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Tag: DC

Editorials

Superhero Standoff: Superheros vs Art

May 17, 2019

Superhero movies are everywhere, and likely will be everywhere for the foreseeable future. With everyone and their mum seeing “Avengers: Endgame” it seems like superheroes have something to offer every viewer, but that doesn’t mean they’re always loved.

J Jonah Jameson isn’t the only one trying put Spider-Man down, as despite the genre’s overwhelming success (Endgame earned over $1 Billion in its opening weekend) it is often neglected upon awards season. With powerful enemies like James Cameron against them, can our heroes ever get the respect they deserve?

“For your consideration..”

Black Panther
“Black Panther” won several Oscars and was nominated for Best Picture (Disney/Marvel, 2018)

To be clear, superhero films have been nominated and won in some cases. Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar for his Joker in “The Dark Knight”. “Black Panther” won in three categories as well as being nominated for best picture. Even Spider-Man 2 won for Special Effects. But many big names in Hollywood still seem to dismiss them.

Comic book movies are regularly nominated in several technical categories, with “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” winning “Best Animation” at the 2019 Oscars, for its unique animation style. But it is rare they win any of the “big awards” such as best actor/picture. There are several calls for Robert Downey Jr to earn an Oscar, for his portrayal of Iron Man.

And regardless of whether he does or not, it’s hard to argue that the character is ingrained in pop culture, with Downey Jr a massive part of that. It’s no secret that the character was a B-Lister before 2008, but now everyone knows Iron Man. Joe Russo (co-director of Avengers: Endgame) thinks he deserves it for the way he’s motivated pop culture, and that “there’s a prejudice against popular cinema”.

Great Power, Great Responsibility

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes don’t just deal with super villains (Marvel Comics, 2019)

This superhero snobbery doesn’t just apply to movies, comic books are often considered childish, and, true, Batman punching someone with a large “Kapow” bubble might not be the most complex thing to follow. But some of them delve into real-world issues. Iron Man famously had a storyline where he dealt with alcoholism. While the films didn’t follow this, “Iron Man 3” features him dealing with PTSD.

This isn’t the only time the MCU deals with mental health. Captain America shows several symptoms of depression. A big part of Thor’s arc in “Avengers: Endgame” deals with coming to terms with his failure and if he is still worthy. The Avengers might be superheroes, but they’re still flawed, like the rest of us.

But they also tackle social issues, the “Captain America” films deal with him adapting to the modern world after living in WW2. “The Winter Soldier” deals with the idea of a surveillance state. While in “Civil War” he battles against Iron Man about whether the Avengers should be ruled by politicians.

This isn’t just Marvel either. “Man of Steel” is rammed with political themes, from, climate change on Krypton to Superman being an immigrant. Films allow us to explore different themes, and superheroes are no different

Origin Stories

Swap out the Stark suit for wings, and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is basically the story of Icarus (Sony 2017)

Superhero stories are the Greek myths of our time. With each generation of filmmakers wanting to retell the story with a more modern perspective. “Shazam” for instance, features a young Billy who has grown up with Superman and co, so he and his friend are aware of all the tropes, as people today are. A huge part of the “Deadpool” films’ appeal is its fourth wall breaking antics and how it pokes fun at superhero cliches (like the “superhero landing“)

This self-awareness could be a sign the genre is becoming stale, with the dreaded “superhero fatigue” setting in and Spielberg himself saying they will “go the way of the western”. While that may be true, it is far more likely the genre will simply evolve, as it always has done. Superhero films are arguably an evolution of 80’s action classic’s like “Rambo” and “Robocop”. While they may not have powers, they still perform superhuman feats, like surviving explosions, big dramatic leaps, stopping villains taking over the world.

And Superhero films have evolved, with the release of “The Avengers” it seems like every studio has been trying to launch its own franchise. From DC to the failed “Dark Universe”, it seems like every studio has been trying to follow in their footsteps, with mixed results. The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” now encompasses 22 films, as well as several TV shows (and counting). It’s hard to think that what started as a huge gamble for a company on the verge of bankruptcy, is now the behemoth it is.

In the 1970’s “Jaws” created the summer blockbuster. In 2012, “The Avengers” created the “cinematic universe” and superhero films will likely continue to push new boundaries with special effects, like the latest de-aging, storytelling (“Endgame” is the end of a 22 film long storyline), and more. Films like “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel are helping to prove that girls are just as good as boys, inspiring young girls as well as bringing in huge bank.

Superhero stories might seem silly on the surface, but whether in comic book or movie form, should not be dismissed as “just for kids” because they are so much more than that.

Reviews

Review: Shazam!

April 4, 2019
Shazam Movie Screenshot

Comic book characters have been a staple of big Hollywood films for nearly twenty years now. But recently we have seen a growth in obscure and niche (by mainstream standards) comic book properties being used as inspirations for big box office hits. Guardians of the Galaxy, Aquaman and Captain Marvel have all scored big, using obscurer comic figures that many fans never thought would get their time to shine.

And now DC is trying their luck again, with the live-action feature debut of Shazam. But can the hero who was once considered more popular than Superman hit a home run with his first film outing?

The story

The wizard, Shazam (Djimon Hounsou) is growing old and is searching for an heir to his powers, to protect the world from the seven avatars of sin. After searching for years, he finally chooses young orphan Billy Batson (Asher Angel). Billy is then granted the ability to turn from a teenager into a superpowered adult (Zachary Levi) by saying the word, “Shazam”. But Billy has no interest in being a hero.

Having been abandoned by his mother as a child, Billy has spent most of his life moving from foster home to foster home while looking for her. So naturally, he has a cynical streak that makes him ill-suited for his powers. But when Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong) a man rejected by the wizard years before, comes to claim Billy’s powers, Billy must prove he is worthy of them by fighting to protect the innocent and his foster family from Thaddeus’ wrath.

What did I like?

After several years of DC movies being unduly grim and gritty, it’s nice to see them becoming more fun. Although Shazam has dark moments, they feel appropriate. Because the story is about a troubled teenager coming to grips with the world around him. Ultimately though this movie is about family and childish power fantasy, and the script achieves that with gusto.

The empowerment side of the story works well. Billy, of course, begins using his powers to do childish things. Which is very entertaining. But slowly he realises that he must grow up and become responsible or he will become like Thaddeus. Turning the film into a coming of age tale where Billy learns that strength comes from those around you. Time is also dedicated to giving visibility to a spectrum of genders, sexualities and abilities. Before paying them off in an empowering way that many will find satisfying. Coupled with this the movie is incredibly funny, with Pop culture references and over the top childish wackiness ensuring a laugh from most audiences. Some may find the family side of the story clichéd, but it does add another level of emotional investment to the story.

I also really enjoyed the performances. Zachary Levi is of course the standout. Playing a child in an adult’s body can easily become creepy or aggravating. But when watching Levi his energy, enthusiasm, and sincerity capture your attention. He is a joy to watch as he channels his inner child and he easily carries the entire movie. Mark Strong also does good work as Thaddeus. Some may see Thaddeus as just another generic villain but the occasional moment where Strong lets the mask slip revealing something more childlike underneath really does work as a good foil for Levi. And many of the supporting cast also get their time to shine. Special mention goes to Cooper Andrews as Billy’s warm foster father. And Jack Grazer as Freddy whose comedic timing never fails to get a laugh.

What did I not like?

But while I like most of what the film is doing, it’s sometimes a rough ride getting there. On the technical side, the CG used to create the avatars of sin and the action scenes never looks convincing or original. It’s all designs and feats we’ve seen done elsewhere. Thankfully the film does not rely too much on these but when it does it becomes too unreal and generic to engage. Which does become a problem in the third act.

As well as this, the films occasional overreliance on humour undermines the attempt at eliciting emotion from the family storyline. With pathos sacrificed for a joke. And when so much of the film relies on humour there is the risk of alienating the audience if they are not engaged by the jokes. Which did happen a few times with the audience I saw the film with.

Lastly, the film does occasionally slip into the same pitfalls as many other DCEU movies. Some of the acting feels forced and unnatural, particularly Thaddeus’ family and the bully characters. There are also segments that could have been tweaked to make a better impression on the audience. For example, the fight between Billy and the bullies, which doesn’t happen simply because they are hurting Freddy, but because they insult him not having parents which Billy takes personally which makes him seem more selfish than he needs to be. And of course, DC can still think of no other way to end a film than by having a big fight with indiscriminate CGI bad guys. Which is especially disappointing here because the character focused conflict between Billy and Thaddeus is way more interesting than the generic avatars of sin.  

Verdict  

Shazam! is a mixed bag. It is brought down by unconvincing CG villains as well as an occasional overreliance on humour to the detriment of other parts of the narrative. The lack of attention to minor details in the story and occasionally bad acting also drags the film down. But it still feels like a breath of fresh air among modern superhero movies. It is an almost perfect example of what the genre is meant to be, wish fulfilment for little kids. Buoyed by fun performances, a fantastic sense of humour and a script that nicely treads the line between sincere and goofy.

It is impossible not to have a good time with Shazam!. It isn’t a genre redefining masterpiece nor is it an exceptional film, but it’s a damn good version of what it’s trying to be.

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Shazam! is in UK cinema on from Friday 5th April.

Shazam! (Official Trailer)
Editorials

Who Will Be The Next Batman?

February 18, 2019

With the news that Ben Affleck will no longer be playing Batman who will take on perhaps the most coveted superhero role in all of Hollywood?

Affleck calls time on Batman

There have been rumours about Ben Affleck quitting as Batman almost since he got the part. Many fans were against his initial casting although lots did come round to his performance. Behind the scenes problems on the Justice League film and a new director being brought in (despite talk of Affleck directing the next one) have been fuelling the rumours for a long time. The new director, Matt Reeves, has stated that the next film will be a noir Batman film and with this new direction it’s not surprising there will be a new Caped Crusader if for no other reason then a new director will like a blank slate.

Justice League (https://images.dawn.com)

Where will this new Batman film fit in with DCEU? Batman was one of the crucial members of Justice League, will he be so in the future? He is arguably the most interesting of all DC characters and making him part of a team is difficult. Since Tim Burton’s Batman films, the character of Batman has been very dark, a loner and certainly to many people, not a hero. It’s said the new film will feature a lot of Batman being a detective which seems a departure from Affleck’s Batman whose gadgets and strengths were dialled up to eleven so he could compete with incredibly powerful characters like Superman. So will the huge Batsuit from Batman Vs Superman and the almost psychotic level of violence be replaced by a deerstalker hat and a magnifying glass? We’ll just have to wait and see what Matt Reeves has in store for us.

The front runners

But who will play this “detective” Batman? First things first, the role of Batman has been somewhat of a poisoned chalice and really the only actor to walk away with their career intact and reputation enhanced was Christian Bale (we’ll have to see how Affleck handles it). That said two names seem to be coming up a lot are Robert Pattinson and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Robert Pattinson (dailytimes.com)

Pattinson has worked hard to not just be “that guy from Twilight” taking parts in heavyweight dramas and odd indie films like Cosmopolis, Rover and The Lost City of Z. And while he has shown himself to be an actor with depth and range the “Twilight” label is hard to shake. Of course, being the co-star of a huge franchise with millions of fans might be seen as a good thing.

Jake Gyllenhaal (yahoo.com)

Gyllenhaal is an immensely talented actor who recently seems to be more interested in taking on peculiar roles and very intense characters and actually seems to be moving away from the classic leading actor trajectory his career seemed to be on at first. Still, these days playing Batman and being a serious actor are not mutually exclusive and a new take on the character could interest someone like Gyllenhaal.

My Contenders

Personally, between Pattinson and Gyllenhaal I would prefer the latter but if I were Matt Reeves there would be two options – Oscar Isaac and Michael B. Jordan. Both actors are extremely talented and very popular right now, Isaacs is one of the central characters in the new Star Wars films and Michael B. Jordan is coming off a hugely successful run of films like Creed and more importantly Black Panther. In my opinion Jordan was the best thing in Black Panther, in fact, so much so that it was to the detriment of the movie overall. Jordan was so charismatic as Erik Killmonger (and in many ways very sympathetic) that I think it was actually harmed the film – he was a bad guy who you liked more than than the hero. Casting Isaac or Jordan would be doing something new with the Bruce Wayne/Batman character and perhaps give a new spin on their history and what they’re trying to achieve.

My dream pick for Batman…

Those two actors are my sensible choices, people I think would do well, be successful and make the fans happy. I do, however, have a dream Batman film which would essentially be a movie of The Dark Knight Returns – one of the essential Batman comic book stories. Ideas from this story have been used in The Dark Knight Rises and Batman Vs Superman but it is definitely deserving of a complete adaptation. In this story, Batman has been retired for years and struggling to deal with this life so eventually comes out of retirement. An older actor would be needed to play this part and I think Jon Hamm would be perfect. Best known as Don Draper in Mad Men, Hamm is a brilliant actor who could play the “old money” Bruce Wayne and has the all important strong jawline to be Batman.

Jon Hamm (newyorker.com)

These days playing a superhero is your ticket to Hollywood superstardom. Chris Pratt went from the lovably goofy Andy in Parks and Recreation to megastar just by appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy. Competition will be fierce and I’m sure dozens of actors are hassling their agents, desperate to demonstrate their gravelly Batman voice for Matt Reeves..

Editorials

Marvel vs DC: The Bitter Divide

November 8, 2018

I recently rewatched Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and I consider this to be the high watermark of superhero films. My opinion is The Dark Knight is the best of the trilogy by a clear margin which I know is hardly controversial. The car chase scene of the Joker trying to get to Harvey Dent might be the best action scene in all of cinema. Batman Begins is the first superhero film where they really explained the origins of a superhero in a satisfying way. The Dark Knight Rises had an almost impossible job following The Dark Knight but is still an amazing film and added Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to a superhero franchise.

The Dark Knight (IMDb)

 

Divided Society

 

This leads me to what may be the most important and bitter divide in society today: Marvel Vs DC. On average Marvel films are better but the high point is Nolan’s work (which technically doesn’t belong to DC’s Extended Universe). It is certainly true that each has their own style. Marvel adopting a more fun and light-hearted take whereas just about every review of DC films uses the words “gritty” and “dark”.

Both have competed in making their own universes – Avengers: Infinity War has around thirty characters that could be called “superheroes” and just trying to keep track of them makes me dizzy. Again, of the two I think Marvel has been more successful in managing their own universe. The DC Justice League films have been widely panned by critics so much so that conspiracy theories exist that critics are all on Disney’s payroll. Rotten Tomatoes critic score for the first Avengers film is 92% compared to Justice League’s dire 40%. Personally, I not a big fan of interconnected universes as I think it becomes very convoluted and the weight of all the characters and storylines is crushing but admittedly seeing all the characters together can be really fun.

 

Successes

 

DC’s big success has been Wonder Woman; a film so good that I put aside my vendetta against Chris Pine. Gal Gadot is sensational as Diana who took one of the least plausible superhero origins and made the film work. Wonder Woman was not just good as a superhero film but dealt with the tragedy of the First World War surprisingly well (even touching on a character dealing with PTSD), the horror of war, even the inevitability of humankind’s own destructive tendencies. These are big things for any film to deal with. Diana’s charge across No Man’s Lead was an unforgettable scene and I cannot praise it enough.

Wonder Woman (IMDb)

Marvel’s high point for me is probably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol I. My knowledge of comic-books is not very deep and I had never heard of this before the film and I remember watching the trailer for the first time thinking “this is going to be a disaster”. It has a talking racoon. And a talking tree. And a professional wrestler playing one of the main parts. I thought not even Chris Pratt’s innate and irresistible likeability could save it. And what happened? Rocket and Groot are amazing characters and despite a limited vocabulary, Groot is surprisingly emotional. Dave Batista, the professional wrestler, was hilarious. I think Guardians of the Galaxy’s strength was in its emotional side, Peter/Star Lord has an amazing journey from scared child to well…a guardian of the galaxy. Perhaps this gives away my age but how can you not be charmed by a film that centres around lovingly put together mixtape?

Guardians of the Galaxy (IMDb)

Failures

 

So, those are the high-points, what are the disasters? Personally, I don’t think Marvel has really made a bad film, not all of them are great but all the ones I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed. The same cannot be said for DC. Man of Steel is that most frustrating of films in that parts of it are great but it ended in the obligatory but increasingly dull city smashing. Batman Vs Superman failed completely despite using whole sections from the fantastic graphic novel and animated film The Dark Knight Returns (which if you want to see a proper fight between Superman and Batman watch this).

But the award surely goes to the Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn was the film’s only redeeming feature but even then DC did not get a good handle on the admittedly very problematic Harley Quinn-Joker relationship. What every superhero film needs is a good villain, it’s perhaps more important than a good hero. I can’t tell you the name of the villain in Suicide Squad or even what they were trying to achieve or what they wanted. Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the poorer Marvel films but I remember Red Skull and what he was trying to do. Why is The Dark Knight so great? A huge part of that is Heath Ledger’s performance.

Suicide Squad (IMDb)

 

So In Conclusion…

 

Overall I think I have divided loyalties between DC and Marvel but I know what both could do better. First, too many films come down to the bad guy wants to destroy the whole world, so obviously they’re bad and anyone fighting them is good. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a great film in part because it was actually about something – order versus freedom, there were discussions about how far you can go to protect people and the bad guys could put their case forward. Secondly, the tone of the film should match the character and not the branding of the whole universe. The TV show Daredevil is one of the very few dark Marvel properties and benefits from that enormously; DC should be able to make fun films and Marvel can make dark films. Marvel next has the very promising looking “dark” and “gritty” Captain Marvel and DC has the very light-hearted Shazam so maybe they have already taken my advice.