becomes a major catalyst for other parts of the main story. Sometimes, it just adds a little melodrama in between all the bigger, flashier conflicts. Watch pretty much any prime time show on the CW these days and you’ll see examples of every kind to some extent.

As much as I love these sub-plots, though, they can also be frustrating. For every romantic sub-plot I felt was handled well, I can think of five others that were horribly botched. On one end, you have the rich, balanced love story of Han Solo and Princess Leia in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. On the other, you’ve got the inherently toxic love story between Penny and Leonard in “The Big Bang Theory.”

There’s so much variety and diversity to romantic sub-plots that I could spend an entire weekend going through all of them. However, for the sake of making a more concise point, I want to focus on what makes a romantic sub-plot truly compelling. Regardless of genre, medium, or scope, a good romantic sub-plot can really enhance the overall plot.

Like every other sub-plot or storytelling tactic, though, romantic sub-plots are prone to all sorts of tropes, cliches, and traditions. Some are more useful than others. However, some can create obstacles and pitfalls that derail an otherwise promising romantic sub-plot.

While I don’t consider myself an expert on all the mechanisms that go into a good romantic sub-plot, I do know plenty of others out there who are far smarter than me and far more capable of explaining the subject in a more comprehensive way. They may not be experts either, but they know how to get the point across.

That’s where wonderful YouTube channels like Overly Sarcastic Productions come in. I’ve referenced it before in previous discussions about strong female characters, but it also provides other extensive breakdowns of various tropes and does it in a colorful, entertaining way, sometimes literally.

One such video in their Trope Talk series covers romantic sub-plots and the breakdown here is the best I’ve seen to date on what makes a good and not-so-good sub-plot. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch it. If nothing else, it should put some of your favorite and least favorite romantic sub-plots into a larger context.

There’s a lot of fast-talking, broad-based breakdowns of this trope, which the narrator freely admits she doesn’t fully understand. However, she demonstrates that she understands enough to point out what not to do when pursuing a romantic sub-plot on a fairly basic level. I want to go beyond basics.

The video singles out a few TV shows and cartoons where the romantic sub-plot falls flat, such as “The Legend of Korra” and “Castle.” In both cases, the sub-plot is very shallow in that it’s built entirely on the fact that a straight male and a straight female character work closely together. As such, they become romantically entangled.

Therein likes the most glaring problem, though. Just being two characters who work together is seen as sufficient to justify the sub-plot. As a result, there’s no effort to build meaningful chemistry between the characters. In some cases, there isn’t even an effort to establish whether they’re romantically compatible with one another.

This is probably the most common, not to mention the most annoying, problem that arises when romantic sub-plots enter a story. The sub-plot is given the bare minimum in terms of depth, relying on the audience to fill in the blanks as to why these two should be together.

This happens a lot in the superhero genre. Romantic sub-plots and soap operas are the cornerstone of some of the most iconic superhero comics, TV shows, and movies. One of the most epic examples, the Dark Phoenix Saga, is set to become a movie next year. However, I would argue that the superhero genre is most guilty of this common shortcoming.

Take, for instance, the first “Iron Man” movie and the romantic sub-plot between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. Never mind the fact that these two characters don’t have much of a romance in the comics. The first movie and the two successful sequels that follow do plenty to establish Tony and Pepper as the primary romance of the story. However, it does little to show why these two belong together.

The same thing happens with Thor and Jane Foster in the first two “Thor” movies. Unlike Iron Man, the comics establish a more robust romantic history between these two. The movies, however, do little to drawn from this history. They rely solely on the fact that Thor spends a little time around Jane, she’s attracted to him, and that’s all that’s necessary for the romance to unfold.

Again, it’s shallow in that it relies too heavily on the audience to fill in the gaps of chemistry and compatibility. For any functional romance, those gaps are pretty big. Just getting together is only a small part of that process and the story around it. Movies like “Thor” and “Iron Man” give the impression that just being around each other long enough is sufficient. These characters don’t have to actually work on their romance.

Compare that to the much more developed romances in the superhero genre, such as Barry and Iris in “The Flash” TV show. In that romance, just getting together isn’t the end of the story. It’s just part of it. Barry and Iris actually work, struggle, sacrifice, and even argue at times, but that’s exactly what makes their relationship so meaningful.

Outside the superhero genre, there are other ways the romantic sub-plot gets derailed in a way that’s more annoying than entertaining. I think “Friends” was one of the worst offenders with Ross and Rachel because almost the entirety of the sub-plot was built around them struggling to get together. Sure, the process of two people coming together can be compelling, but that can’t be the whole story.

Movies tend to struggle with it even more, but mostly due to logistical reasons. There’s only so much romantic development you can squeeze into a two or three hour movie. However, it can be done. Despite being brief and tragic, the sub-plot of Sarah Conners and Kyle Reese in the original “Terminator” movie showed that it is possible for a romantic sub-plot to be meaningful within those limitations.

Far more often, though, movies try to rush a sub-plot or outright force it. That’s part of what makes any romance hard to take seriously. In a movie like “Jurassic World,” where you have two very different characters in Claire and Owen, it really has to be forced because outside the plot of the movie, it’s hard to imagine these two having a meaningful relationship.

In some respects, that’s a good litmus test for any romantic sub-plot. If you can’t see the characters involved functioning outside the plot of the movie, then chances are the romantic sub-plot is fundamentally flawed. It’s easy to imagine iconic couples like Superman and Lois Lane, Cyclops and Jean Grey, or even Allie and Noah in “The Notebook” enjoying a functional relationship past the final credits.

Even for couples where it’s harder to picture them outside a conflict, it helps when a romantic sub-plot still puts in extra effort to make the romance believable. While this is a challenge in movies, TV, and comics, I’ve actually seen this handled a lot better in modern video games.

Romantic sub-plots are important elements of popular games like the “Uncharted” series. What makes that sub-plot effective, though, is how much time and energy is put into establishing why a man like Nathan Drake would be with a woman like Elena Fisher. It even goes out of its way to show how these two characters create a genuinely functional relationship towards the end.

While it might be a bit of a stretch, I would also cite the “Mass Effect” series that I’ve praised before in how well it handles romantic sub-plots. Now, it’s a stretch because the game is structured in a way where the player can choose a particular romantic sub-plot or choose to not have one at all. That makes the story a lot more fluid than a movie or TV show, but it still manages to create depth for a sub-plot.

That depth shows, regardless of which romantic sub-plot the player chooses. Whether it’s Shepard and Liara, Shepard and Ashley, or Shepard and Garrus, the game provides opportunities for depth and development. If you follow the sub-plot through to the end, the romance has genuine dramatic weight.

In the end, that’s the most important impact of any romantic sub-plot. When done right, it adds greater weight to the overall narrative. It creates an emotional dimension that goes beyond just achieving a goal or surviving a conflict. It fleshes out the emotions, passions, and desires of the characters involved.

Conversely, it can really disrupt the plot when done wrong. I’ve already covered how the worst love triangle in history derailed the X-men movies. Talk to any “Star Wars” fan and they’ll probably say the poor romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme was the most disappointing part of the prequels not named Jar Jar Binks.

To some extent, a romantic sub-plot is a gamble. It stretches the odds, but it also increases the payout. When it fails, it can fail pretty spectacularly. When it works, though, it can make for some of the most dramatic, passionate moments in a story. As an unapologetic romance lover, I say it’s a gamble worth taking.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, human nature, Love Or Obsession, Marriage and Relationships, movies, romance, sex in media

When (And When Not) To Listen To Fan Backlash

et_rian_johnson_041417_hulu_2

In Hollywood, there’s somewhat of a paradox when it comes to ego. You need to have a certain amount of arrogance to believe you can make the kinds of movies that fans, critics, and executives who love swimming in pools of cash all love. At the same time, you also need to be humble enough to know when your ideas are crap.

I’ve been writing almost daily since I was 15-years-old. I’m humble enough to know that I’ve written some pretty crappy things in that time. However, I’m also arrogant enough to believe that I have many great stories to tell, some of which I put in my novels and some of which I put in sexy short stories.

It’s a bit easier for someone like me because I’m not a famous director, artist, or novelist just yet. I can still walk down the street without body guards and not be harassed by fans or stalkers. For someone like Rian Johnson, though, I imagine it takes a very different blend of arrogance and humility to navigate the creative process.

I’m sure that blend has been more erratic than usual for the past several months for Mr. Johnson. There’s already a sizable contingent of Star Wars fans who see him the same way Batman fans see Joel Shumacher after “Batman and Robin.” To say fans had mixed reactions to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” would be the most polite way of saying that these have been the most difficult times for those fans since the days of Jar Jar Binks.

While I made my sentiments on the movie clear last year, I don’t deny that fans have some legitimate gripes about the movie. There are indeed times when it feels like the movie is trying to push an agenda and it doesn’t push it very well. There are also fairly sizable plot holes that are difficult to overlook, which may also reflect some creative upheavals that occurred behind the scenes.

Regardless of how you feel about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” or the criticism surrounding it, there’s no denying that it had issues. That was going to happen, regardless of how the movie turned out. However, it’s the way Mr. Johnson reacted to those issues that’s most revealing here. It’s also somewhat of a lesson in both arrogance and humility.

Since the film’s release, Rian Johnson hasn’t been willfully ignorant about fan criticisms. To his credit, he hasn’t resorted to name-calling or scoffing. He’s been fairly diplomatic, for the most part. In an interview with Business Insider, this was his primary response.

Having been a “Star Wars” fan my whole life, and having spent most of my life on the other side of the curb and in that fandom, it softens the blow a little bit.

I’m aware through my own experience that, first of all, the fans are so passionate, they care so deeply — sometimes they care very violently at me on Twitter. But it’s because they care about these things, and it hurts when you’re expecting something specific and you don’t get it from something that you love. It always hurts, so I don’t take it personally if a fan reacts negatively and lashes out on me on Twitter. That’s fine. It’s my job to be there for that. Like you said, every fan has a list of stuff they want a “Star Wars” movie to be and they don’t want a “Star Wars” movie to be. You’re going to find very few fans out there whose lists line up.

And I also know the same way the original movies were personal for Lucas. Lucas never made a “Star Wars” movie by sitting down and thinking, “What do the fans want to see?” And I knew if I wrote wondering what the fans would want, as tempting as that is, it wouldn’t work, because people would still be shouting at me, “F— you, you ruined ‘Star Wars,'” and I would make a bad movie. And ultimately, that’s the one thing nobody wants.

And let me just add that 80-90% of the reaction I’ve gotten from Twitter has been really lovely. There’s been a lot of joy and love from fans. When I talk about the negative stuff, that’s not the full picture of the fans at all.

While I agree with most of what Mr. Johnson said, it’s the bold parts that I find most questionable. It’s at that point where Mr. Johnson goes from being diplomatic to showing signs of the kind of arrogance that undercuts criticism, as a whole.

First off, the idea that George Lucas never made the original “Star Wars” with fans in mind is an unfair comparison. For one, that movie had no fan base to build from and no fans to please. Moreover, Lucas purposefully employed the kind of hero’s journey narrative that had been pleasing fans for centuries. The fact that Luke Skywalker’s story fits Joseph Campbell’s heroic archetype to the letter is not a coincidence.

Secondly, the passions of fans aren’t just built around wanting to see more light saber battles and/or Princess Leia in a bikini. Fans may be unruly and unreasonable at times, but they are the ones that make franchises like Star Wars so successful. They’re the ones who wait in line at the theaters, dress up at comic cons, and spark heated discussions on message boards.

The fans matter is what I’m saying. When there’s an obvious disparity between what the fans are saying and what critics are saying, then there are clearly larger forces at work that go beyond fans being petty. That’s when backlash becomes more than just complaining.

It’s one thing for a handful of fans to overly scrutinize a movie. It’s quite another when there’s a large contingent of fans express a wide variety of concerns, ranging from agenda-pushing to real gaps in the plot. That kind of variety implies that there were missteps beyond not making clear whether Han or Greedo shoot first.

When the criticisms don’t have to get that petty, it’s usually a sign that you should grit your teeth, thicken your skin, and sift through the anger and outrage to see what didn’t work in the final product. Doing so doesn’t mean admitting that you’re a bad director or artist. It just means that you’re willing to take in criticism and learn from it.

Rian Johnson, as well-mannered as he has been since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came out, never gives the impression that he, an admitted fan, took the criticisms of fans too seriously. It was akin to getting information from a test screening and completely throwing it out, something movies often do at their own peril.

It’s one thing to have a vision that you want to see through. I certainly felt that way when I wrote some of my novels. It’s quite another when that vision becomes so rigid that you stop listening to people trying to tell you that parts of it are flawed. Mr. Johnson seemed to ignore those flaws while listening to those who told him what he wanted to hear. Being a successful Hollywood type, that’s kind of unavoidable.

That’s also why maintaining a sense of humility is so important. I never assume that a vision that I have for a novel or short story is inherently flawless. In fact, I work under the assumption that it’s crap and needs refinement. The creative process itself is always ongoing and anyone who isn’t trying to improve their craft is dooming themselves to stagnation. Listening to fans, even annoying ones, is part of that process.

Now, I don’t know Rian Johnson and won’t pretend to understand the kind of pressure he faced from Disney to make “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” another billion-dollar hit. I also won’t pretend to understand what it feels like to see all sorts of hateful comments about how he ruined an iconic franchise. That takes thick skin that not a lot of people have.

However, when there’s an obvious disconnect between your vision and the sentiments of fans, one that is backed up by more than a handful of mean tweets, then ignoring the backlash is one of the worst things you can do. Trolls can be mean, but at a certain point, blaming trolls is no more credible than blaming the Illuminati.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Rian Johnson, it’s that there are times when backlash is an unavoidable part of the creative process and there are times when it’s a sign that there’s a flaw in that process. The signs were there for Mr. Johnson. He chose to ignore them in the name of pursuing his own vision and arrogantly believing that it would work.

That arrogance isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of creativity, but it is a major risk and the fan backlash implies that the risk didn’t entirely pay off. J. J. Abrams played it safe in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” sticking to the tried and true formula that the original trilogy made so iconic. While it also had its share of criticism, it was minor and narrow compared to what Mr. Johnson got with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

The fact that J. J. Abrams is coming back to direct the next Star Wars movie is another sign that there was more than just trolling behind the backlash surrounding “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” While I still enjoyed the movie, personally, I believe the movie would’ve benefited by listening to the fans.

For Mr. Johnson and Mr. Abrams, I don’t envy the difficult position they’re in, having to direct the path of such an iconic franchise. However, if I could offer them any feedback whatsoever, it would be this. Fans are usually pretty forgiving. If Star Wars fans can forgive Jar Jar Binks, then they can forgive the flaws in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” It just takes one solid story that reminds fans why they love Star Wars in the first place.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, movies, Star Wars

“X-Men: Dark Phoenix” DELAYED Until 2019 (Along With Several Other Movies)

SophieJean2

I normally try not to report the news too much on this blog, unless it’s extremely urgent or extremely sexy. Sadly, this is more in line with the former rather than the latter.

Just this morning, Entertainment Weekly reported that “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is being delayed until 2019. It had been originally scheduled for release this coming November, just in time for the holidays, no less. I even went out of my way to explain why I’m more excited for this movie than I am “Avengers: Infinity War.” It now seems I’ll have to temper that excitement.

Thankfully, unlike a few other movies that keep getting delayed, this change doesn’t seem to have much to do with the movie itself and has more to do with Fox’s scheduling. “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” is just one of several Fox movies getting delayed or pushed up, some of which aren’t related to superhero movies, including the upcoming biopic on Freddy Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

While it’s still only minor comfort for me, as a comic book fan and an X-men fan desperate to erase memories of “X3,” I’m willing to be patient for this movie. To see Sophie Turner do justice to one of the greatest X-men stories of all time is definitely worth waiting for.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, X-men

Tomb Raider Review: A Moderate Leap, But Major Progress

dvxtpgiv4aaihbu

Earlier this year, I expressed a sincere hope that the new “Tomb Raider” movie would finally do something that no other video game movie had managed to do. I hoped that it would be to video game movies what the original “X-men” was to modern superhero movies. I’d even hoped that Lara Croft could be to video game characters what “Wonder Woman” was to female superheroes.

That last one might have been hoping for too much, but I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see Hollywood get at least one movie based on a video game really right. Between the lackluster “Resident Evil” movies and the god-awful “Super Mario Bros,” the genre is overdue for a hit.

I get that there are challenges associated with making a movie out of a video game. However, Lara Croft and “Tomb Raider” is in a better position than most. It’s a franchise that has an iconic character who has built a strong fanbase over the course of two decades. The fact that she’s a strong, sexy female character at a time when the appetite for such characters is greater than ever works even more to her benefit.

While Lara Croft’s sex appeal has been controversial in recent years, she’s still a great character whose games already have a very cinematic feel. Having played her 2013 game multiple times, I can attest to the strength of that narrative. It has all the necessary elements that translate well to a movie.

This movie, being a franchise that has already attempted twice with Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s to mixed success, seems to make a better effort than most to succeed where so many have fail. This version of “Tomb Raider” works hard to tell a real, serious story on par with that of any other successful action franchise. It tries to do this while still incorporating elements of the game into the narrative.

It’s ambitious and sincere. It also helps that it cast Alicia Vikander, an Oscar-winning actress whose brilliance and sex appeal in “Ex Machina” made her well-suited to the role. Criticisms of her having the necessary boobs for the role aside, Ms. Vikander can act and be sexy in her own right. It’s only a matter of whether she can channel that talent into making “Tomb Raider” succeed where so many others have failed.

Well, having seen the movie on its opening weekend, I’d like to offer my assessment on this matter. While I’ll always be haunted, to some extent, by terrible video game movies like “Super Mario Bros,” I went in feel genuinely hopeful for this movie. I was also bracing myself, knowing as well as anyone the history of video game movies.

With that mentality going into the theater, I eagerly gave “Tomb Raider” and Alicia Vikander the benefit of the doubt. By the time I came out of the theater, I was able to come to a simple conclusion, albeit one with a few caveats.

Yes, this is a good movie, but it’s not a game-changer.

It’s true. “Tomb Raider” is an genuinely good video game movie. I honestly didn’t think I would ever be able to say that with a straight face in my lifetime, but I can and it’s worth saying again. This is a good movie.

By that, I mean the movie has a concise, well-crafted story from start to finish. The movie establishes who Lara Croft is, what she’s dealing with, and what kind of person she is. The plot isn’t too messy. The effects aren’t too cheesy. The acting is actually good and not just from Ms. Vikander. Everyone in this movie seems to make a real, honest effort.

Like the 2013 video game, the movie follows a young, inexperienced Lara Croft who has yet to become the sexy badass that went onto inspire so much lurid fan art. However, by the end of the movie, you can already see traces of that sexy badass growing within her. As a character, she grows and evolves over the course of the movie. Watching her grow and seeing her struggle at times is genuinely compelling.

The story and the details surrounding it are tight and well-organized. At no point in the movie is there a scene that feels random, contrived, or forced. The events that unfold happen organically, from Lara getting arrested early in the movie to unlocking the secrets to an ancient tomb on the hidden island of Yamatai. Nothing ever just happens. There’s a rhyme and rhythm to the story.

It’s a story that is not bland or predictable, even to those who played the 2013 game multiple times, like I did. The movie downplays some of the more mystical elements of Lara Croft’s mythos, but still incorporates plenty of the over-the-top machinations that Tomb Raider and “Indiana Jones” fans alike can appreciate.

However, it’s that effort to make the movie feel less fanciful that, in my opinion, keeps it from being the kind of game-changing movie that “X-men” and “Wonder Woman” were. While “Tomb Raider” qualifies as a good movie, it doesn’t do enough to be a truly great movie.

This movie, in many respects, plays it safe. While it puts Lara through plenty of tough situations, things never get too dire for her. She’s allowed to suffer and endure wounds, but only to a point. Others, including her father as played by Dominic West, arguably endure a whole lot more.

Safe or not, it’s understandable that the movie wouldn’t try to do too much all at once. Movies that do that tend to get messy, as many recent Michael Bay films can attest. I think “Tomb Raider” did the right thing, playing it safe and keeping things simple. It left some of its potential on the table, but did plenty to leave much of that potential available for future sequels.

That’s somewhat of a gamble, though. Too many movies, these days, are made solely with sequels in mind and sometimes that assumes too much. Anyone who saw “Green Lantern” or “The Mummy” can attest to that. At least with “Tomb Raider,” the ending and the revelations it offers actually leave you feeling excited for a sequel.

That’s a gamble that may or may not pay off. I’m aware that this movie did not exactly set the box office on fire, especially in a market still dominated by “Black Panther.” However, it did manage to pull in some decent numbers overseas and that might give this movie the fuel it needs to become a full-fledged franchise.

Again, the movie does have flaws. If you go into “Tomb Raider” looking for reasons to hate it, you’ll find them. If you think Ms. Vikander wasn’t sexy enough, you’ll find points in the movie to vindicate that. Conversely, if you think Ms. Vikander was too sexy and her portrayal in this movie is contributing to sexism and the objectification of women, you’ll find instances of that too.

If, however, you go in hoping for a good, coherent movie that tells a compelling, dramatic story, you’ll find that “Tomb Raider” delivers. In fact, I would argue that it delivers in ways no video game movie has ever managed before. It doesn’t do quite enough to be a new “Wonder Woman,” but it achieves far more than any previous video game movie has ever dared.

If I were to score this movie, I would give it a solid 8 out of 10 or a 7.5 out of 10 at the lowest. “Tomb Raider” has an opportunity to redefine a maligned movie genre and it succeeds. With other movies like “Rampage” coming out this year, the situation is ripe for a new generation of video game movies that aren’t terrible.

Whether your a fan of the games, a fan of action movies, or just looking for a great female character played by someone other than Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johansson, “Tomb Raider” will give you plenty to enjoy. It may still be a while before we can relegate movies like “Super Mario Bros” to the same dusty bin as “Batman and Robin,” but “Tomb Raider” offers a critical first step.

Leave a comment

Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Movie Reviews, sex in media, video games

The Mixed (And Misguided) Messages Of All-Female Movie Remakes

1436573990_ghostbusters-zoom

There are some topics that I really want to comment on, but the rhetoric surrounding it are so hostile and so controversial that I feel like any comment I make will put way too big a target on my back. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has talked about issues like abortionreligious extremism, and Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins.

In general, if I want to contribute to the conversation, I try to wait until the heat dies down and the Twitter bans subside. Sometimes, that takes a long time, so much so that I’m tempted to just drop the issue altogether. For this one, though, I think there’s no use waiting because it’s a trend now and the controversies associated with it are here to stay.

It seems so long ago now, but when I first heard that there would be a new “Ghostbusters” movie with an all-female cast, I was genuinely intrigued. I was not among those who thought this was the worst idea ever and that this was somehow ruining my childhood, as some upset fans had claimed.

Maybe it’s because I’m not as big a Ghostbusters fan as I am an X-men fan, but I didn’t mind the novel/gimmicky approach that director Paul Feig attempted. The long-rumored Ghostbusters 3 wasn’t happening. The original cast couldn’t get it off the ground and Bill “Peter Venkman” Murray had made clear that he had no interest in reprising his role. Why not try something different to reinvigorate the franchise?

It could’ve been a bold new approach to Ghostbusters. A fresh take, a new cast, and an infusion of female-centered star power could’ve really kick-started a whole new trend, one that both elevated long-dormant franchises and expanded the role of female characters, a trend that had already begun.

Then, the trailer came out and those possibilities became much more remote. While I, personally, didn’t despise it, I was considerably less intrigued. The fact that the trailer went onto become the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube speaks volumes for how poorly this otherwise-novel concept came off.

I had originally intended to see the movie when it came out. Then, as new clips came out and I got a sense of how the story would unfold, I decided not to. When it finally came out on cable, I tried watching it. I ended up changing the channel. It’s not that I hated the movie. It just had none of the appeal I’d hoped.

I know that’s somewhat petty considering the many controversies the movie generated, complete with sexism, racism, and everything else that sets the internet ablaze these days. As soon as professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos got involved, I saw that as a sign that this was one of those controversies that would transcend movies for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t know if enough time has passed for the animosity to settle, but in reflecting on the controversies of “Ghostbusters,” I feel the time is right to confront it. Regardless of whether it succeeded or failed, it effectively kick-started the idea of all-female remakes. That’s an idea that I think still has merit, but the approach and overall message of “Ghostbusters” make clear that the Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

In a sense, the problem with “Ghostbusters” is similar to the ongoing problems with strong female characters in general. From the parts I saw, the approach to that movie was shallow and crass in that it painted nearly every male supporting character a bumbling idiot in need of female guidance. This was especially true of Kevin, the dim-witted secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.

I get that some of that approach was an effort to inject the kind of humor that made the original Ghostbusters so funny and memorable, but it really fell flat, almost to an insulting degree. It reinforced the notion men somehow need to be denigrated or taken down a peg for female characters to be strong.

While it didn’t offend me, personally, it certainly undermined the story. A world full of idiot men isn’t that bad. That’s a huge part of the appeal for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” However, that kind of appeal doesn’t fit with that of Ghostbusters.

Beyond just making all the men seem like idiots, the way in which the all-female cast brought little nuance to their roles. They were just four women pasted into four roles previously played by men. That’s it. They brought nothing new to the table. I say that as someone who really likes Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, but I know they’re capable of far more than they gave in this movie.

If the intent was to show that women could work these roles just as well as men, then that’s the wrong goal, especially for a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters. That effort denigrates both men and women because it doesn’t send the message that they’re equals. It sends the message that they’re interchangeable, disposable, and not the least bit unique.

The original cast of Ghostbusters had unique, quirky personalities that were memorable and iconic. The all-female cast had some of that, especially Leslie Jones’ character, but not nearly enough. Too much of it was built around the persona these actresses had already established in other roles. They really didn’t do anything to set themselves apart other than fill a role once held by a man.

That can’t be the only thing an all-female cast brings to the table. Just being women cannot and should not be enough to carry a story or revitalize a franchise. It’s true that men and women have various character archetypes, some of which are more distinct than others, but there has to be room for innovation.

Great female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rey from “Star Wars,” or Sarah Conner from “The Terminator,” do a lot more than just do things men usually do while being women. They’re allowed to exercise their feminine traits every now and then. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters never got that chance. They tried too hard to be like the originals and it just didn’t work.

I won’t say that “Ghostbusters” utterly ruined the concept of remaking movies with an all-female casts. The movie wasn’t that bad. It just didn’t do nearly enough to make it really good. It didn’t kill a genre like “Batman and Robin” almost did with superhero movies. It does count as a setback, though.

It’s one I hope Hollywood learns from because, at the moment, there are similar movies in development. The latest, which I admit I’m also intrigued by, is “Ocean’s 8.” Unlike “Ghostbusters,” it’s not a complete remake and it doesn’t try to replace the entire cast of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It’s following a similar narrative, but using an all-female cast to tell the story.

While this franchise isn’t as iconic as “Ghostbusters,” it’s still bound to cause plenty of controversy and heated debates on sexism. However, based on the trailer, I’m intrigued once more. I know that burned me last time, but I’m still willing to give it a chance.

I still believe that all-female casts, even for non-remakes of major movie franchises, have great potential. Women do make up half the population, last I checked. They have plenty of stories to tell. If “Ocean’s 8” can succeed where “Ghostbusters” failed, then that can revitalize the concept. As Hollywood has shown before, it only needs to work once to start a trend.

I believe the concept will succeed once these movies stop trying to troll certain audiences and focus on building new perspectives within a story. The perspective of women is supposed to complement that of men, not subvert it. If a movie can succeed in that, then it can truly appeal to everyone.

1 Comment

Filed under gender issues, Movie Reviews, sex in media, sexuality