Archive for the 'Comic Books' Category

Nov 08 2016

Preliminary review of Dr. Strange

Published by under Comic Book Movies

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

  • I feel like a marketing executive put a gun to the screenwriter’s head and said “I don’t CARE what the movie is about, put New York City, London, and Hong Kong in it. Just do that thing where the villain is trying to collect plot coupons around the world in places that happen to be major marketing centers. What about like magic sanctums or something? Have we tried that yet?” The plot coupon setup would have been less obvious if the cities had actually been used more cleverly. The scenes in Hong Kong, London, and probably NYC could have happened virtually anywhere.
  • Notably, Dr. Strange bends over backwards to insult the love interest, and dares her to leave, and the next time they see each other she’s basically forgotten about the whole thing. From a plot development perspective, probably not ideal. I wouldn’t suggest having a character work that hard to do something distinctive/extraordinary unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences. In this case, I think it makes the love interest seem very hard to like.
  • The movie was funny in more than a few places, but off the top of my head, I wouldn’t recommend the writing on most other levels. For example, Dr. Strange doesn’t really earn most of what he has (with the exception of the final scene) – e.g. his cape wins a battle for him, his cape chooses him for no reason, he happens to get a super-lucky assist from somebody in New York that happens to have been to the Nepalese healer he’s looking for (AND has a personal reason not to help Strange but does so anyway), he just happens to have been born with incredible magical talent, his sort-of-girlfriend forgives him far too easily to feel like a human, he gets treated as exceptional long before he’s actually done anything exceptional, etc. It gets better as time goes on, I guess – e.g. the scene where he steals magic tomes using telekinesis works not because his telekinesis is better than anybody else’s, but because he’s willing to try using it in a way that most other characters wouldn’t. Also, in the final scene, he cleverly uses limited capabilities to force a draw with a more powerful adversary.
  • “The Cloak of Levitation” is a notably bad name for anything. He’s a sorcerer. I don’t think he needs an explanation for why he wears a cape.
  • Dr. Strange got a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Over the first half of the movie, I would have guessed 50-60%. By the end, maybe 60-70%. I don’t think it passes the smell test on action quality, and the character development is noticeably weaker than in most other MCU movies.
  • Wow, Nepal is a lot more racially diverse than I was expecting. Dr. Strange gets randomly mugged by a white guy, a black guy, and an east Asian that looked/sounded like a casting director found them at a business luncheon and hoped nobody would notice if they were wearing street clothes. It’s like the United Nations of Nepalese street crime. (And, weirdly, even less Nepalese than the rest of Dr. Strange’s Nepal).
  • The fight scenes were disappointing. The trailer set this up as some mindbending, Inception-level mojo. Instead we got half-assed CGI melee for the most part. The action in even a mediocre kung fu movie is miles ahead of this.
  • The ending is genuinely clever, and probably the only element of this movie that I’ll remember a year from now. Negotiated settlements between hero and villain are exceptionally rare in superhero movies (see also Watchmen). Also, the bargaining scene allowed the screenwriter to avoid some of the more serious problems floating around world-level threats — they are hard to talk to and rarely have much interesting to say (see also Suicide Squad, Green Lantern, the last two Fantastic Four movies, etc). We didn’t get to avoid the purple-swirling-dust stuff, though (see, well, pretty much every superhero movie where the planet is threatened).

29 responses so far

Sep 18 2016

Man of Steel Review

1. This movie is about as bad as Catwoman but, in Catwoman’s defense, it had okay action scenes.

2. Man of Steel particularly struggled with family dialogue. E.g. Clark’s Kryptonian parents take 3 minutes to describe their plan to send him to Earth and say their goodbyes. It’s pretty bland stuff, e.g. melodramatic intonations like “Goodbye, my son, all our hopes and dreams travel with you.” For much better family sequences, I’d recommend checking out Up, Incredibles, and Inception, non-dramas that happened to have some highly emotional and sometimes tragic family scenes. Let’s look at Inception’s vault scene, where a son insecure about failing his imposing father’s expectations is about to inherit a business empire from his dying father. He quietly hates his father because he thinks that his father has rejected him (e.g. not acknowledging a photo of a homemade pinwheel that’s probably the only happy memory they ever shared).

If you can get through this scene without shedding a tear or smiling at all, I’d recommend talking to a WB casting director because apparently they’re really into that. Also, the dialogue in this scene takes about 1:15. Compare to 3:15 of “Goodbye, my son, all our hopes and dreams travel with you and maybe also an AI which will spend another 5-10 minutes narrating to you later.”

(For some extra tragedy, this scene from Inception is a dream sequence created to trick the son into breaking up his father’s empire. In actuality, the father probably actually was a bastard).

2.1. When Pa Kent reveals to his son that he’s an alien, he bends over backwards to be weird about it. E.g. “You’re not on the periodic table”, “You’re the answer to ‘are we alone in the universe?’”, and “You need to decide whether to stand proud in front of the human race or not.” Clark doesn’t respond at all to this weirdness (his father gets 146 words in this scene, and Clark gets 13 – like most scenes between Clark and a parent, it’s more of a parental monologue than a conversation).

2.2. When Ma Kent’s son locks himself in a closet at school, mixing in some conflict would probably be more interesting than trying to be a yoga instructor. (“Focus on my voice. Pretend it’s an island. Out in the ocean. Can you see it?”) Alternately, maybe having Clark react when they take conversations in exceptionally weird directions. In this scene, Clark’s mom gets 80% of the words. Contrast to more effective conversations in Dr. Strange – even the most New Age-sounding lines from the Ancient One address problems and advance goals in a serious, practical way.

3. A question-and-answer session between two entirely cooperative characters is almost never the most interesting way to convey information. If the backstory of what had happened on Krypton actually were important, I’d recommend cutting the first 20 minutes of the movie on Krypton and most of the conversation between Clark and Jor-El, and have General Zod briefly mention or allude to important pieces when he shows up. Even that’s probably unnecessary.
3.1. If you’re rewriting a scene that feels like an 100% cooperative Q&A session, I’d recommend considering building some conflict between the characters, some mistrust, some concealment and/or lying and/or self-serving, not being willing and/or able to tell the whole story, and/or unreliable answers, etc. Also, there may be some degree of “cost” to the questions — e.g. if you sent your son to another planet and could have come yourself but chose not to, you might be uncomfortable freely admitting that because he’d probably think that you abandoned him. There probably should have been some pushing/conflict before Jor-El elaborates on what happened there.

4. The movie heavily overfocuses on Clark’s parents, who delivered twice as many lines as Clark/Superman gets (26% vs. 13%). Minor characters (mostly the military and minor Kryptonians) made up another 39%. Giving 2/3 of the lines in the movie to minor characters that have little bearing on the plot, little personality, and almost no unusual decisions between them is a bad idea. If your superhero is so boring that sidelining him for his parents might be a good idea, something has gone catastrophically wrong for your superhero story.

Characters Word Count % of Total
Clark’s parents 1,888 26%
Clark/Superman 926 13%
Zod 850 12%
Lois 725 10%
Everybody else (mostly military + minor Kryptonians) 2,815 39%

4.1. Arguably the worst part of the conversations between Clark and his parents is that his parents are windbags that relentlessly info-dump at him in the most grandiose, messianic terms what he symbolizes and the unbelievably wonderful things he’s going to accomplish some day when he gets off his ass and stops listening to windbags telling him about it. Jor-el: “You will give the people of Earth an ideal to strive towards. You will help them accomplish wonders. You will guide them so they might not make the same mistakes we did. You will show them this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” Pa Kent: “You were sent here for a reason. All these changes you’re going through, one day you’re going to think of them as a blessing, and when that day comes you’re going to have to make a choice, to stand proud in front of the human race or not… You just need to think about what kind of man you want to grow up to be, because whoever that man is, good or bad, he’s going to change the world.” Who the **** cares what he symbolizes? Get him doing and saying interesting things. In the first hour, he doesn’t come close on the first or attempt the second.

4.2. If ANYBODY takes 80% of the lines in a conversation with your main character, the scene-stealing characters damn well better be hyper-charismatic and/or critical to the plot, on the order of a Hannibal Lecter or Han Solo or Blake (the “coffee is for closers” sales instructor in Glengarry Glenross). In Man of Steel, virtually every scene with Clark’s parents sidelined Clark, which is very unusual for a lead character. I don’t see what they were going for. Clark didn’t get a lot of opportunities to have personality, develop himself and/or be interesting.

4.3. There’s one point at which the ghost of Jor-el tells Clark “If only Lara could have witnessed this.” Nah, three hyper-generic parental figures should be enough, I think.

5. The entire plot is a festering cancer of incompetence.. Being in Man of Steel is like barrel-rolling a Jeep full of incontinent donkeys. Nobody walks away looking good.

  • The military and Superman have one Kryptonian weapon against the Kryptonian invasion. Instead of doing a conventional aerial assault, like the last one that got totally wrecked by Kryptonians flying at Mach 20, why not have Superman fly it in?
  • Krypton’s codex, the only means by which Kryptonians can have children, is completely unguarded. Jor-El doesn’t even need to pick a lock to steal it, let alone deal with any guards. It’s less secure than the average 7-11.
  • Zod moves at an exceptionally slow pace when trying to recover the codex .
  • Zod: “I was bred to be a warrior. I trained my entire life.” Zod and two soldiers with rifles are unable to defeat a scientist in combat, and the scientist punches Zod out. Nor is he able to prevent a journalist from shooting her way out of captivity. I’d get a refund on that training.
  • When Zod stabs Jor-El, he doesn’t secure Jor-El’s gun even though Lara is a few feet away from it. You sure you can’t get a refund on that training?
  • Zod has at least 10 Kryptonians. Earth has one. Might have helped having more than 2 of the invaders try superpowered fighting.
  • Clark not figuring out a way to save his father secretly from the tornado (e.g. creating a distraction with heat vision and then running in while people are distracted).
  • Less blatant, but I think a smarter superhero could have spared Metropolis some devastation by drawing Zod away from the city.
  • Here’s the first lines exchanged between Hardy and Lois. COLONEL HARDY: “You’re early. We were expecting you tomorrow.” LOIS: “Which is why I showed up today. Look, let’s get one thing straight, guys, okay? The only reason I’m here is because we’re on Canadian soil, and the appellate court overruled your injunction to keep me away. So if we’re done measuring dicks, can you have your people show me what you found.” That… got out of hand quickly. To make Lois come across as tough rather than mentally unstable, I’d suggest giving her an actual provocation to respond to rather than just a military officer gently pointing out they agreed to a different schedule. Treating that as “measuring dicks” makes her sound completely in over her head and/or massively insecure. Also, I’d recommend giving her some social skills – check out Maltese Falcon or The Killers for much better examples of characters working on hostile sources of information. Introducing yourself by declaring “YOU’RE OPPOSED TO MY INVESTIGATION!” for no benefit generally isn’t very sharp, even if the target actually were opposed to your investigation (which Hardy doesn’t appear to be, in this case).
  • Clark: “I don’t know if Zod can be trusted.” Zod has threatened to devastate Earth and Jor-El mentioned that he launched a coup against Krypton. I’d recommend taking this in a badass direction (e.g. “he’s probably going to kill me, but it might save the planet”) rather than “I really am that dumb”.
  • Perry evacuates the Daily Planet about 10 minutes after an alien warlord’s spaceship reaches Metropolis and a few minutes after the bombardment begins. If an alien that has threatened dire consequences for Earth parks a warship over a major city, sticking around to watch makes it less of a murder and more of a suicide. This is probably obvious to everybody in the world but Metropolis.
  • The conspiracy blogger was a pleasant surprise. He’s fully aware that Lois is trying to use him, and throws a wrench in her plans the first chance he gets (revealing that she knows who Superman is). It’s badass and makes Lois’s habitual idiocy sort of tolerable here. (If you need to blindly trust somebody, telling them how much you detest them while asking them for a favor probably should not work out all that well. That’s probably obvious to everybody in the world besides Lois).
  • Perry refusing to run a huge story on a UFO sighting because he thinks that Lois might have hallucinated it. Okay, but did she hallucinate the multiple collaborating eyewitnesses? And her laser wounds, and the massive ****ing crater where a spaceship flew out of a mountain? To make Perry look less idiotic here, I’d recommend making Lois’ case a bit more sketchy (e.g. she has several military contractors who will anonymously corroborate her story but no one willing to go on record, and there’s a plausible alternative explanation for the crater, like a volcanic eruption). Alternately, have Perry refuse to run the article because he’s been badly burned by Lois’ sources before and/or he suspects there’s something she’s not telling him (e.g. she’s in love with the subject of the article, probably has a vendetta against the military, is a BS artist, and generally is a walking time-bomb of incompetence and conflicts of interest).
  • Speaking of chronic incompetence, about 2 seconds after Perry refuses to run her UFO article, Lois gives it to a conspiracy blogger to run. She’s still surprised that Perry figures it out. (She gave him the article to read. How could he have NOT figured it out? There weren’t any other journalists within 100 miles). I’d suggest having her handle this in a more brazen, daring way (e.g. she knows that Perry will figure out what happened, and maybe doubles down when Perry confronts her about it – his decision to sit on an ironclad blockbuster story because there was an official denial is bad journalism).
  • Jor-El: “We’ve had a child, Zod. Krypton’s first natural birth in centuries.” Why tell him that as he’s about to kill you? It accomplishes nothing but endangering Clark. It’s also unnecessary from a plotting perspective: nothing Zod does later requires knowing this early that Jor-El sent a child (when Clark later activates the SOS beacon on the ghost ship, Zod can figure it out on his own).
  • If you’re driving a schoolbus, and blowing out one tire (out of 4-6) causes you to completely lose control and drive off a bridge, you probably shouldn’t be driving a schoolbus.
  • If you’re an infantryman and you bring a grenade launcher on a cargo plane carrying the military’s only superweapon, you probably shouldn’t be on this mission. Particularly if the enemy has proven utterly immune to conventional explosives.
  • If you’re a military planner and you have an alien in custody, you might want to try learning more about Kryptonian capabilities, Zod’s goals on Earth, whether Zod can be trusted, the backstory between Zod and Superman, or anything else that might be useful if the obviously sinister Zod turns out to be a major problem moving forward. Taking a tissue sample might also be useful for developing ways to kill Zod if it comes to that (and, based on the way Zod introduced himself to Earth, it should be obvious it’s going to).
  • Military planning: if an alien is immune to heavy aerial munitions and can fly at supersonic speeds, anybody that sends in riflemen next probably shouldn’t be a military planner. Maybe nerve gas? Sound-based weaponry? Biological weapons? Anything more creative and/or potentially useful than weaker versions of what you’ve already tried? (Alternately, if the point is that the military is unable to respond in ways that might be effective, why give it so many scenes?)
  • When a building collapses towards Perry, he tries outrunning it in the same direction it is falling. E.g. the Chrysler Building is ~1000 feet tall by ~100 feet wide. If the building is falling south, running south will take 1,000 feet, whereas running east/west will take 50 feet.

6. Emotional variety is missing. I think Clark smiles twice in the entire movie and there are literally no moments that are exciting or cool. Compare to much more effective dark movies, like Chronicle and Deadpool and Kick-Ass and Watchmen, which have a lot of despair and suffering, but ALSO have some levity and a lot of energy. E.g. in Chronicle, one of the main characters has an abusive father and is generally an outcast at school, but everybody gets occasional bursts of excitement and happiness and most of the characters are living semi-functional lives. Man of Steel is a gray pile of sadness where Superman stumbles from one tragedy to the next.

6.1. Here are some faceshots from the movie. Clark’s emotional expressions could use some work (e.g. his pose for seeing Lois for the first time is virtually identical to when he sees by a corpse).
Superman faces

6.2. I can sort of understand the rationale behind doing several scenes with military extras – Superman has virtually no good dialogue in this movie, and his powers don’t lend themselves well to interesting fight scenes. However, if you spend so much time on military characters that they have more lines than Superman does, I’d recommend having the military extras actually be sort of useful (e.g. taking down one of the minor villains or something rather than just shooting ineffectually).

7. Jesus Christ, how tragic can one person’s life be?

  • One father dies in a tornado, and the other gets murdered in a 5-minute civil war. And then gets murdered again by the same guy.
  • His father died because some asshole left her dog in a car. He couldn’t save his father because there were randomly hundreds of witnesses on a highway in the middle of Kansas.
  • His mother dies when his planet explodes. His Kryptonian father who turns himself into a ghost apparently forgot her. Probably just as well, they were just going to get murdered again anyway.
  • According to Jor-El, his parents could have accompanied him but chose not to, shooting him into the middle of Kansas instead and guessing that’d be good enough. They’re the ultimate deadbeat parents. (Superman doesn’t remark on this, but given that he himself was a deadbeat dad in Superman Returns, I imagine it’s a sore subject). Seriously, not even sending a robot or something to make sure that he’s cared for before humans find him? Also, dressing him first?
  • The only other people that survive his planet exploding are hardened criminals that had previously vowed to track him down across the galaxy.
  • When Zod shows up with a warship orbiting the Earth and demanding that Clark turn himself in, Clark doesn’t remember that Jor-El had previously mentioned Zod to Jor-El and might have some insight into whether Zod is as nutso as he appears (“yep, actually he murdered me”). He asks a random priest for advice instead.
  • A fishing cage falling when he’s right under it.
  • At least five people start a fight with him because they’re assholes (two sets of school bullies, and a drunkard in a bar).
  • His school assigns Plato.
  • Millions of people die when Kryptonians attack the planet. Zod thanks him for (unknowingly) activating the SOS beacon that gave them directions.
  • His schoolbus loses a tire just as it’s going over the bridge, and everybody nearly dies.
  • An oil rig explodes near his fishing boat.
  • Yellow sunlight makes him invincible and green sunlight makes him interesting. I’ve never seen a green sun, either.
  • Falls in love with Lois “Catastrofe” Lane. She can’t ****ing cross the street without getting kidnapped twice, and she’s not much better at journalism.

8. A recurring problem for Superman: an active Superman is so powerful that he can instantly solve most problems that come his way. For most of the movie, they opt for “Clark wants to act but instead does nothing to hide his powers, and then has a 3+ minute debriefing where a parent monologues about why he had to do nothing to hide his powers.” If you’re going to have so many of these scenes, I’d suggest at least having him TRY to overcome his problems without superpowers (e.g. talking his way out of it, run for help, or make some friends by having any outside interests or anything going on in his life besides random disasters and tragedies) or maybe some sly use of superpowers like using his heat-rays to start a fire alarm to bring out witnesses at an in-school fight.

9. Characters should respond more naturally to each other. For example, if Clark says something like “You’re some guy that found me in a cornfield” to his adopted parents, please write a sharper response than “Clark!” / “No, honey, it’s alright.” If you want to have Lois to declare that Hardy is trying to measure dicks with her, please give Hardy a sharper response than nothing. Other moments in the movie that probably deserved more of a response than they actually got:

  • Clark finding out that he’s an alien, and that his adopted parents have been keeping that from him for a long time.
  • Jor-El telling Clark that he’s Clark’s father.
  • Jor-El heavily implying to Clark that his parents could have accompanied him to Earth, but chose not to. (Alternately, maybe a slight rewrite like Jor-El and/or Lara attempt to accompany him to Earth, but die of wounds taken during the civil war?) This conversation sort of starts to explain why Kryptonian society thought Kryptonians couldn’t be trusted to have their own kids. They’re really, really bad at it.
  • Any of the lines where Jor-El sounds strangely lukewarm about Zod, even after getting murdered by him.
  • Clark locking himself in a closet at school.
  • Clark’s parents deciding that he shouldn’t have any friends. (We hear this from a kid at school, it never comes up in conversation between Clark and his parents).
  • Any exceptional strangeness from Clark’s parents.
  • Pa Kent sacrificing himself to save some asshole’s dog that, spoiler, will probably get euthanized in 5-10 years because its owner won’t pay $6,000 for hip replacement surgery. Clark’s parents (both sets) repeatedly screw Clark, and certainly a father screwing his family on behalf of a stranger’s dog is pretty rough, but at least they didn’t send an infant alone to an alien planet, right?
  • Clark’s father not creating a ghost for Clark’s mother.

30 responses so far

Aug 14 2016

Suicide Squad review (spoilers)

1. The character introductions were lacking. Having Waller narrate the characters’ backstories to a minor character in a no-stakes infodump was probably not ideal. If Waller’s MO is that she’s ruthless and/or exploitative, would have preferred a scene with her coercing Flag to work on the project and/or why they selected these guys rather than any other high-stakes criminals available. Also, given that virtually all of the characters are total unknowns to most viewers, a smaller team would probably have helped with character development. (Failing that, if you start with a large team of antiheroes, having several deaths would probably have helped raise the stakes and establish a mood).

2. It probably would have helped if the main mission of the movie had been more shady and/or disagreeable. If a supervillain is ravaging a city, it’s not clear why the government needs a “plausible deniability” option here of unwilling gangsters with guns and bats rather than, say, asking Batman or Wonder Woman to step in. Or that having 6 minor criminal patsies would have helped explain at all why a sorceress wrecked a major city. I feel like a very messy police mission like trying to destroy a major gang and/or killing somebody that’s gone rogue and/or helping a VIP (maybe Waller) deal with a major case of blackmail would have been a better fit.
2.1. Waller’s trying to fake an answer to the wrong question. If a villain magically turns millions of people into zombies, the blame coming your way doesn’t have anything to do about who did it, but rather that you either didn’t have a plan and/or it involved sending guys with guns and bats to stop a sorceress rather than, say, asking Wonder Woman. Also, if you DID need to falsely claim that someone zombified a city, could I suggest somebody more plausible than a group of minor criminals headlined by a crocodile and a prison psychiatrist?
2.2. The blame coming your way might also have something to do with “why was somebody as incompetent as Waller within 1,000 miles of a life-or-death assignment?”
2.3. “When Enchantress started killing millions of people, why didn’t we immediately flip the kill-switch on her magical device?”

3. The music selection was ugly. E.g. playing “Sympathy for the Devil” to introduce a shady character with semi-sympathetic goals calls out the viewers as idiots, I think. Not nearly subtle enough. In contrast, Killer Croc got the much more imaginative “Born in the USA”, rather than (God help us) Crocodile Rock.

4. June is the worst archeologist in the world. She spends less than 10 seconds in the temple before twisting the head off a priceless relic that nearly destroys the world. Whoops. Not to be outdone, she falls for the worst soldier in the world, whose superpower is playing golf without a handicap and bungling pretty much everything he touches.

5. The team selection is an odd choice: Harlequin, Killer Croc, Captain Boomerang, Diablo, Katana, Deadshot, and Slipknot. Slipknot and Captain Boomerang are joke characters that contribute very little to the plot. (Seriously, Slipknot’s reason for being on the team is that “he can climb anything”). Harlequin and Deadshot (and secondarily KC and Diablo) feel like a pretty good personality fit for the movie, and the four of them dominate the memorable lines. I would have removed or overhauled CB, Katana, Slipknot, and maybe Rick Flag – they have little impact on the plot, and there just isn’t time.

6. Enchantress feels like a serious mismatch for the protagonists. Someone shootable would probably have created more interesting interactions and better fight scenes, seeing as almost everyone on the team is a badass normal. (The team’s only superhumans are Diablo, Killer Croc, and maybe Katana – not the most intuitive choice for stopping a world-ending threat).

7. Characters raise plausible concerns about Waller’s plans in a fair way (and thoroughly exhaust standard police and military alternatives). In context, it almost feels believable that serious people would agree to this crazier-than-crazy plan. (If we pretend that Batman and Wonder Woman were dealing with some other world-ending threat somewhere else, it almost makes sense). Also, in the interests of making Waller/Flag look better than “totally useless”, it might help if the problem the team had to deal with was not 100% created by Waller being a dumbass. In, say, well-executed noir movies like Out of the Past, characters create their own problems, but without compromising their competence.

8. Although this movie did as poorly as Batman vs Superman on Rotten Tomatoes, I think Suicide Squad is considerably better-executed and more entertaining. E.g. Will Smith’s attempted negotiation with Flag and Waller actually did a great job advancing character development, establishing conflicts between characters, and advancing the central plot. I don’t think there were any scenes in BVS that managed any one of those besides maybe Bruce Wayne’s very brief conversation with Diana Prince.

9. Even for a superhero movie, SS asks you to check a lot of realism at the door. E.g. 3 helicopter crashes for major characters without any deaths or injuries. Seriously, it would have been okay to kill off some of these characters. No one in this movie besides Batman and maybe Joker is integral to the success of the DC Universe moving forward. Also, Rick Flag is a notably passive, weak character – besides killing off Slipknot early, he is curiously reluctant to respond to provocations from his team. I was actively rooting for his death.

10. Several of the characters (notably KC, Joker and Diablo) are taken in an unusually gangsta direction. It feels really strange for Joker, who comes across as more sketchy than threatening. For Killer Croc, it got oddly humorous, in a non-PC way.

11. Harlequin’s background as a psychiatrist does not feel like it fits with the rest of the character.
11.1. The sexploitation was actually pretty effective.
11.2. Harlequin getting punched in the face by Batman probably got the loudest laughter from the audience, followed by Deadshot trying to negotiate in prison.

12. Villains threatening worldwide destruction generally don’t give protagonists much to work with. Enchantress felt like a sorry rehash of the most recent Fantastic Four’s Dr. Doom and Green Lantern’s Galactus, even down to the purple vortexes of death and terrible CGI. It’s much harder for characters to interact with a force that has nothing to talk about. Off the top of my head, the only superhero movies with global villains that worked out creatively very well were the Avengers series and Guardians of the Galaxy, and they relied on exceptionally interesting interactions between the protagonists rather than with the villains.

13. Most of the teammates – and Flag and (if you go as far back as Green Lantern) Waller – have a tragic backstory to soften them. I was sort of hoping for at least one character to have an unapologetic Walter White-style “I did it for me. I was good at it.” The closest we got was Harlequin stealing a purse. While that helps reinforce the character’s craziness, maybe something more important to the central plot?

14. Deadshot’s final scene with his kid (helping her with geometry) was surprisingly heartfelt and refreshingly dark. The kid isn’t just a sweet plot device, and it’s probably the closest this movie got to daring. I wish they had tried it more often (e.g. see Deadpool). For example, maybe giving characters more opportunities to do more antiheroic things than stealing a purse? Giving Diablo and Flag more of a pulse? Making Waller competent?

14.1. Deadshot shows off technical expertise in his final scene very naturally – compare how he talks about the geometry of shooting people and the curvature of the Earth to virtually every Fantastic Four conversation about science.

15. It’s so hard to feel for the setting. It’s very generic and, like every DC city besides Gotham, it’s just a soulless cardboard box to wreck. No interesting characters, no interesting places, no distinctive mood to the city… For God’s sake, it’s called Fauxcago “Midway City.” How much personality could it possibly have? PS: Would suggest checking out better noir movies for better alternatives to “dark and rainy all the time.”

16. The last 60 minutes of the movie (50:00 to 1:48:00) were a single, REALLY LONG mission where the characters break into Fauxcago, rescue a VIP, and ultimately defeat the villain. I strongly prefer the pacing of virtually every other superhero movie (e.g. Avengers and Incredibles), where several (much shorter) action sequences build up to a climactic confrontation with the villain. That would have also made it easier to work in dialogue into scenes than it was for Suicide Squad – e.g. look at how weirdly paced the bar scene is. (The world’s about to end, but hey, let’s talk about Diablo’s backstory!)

17. Across the movie, I counted about 38 minutes of action scenes. I think that’s about twice the average for superhero movies. Some issues here. First, it got tedious. Second, most of the fight scenes were ineffective. E.g. did we really need 3-4 separate scenes of soldiers/helicopters/aircraft carriers getting wrecked? There are so many characters that could have used most of that space more.

17.1. Most of the action sequences setting up each SS member were wasted.

  • Boomerang’s heist – no emotional impact to the betrayal, and he comes across as helpless. No hyperbole here: this is probably the least interesting interaction I’ve ever seen between a superhero and a villain in any medium. Compare to the vastly better-executed heist scene in Dark Knight, which establishes Joker’s disloyalty and unpredictability and his conflict with more conventional criminal groups. I believe it’s an especially memorable scene because he makes major decisions (e.g. preemptively betraying his own men) that 99% of villains wouldn’t have made in the same situation.
  • Katana’s scene stabbing a criminal in Japan was a heavy-handed way of showing her revenge angle, and it contributed to the movie in no other way. Easily removable.
  • Diablo torching a prison yard, shown twice. Not terrible. The crown of fire is a neat touch (but seems to imply that he hasn’t changed as much after killing his family as he’s trying to show).
  • Deadshot has 3 (a sample assassination which does a good job establishing his personality, getting taken down by Batman, and an inexplicably long scene where he shows off his skills by firing at dummies for 45 seconds straight).
  • The Joker/Harlequin takedown by Batman is probably unnecessary – it covers a lot of the ground of Batman taking down Deadshot, but that scene did a better job establishing Deadshot’s relationship with his family.

18. The movie took far too long before the teammates first meet each other 45 minutes in. Virtually all of the moments in the movies that actually worked featured Squad members interacting together (or Deadshot with Flag or his daughter), and getting the Squad together much sooner would probably have helped with the pacing. If your first 45 minutes of the film give more screentime to Waller, faceless government extras, and Joker as the titular heroes, it’d really help if these side characters got more opportunities to be interesting or memorable. In comparison, most of the great superheroes movies that introduce the main case exceptionally late, like Iron Man 1 and Incredibles, used the extra time early on for scenes that were very interesting, hilarious, emotionally effective, developed the main characters, or developed critical plot elements – hell, Tony Stark’s “Merchant of Death” scene and Bob’s attempt to prevent a suicide accomplished a lot on all 5. In Suicide Squad, the first 45 minutes don’t have anything that well-executed… I’d argue the closest is Deadshot’s interactions with his client, which create some character development and humor.

18.1. The odd men out here are definitely Waller, Joker, Enchantress and her brother (Incubus), and arguably Batman. Ideally, I think it would have helped to replace Enchantress/Incubus with villains that could interact with the heroes more directly, made Batman’s scenes more distinctive or removed him altogether, and significantly accelerated the setup to the squad coming together. I think Joker would be a candidate for lead villain, but I wouldn’t keep him on as a side villain because there are so many characters fighting for space. Also, overhauling Waller (more competent, more believable, more logical, more reacting to an actual problem rather than creating a problem that doesn’t exist yet, more threatening to teammates rather than maintaining no surveillance on the team, etc).

19. A point worth belaboring: Waller is outlandishly incompetent.

  • At one point, she warns the squad, “Remember, I’m watching, I see everything.” Except that she doesn’t have, you know, team microphones or anything, which might have let her hear Boomerang goading Slipknot into bolting, or Deadshot telling HQ that he was going to kill Flag and the SEALs but needed Joker’s help with the nanites. So she’s less well equipped than a Counterstrike team.
  • She appears to get off on lying for no apparent reason (e.g. goading Deadshot into pulling the trigger on a VIP security officer by telling him that the gun was disabled, and telling Rick that it was a standard terrorist attack).
  • It doesn’t seem to occur to her that trying to trick Deadshot to kill somebody for no reason in front of the victim might cause the victim (who runs security for the prison housing her team!) to become less cooperative. But at least she takes precautions against that, right? No, she’s not aware of a major asset getting turned by Joker, or his high-risk behavior playing in a heavily criminal casino. Nor is she aware that he’s slipped Harlequin a phone, and frankly there weren’t many places to hide it. She apparently trusts that to prison security, even after trying to have one of them killed for absolutely no reason.
  • She’s not aware of her helicopter getting hijacked by Joker. The resulting surprise gets many people killed.
  • Not being able to destroy the heart remotely, or put in a verbal command to someone who can. That seems like a pretty important capability, given that she knew Enchantress could teleport.
  • She murders her own subordinates because “they weren’t cleared for any of this.” First, this serial killing feels completely unnecessary. However, if it were necessary, it might be safer to wrap it up before Flag and Deadshot can witness it. Second, she’s not even good at being bad – she shoots four people once each, and doesn’t check to make sure that they’re dead. That’s really sloppy… there’s a high risk that at least one will survive.
  • No security precautions on the second doll.
  • Her decision not to destroy the first doll after Enchantress goes rogue and/or takes over a city is a major plot hole that makes the movie significantly worse. If she’s not going to use this lever at this point, it’d probably be better not give her this lever – otherwise she’s just developing herself as weak/passive/incompetent by not using it.
  • She allows herself (and the first doll) to be taken by Enchantress.
  • At no point does she approach basic competence. The movie is jaw-droppingly consistent that she’s an active liability to everything she’s trying to accomplish.

19.1. While Rick is not as legendarily inept as Waller, he’s not exactly covering himself in glory.

  • “I don’t do luck. I do planning and precision.” Except for, you know, any sort of plan that accounts for 50%+ of your team plotting to kill you, and you having no surveillance on them even as you have SEALs within 10 feet of the plotters. If your team’s situational awareness is that bad, you might as “do luck” and randomly blow up a teammate, because everyone on the team besides Katana and KC is openly discussing killing you.
  • Flag lets HQ back onto the team even after she sides with Joker and gets most of his SEAL friends killed.

18 responses so far

Apr 03 2016

Rotten Tomatoes Score Dataset Updated

We’re up to 62 superhero movies since 2000. You can download the full data here. Some observations:

 

  • R movies are making up the quality gap with PG-13 movies.

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Jul 19 2015

Preliminary Review of Ant-Man

Published by under Comic Book Movies

My expectations for the Ant-Man movie were exceedingly low — mainly based on concerns about the source material (no memorable villains, not much interesting personality, not conventionally useful superpowers, etc). In actuality, it’s a consistently funny movie with reasonably good fight scenes. Right now it’s averaging 79% on RT and I think that’s about right. Some observations:

 

–The main villain is a one-dimensionally psychotic businessman. His lack of style and depth is probably my biggest knock against the movie.  At the very least, if you absolutely need a psychotic businessman (which has already been used quite heavily in superhero movies), other movies have blazed this path better. E.g. generally Spider-Man 1’s Harry Osborne and Incredibles’ Syndrome felt like they could be real people with major mental issues. Not so much here. That said, I really liked the scene where the villain asked his mentor Dr. Pym why he kept the villain at such a distance. At the very least, the villain did give a really good opportunity to develop a side-protagonist’s personality.

 

–Using reformed sort-of-criminal* Scott Lang rather than generically brilliant scientist Dr. Pym as the main protagonist was an excellent choice. I think we’re overstocked on brilliant scientists at this point.

*He committed one theft, a Robin Hood-style crime where he returned the money to people that a company had overcharged them. The filmmakers softened the edges on his criminal work so much that it didn’t look like they were completely convinced that a criminal-turned-superhero could work. For PG-13 movies, I prefer the Guardians of the Galaxy mold (where protagonists have more latitude to at least talk about committing selfish crimes**, even if most of the things they actually do aren’t).

**Even removing someone’s spine, which is actually murder, and also illegal.

 

–In the comics, Scott Lang gets back into crime to help his sick daughter. Boohoohoo. In this case, it was to make child support payments (after a hilarious failure at Baskin Robbins), which felt a lot less cheesy/generic than the comic version.

 

–The side-cast in this movie and the (somewhat outre) comedy were much better than anyone had any right to expect. E.g. I believe comedic side-character Luis was created for the movie, which must have been a series of leaps of creative faith. “I know this guy, Michael Pena. Well, my cousin was at this PTA meeting, you know, and…”

 

–Falcon’s cameo is probably the closest he’s come to being interesting, especially when Luis goes into storytelling mode for the second time. This is also the most interesting SHIELD/Avengers cameo in any of the Marvel movies so far. Doing it with Falcon (who doesn’t have a personality independent of Captain America yet*) is just plain impressive.

*E.g. “I do what he (Captain America) does, just slower.” I believe the most charitable interpretation for Falcon is that his main purpose is to replace Captain America if/when Captain America’s actor Chris Evans stops making CA movies. He’s essentially a slow-rolling reboot.

8 responses so far

Jan 14 2013

Justice League Movie Update 2

Will Beall, the screenwriter for the upcoming Justice League movie, just had his first movie (Gangster Squad) out. It averaged 33% on Rotten Tomatoes (thanks to “lackluster writing and underdeveloped characters”) and disappointed at the box office. I think this bodes poorly for the JL movie.

 

To recap:

  • Writing the Justice League movie will likely be much more challenging than a relatively simple police shoot-em-up. (For example, several of the Justice League characters have their own movies in the works, so the creative coordination will be more complicated).
  • Introducing multiple characters simultaneously on a team would be challenging for a very good screenwriter.
  • It does not look like DC-WB has A-grade writing talent on this.
  • Several directors have passed on Beall’s outline/script for Justice League (which might suggest problems with the outline, or might be totally unrelated).
  • DC-WB’s had some notable problems with scheduling/delays before (e.g. Green Lantern’s production delays set back marketing efforts by months and contributed to the under-editing).
  • Avengers 2 is scheduled for release in May 2015. DC-WB’s under pressure to get JL out in time to face Avengers 2, but Justice League doesn’t even have a director yet. Hollywood studios sometimes rush out godawful movies before they’re ready because of pressure from competing films (e.g. Skyline vs. Battle: Los Angeles).

 

I’m lowering my Rotten Tomatoes prediction for Justice League from 30-45% to 25-35%.

 

PS: Speaking of box office results this week, the three top-performing theaters for Zero Dark Thirty (a movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden)  were within 5 miles of the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.

54 responses so far

Dec 29 2012

If You’re Worried About Peter Parker…

He’ll be fine after the publicity stunt passes. The only thing that can actually kill a superhero is bad sales.

4 responses so far

Jul 29 2012

16 Comic Book Scenes Probably Not Coming to a Theater Near You

Published by under Comic Books

Guyism has a list of the 16 creepiest comic book scenes. Some of them are okay in context–e.g. in Daredevil 209, Daredevil pushes a girl down an elevator, but he knows that she’s a robot assassin. Some of the other ones are just plain creepy.

3 responses so far

Jul 16 2012

Learning Writing Skills from Green Lantern

(Please see the movie before reading this review).

 

1. The two minutes of voiceover/narration should have been cut. First, do we really need to start the story with the backstory of the Green Lantern Corps? It would probably have been more natural (and less pretentious) to cover this in a conversation with Hal Jordan (probably when he meets up with the Corps on Oa). As it is, I think this information is a distraction from Hal, contributes to a disjoint between what the aliens are doing and what Hal is doing over the first 30 minutes, and is redundant with the two other scenes recapping the purpose and history of the GL Corps.

1.1. When you’re introducing a character and/or organization to readers, I think it’d be more effective to show them in their element rather than through lengthy exposition. We’re later told Abin Sur is a “great light” of the Lanterns, but we never actually see him do anything impressive. Similarly, rather than introduce the GL Corps with a speech, I’d much rather see them doing a typical-but-interesting job (the GL equivalent of a hostage situation or a high-stakes bank robbery). Since the defining characteristic of the GL is supposed to be fearlessness, it’d be better to have them do something memorably courageous than to show them panicking as they face Parallax. Fleeing isn’t the most intuitive way to establish a corps founded on bravery. Moreover, we don’t actually see much fearlessness from the Lanterns over the course of the movie.

 

2. The relationship between Hal and his father was one-dimensional and did not help develop Hal or the plot. This felt like a very forced way to work courage vs. cowardice into the plot. “You’re not scared, are you, Dad?” “Let’s just say it’s my job not to be.” Ick. Here are some more effective examples of family cameos.

  • Ellie, the main character’s wife in Up. In just a few minutes, each character shows how much they mean to the other. (Spoiler): When she dies, viewers really feel the main character’s loss, whereas Hal’s dialogue with his father is so lifeless that there’s no emotional heft. In contrast, Up’s Ellie-Carl scenes help develop why the main character is lonely and surly for most of the rest of the movie and helps set up some of the immediate conflict between the grouch and the cheerful Boy Scout he gets trapped with. Speaking of which, the Boy Scout’s relationship with his family is also emotionally effective—I’d really recommend seeing this movie if you haven’t already.
  • Batman’s relationship with his father mixes respect and conflict. Ra’s al Ghul points out that Bruce trained to become something like the opposite of his father—if the father had been as physically tough as the son became, they all would have survived Joe Chill. This is more interesting than JUST having the character try to fill his father’s footsteps (a la Hal Jordan). I also like that various other characters try pulling Wayne’s legacy in different ways (e.g. Ghul accuses him of being useless and mocks his philanthropic work, Joe Chill falsely claims that he died begging for his life, Batman risks disgracing his father’s name by cutting himself off from high society, and Joker implicitly disagrees with the elder Wayne about whether Gotham is worth saving, etc).
  • The mother of Kick-Ass has an aneurysm and dies while eating breakfast. This adds some ghoulish comedy and helps reinforce that the main character is lonely and sort of messed-up. It also plays on the comic book trope that the character’s parents will always die in some plot-relevant and meaningful way. Not bad for ten seconds of screen-time.

 

3. Main character Hal Jordan makes his first appearance 6 minutes into the movie. While I think it’s generally interesting to try scenes without the main characters (e.g. Dark Knight’s ferry scene), focusing on minor characters to the exclusion of the core of the story is probably unsound. I can’t think of any reason to start with the aliens here rather than either 1) starting with Hal and covering the information about the aliens later, probably when Hal meets the aliens or 2) starting with the aliens doing something which directly involves Hal. For example, it might make sense to start with Abin Sur as he’s looking for a Green Lantern—this would help develop what was so impressive about Hal that he caught Abin Sur’s eye.

 

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53 responses so far

Jul 10 2012

Learning Writing Skills from The Avengers

As always, please see the movie before reading this review.

 

1. The conflicts within the team and between the teammates and Fury/SHIELD were impeccable. One aspect which lends depth to the conflicts is that most of the character have intelligent reasons to disagree and the writers don’t push viewers to side with one protagonist or another. In contrast, the Fantastic Four’s squabbles are usually driven by someone (or everyone) being an idiot, which mainly leaves me wanting to punch everyone. The scene where the Avengers confront Nick Fury over what he’s been holding back from them is vastly superior to anything in the FF movies.

 

2. The writing was very fresh and clever. The arc where Loki allows himself to be taken prisoner in an attempt to provoke Bruce Banner into going crazy is a nice play on the (sort-of-tired) trope where a supervillain breaks out of captivity. Additionally, the scene where SHIELD tries to contact Black Widow (who is being interrogated by Russian smugglers) is hilarious.

  • BLACK WIDOW: “This is just like in Budapest.” *She stabs an alien in the head.* HAWKEYE: “You and I… remember Budapest very differently.”

 

3. I believe the main weak point of the movie was the selection of Loki as the main villain—he wasn’t as cost-effective as more limited, terrestrial villains like the Joker, Green Goblin or Obediah Stane. He got better characterization than, say, the alien antagonists in Green Lantern or FF: Silver Surfer, but I don’t believe the movie would have been much worse if all of his lines of dialogue had been cut out. In particular, a character that is based on deception and trickery should develop the plot and characters more with his dialogue than he actually did.

 

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52 responses so far

Jul 07 2012

Learning from Amazing Spider-Man

(As always, please see the movie before reading this).

 

1. To the extent that you cover a superhero origin story, I’d recommend focusing on things and approaches we haven’t seen much of before. I think it would have helped to either spend less time covering the origin story or make it more different than Spider-Man 1. That said, I thought ASM’s approach to the death of Uncle Ben was smoother and more thematically effective–when Peter has the opportunity to stop the robber, there’s a plausible and immediate threat to bystanders. Peter declines and Ben gets killed seconds thereafter. This makes Peter’s motivation for a life-changing decision (becoming a superhero) more plausible.  In contrast, in Spider-Man 1, Peter gets torn up because he doesn’t get involved in a relatively minor situation with a police officer present, with only a faint connection between Peter Parker letting the robber go and the robber killing a civilian.

1.1. Peter plays a more active role acquiring superpowers. He was only in the laboratory because he stole an ID and figured out how to thwart a keypad. I think the scene develops him more than just getting lucky at the science fair in Spider-Man 1. (Likewise, he makes his own webslingers instead of getting them from the spider-bite).

 

2. Beware the idiot ball–make sure there are believable consequences to actions. Peter Parker displayed his superpowers in public so many times that I think his classmates would have to be idiots not to notice something was amiss. (For example, the NBA-caliber dunk? Or breaking a goalpost with a football? Or lifting enormous Flash Thompson by the neck?)  When characters make decisions, there should be consequences. For example, if the character is reckless with his powers, maybe other characters come closer to figuring out what’s going on. Or at least start asking difficult questions.

 

3. Speaking of consequences, I thought the crane scene was kind of cute. (Peter saves a construction worker’s kid and the construction worker later pulls in favors at the climax to help Spider-Man).  It helps build a contrast between Spider-Man’s decidedly limited means and, say, the lavishly-funded Avengers or X-Men. I think it’s also a more subtle and effective way of showing he’s more of an everyman hero than we saw in previous Spider-Man movies (e.g. subway passengers throwing themselves between Dr. Octopus and a crippled Spidey felt sort of hokey to me).

 

4. I thought it was a bit contrived that Peter Parker just happens to find the love interest working for the villain he’s trying to find. One way to clear out this contrivance would have been to make the two more causally connected. For example, maybe Peter Parker’s trying to figure out how to get to the villain, so he introduces himself to the assistant in the hopes that she’d eventually bring him to work. (This would make the relationship seem a bit more manipulative at the beginning, but he could probably come clean sooner rather than later. I think it’d help that he reveals his secret identity to her relatively quickly–he’s more upfront than most superheroes are).

 

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25 responses so far

Jul 06 2012

Learning Writing Skills from The Dark Knight

(Please see the movie before reading this review).

 

1. The conflicts really help make the relationships memorable. One element which worked out unusually well was the depth provided by protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts (e.g. Gordon conflicting with Dent over who blew a case, Dent respecting Batman but hating Bruce Wayne, Lucius vs. Batman over libertarian issues, cops pressuring Dent to surrender Batman to Joker, Batman vs. Dent over threatening to kill a deranged patient, Dent angry that Batman saved him rather than his girlfriend, Batman vs. a misled SWAT team, Gordon suspecting most of his own unit of possible corruption, etc). The plot has a lot of angles, but each of these conflicts is very easy to follow and is consistent with the character development. I think that the protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts help give all of the characters something to contribute to the plot. In contrast, if (say) the Thing were cut out of the Fantastic Four movies or Violet were cut from The Incredibles, I don’t think the plot would change much.

 

1.1.  Few, if any, superhero movies have accomplished as much with antagonist-vs-antagonist conflict. For example, Joker orders a hit on Coleman Reese, Joker fights with mob leaders, Joker turns on his own goons, and turns Dent into Two-Face (both physically and morally). One reason that the bank heist at the beginning of the movie is so memorable is because all of the antagonists involved are criminals—in contrast, many superhero movies have the superheroes warm up by taking down faceless bank robbers who receive no development.

 

2. The characters generally have complex motivations. Probably the most notable example here was Joker trying to prove that everybody is fundamentally as crazy as he is (and that people are only as moral as conditions allow them to be). It made him much more interesting than just another villain trying to make a ton of money or accumulate power without any particular agenda in mind. I’d also recommend checking out how Batman and Gordon conceal Two-Face’s misdeeds to help keep hope and inspiration alive.

 

3. The use of side-characters is phenomenal. Except for maybe Avengers, I don’t think any other superhero movie comes close in terms of character/plot development or creating interesting scenes. Take, for example, the ferry scene. Batman isn’t directly involved and none of the characters on-screen actually have a name. How many series are there where minor characters could have a compelling scene which develops the plot and the villain? Some other interesting examples where Batman isn’t present:

  • Joker’s opening bank heist. If I had to pick a single movie scene which did the best job of introducing a villain and developing his personality and modus operandi in a memorable way, this would be it. The heist is fittingly anarchic and unpredictable in the best way.
  • Joker’s pencil scene.
  • Lucius vs. Coleman Reese. (“You think your client, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the world, moonlights as a vigilante and beats criminals to a pulp with his bare hands? And your plan is to blackmail this man? … Good luck with that”).
  • Gordon/MCU fighting with Dent/DA’s office about who blew the bank seizure.
  • Joker in the MCU cell—the cell-phone bomb was a clever touch, but I thought his goading the veteran cop (Stephens) into an imprudent confrontation was most memorable here.

 

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14 responses so far

Jun 05 2012

Warner Bros. Wanted Leonardo DiCaprio as the Riddler

Published by under Comic Book Movies

According to Yahoo News, Warner Bros. originally pushed for the Riddler as the villain in The Dark Knight Rises. “WB’s top executives said, according to [screenwriter] Goyer: ‘Obviously it’s gonna be The Riddler, and we want it to be Leonardo DiCaprio.'”

 

Sometimes I wonder about the decision-making process at Warner Bros. when it comes to DC adaptations. DC/WB’s non-Nolan movies have averaged 38.7% on Rotten Tomatoes since 2000 and 29.5% over the past 5 years (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Watchmen, and The Spirit). RED, the only DC property which was made by a different studio, succeeded both creatively (71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and financially (grossing $199 million against a production budget of $58 million). It has a sequel slated for next year, which will make it the only DC property since 2000 to survive to a sequel without Nolan’s involvement.

23 responses so far

May 29 2012

This Is Sort of Cute

A mother needed help convincing her four-year-old (who suffers from severe hearing loss) to wear a hearing aid. He thought it was decidedly unbadass. In response to a letter from the mother, Marvel Comics created a superhero who used a hearing aid to detect crime.  This strikes me as a very thoughtful gesture (and, although it would probably cheapen the moment, very cost-effective public relations).

4 responses so far

May 10 2012

Which Tend to Be Better: Superhero Team Movies or Lone Superhero Movies?

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Since 2000, movies with 2+ superheroes have averaged 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, whereas movies with a lone superhero have averaged 50%.

 

Lone Superheroes

 Company

Average RT Rating

 Marvel

54

 DC

48

 Other

43

 Overall

50

 

Superhero Teams

 Company

Average RT Rating

 Marvel

64

 DC

41

 Other

58

 Overall

59

 

Below, I listed all of the superhero team movies and lone superhero movies which went into these ratings.

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13 responses so far

May 09 2012

How Would You Have Done The Avengers Differently?

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Is there anything about The Avengers you would have done differently? If so, what? (I wouldn’t recommend reading the comments here until you’ve seen the movie–there will probably be many spoilers).

21 responses so far

Apr 30 2012

This Joss Whedon Interview Leaves Me Optimistic About The Avengers

Published by under Comic Book Movies

My main reservation is that a large cast frequently leads to more generic characters used in a more rushed way, more storytelling-by-committee (e.g. the studio dictating what can be done with each of the characters or how the plot has to play out), and less time for each character that viewers find interesting. For example, if you like Iron Man much more than Thor OR if you like Thor much more than Iron Man, then having both in the movie will result in less time for the one you want to see.

 

This Wired article suggests that Whedon and his team are at least aware of these issues, which bodes well. On the other hand, I would have been more encouraged if Whedon had been more involved in the selection of the villain (the company selected Loki for him).

 

UPDATE: Initial reviews for the movie on Rotten Tomatoes (based on an early overseas release) are astronomically high, 94% so far. Among superhero movies, only The Incredibles (97%) has done better.

12 responses so far

Dec 27 2011

10 Reasons to Reboot a Superhero Movie Franchise

Published by under Comic Book Movies

My guest article about when it’s a good time to reboot a franchise just got posted at comicbooks.com.  The editorial assistance was surprisingly good.  The edited article has a slightly more casual voice than most of my content on SN, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.

 

If you’d be interested in hosting one of my guest articles, please let me know at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.  I’d really appreciate if you would suggest an article topic (e.g. How to Write an Interesting Sidekick) or some general genre of articles (e.g. anything about characterization) you find interesting, but it’s not necessary.

3 responses so far

Dec 02 2011

Writing More Realistic Violence

Here are some points I took away from this article on violence.

1. Very few people are actually prepared for a life-or-death, organ-stabbing fight.  “Herein lies a crucial distinction between traditional martial arts and realistic self-defense: Most martial artists train for a ‘fight.’ Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.”

 

2. All other things being equal, I would imagine someone that’s pretty mild-mannered and hasn’t been in many fights would probably have quite a learning curve as a superhero.  Most violent criminals (e.g. supervillains!) are used to violence that most people could not fathom.  In a savage fight, it is very possible that a superhero’s mental/moral hesitations and inhibitions and unfamiliarity with violence could be disastrous.  Superhero organizations might want to have new recruits fight nonpowered criminals in relatively low-stakes cases until it looks like they might be mentally and physically hard enough to survive a psychotic killer like Mr. Freeze or a death camp survivor that mentally ripped a foe’s tooth out of his mouth… back when he was a protagonist.  And, let’s be honest, it’s not likely that every would-be superhero can successfully make that transition.  (If you’re writing a larger organization like the Justice League, what does the group do about heroes that are so ill-suited for combat they will probably get themselves killed?  For example, maybe some get retrained as crime-solvers and partnered with ace combatants and maybe others get let go and maybe still more take on important support roles like medic or scientist or whatever that might involve some exposure to violence but aren’t as intense as actually being a combatant).

 

3. Although I think the author discounts the potential benefits of bravery, I agree it definitely has potential costs.  I don’t think we see very much of that in most superhero stories.  For example, violence for Spider-Man is sort of Disney-fied–virtually the only permanent costs of violence (Uncle Ben’s death) are caused by not being brave.   For most superheroes, I think the violence is heavily romanticized.  Being a superhero is more or less fun and games except when a (usually secondary) character dies and, let’s face it, he will probably come back anyway.  On the other hand, I personally don’t enjoy deep-R violence and would feel uncomfortable including it in something primarily meant as entertainment.  (For example, in Kickass, a gangster gets crushed in a car-compactor–it’s decidedly unpleasant and I’m sort of annoyed it was a laugh-line for the audience).

 

4.  It might be dramatic to make a hero choose between his pride and other goals.  For example, if 3+ muggers have guns drawn on Bruce Wayne, it’d be pretty banal for Wayne to flawlessly disarm the criminals and walk away completely unscathed–pretty much every superhero would do the same in that situation.  It might be more interesting if the character allowed himself to be robbed, walked away and got his revenge later.  How much is his pride worth?  Alternately, if the character does decide that his pride is worth risking serious physical injury and/or revealing that he has superpowers, have him pay something for it.  (For example, the first sign to Gary that something is not right about his coworker Dr. Mallow is that Gary witnesses several men rob Dr. Mallow, taking among other things a cherished personal memento.  Over the next several weeks, all of the assailants end up in mysterious accidents and the good doctor has his memento back.  Mallow could have just let it go, but trying to protect his property even after the fact bears a cost for him).

8 responses so far

Sep 06 2011

Erik Larsen’s Comic Book Submission Answers

If you’re interested in submitting a comic book, particularly to Image, I would really recommend checking out these answers from Erik Larsen.

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6 responses so far

Aug 18 2011

Name That Quote: Batman or Shakespeare?

Published by under Badassery,Batman

I found this Sporcle game’s mix of Shakespeare and Batman so dangerously amusing that I wanted to punch an English teacher in the face and throw him two or three stories onto the street.  Then I realized that the closest English teacher was me and I thought better of it.

 

PS: If you’re a long-time fan of Batman, you might remember that Adam West hid the remote control for the entrance to the Batcave inside a bust of Shakespeare.

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Aug 07 2011

The Steelers are extras in the upcoming Batman film

Why use the Steelers as the stand-in for Gotham’s team?  Maybe they couldn’t get any other football-playing rapist* for Batman to strangle on such short notice?

 

*Never proven in a court of law, but Batman isn’t much into legal niceties (like verdicts).  Double points if he does Roethlisberger with a Terrible Towel.

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Jul 25 2011

Captain America was very fun

I’d give Captain America 3 out of 4 stars.  If you’re into superhero action, I’d highly recommend it.

  • The writing was consistently clever and entertaining.  I’m not sure how much of it I will remember a few weeks from now–most of it wasn’t brilliant–but it was a very fun time.
  • The movie played with a few superhero tropes.  For example, there’s the obligatory chase scene where a villain tries to escape by throwing a civilian into danger.  A villain throws a boy into a river and runs off.  The Captain glances at the boy, who says something like, “I can swim.  Go get him!”  However, I think they could have more smoothly handled the trope that the super-serum could not be replicated.  Spoiler: The project falls apart because one scientist gets killed and he didn’t have any notes or additional doses of the serum anywhere?  Didn’t he have any lab assistants?  (I don’t think it would’ve been hard to plug this hole.  Maybe he was worried that the Nazis would steal his notes, so he did as much from memory as possible and/or he used a code that only he could understand).
  • I liked that Steve Rogers proved himself, whereas many other superheroes are just passively chosen for greatness (e.g. they’re born with superpowers or happen to be in the right place at the right time for a genetically-modified spider bite).   Rogers is selected as the test subject for the serum because he shows uncommon character, cunning and bravery.  The bravery struck me as a bit banal (he leaps on a hand-grenade without knowing it was a dummy).  The cunning was much more memorable. That flagpole scene was pretty kickass.
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18 responses so far

Jul 14 2011

Green Lantern Was Good for Something (Learning How Not to Write)

Published by under Green Lantern,Plotting

Novelist Jami Gold has two articles about learning from the Green Lantern movie: How Not to Write Characters and How Not to Plot a Story.
 
I’d also use Green Lantern to show why scenes should usually have some transition explaining why a character goes from doing A to doing B.  One of the transitions between a scene of GL talking with his geek friend and a scene of GL talking with his love interest is the geek randomly asking “Hey, doesn’t a superhero always get the girl?”  First, the line comes out of nowhere–they hadn’t been talking about romance or the lady until the geek tossed that line out.   Second, the line probably doesn’t work well as a transition because it doesn’t create a good reason why GL would want to go talk with his love interest.
 
There are so many easy ways to switch a scene without anybody noticing the seams.  For example, the protagonist-geek conversation could have been interrupted by a phone call or a text from the love interest.  Then it would have made sense for the geek to start talking about romance and it would have given GL a good reason to talk with his love interest.  Additionally, depending on what she said in the call/text, it could have added some urgency to the impending protagonist-love interest scene.

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Jun 28 2011

Good news and bad news for Green Lantern fans

The good news is that Warner Bros. is planning a GL sequel.  The bad news is that the preliminary box-office returns look rough enough (so far) that I do not think the sequel will survive.

 

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Jun 19 2011

Are Marvel or DC Movies Better? A Research Survey

Summary

  • Including the older movies, the average Rotten Tomato score was 47.3% for DC and 58% for Marvel.  If we look only at movies since 2000, DC drops to 47.2% and Marvel inches up to 60%.  DC’s movies have actually gotten slightly worse since 2000.

  • Marvel has been having more critical success with more series.  Since 2000, DC’s non-Batman movies have averaged 38.7%.  Since 2000, Marvel’s movies without Spider-Man have averaged 56% and its movies without X-Men have also averaged 56%.

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Jun 18 2011

Green Lantern’s at 25% on Rotten Tomatoes

Published by under Comic Book Movies

Curses.  I was a lot more excited about GL than the other superhero movies this year (X-Men: First Class, Thor and Captain America) because it’s a more ambitious story, more purely sci-fi than most other superhero stories.  Unfortunately, the initial reviews have been, ahem, not favorable.  (25% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 77% for Thor and 87% for X-Men: First Class).

 

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22 responses so far

Jun 04 2011

X-Men: First Class was surprisingly good

  • It’s less action-heavy than previous X-Men movies.  That’s fortunate, because the action is largely derivative of previous X-Men movies.
  • The character-building is surprisingly good.  I think 2-3 more minor characters like Havok, Darwin, Angel, Riptide (the unnamed tornado villain), Banshee and Moira the CIA agent/love interest could have been removed so that there was more development time for the others, but to the writers’ credit I think each of them had at least one worthwhile moment besides Angel.
  • I feel Beast and Xavier are a lot more interesting here than they were in the previous movies.  Wolverine’s cameo was hilarious and the Magneto-Xavier relationship was good but rushed.  (I don’t think Magneto interacts enough with Xavier that he would be as shaken up about losing him as he was).
  • The cast was generally competent.  However, Kevin Bacon (the lead villain) is notoriously inept.  A few of his scenes were unintentionally funny.  Besides Emma Frost, the ladies were notably not bad, particularly compared to previous superhero disasters (e.g. Jessica Alba and Halle Berry).  However, all of the ladies got small roles.
  • There were several female characters (Mystique, Emma Frost, Moira the love interest and Angel) but, besides Mystique, I thought the writers didn’t accomplish much with them.  The Moira-Xavier romance was half-hearted.  I think it would have helped to eliminate Angel and use that time to develop Moira and/or Mystique.  Also, the movie failed the Bechdel test.  (At least two named women must have at least one conversation about anything besides a man).
  • Spoiler: The black guy is the only protagonist to die?  He barely got enough screen-time to say his name!  (Still, he’s less awful than the jive comic relief in Transformers).
  • The political propaganda was a bit less heavyhanded than usual, mainly because the U.S. military is a potential genocidal villain and not a current genocidal villain yet.  (That’s pretty much as politically evenhanded as the X-Men series gets).   Also, there’s a likable CIA agent and a CIA supervisor that is not totally evil, whereas the military was pretty consistently portrayed as some combination of evil and/or useless.  (For example, Xavier implicitly compares U.S. soldiers to Nazis “just following orders”).   However, I’m inclined to give the screenwriters a pass on making the CIA bosses grossly sexist because that strikes me as plausible for this time period.
  • Besides Mystique, the nonhuman-looking characters looked surprisingly goofy.  Beast and Azazel (Nightcrawler’s dad) looked like extras on a Sy-Fy production.  Yeah, if my dad looked like Azazel, I’d probably join the circus to get out of the house.
  • I noticed two one fairly minor plot hole.  There’s a scene where the characters are staring at incoming missiles and Azazel can teleport himself and others.  Hey, maybe instead of staring at your impending death, Azazel, maybe you can warp everybody to safety like (SPOILER) you did after the missiles were disabled?  Just saying…

22 responses so far

Jun 01 2011

A shakeup for DC’s series

Published by under Comic Books,DC Comics,News

DC Comics announced a few changes that might be significant.  Details are sparse at the moment, but here’s what DC Comics, USA Today and the New York Times have reported.

  • Every DC series will restart at issue #1 and many of the characters will be younger than they were before.  It’s less clear whether the plots will substantially change in noncosmetic ways.  The only substantial changes announced so far are that “a lot” of series are not returning, Justice League will focus more on relationships and DC will branch into genres besides pure superhero action.  “We’re going to use war comics, we have stories set in mystery and horror, we’ve got Westerns.”
  • “We really want to inject new life in our characters and line. This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today’s audience.”
  • DC will be digitally releasing all of its issues the same day they arrive in comic stores.
  • Some titles will return and “a lot” won’t.  Most DC writers and artists are also getting shuffled around. “Series that are successful and writer/artist combinations that work well together won’t be tweaked too much.”
  • The direction for the costume changes is to look more contemporary.   They’re also trying to “alter the physicality of many heroes and villains to modernize the DC Universe.”  I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a dangerous surgery illegal in most countries.
  • “The recent emphasis on diverse characters such as lesbian superheroine Batwoman, Hispanic hero Blue Beetle and African-American adventurer Cyborg (who will be a core member of Johns and Lee’s new Justice League) also will continue.”

32 responses so far

Dec 25 2010

Tales from the Bully Pulpit was incredible

Published by under Comedy,Comic Books

Tales from the Bully Pulpit was 84 pages of this.  Teddy Roosevelt steals HG Wells’ time machine and meets up with Thomas Edison’s ghost to stop Argentinian Nazis from conquering Mars.

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