Tag Archives: movies

Why “Bad Santa” Is The Greatest Modern Christmas Movie

44a1258c-3534-4b88-9623-312728e91f59-2f020c3e

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Reason #2: It Relies On Choices Rather Than Miracles

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Reason #4: It Offers Perspective Rather Than Hope

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

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

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

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

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


Reason #5: It Finds Humor In Bad Situations

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

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

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

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


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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, human nature, Movie Reviews, movies, nihilism, philosophy

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

spider-man-into-the-spider-verse-et00066988-11-12-2017-11-33-21

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

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

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

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

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

It’s this kid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marvel, Movie Reviews, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies

Marveling At The Second “Captain Marvel” Trailer

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

1 Comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, movies, superhero comics, 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.

1 Comment

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

How Captain Marvel Can Be The Future Of The MCU (And How It Can Go Horribly Wrong)

558759l

When a team is on an epic winning streak, it creates the perception that they have some supernatural ability to defy the law of averages and bend reality to their will. It happened to the 2007 New England Patriots. It happened to the 2016 Golden State Warriors. They had this aura of invincibility that made it seem as though they could never lose.

That made their eventual loss, both in championship games no less, that much more painful. However, I would argue that the winning aura of those teams pales in comparison to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If the MCU were a sports team, it would include the likes of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and Muhammad Ali in their primes and on crack.

To say that Marvel’s movie franchises are on a winning streak would be like saying a hungry lion has a slight edge over a wounded squirrel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t just made superhero movies the gold standard of the box office by raking in $16.8 billion worldwide to date. It has set the bar so high that even close rivals have essentially given up.

Disney, Marvel Studios, and Kevin Feige are riding higher than anyone thought possible, especially for those who still have nightmares about “Batman and Robin.” With both “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” breaking a fresh round of records this year, it seems as though that winning streak is only accelerating.

I say all this not just to belabor how much the MCU has accomplished over the past ten years. I say it as a fan who loves Marvel comics and wants to see it keep winning. However, even with “Avengers 4” set to come out next year and make another couple billion, I believe this streak of superhero movie excellence is vulnerable.

It’s no secret that “Avengers 4” will likely mark the end of an era. Kevin Feige has gone on record as saying that this movie will act as an endgame, of sorts. While makes clear that the MCU will continue, with movies planned out until 2025, he also indicates that there will be major upheavals.

That’s somewhat necessary because with the conclusion of “Avengers 4,” many of the contracts for MCU stalwarts like Robert Downy Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth are set to expire. While it’s possible that some may find a way to keep going, others like Chris Evans have made clear that their time in the MCU is almost over.

That means for the MCU to continue its winning streak, it needs to move forward with new characters, new actors, and new ideas. It has to find a way to keep this world moving forward, potentially without the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. That’s a huge challenge, even for a franchise on an unprecedented winning streak, and the comics have already failed to fill those voids.

That’s where Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers comes in. If you saw the post-credits scene for “Avengers: Infinity War,” you know why she’s about to become very relevant to the MCU. I’ve talked about her before and established how things could easily go wrong with her upcoming movie. I imagine I’ll have a lot more to talk about in the coming months.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Carol Danvers and her upcoming movie, which is slated for release in March 2018, is the most important movie in the history of the genre. I believe this movie may very well determine whether the winning streak of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues or finally falters.

I say that as someone who loves Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Back in 2012, Kelly Sue DeConnick effectively reinvented the character in a way that convinced me that she deserves a prominent role in any Marvel universe. In my opinion, she’s essentially Marvel’s version Wonder Woman.

Her movie has so much going for it. “Wonder Woman” established that female superhero movies could be a hit at the box office and garner critical acclaim, despite the scars left by “Catwoman.” On some levels, “Captain Marvel” is facing a lot less pressure and it has the momentum of “Avengers: Infinity War” behind it.

However, the stakes are actually higher for this movie compared to everything “Wonder Woman” faced. Recently, Kevin Feige stated that Carol Danvers will be the new face of the MCU. From a purely logistical standpoint, that makes sense. The MCU needs a new unifying force if Chris Evans’ Captain America is to make his final stand in “Avengers 4.”

I believe Carol can pull it off, as well. She has taken on more leadership roles in the comics and has become a central member of the Avengers’ main team. Combine that with Brie Larson’s charisma and Carol Danvers has all the tools she needs to keep the MCU’s winning streak going.

I believe she can do this simply by being the kind of character that Kelly Sue DeConnick molded six years ago. That version of Carol Danvers emerged from years of being a secondary character in Ms. Marvel who rarely got a chance to achieve the same recognition as her peers. She’s a classic case of a character who elevated themselves by embracing a new identity, a new purpose, and greater ambition.

DeConnick established Carol as someone who achieves so much in one field, but dares to seek greater challenges beyond. She contributed to the Avengers for years, but never pursued a greater vision until she became Captain Marvel. That idea of someone looking to the stars, seeking to achieve more, and pursuing it with unmatched drive is what will help her succeed in ways on par with Wonder Woman.

At the same time, though, there are potential risks and Captain Marvel may be more vulnerable to them than Wonder Woman. While Kelly Sue DeConnick did a lot to reinvent Carol Danvers for a new era, she has faltered somewhat. Recent events in the comics have put her heroic merits into question for all the wrong reasons. Some of Brie Larson’s politically-charged rhetoric hasn’t helped either.

To some extent, Carol’s reputation has faltered because in elevating her status in the comics, she has been hit with the dreaded Galbrush Paradox. The quirks that DeConnick introduced, such as Carol being a Star Wars fan and having a love interest in James Rhodes, have eroded in recent years. In addition, even her artistic depictions have devolved by reducing her feminine features for no apparent reason.

In wake of the vitriol that Star Wars received for its portrayal of female characters, I worry that “Captain Marvel” runs the risk of inviting a similar backlash. If Carol Danvers is not sufficiently compelling, she runs the risk of getting hit with the Mary Sue label that has plagued Rey since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The worse case scenario, in my opinion, involves turning Carol Danvers into a Captain America or Iron Man stand-in. In the absence of these iconic characters, and their top name actors, Feige and those at Marvel Studios may be tempted to make her too much like them. That would be a huge mistake, especially for an organization on such a huge winning streak.

Carol Danvers is not Steve Rogers, nor is she Tony Stark. She’s not just a woman who takes on a man’s role either. She’s still a woman and, especially under DeConnick, her womanly traits were on display alongside her more badass features. It’s not groundbreaking because Wonder Woman struck just the right balance, having her fight alongside men while still acting like a woman.

In the best case scenario, Carol Danvers follows Wonder Woman’s example and establishes herself as someone worthy of carrying the MCU forward. Unlike Rey, she’s a character with plenty of compelling lore to work with. The key is finding the right blend that’ll help her fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

At this point, without a trailer and only a few teases to go on, it could go either way for “Captain Marvel.” It could be the next in a long line of successes or it could be the MCU’s first failure. To date, Kevin Feige and those at Marvel Studios have shown time and again that they know what they’re doing.

Hell, they took an obscure series involving a talking raccoon and made it a global brand. Until they show they’re capable of screwing up, I’ll continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, though, I think it’s worth bracing for that inevitable setback. All winning streaks come to an end. I just hope “Captain Marvel” isn’t the one that ends it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, media issues, movies, superhero movies

How Negative Expectations May Ruin “X-men: Dark Phoenix” (For The Wrong Reasons)

SophieJean1

There’s an important, but understated difference between negative expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expectations are like reflexes. They’re somewhat involuntary, reflecting our assumptions and understanding of a situation. A self-fulfilling prophecy involves actual effort. Whether intentional or not, it guides our perceptions in a particular direction, one often associated with a particular bias.

To some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy is akin to self-hypnosis. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of a particular outcome that to consider otherwise would be downright shocking, if not distressing. That’s why it’s so difficult, at times, to escape a particular expectation, especially if it’s negative.

I bring up expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies because they do plenty to shape our reactions and attitudes, especially in the media we consume. For better or for worse, often varying from person to person, we tend to determine how much we enjoy something before we even experience it.

Sometimes, it works to the benefit of a particular movie, video game, or TV show. The powerful brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built heavily on the expectations that a long list of quality, well-received movies have established. Conversely, the DCEU struggles with negative expectations, thanks largely to a catalog of movies that have failed to consistently deliver.

Then, there’s “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It’s a movie for which I’ve made my passion and my excitement very clear over the past year. It’s also a movie that is in the midst of an emerging crisis. It’s not the kind that involves negative press, actors melting down on set, or sordid sex scandals, for once. Instead, it’s an issue that involves negative expectations that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As big an X-men fan as I am, I don’t deny that the X-men franchise is not on the same level it was in the early 2000s when it dominated the box office alongside Spider-Man. Even though I loved “X-men: Apocalypse,” I can’t deny it under-performed and underwhelmed.

Despite that, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has more going for it. It’s attempting to tell the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most iconic X-men story ever told. Moreover, it’s attempting to tell that story after it botched it horribly in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Even the director, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying that he wants to “X-men: Dark Phoenix” to succeed where the last one failed.

Given how rare that kind of humility is in Hollywood these days, X-men fans and fans of superhero movies in general have every reason to expect better things from this movie. Given how low the bar is after “X-men: The Last Stand,” I’m more optimistic than I dare to be when it comes to comic book movies.

Unfortunately, that sense of optimism seems to beg getting less and less prevalent. Whether due to the underwhelming performance of “X-men: Apocalypse” or a growing impatience to see the X-men join the MCU after the Disney/Fox merger is complete, there’s a general sentiment that this movie is going to be bad.

I see it on popular YouTube channels. I see in the many comic book message boards I frequent. The overall consensus is that this is a Marvel movie that isn’t part of the MCU. Therefore, it’s going to be terrible. That is, by every measure, a terrible excuse to dismiss a movie, especially when we haven’t even seen a trailer.

To make matters worse, a recent string of leaks from an alleged test screening revealed details that have only fueled those negative expectations. For reasons that I’ll make clear in a moment, I won’t list the details of those links. I will, however, offer a direct quote that aptly sums up the prevailing attitude for this movie.

“I do believe some things won’t change. What can’t change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good.”

This news, if accurate, is not encouraging to anyone hoping to see a well-done Dark Phoenix Saga on the big screen. To make matters worse, those who already had negative expectations about this movie have even more excuses to resent it.

As I’ve noted before, people tend to cling to excuses that justify their preconceived notions. It doesn’t even matter if the excuse is true. Once they have it, they cling to it. It’s usually not done out of malice. It’s just a lot easier to keep thinking what you’ve already thought rather than adjust your expectations.

In this case those, the story surrounding the leaks has already confirmed to be untrue. That leak came from a Reddit post, of all things, which is akin to getting your news from 4chan. On top of that, and this is a testament to Reddit’s users, the mods have stated outright that the user was not credible. This is an exact quote.

Apparently test screen guy is Atlanta Filming, created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks. Trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be “the only legit source”.

If that weren’t telling enough, it was already announced back in March that the movie was going to undergo reshoots in August. Now thanks to “Justice League,” reshoots have gotten a bad name, but they’re a fairly common practice. Even the heavily-hyped, positively-perceived “Avengers 4” is scheduled for reshoots.

Even if those leaks were accurate, chances are the cut of the movie shown at test screenings isn’t the final cut. Kinberg himself has said that the reshoots are intended to shore up the final product, as one would expect of any piece of art. It sounds so reasonable and logical.

That still doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t change the expectations. This movie still isn’t meeting the impossible set of criteria that fans spoiled by the MCU have so unreasonably set. It’s not in the MCU, nor is it being guided by Kevin Feige. Therefore, it must be terrible.

It’s unfair, unreasonable, and just plain asinine to judge “X-men: Dark Phoenix” by those standards, especially with reshoots to come and no official trailer. At this point, the negative expectations are so heavy that they’re starting to sound more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With that being the case, I feel like I can predict the reactions from people once the trailer drops. Sure, there will be some like me who are eager to give this movie a chance after what happened with “X-men: The Last Stand,” but I think there will be more comments like this.

“It’s not the MCU. I’ll pass.”

“X-men Apocalypse sucked! I’m not even giving this one a chance.”

“To hell with this movie! Just let Marvel have the rights back already! Fox can’t do anything right!”

Now, far be it from me to defend Fox, the same company that gave us “Wolverine: Origins,” but these are all intensely petty reasons to judge a movie. I say that as someone who is guilty of setting low expectations for movies, cartoons, comics, and TV shows. Hindsight has done plenty to reveal which of those were the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. That still doesn’t make the expectations any less absurd.

Even for those who aren’t just ardently opposed to any superhero movie that isn’t a product of the MCU, I think I can predict the criticisms they’ll probably levy against this movie even after it comes out. Chances are, they’ll be every bit as petty and include comments like this.

“It’s too dark and not cosmic enough!”

“It’s too cosmic and not grounded enough!’

“It’s too much like the comics!”

“It’s not enough like the comics!”

“It doesn’t have enough [Insert Favorite Character Here]!”

“It has too much [Insert Intensely Hated Character Here]!”

There will probably be plenty more excuses for hating this movie, far more than I can list. It doesn’t even matter how subjective they are or how empty they may be. People who are determined to hate something will find an excuse that satisfies their psyche and vindicates their feelings. Anything else would require that someone actually re-evaluate their expectations and that’s just untenable.

It’s frustrating and tragic that a movie or any piece of media would be subject to this kind of debasement before it’s even completed. It’s one thing for a movie to face skepticism because of production troubles, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” being the most recent example. For a movie whose primary crime is not being in the MCU, that’s just plain absurd.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s good for superhero movies, as a whole, if “X-men: Dark Phoenix” succeeds. It’s unhealthy for the genre if the MCU is the only acceptable avenue for quality superhero movies. We’ve seen with “Wonder Woman” that it is possible for a superhero movie to succeed in a world that doesn’t have Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Pratt.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” deserves the same chance. That’s why I intend to keep my expectations high, but cautious for this movie. Even if it turns out to be good, though, I worry that it’ll be undercut by too many people who are too eager to hate it. It would be both a tragedy for the movie and all those involved, as well as a bad omen for the genre as a whole.

3 Comments

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

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