Tag Archives: superheroes

What lessons will Hollywood learn from ‘Deadpool’?

ANYONE REMEMBER two really unremarkable Hulk movies in the last 15 years or so?

Ang Lee had an interesting idea to do the Hulk as more of a character study back in 2003, but for some reason decided to intersperse that with actual comic book devices, turning the film into an insufferably serious mess that was periodically interrupted by out-of-place comic book structure. Then Ed Norton got in on the act, wresting control from director Louis Leterrier to turn the latest Hulk film into an example of superhero films at their worst: A few great moments, but generally long, bloated and, again, too self-serious.

So what did Hollywood learn from these two Hulk movies? That you can’t sell a Hulk movie.

Bullshit.

THE PROOF? DEADPOOL. For years, Ryan Reynolds and others fought to get a Deadpool standlone that stayed true to the brash, foul, quippy character that Deadpool is. To do that, an R rating was required. To which Hollywood, in all its wisdom, said, “No, no, no. Won’t ever work. Has to be PG or PG-13 for the kiddies.”

And what happened? Reynolds and his backers stuck to their guns, managed to find financing and kicked Hollywood critical and box office ass.

Deadpool didn’t make money because it appealed to key demographics. Deadpool didn’t make money because it had a big star in it. Deadpool didn’t get good ratings because it had something for everyone. Why did it work?

Deadpool made money because the filmmakers didn’t water down Deadpool, which Hollywood wanted, but no comic fan or moviegoer did. Period.

What was Hollywood’s response to this? To talk about adding 20-plus minutes to Batman Vs. Superman, minutes that would change the rating from PG-13 to R.

Sigh.

Hollywood, adding 20 minutes to give a movie a harder rating doesn’t make the movie better. It generally just makes a movie longer. And in the case of Batman Vs. Superman, it makes a pretty mediocre already-too-long movie longer, which really doesn’t help.

Unfortunately, we can now expect a bunch of R-rated superhero films in the future. Because this is how Hollywood thinks. Excuse me, “thinks.” It worked once, now let’s do the same thing over and over again. Which is why we already have five Spider-Man movies, three unfortunate attempts at The Punisher and three Fantastic Four flicks that we’d rather forget about.

LESSON NUMBER TWO HOLLYWOOD should have learned was one about advertising. The public service announcement above is perfect for the character. Deadpool is preoccupied by sex and bodily functions in general, and while you get the tongue-in-cheek character yacking goofily about boobies, you also get a serious message about breast cancer. There’s another one for testicular cancer, as well, done in a similar vein.

Let me be clear: I don’t want to see Jason Bourne giving me advice on diabetes care, or Kylo Ren discussing the finer points of detecting radon in our homes. This works for the character, much like the unique emojis created for Deadpool leading up to the film or Ryan Reynolds “interview” with Mario Lopez where Deadpool attacks Lopez mid-interview. The marketers took the character and ran with it, in interesting, inventive, hilarious ways. They understood the character Deadpool and played to his strengths, rather than just slap trailers up all over TV and the Internet with maybe the requisite “win a trip to the premiere” contest or endorsements.

For those who were already fans of Deadpool, it kept them salivating in anticipation for the film. For those who couldn’t tell Deadpool from a swimming pool, those folks had any number of opportunities to familiarize themselves with the merc with a mouth and decide for themselves whether the film was worthy of they’re hard-earned dollars.

Bravo, Deadpool folks. Now it’s Hollywood’s turn to learn from this film. Unfortunately, the odds are not ever in our favor that this will happen.

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Spy vs. spy: ‘Agent Carter’ and ‘The Americans’

Agent Carter bested her fellow, modern Agents of Shield during the limited run of her show.

Agent Carter bested her fellow, modern “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” during the limited run of her show.

CONGRATULATIONS, MARVEL MINDS. You took Peggy Carter, a secondary character from one of your tent-pole films and spun her story into a brief, interesting – if occasionally uneven – run, one that deserves at least one more season.

Bet the folks over at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are jealous. Because, you see, they are Heroes-ing the fuck out of Agent Colson and his crew. What started as a show with a solid core group of characters working together to defeat those foul soldiers of Hydra is now bloated with guest stars and unnecessary characters, spinning the people we truly care about all over the planet to face threats and fellow good guys who are part of muddled storylines that I’m not sure anyone can keep track of and – worse – stories that fans may not even be interested in anymore, except for the hardcore geeks seeking clues to how this whole multi-level Marvel thing will play out. “Save the cheerleader / save the world” should be on a huge banner hanging in the S.H.I.E.L.D. writers room to remind them of what they don’t want the show to become. Although it may be too late to dig out of that hole. I’m not sure even Commander Adama can save them now.

Agent Carter, however, was a breath of fresh air. The original Captain America film might be my favorite (outside of the two Avengers flicks) from the current Marvel run, in large part because the WWII-era setting of the proceedings and the stylistic choices of director Joe Johnston. Peggy Carter was a huge part of that world, the dame who was smarter and more gutsy than pretty much everyone around her and not afraid to let everyone know it, even if sometimes she did it so subtly the numbskulls that work with her missed the burn. The casting choices for Agent Carter were solid. Chad Michael Murray as her faux-hero, big swinging dick co-worker was dead-on. Murray plays a complete douche better than anyone in Hollywood (anyone remember him as Tristan on Gilmore Girls?), and his betrayal and willingness to accept credit for a job he didn’t do was both inevitable and well-played. Shea Whigam as Roger Dooley, Carter’s hard-nosed, old-school boss, had maybe the toughest role on the program and handled it with grace. James D’Arcy as Jarvis and Dominic Cooper returning in his role as Howard Stark helped keep it light and fun when it got dark.

So I’m advocating for a second season. I think the first was good, not great. I loved the glimpse into the 1940s, ladies-take-a-back-seat boys club of the working world. Hayley Atwell embodies our heroine Peggy, our female Colson, the one without powers, the one who just wants to be part of the battle because it’s a fight worth fighting. Yes, Agent Carter did slow down a bit in the middle episodes, but a lot of that had to do with the necessity of setting up Peggy’s world and giving us some insight into the characters surrounding her. Plus, the show worked better when Stark was in the picture, and considering the plot of Season 1 was all about him being a traitor on the run, he can now be worked in to the entirety of a Season 2. With all of the set-up of the series now out of the way, a second season should move more quickly and easily. It’s not like ABC’s hitting out of the park with anything except Modern Family and its surrounding sit-coms. Carter comes with a built-in audience, one that could be stimulated by a more free-flowing run the second time around.

Just your average, upwardly mobile Americans from the early 1980s who are really Russian deep cover operatives.

Just your average, upwardly mobile Americans from the early 1980s who are really Russian deep cover operatives.

WHY AREN’T YOU PEOPLE WATCHING THE AMERICANS? What is your problem? Well, not you, you obviously – as a reader of this blog – have great taste in all things. But the rest of you, you have no excuse. The 1980’s spy drama is second-to-none compared to any show I’m watching, and for me, it’s become must-see viewing, akin to my love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel at the height of their respective runs.

Here are the three things that I think The Americans have going for it:

* The Cold War. I was in grade school when The Americans takes place. I remember that fear of impending nuclear disaster, but I was unaware and too immature to understand most of the politics, diplomacy and gamesmanship that went on. As a half-assed political junkie, that sort of thing helps draw me into the story.

* No James Bond gadgets here. It’s old-school spying for the Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. That means planting recording devices, then return later to get the tape. That means intimate, personal contact is vital, as human assets can get closer to the action and secrets than the tech of the time will allow. That means when you’re trying to snatch up a double agent in the streets, the lookout has no cellphone to text or call the two agents ready to ambush; the lookout must bribe her way into a neighboring apartment and signal the target is nearing with the tugging of a drape. This lack of tech really helps increase the intensity of each mission, even the simpler ones.

* Love and marriage. Philip (Michael Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell, who should be carrying home Emmys for her work) were trained in the Soviet Union as agents to imitate Americans, and they were introduced and married just before their mission started. When we meet them, Philip is clearly very much in love with his wife and is every bit the doting suburban dad. He’s having doubts about his children’s future, mainly with the idea that they would be better off as Americans than they would be as citizens of the U.S.S.R. Elizabeth is still every bit a soldier for the Soviet Union, loyal to the motherland without a doubt. She has affection for Philip, but all her love is for another man. As the show evolves, Philip and Elizabeth get closer and they find a comfortable love that they work to nurture. But their feelings about their mission – Philip’s doubts about the horrible things he has to do and whether or not it truly helps their cause, Elizabeth’s near-blind obedience to any order issued to their Soviet bosses – are what add to the tension and cause rifts in the relationship. As their children get older and closer to the truth about their parents, this divide grows. I find that I can’t think of another show I’ve ever seen where a marriage has been more thruthfully protrayed on the small screen.

So the nine months or so until Season 4 starts can’t go fast enough for me. I’m ready for the Cold War to get back in full swing.

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All in on ‘Arrow’

If you've been a bad boy, you don't want to see this coming at you in a dark alley.

If you’ve been a bad boy, you don’t want to see this coming at you in a dark alley.

I had a couple of buddies who are bigger comics geeks than me tell me that I really needed to check out Arrow. I hemmed and hawed for a while, as I am not a fan of many things D.C. outside of Batman.

But since I had periodic gaps while I was waiting for Game of Thrones discs from Netflix, I went and streamed the first two seasons of Arrow. As this went on over a period of a couple of months, I started to realize that I was letting GoT discs sit because I had to see the next episode of the adventures of Oliver McQueen and his pals.

Is it Game of Thrones quality? Hells naw. We’re talking the CW here, so let’s not get carried away. That’s not what Arrow is, nor what it aspires to be.

But when I compare it to another CW superhero drama, Smallville, there’s no comparison. Arrow is head-and-shoulders above the Man of Steel offering. Smallville never seemed to have a grasp of what the larger story should be over time, other than to drag out his origin story. Their “Oh shit, they’ve graduated high school … so now we have Smallville community college” moment was just one example of that ineptitude, as well as the abrupt evolution of Lana into a special being of her own, which was the point where I abandoned the show.

Arrow has a great overarching enemy – the League of Assassins – as well as a much more solid core group of actors than Smallville with Stephen Amell as the titular hero, David Ramsey as sidekick/war hero Diggle, Emily Bett Rickards as Felicity and even Willa Holland as McQueen’s sister Thea, who is starting to shed her the-next-Paris-Hilton persona into a true player among Starling City’s arrow-slinging heavyweights. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it does a nice job of layering the story, revealing key points only when absolutely necessary and taking the narrative to unexpected places.

The evolution of the individual storylines works, as well. Oliver’s transition from stone-cold killer avenging his dad to hero trying to save a city when he couldn’t save his best friend was natural and necessary. John Diggle struggles with the possibilities of what his injury or death might do to the woman he loves and his new child. And while Katie Cassidy’s lack of acting skills in anything other than crying sometimes hurts the character Laurel at times, the idea that she needs to quit being that simpering addict and take matters into her own hands has been one of the more interesting arcs of Season 3, as well as offering some potential for growth beyond that.

I look forward to seeing how Arrow proceeds from here. Here’s hoping they can keep this train on the rails.

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On second thought: ‘Man of Steel’

Henry Cavill and co. set the bar high with "Man of Steel."

Henry Cavill and co. set the bar high with “Man of Steel.”

What I thought of Man of Steel after my initial viewing: I was impressed, and that means something, because I cannot stand Superman. I never cared for the ’80’s movies, he was a total weenie in the 1970s cartoon I watched as a kid, I’ve avoided the comic books altogether and the few seasons of Smallville I watched were all over the place. Henry Cavill was a worthy son of Krypton, and I thought Michael Shannon was menacing, if a bit stiff, as Zod. I’ve never understood the fascination with Russell Crowe, but he was serviceable as Jor-El. Really enjoyed Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents.

What I think of Man of Steel after my latest viewing: My opinion has changed little, but I think what really sets Man of Steel apart for me is that, finally, we get to see the true destructive capacity of Superman. The 1980s flicks don’t have the technology to pull it off, the 1970s cartoon avoided any true violence and Smallville, again, was all over the place. In Man of Steel, Kal-El’s battle with Zod is essentially a fist fight, yet they tear apart an entire city. Smaller moments – when he’s first trying to fly and crashes into a mountaintop on the rough landing – show that, even unintentionally, Superman is a powerful force that can’t be contained, possibly even by Superman himself. We’ve seen some of that power in The Avengers/Marvel flicks, but the common thread is there really are no consequences to Iron Man’s, Captain America’s, Thor’s, etc. destructive actions. And while I have my concerns about Batman V. Superman, the idea that Superman’s power cannot be trusted and that Earth’s less-powerful superheroes may have to step up to face the threat of Kal-El is a rich vein to mine. If handled correctly, this is really DC’s opportunity to set itself apart from the Marvel steamroller.

Final thought: Even if Batman V. Superman is a tire fire – we’re throwing Batfleck with Aquaman into the mix, so my hopes are not high – I am interested to see where Zach Snyder and company go from here. Done right, the Superman crew could do what I would have perceived as the impossible less than a year ago: Upstage Marvel.

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