08 May, 2015

Hey Marvel, It's DC Calling (Part 3)


So last Spring I wrote a couple articles on what boiled down to DC’s response to The Marvel Juggernaut, and a few thoughts thereof.  I called them … well, you can see for yourself right at the top of this article.  And I recently started to think a little bit more about that.  The Marvel Juggernaut;  DC knocking on that door.  Where are we in those Super Hero worlds?  So I thought it was time I write them up again.  ‘Cause opinions aside – both companies have leaps and missteps – it’s a good time to be a geek.

First, where are we?  A quick dart-throw at the map:  It’s Spring of 2015 now which means we’ve seen Avengers:  Age Of Ultron, a second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first seasons of Agent Carter and Daredevil – those three TV Shows all coming back for more – and Ant Man is right around the corner.  On the other side of the river?  The first trailer for Batman v Superman:  Dawn Of Justice (God, they really couldn’t help that title), the first seasons of Gotham and The Flash (and their Arrow is still popular), and we’ve heard Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow are goes.  (“Goes,” yes, they really do say that.)  And both camps have more movies on the way, but more on those later (including touching on Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox who have tabs on Spider-Man and X-Men). 

Second, what we talked about in those first two articles?  Let’s see where all that is now.  We touched on Captain America 3 (which we now know will be Civil War) being released the same day as Batman v Superman (6 May, 2016).  Would BvS flinch?  Turns out yes, but perhaps to their advantage, as BvS now releases nearly two months before on 25 March, 2016.

We touched on DC trying to adapt the “it’s all connected” ideal Marvel successfully built with their “phases.”  How’s that going?  Well, I still preface that DC is working from a different starting point than Marvel -- they don’t have to say who Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman are as much as Marvel does with, say, Ant Man – but are they connecting?  Let’s go back to David S. Goyer’s comment last year:  “I know that Warner Bros [who owns DC] would love to make their universe more cohesive [but] it’s just been vague conversations so far.”  Just vague conversations so far?  Well, a year later, and they’re announcing their Flash movie will be with a different actor than the TV Series.  Obviously a conscious decision, but how does that make their universe cohesive?

We touched on Ben Affleck’s return to comics, “switching sides” from Marvel (he was Daredevil in their 2003 feature) to DC (he’ll be playing some guy in a cape and cowl).  His next Directorial effort, the Prohibition Drama Live By Night, still lingers, and initial crowd reaction to his donning that cape and cowl seem favorable.  (This writer’s concern with Batman v Superman – God I really hate that title – has nothing to do with Mr. Affleck but rather that pesky little thing called Story.)  It still stands to reason that The Brothers Warner greenlit Live By Night because of Affleck’s agreeing to play with DC, and I still say it was a fair trade.

Then we touched on (the then upcoming) Marvel-Netflix series Daredevil.  And talk about a property switching hands – they all do, of course, but – this was forefront and many.  But let’s just talk Showrunners.  What started with Joe Carnahan went to Drew Goddard.  But then he was pulled decided to work on Sony’s The Sinister Six (and, yep, more on Sony/Marvel to come).  So Steven S. DeKnight took the reins.  But before Season 1 of the Netflix Series finished, he left, relinquishing duties to Doug Petrie & Marco Ramirez (that duo officially taking over for Season 2).  (Interestingly, Goddard, DeKnight and Petrie are all Joss Whedon Buffy alums.)  Thankfully the talented Jeph Loeb – who wrote the excellent Daredevil:  Yellow comic (among others, look him up if you need to) – is still on board;  the show and as Marvel’s Head Of Television.

And that kinda brings us current.  And Daredevil (the show) is as good a place as any to start anew.  I hope I don’t anger too many people with this, but, in the interest of being fair to both companies’ leaps and missteps, I have to share my opinion.  Sadly – and I hate to say this given the character’s pedigree – the new show’s not much more than “eh.”          

Sure – and we’ve touched on this a bit already – it didn’t help that it didn’t have a consistent Showrunner.  Goddard’s first two episodes are distinctly different from the rest of the first-season thirteen.  And by “the end” – let’s say the last two episodes – you can feel DeKnight running away, practically before The Martini (I’ll let you figure out that reference).  The leads are fine enough – except for Vincent D’Onofrio who unquestionably stands above the rest;  he was born to play Kingpin – but the shows themselves are … I keep going back to “eh.”  There were great moments (like the apparent one-shot fight in the hallway) but every episode feels as if they stretched a forty-minute show into a one-hour slot.  Then the whole season felt that way;  too little story to fill too many episodes.  (And this article isn’t a Daredevil review.  In fact, as popular as it seems, I hope Jo Blo’s wonderful column “The Unpopular Opinion” gets a crack at it.)  But I remember looking forward to it, seeing it, feeling more and more disinterested as episodes went on and wishing it was Marvel good.

“Marvel good.”  That’s quite the bar they’ve set for themselves, isn’t it?  And their hard work is just beginning.  With Ant Man closing out Phase 3, let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon:  Captain America 3 (Civil War), Doctor Strange, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, Thor 3 (Ragnarok), Black Panther, Captain Marvel – not to be confused with DC’s Shazam! – Inhumans and, if these weren’t enough, closing those out, Avengers:  Infinity War (a two-part film that takes us through May of 2019).  

As Velma would say, “Jinkies!” 

But what’s encouraging about such an undertaking is how thought-out their plan continues to be, on-screen and off.  In a decision that surprises no fans – especially with Joss Whedon closing his Marvel run from Captain America (he doctored that script) through UltronInfinity War will be scripted by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, the same duo behind Captain America 2 (Winter Soldier) and 3 (Civil War);  these after they co-wrote Thor 2 (The Dark World) and created Agent Carter.  And with Civil War and Infinity War being directed by Joe & Anthony Russo – love or hate the team, corralled by the indisputably great Kevin Feige – it’s a consistency one can’t help but applaud.

Which takes us to Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.  You remember them, don’t you?  The little studios that could, often still do.  The former has control of Spider-Man and, the latter, X-Men.  And, yes, both of those properties are Marvel, but not owned by them (or Marvel’s now Parent, Disney).  And, yes, both properties have done just fine.  Many people consider Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to be the birth of the modern-day super hero movie (and rightly so) and many people consider Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 to be one of the best super hero movies of all time (and rightly so).  But how do companies get in the way of even more consistency, something Marvel would looooove?  Case in point:  We meet twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) in Ultron but do you know who their father is?  None other than X-Men-rival Magneto (Ian McKellan).  And – case in even better point – do you know who’s at the center of our Civil War?  None other than Mr. Stan Lee’s most popular creation, Peter Parker / Spider-Man.  But due to someone other than Marvel owning those characters, Marvel couldn’t even mention it.  However much they’d like to play with those toys, they just can’t.

Or couldn’t.

In a move that surprised more people than The Hack, Sony and Marvel came to an agreement that finally bridges the Spider-Man void as it was announced that Peter Parker / Spider-Man would appear in Civil War.   And what’s even more significant is Sony and Marvel are jointly casting the new actor because, when Sony relaunches that franchise in their world, they’ll keep him.  (See?  Cohesion.)  And I’m sorry to see Andrew Garfield go.  While his two movies weren’t amazing – see what I did there? – he was good in them, and I think he’d have been fun in The MCU.  Alas.

While at the moment Marvel rules the movies, DC – continuing to knock on their door – is expanding TV with a fifth series.  And this seems to be DC’s “cohesion focus.”  Joining Gotham, Arrow and The Flash are Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow.  Having a third show on The CW (Gotham is on Fox and Supergirl will be on CBS) increases the cross-over potential for those three shows and creates a DC Television Universe, something Marvel has been toying with but – interestingly, given their films plan – hasn’t had better luck.  Perhaps their deciding not to go forward with (on ABC) the S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff gives them more time to focus on expanding (on Netflix) Daredevil to A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Defenders.

Now, for DC’s Movies.  How one considers Zack Snyder’s work aside, I had the pleasure of working with him on 300 and can honestly say he’s a nice guy.  He cares.  But there is his work to consider and Man Of Steel was good but not great;  more troubling is how coddled he is by Warner to lead both Batman v Superman and Justice League.  And, yes, on their way are Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad and Shazam! (again, not to be confused with Captain Marvel;  who, PS in Marvel, is a girl).  DC is clearly going for a – I know this word is thrown around too much, but – darker approach, capitalizing on Christopher Nolan’s Batman series (and, remember, Mr. Nolan Co-Storied Man Of Steel).  So we have to imagine Wonder Woman et al will be in the same vein.  (Which is fine.  I just beg them to focus on Story.)

I watched the Flash Pilot and, sorry, it’s another “eh.”  (And, given how bad the last five years of Smallville were, I haven’t been able to bring myself to try Arrow.)  Gotham has been both entertaining and a train wreck;  I continue wanting it to be good, but their lumbering writing and over-the-top character lore is frustrating.  And then the Batman v Superman trailer was released and, again, “eh.”  So as much as I love to rewatch Donner’s Superman and Nolan’s Batman Begins – both truly great films – I’m disheartened to see two of my favorite characters’ next incarnations just be “eh.”  (Let’s be fair, we all hate it when something we’re looking forward to turns out to be “eh.”  I’m looking at you, Star Wars Prequels.)

PS – still with the fair – we can judge all upcoming Marvel and DC work however we want but we know one thing for certain:  we’re going to see it.  And, really, that’s what’s important to them:  our money we’re fans.

I closed the first of these three articles with “What’s next?” because where we are is just where we are today, and there’s a lot of excitement from both sides of the river right around the corner.  To each his own?  Sure.

But it’s definitely a good time to be a geek.

06 May, 2015

I Have To Go To The Quiet Place

For those of you that frequent here – and I thank you – the bulk of this blog are my “Top 5s” where I rant on an Actor or Actress;  my picks of their “Top 5 Films.”  I’m currently in the middle of the latest – Tyrone Power – and my dear Diana remarked yesterday that it was Ty’s birthday.  Which made me think that’s when I posted the first of his Top 5 – Jesse Jamesa year ago, on what would have been his 100th birthday.  Which of course means it’s been a year and I still haven’t finished his (I’m currently writing up the third of his five, The Black Swan).  It’s a little embarrassing, not having finished five relatively short blogs in a year, so – invigorated! – I popped open my laptop, poured a cup of coffee and dove in --

            -- to this piece on Joss Whedon. 

(It’ll make sense in a little bit.)

            By now you may have heard that Joss’ Avengers:  Age Of Ultron has been released and there’s feminist backlash against (mostly) his use of Black Widow [Scarlett Johansson];  that Joss' take was – and, remember, this is from a proud, vocal feminist – misogynistic.  (I know.)  This week he decided to delete his Twitter account and it prompted speculation it was due to the militant feminists attacking him (an actual tweet-quote was that his head should be “curbstomped”).  But Joss calls it “horseshit.” 

            First, let’s get back to my writing.  Or rather Joss’.  Or rather that I said my not writing about Tyrone Power prompted me to write this and that it would make sense in a little bit.  Well, I want to begin talking about said horseshit by first pointing out that – if you only read this far please take this away with you – Joss is going to be writing again.

            Savor that:  Joss is going to be writing again.

            So if we have to deal with this Twitter Thing at all, well, at least we have a good end, right at the beginning.

            Okay, here we go.   

            “It’s horseshit,” Joss told BuzzFeed News by phone on Tuesday.  “Believe me, I have been attacked by militant feminists since I got on Twitter.  That’s something I’m used to.  Every breed of feminism is attacking every other breed, and every subsection of liberalism is always busy attacking another subsection of liberalism, because god forbid they should all band together and actually fight for the cause.  I saw a lot of people say, ‘Well, the social justice warriors destroyed one of their own!’  It’s like, 'Nope.  That didn’t happen.'  I saw someone tweet it’s because Feminist Frequency pissed on Avengers 2, which for all I know they may have.  But literally the second person to write me to ask if I was okay when I dropped out was [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita [Sarkeesian].”

            Because what did happen, he said, is that he chose to embrace his long-standing desire post-Ultron to “reclaim his personal life and creative spark.” And that meant saying goodbye to Twitter.  “I just thought,  ‘Wait a minute, if I’m going to start writing again, I have to go to the quiet place,” he said.  And [Twitter] is the least quiet place I’ve ever been in my life.  It’s like taking The Bar Exam at Coachella.  It’s like, um, 'I really need to concentrate on this, guys!  Can you all just … I have to … it’s super important for my Law!'”

BuzzFeed senior reporter Adam B. Vary notes, “While Whedon is adamant that feminist criticisms were not the catalyst for his decision, it is clear that some of the distracting uproar that was crowding his notifications and squeezing his creativity came from at least a nominally feminist point of view.”  Joss again:  “I’ve said before, when you declare yourself politically, you destroy yourself artistically.  Because suddenly that’s the litmus test for everything you do;  for example, in my case, Feminism.  If you don’t live up to the litmus test of Feminism in this one instance, then you’re a Misogynist.  It circles directly back upon you.”

It’s tough not to note the "Jurassic World instance" when Joss tweeted he was frustrated a clip from the upcoming film was “70s era sexist;" something he later regretted, telling Variety it was “bad form.”  At the same time, he was clearly frustrated by the negative reaction he received.  He says, “There was a point during the whole Jurassic World thing where someone wrote the phrase ‘championing women marginalizes them,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, we’re done.  The snake hath et its tail!’  There’s no way to find any coherence when everything has to be parsed and decried.”  Mr. Vary continues, “As far as Whedon is concerned, however, anyone blaming feminists for driving him away from social media is not only wrong, but missing the point about the relationship between internet trolls and feminists on Twitter.”  Joss again:  “For someone like Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement.  It’s a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it’s to be lauded.  For somebody like me to argue with a bunch of people who wanted Clint [Jeremy Renner] and Natasha [Johannson] to get together [in Ultron], not so much.  For someone like me even to argue about feminism, it’s not a huge win.  Because ultimately I’m just a rich, straight, white guy.  You don’t change people’s minds through a tweet.  You change it through your actions.  The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that, that says a lot.”

So while some of the hate directed at Joss did take the form of death threats, he said he never saw anything on Twitter that escalated to the level of what Feminists like Sarkeesian have had to face just about every day.  “Nothing that made me go, ‘Wait, they’re calling from my house.'  It was like, ‘Okay, these guys don’t understand about hyperbole.’”

To which those of us with a brain replied, “Duh.”

But let’s take it a step further – past Feminism (‘cause no one’s knocking that ideal) – to the extreme passion of comic book fans.  And this was familiar ground for Joss well before Twitter, when he first wrote for Marvel Comics and got some advice from veteran comic writer Brian Michael Bendis.  "He said, ‘You’re going to meet a new kind of person.'  He had a letter somebody had written that just said, ‘In panel one, page 17, Daredevil would never say that, die die why can’t you just die?’  I haven’t dealt with a lot of that, because my fans have always been sweet, erudite, interesting, compassionate people.  I don’t know any Buffy trolls.  So the steady stream of just, ‘You suck, you suck, you suck’” – another verbatim Tweet to him – “I don’t really need to visit You Suck Land anymore.”

And it wasn’t just the constant hate on Twitter that Joss was eager to shut off.  “So many people have said wonderful things.  But how much approbation do I need before I become creepy?  I so appreciate when people took the time to say something nice.  But for my own self, at some point, you’re just a Compliment Leech.  That’s not going to help your writing any more than people slamming you.”

From Mr. Vary again:  “Ultimately, Whedon said he took stock of everything positive Twitter was providing for him (access to stories he found interesting, people he admired, and jokes he found funny), and everything bad it was throwing at him (the troll-y hate and surfeit of praise), and realized that the problem actually wasn’t Twitter at all.”  And Joss again:  “The real issue is me.  Twitter is an addictive little thing, and if it’s there, I gotta check it.  When you keep doing something after it stops giving you pleasure, that’s kind of rock bottom for an addict.  I just had a little moment of clarity where I’m like, ‘You know what?  If I want to get stuff done, I need to not constantly hit this thing for a news item or a joke or some praise, and then be suddenly sad when there’s hate and then hate and then hate.’”  When asked if he would ever consider going back to Twitter, he resolved, "I think the articles that I found, I can find elsewhere.  I’ll miss some jokes.  Maybe I’ll have to go out to a club to see jokes!  I think that’s already an improvement in my life.  I need to go out, do the research, turn the page, see the thing, hear the music, live like a person.  I’m not great at that.  So, oddly enough, because I always feel like I’m the old man who doesn’t get the tech, right now I’m the man who thinks he could do better without it.”

               [Audience applause]

               First, again, I’m praising him because he wants to get back to the quiet place and write;  and that’s a beautiful sound to us all.  But there were two reasons I felt I needed to share all this.  One, because it came from the horse’s mouth;  it wasn’t the news further speculating what happened but reporting Joss’ own words.  (Remember when the news reported instead of speculated?  But I digress.)  And, two, I thought it was important to share this little nugget;  replayed again here:

Anyone blaming Feminists for driving Joss away from social media is not only wrong, but missing the point about the relationship between internet trolls and Feminists on Twitter.  For someone like [Feminist Frequency founder] Anita Sarkeesian to stay on Twitter and fight back the trolls is a huge statement.  It’s a statement of strength and empowerment and perseverance, and it’s to be lauded.  The action of Anita being there and going through that and getting through that, that says a lot.

And, yeah, maybe I should have opened with that, but this writer wanted you to know Joss was writing again, and so be it.  After all, he wrote a critically-acclaimed huge money-maker and -- wait for it, this is a movie we're talking about -- had his life threatened for it.  How did he react?  By shrugging it off without shrugging off people like Ms. Sarkeesian who remain in the trenches fighting the good fight.

And that is to be applauded.

I’ll leave you with snippets from James Gunn (Writer-Director, Guardians Of The Galaxy).  (Though I’ll first share this little bit:  When Mr. Gunn turned in his script of Guardians to Marvel Head Kevin Feige, Feige shared it with Joss – Joss has been entrenched at Marvel from Cap 1 through Avengers 2, but that’s for another write-up – and Joss’ only comment was, “Make it even more ‘Jamie.’”  Indeed, quite the compliment.  Anyway …)  Mr. Gunn’s snippets:

"Imagine being Joss Whedon who has committed his life to fandom and to creating the best characters he can, characters he loves, and has spent two years of his life working on a movie, and then has to wake up to this shit on Twitter.

“My plea to all of you is that we all try to be a little kinder, on the Internet and elsewhere.  And, honestly, that includes being kind to the people who are tweeting this nonsense.

“Anger is a way to deal with feeling insecure, sad, hurt, vulnerable, powerless, fearful, confused.  Those feelings, for many of us, are a lot more difficult to deal with and acknowledge than anger.  Anger makes us feel right.  And powerful.  But it also exacerbates whatever the underlying, more uncomfortable feeling is.

“So it’s easy to be outraged by these tweets.  But whatever these angry tweeters are in need of, I don’t think it’s more anger thrown back at them.  I actually think that’s what they’re seeking.  But what they need is something different.  Compassion, maybe?  A kind request for boundaries?  I don’t know.  Maybe you guys have some ideas.

“I know there are real issues at play here.  But, again, I don’t think the way to affect change is through rage.  That is just going to increase whatever divide you’re experiencing in the first place.  The majority of us on all sides of an issue think we’re doing the right thing and are doing the best we can.  If we assume that of each other, it makes life a lot easier.”

Yeah, maybe we can all be a little more ‘Jamie.’

For this writer, I’ll pour another cup of coffee and get back to Tyrone Power (who I doubt ever threatened to curbstomp anyone).

After all, I've been at him a year.