(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.
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.
(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).
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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).
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…
Scott Pilgrim’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes is 80%. It was so neck-deep in every sort of geeky awesomeness that it totally made sense when the hero used a 1-Up as a “get out of death free” card. The highlight of the movie was definitely the superpowered kung fu. The romantic comedy was reasonably effective, better than suggested in the trailer. The first 33 seconds of the trailer are forgettable, but the movie is substantially better, particularly if you’re into people getting drop-kicked in the face by vegan supervillains.
While critics in general are happy to give approval to comic book films (and, I think, many critics do treat them fairly), I think there’s no question that there are elements of bias in many critics’ reviews.
First, look at the language many critics use. When giving a positive review, many will say things like “despite its comic book origins,” or “leaping beyond comic books,” as if being based on a comic book is in some way a handicap.
Actually, I think being based on a comic book (or a novel or TV show or anything else) is a handicap for a movie.
Judging by ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, DC movies do almost as well on average (although its bombs tend to be uniquely awful).
For the sake of convenience and clean numbers, I took the top 20 grossing movies from each publisher and then gathered their Rotten Tomato rankings, which are averages of hundreds or thousands of reviews. (A RT ranking isn’t a perfect measure of quality, but it’s probably pretty accurate).
I want to see The Losers when it comes out, although it’s probably awful, and was pleasantly surprised by Kick-Ass (which has a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). This got me thinking about financially successful comic book movies without superheroes. After running some numbers, I found they’re really rare nowadays.
In the past year, his comics have consistently been outsold by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flash, Green Lantern, Deadpool, and every A-list franchise. (For example, his top-performing comic book in June 2009 placed #43 on the bestsellers list).
According to io9, even DC Comics acknowledged that the Superman movie franchise is struggling. Superman’s latest film-outing grossed about $390 million on a production budget of $270 million. That’s notably worse than 1996′s Batman Forever, let alone either of the two most recent Batman films. Yes… even Joel Schumacher, the “director” that put nipples on the Batsuit, beat Superman.
Here’s how I would reboot Superman.
1. Give him a real personality with some actual flaws. This does not mean that he has to be brooding. (Please see Spiderman or Ironman– characters can be three-dimensional and fun!) For example, maybe he’s a bit overconfident or careless. Even a small flaw would make him more likable and believable.
New writers have a tendency to focus so much on their character development that they forget that the right setting can be just as important. Setting provides a picture for a reader, without which your characters are flying through nothingness. Action and drama mean very little without interaction between the characters and their environment so, […]
When mapping out any kind of superheroic narrative, a consideration has to be made that is not often an aspect of other types of stories, and by that I mean you have to determine power level, or maybe we should say Power Level, since so many superheroic concepts work better with capitals. This is […]