Tag Archives: DC Comics

Oh thank Hera: Wonder Woman is a resounding, unabashed, and joyous success

It is perhaps fully impossible to ever truly overstate the feeling of relief that washed over me when the credits of Wonder Woman rolled. My animus towards and deep disappointment in the DCEU thus far is thoroughly well documented. I mean, I’ve detailed the fuck out of it.

But I speak so frequently and so passionately because I really do truly care for these characters. My attachment to this franchise has been something like a parent whose child makes a wrong step at every conceivable measure, hoping that they will eventually correct the path and get things right.

This time, they got it right.

Wonder Woman, the fourth entry in the nascent DCEU, is the first truly unabashed success. There is no rationalization required, no dense sorting through half-formed ideas given fullness. This is a great movie about a true hero, the first of these movies truly cast in the DC Comics mold. It’s funny, romantic, exciting, and a clarion call not only for what this franchise could be, but for another way forward for superhero cinema.

Wonder Woman is framed in the modern day, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) receiving the original plate of the photo from Batman V. Superman: Dawn Of Justice, a photo in her full regalia from a long-ago war.

This flashes us back to Diana’s childhood on the island of Themyscira, the only child on the island and the daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). She’s an Amazon, a group of warrior women created by the Greek Gods. She’s trained by Antiope (Robin Wright) and becomes the fiercest among them, wielding a power no one fully understands.

Their idyllic world shatters when Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on the island with a battalion of German soldiers following behind. Man’s World has erupted in the War to End All Wars, which Diana believes can only be at the hands of Ares, the God of War. So she leaves the island with Captain Trevor to kill Ares and save the world.

It feels only appropriate to begin assessing this movie at the top, looking at Wonder Woman herself. Gal Gadot has been a low-grade charmer for years, her role as Gisele in the Fast & Furious franchise being a particular scene stealer, and Wonder Woman proves how ready she is to launch to the top of Hollywood.

Gadot turns out an incredible lead performance here. There’s a grace and a kindness underlying an undoubtedly powerful warrior, an emblem of peace through strength. Gadot is particularly adept in this movie at pulling you into her perspective, at filtering the film through her eyes. It’s the off-kilter way she engages, the enthusiasm in just the wrong places and the confusion in just the right ways. She stands tall as a hero, poised to move to the top of the Hollywood Ass-Kicker list.

But it isn’t just Gadot’s performance. Affleck does a bang-up job playing Batman after all. It’s the character they’ve crafted. For the first time, Wonder Woman gives us a hero in the truest DC mold, an emblem of something greater, an ideal that pushes against a darker world.

all-star

Diana here stands for something greater, for a love that can conquer the darkest impulses of humanity, for a hope that one day war can end. Diana uses her strength, but it’s as a peacemaker, as a hero that truly believes that humanity is good and can be made better. It’s not the flawed heroes of the Marvel Universe, but a representative of more, a God that stands above and charts a way forward.

Wonder Woman and the eponymous character both revel in striving towards something better. That’s what has set DC apart and can continue to set it apart, if it continues to use it right. It isn’t as though this film doesn’t engage in the philosophizing that has marked films like Man of Steel and Batman v Superman. Rather, it understands that there can be fun while you prod those questions, a movie that thrills you and uses those thrills to dig in deep. We understand Diana’s belief in doing good because we see the people she saves, but also because we feel the joy and adrenaline along with her.

That is, I believe, thanks to director Patty Jenkins. Consider this quote from a New York Times interview:

This may be a cheesy question, but what do you want people to take away from this movie?

Did you say cheesy? Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis.

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

Perhaps no mission statement better embodies the successes of what we see on screen.

Consider (keeping in mind the work screenwriter Allan Heinberg did) the film’s central romance, between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. Romance in superhero films is often, to put it mildly, begrudgingly trotted out to please some executive trying to meet 4 quadrants.

Wonder Woman has perhaps one of the most successful on-screen romances in any superhero film. Much of that is helped by Pine, who does an absolutely phenomenal job as the noble but compromised Trevor, and his chemistry with Gadot. The two have a crackling banter that feels like a great screwball comedy and it’s easy to see what they might see in each other.

But it works because of that mission of sincerity and that thematic motivating belief that love can and will do good in the world. It informs the romance and gives it the space it needs to breathe in the movie. I can think of few movies that would indulge so many quiet and melancholy moments in this romance, or that would allow moments so unabashedly silly in the same space. But Jenkins’ sincere belief gives their love room to breathe and it makes it work.

That belief extends throughout the film. It’s that sincerity that makes everything work emotionally. Everything resonates, everything feels real, Wonder Woman goes for broke and it hits so often that it can wallpaper over any flaws.

I could of course pick at a few scabs. The third act indulges in plenty of weightless CGI battling, I wish it had been allowed to really make its own visual palette, the slo-mo can be a little much, and it takes a little too long to really get cooking at the beginning.

I say all that knowing there are small things littering the film to praise as well. The supporting cast, from Lucy Davis’ delightful Etta Candy to Ewen Bremner’s charming and sad Charlie to Saïd Taghmaoui’s roguish Sameer to Elena Anaya’s cackling Dr. Poison, fills out the margins of the film in a way few superhero films indulge. The action is phenomenal, a sequence set in the No Man’s Land of a Belgian battlefield is a total all-timer.

Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score must also be singled out. An old-school, sweeping score of a kind you hear less and less since the Zimmer style became popular, it really helps drive these moments home.

But I can’t throw too much shade, because Zimmer did help write the Wonder Woman theme, a recurring guitar riff that showed up in Batman v. Superman to announce Wonder Woman’s arrival, and here shows simply how great it is to have a theme for a character. When that guitar riff enters during that No Man’s Land sequence, you’re damn near ready to jump out of your chair cheering. That’s a theme song.

In my eyes, Wonder Woman is simply the best traditional superhero movie in some time. Its belief in do-gooding, its thoughts on what that can mean, its great performance, its unabashed joy in superheroics are such a breath of fresh air. This is a victory, a story that finally lets a DC Comics character come to life, and be who they are and what they stand for.

Grade: A

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The Lego Batman Movie is the most delightful handling of the Batman mythos in years

Part of the critical acclaim for The Lego Movie was the sheer surprise of the whole experience. No one expected something that seemed such a blatant marketing cash-in to be so loaded with such heart and sweetness and sheer visual inventiveness. It’s the sort of lightning in a bottle that you never could really capture for a second time.

That being said The Lego Batman Movie makes an attempt and comes remarkably close, succeeding on some incredibly wonderful merits of its own. Lego Batman is a celebration, a look into a character that has so occupied such a large space of the pop cultural psyche, that actually feels celebratory. This is a joyous film that is crackling with kinetic energy, the feeling of an overexcited kid actually getting free reign to play with the biggest toybox ever.

The Lego Batman Movie exists in a world where, essentially, every Batman thing ever has happened at some point. Our Batman (Will Arnett) is almost 80 years old, yet he’s still not acting a day over about 14. Batman is a defiant, angry teenager who still pushes everyone away since the loss of his family, leaving him all alone in his cavernous mansion with his Lobster Thermidor, his collection of romantic comedies, and his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), a surrogate father figure who’s still trying to learn how to deal with his angsty son.

Like all angsty teenagers, a series of changes forces Batman to start to reconsider his life. Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) takes over as Police Commissioner, hoping to start working with Batman rather than leaving him on his own to keep “karate-chopping poor people.” He accidentally adopts wide-eyed orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and is forced to take the future Robin under his reluctant wing. And the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) is obsessed with Batman acknowledging their relationship as greatest enemies, which leads him on a plot involving all the villains in Gotham, the Phantom Zone, and some truly unexpected cameos.

There’s a lot to delight in here, beginning with the most impressive feat, which is actually creating a coherent spin-off. Arnett’s Batman was sort of an unexpected breakout from The Lego Movie, a skewering of the overly dark and serious tack the character had taken in the popular canon that managed to find plenty of charm in his own right. But he was a joke character, a one-note of anger and grumpy that begged to fall flat upon expansion.

So what The Lego Batman Movie is draw on the assertions of Glenn Weldon in his book The Caped Crusade. Namely, that Batman is always at his most interesting in a family scenario, as someone who is bouncing off of and having to manage his life with other people around him. By expanding him not just to the overly-confident bro with sick abs, but also to someone who uses that confidence to shove others away and hide a lot of pain and then grows closer to the people around him, the movie finds a character that can go on a path, that can take a continuum from his point A to his point B.

Yeah, The Lego Batman Movie is essentially hiding a pretty sweet little movie under the animation and the anarchy. It’s what keeps the whole thing moving underneath the rapid-fire “child’s playtime” vibe of it all.

Because trust me, this is a seriously fast-moving ride. Director Chris McKay comes to us from Adult Swim sketch show Robot Chicken, and that show’s joke density and penchant for witty insanity mixed with pop culture minutia is this film’s M.O.

When I said earlier that this takes place in a world where basically all of Batman canon has happened, I meant it. This is a movie dense with references both great and small to the the history of Batman, going all the way back to his earliest days and the embarrassing first serials (seriously, check them out now. They are CRAZY racist). It’s a movie for people who hear references to villains like Gentleman Ghost and the Condiment King and know that they’re real villains without a Google.

To be fair, there’s gonna be a little bit lost on an audience that doesn’t quite grasp those references, a lot of in-jokes that may just be dead air if you aren’t quite so familiar. But even then, there’s enough else across the humor spectrum that you’re gonna find something to appeal to you.

Maybe it’ll be the animation, which keeps the fidelity to the actual processes and aesthetics of Lego-building and the weird stiltedness of Lego movement that made The Lego Movie come to life the way it did. It’s impressive what they manage to construct out of the Lego bricks here and how remarkably pleasing it is to look at. Some strong composition here especially, always surprising how good looking these movies have been.

Maybe it’ll be the voice cast. Will Arnett’s Batman is a known quantity, so it’s the supporting players around him that give this movie its special quality. Michael Cera’s Robin is an absolute delight, conveying an eagerness and an excitability we’ve never really heard out of Cera before. Fiennes’ Alfred is just a reminder that we’ve been deprived never having Fiennes play a live-action version of the character. Galifanakis brings a remarkably different quality to the Joker character, more petulant kid on the playground than sinister crime lord. The supporting cast is a murderer’s row of great small comedic bit players, so let me throw out particular praise to Jenny Slate’s Harley Quinn (who again, we’ve been deprived never having Slate play a live-action version) and Doug Benson’s Bane, who’s just adorable.

Whatever it is, The Lego Batman is an immensely appealing time, something that just puts a smile on your face from the opening narration of the production company logos and doesn’t really let up until the end credits song. It’s a less innovative fun, granted.  Lego Batman  absolutely does not have the surprise of The Lego Movie, nor necessarily its inventiveness or thematic richness. We’re building on a formula here, not creating it. Lego Batman is going through far more familiar beats and certainly doesn’t have the Lord and Miller rewards of the last 30 minutes of its predecessor.

But why constantly reinvent the wheel? Sometimes you need to have a good time and a good laugh, and this provides both in spades.

Grade: B+

 

Ben Affleck Isn’t Directing The Batman, So Who And What Is Next?

If, like me, you pay close attention to the bread and the circuses in order to distract you from the governmental monument to the arrogance of man that we’ve been erecting, you may have heard last night that Ben Affleck, both matinee idol and director of lean thrillers born too late as well as the currently sitting Batman, has dropped off his directorial duties for the upcoming solo Batman flick in the DC Extended Universe.

In the exclusive for Variety, Affleck seems to attribute the decision to the difficulty of juggling the physical and emotional demands of performing the main role combined with the physical and emotional demands of the main creative role on this film. It’s interesting to note that the Variety announcement seems to only state that Affleck is pulling back to only producing and starring as Batman, which leaves his role in the screenplay of the film to be determined.

That’s an important note because the screenplay seems to be the thing that ended up pushing him out of the film. Affleck repeatedly commented that he wouldn’t do the film unless he felt he could get the script right and he was reportedly having trouble getting the script to that place, especially in the long post-production wake of Live By Night.

Affleck’s The Batman was long-considered to be the ace in the hole for the DCEU, the film that was almost certain to gain the critical respect that no other film seemed to be able to find. So, what does it mean that it’s not happening and where do we go from here?

Without context, this doesn’t necessarily seem to be a bad move. Affleck is right, Batman is an incredibly physically intensive role, both in prep and in the stunt work that would be asked of him in even the most basic iteration of a story like that, much less the fact that he would be directing in the often stifling Batsuit. In the wake of the critical reception to Live By Night, much of which was focused on the poor decision that Affleck made to write and direct and star, it seems reasonable that Affleck would reconsider his decision in a role that could have been a particularly damaging failure for him.

But let’s keep in mind the context of the behind the scenes drama of the rest of the DCEU. So far, this is the fourth director these films have lost and we’re currently only three released films in. These are critically reviled films that seem to have a longer life as bad movies than they do in their success. This news seems to speak not only to Affleck being unable to get the script together, but that Warner Brothers isn’t ready to give him the time to get it together, scrambling to try anything to revive this universe in the public eye, as this is definitely a rushing sort of action. Between that and a major change of creative head on this film, it bodes ill for the confidence we should have in this film.

It also potentially speaks to the disarray behind the scenes. Affleck is a major creative force in the universe as a whole. This looks like a distancing tactic, Affleck pulling away from associating himself with it. You see, Affleck could honestly pull off getting distance. I mean, he’s one of the more uncontroversial parts of this universe, his performance is legitimately good even if his writing is iffy. But it’s also because he has a long career as an actor and he has directorial work to fall back on, unlike the “First Major Film” association that a lot of the other stars of this universe are having to deal with. So, if there’s rumblings of worry that he’s feeling with Wonder Woman and Justice League, then it’s perfectly possible for him to pull away.

This is all, of course, speculation. Everything to do with this development will be, at least until the behind the scenes tell-all comes out. But something that we can start to think about is who’s gonna replace Affleck in the director’s chair. Batfleck is, like I said, still a relatively well-liked part of this universe and the quicker they can make something happen the better.

The director shortlist is already out there. You’ll notice the absence of fan favorite names like David Fincher. The first thing to understand is that despite the “director-oriented” universe, DCEU now has a reputation for studio interference. Fincher is sure as shit not about to jump into another Alien 3 scenario, and without a dump truck full of money and total creative freedom, I can’t imagine him on board here.

The other thing to remember is that shortlists aren’t necessarily who’s legitimately interested, but more who Warner Brothers wants and has maybe had a meeting with about the possibility. On lists like this, never necessarily look at the exciting possibilities as being at the top.

Which means not to get to jazzed about George Miller or Denis Villeneuve. Miller has spoken to wanting to do something smaller before jumping back into a large scale project. Besides, I don’t necessarily see him as a perfect fit for a Batman movie, which should thrive on a smaller scale of action (much more one-on-one) than the massive Fury Road. 

As for Villeneuve, he’s likely moving straight to Dune, reportedly a dream project that Legendary wants to make happen fast for the franchise potential. I can’t imagine he’ll delay that one too long, given the blank check that he now has thanks to his Oscar nomination. Besides, I feel like he’s going to want a little more freedom than Warner Brothers is willing to give. Villenueve is a Fincher/Nolan-style director where he tends to take other scripts and make his own style and concerns out of it, where I imagine Affleck is still going to be a strong creative voice.

Which leaves Matt Ross, Matt Reeves, and Gavin O’Connor. Matt Ross, coming off Captain Fantastic, is an odd choice, so I can’t comment on why he’s here. Matt Reeves and Gavin O’Connor are the most natural fits, both being company men familiar with collaboration who have made big budget genre pictures. Reeves made the phenomenal Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as Cloverfield, so it seems like he’d be a natural fit if he’s willing to jump big franchise to big franchise.

But your most obvious fit here is Gavin O’Connor. He’s collaborated with Affleck before on a visceral and vaguely superheroic pulpy action film that did well for Warner Brothers, and Warner Brothers tends to reward its successful directors. He’s a capable action director and he’s not exactly overwhelming in his style. In fact, this seems like a choice so obvious that you absolutely should be shocked if it doesn’t end up being the case.

Yeah, none of the realistic possibilities exactly light the world on fire. Villeneuve’s Batman or Miller’s Batman could be something worth getting excited for again. O’Connor and Reeves seem like fairly standard for the way the universe is putting things together. And they’re certainly not as exciting as Affleck, a director almost made for the noir-ish crime thriller that Batman has never really gotten the chance to be.

Really, that’s what we ended up losing here. Affleck’s meat-and-potatoes thriller directing was exactly what the DCEU and Batman needed. His action-thriller flicks are a rare treat, but it seems as thought The Batman is doomed to be another entry in a slowly declining set of possibilities.

Rant Warning: Wonder Woman and the Problems of Deconstruction (Before Construction)

This came out today:

In any rational world, this would be way up my alley. Already a clearly strong lead with an inventive setting (how many WW1 movies are there, especially big-ass blockbusters?) and there’s been a need for a Wonder Woman movie for god knows how long. 75 years?

Yet, despite the well-put together trailer, I’m not feeling it just yet.

It’s not what you’d think. Yes, my feelings on the current DCEU are fairly clear and yes, I’ve been burned twice now on these movies. I think it’s fair to urge caution with these DCEU films, the trailers have looked incredible basically every time (Man of Steel #3, BvS Comic-Con, Suicide Squad Bohemian Rhapsody) and have each time turned out nowhere near living up to the promise.

But a good trailer shouldn’t set me on edge. After all, it’s fully possible a good trailer could be cut from a good movie. That is sometimes how that works.

Nor is it necessarily the credits, though that may be our intro. Despite Zack Snyder not directing this one, he’s got a “Story By” credit and he is still producing. Moreover, this film by necessity follows up out of the creative decisions that he made with the character in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

And there’s the rub.

The intro to this trailer seems to be set in the modern day, my guess is that we get a frame of Wonder Woman flashing back to her past. As the trailer sets it up, this ultimately becomes the story of how she turns her back on humanity, overwhelmed by the darkness within it.

For those of you unfamiliar, Wonder Woman as a character is a diplomat. The emissary from Themyscira to Man’s World always intended to broker peace before resorting to war. That’s why her primary weapons have always been a lasso and a pair of deflecting bracelets. Weapons of defense, not offense.

Now, why was Wonder Woman chosen as that emissary? Because of her good nature. Because she fundamentally believes in the goodness of humanity, it’s a core aspect of her character. In other words, making a Wonder Woman who doesn’t believe in humanity is a BIG FUCKING DEAL.

Not that it hasn’t been done before. In fact, Kingdom Come, one of the greatest DC stories ever told, does feature a Wonder Woman that has ultimately grown distant from humanity.

But besides the fact that Kingdom Come is an alternate universe story rather than the main DC line, the conception of that character builds out of years of stories about the character. Much like Superman withdrawing from the world and Batman becoming totally alone, the intention is to ask “What brought her to this point?” as it is so unusual.

In other words, they didn’t start off asking this question. They had a construction of the character before they broke her down and analyzed her. Which is the biggest concern I have about Wonder Woman. We already know where this character is going to end up, as a deconstruction of a character we didn’t know. The whole trajectory of this film is to break down the character and ask what could make her turn her back on humanity. Without us ever really having the room to understand why she initially embraces it.

The DCEU is a deconstructionist comic book work. For those of you unfamiliar, comic book deconstructionism is a movement that began in the 80s with the works of writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller. These were works that sought to apply more complex human psychology to superheroes. Works like Watchmen, Miracleman, and The Dark Knight Returns took the iconography and actions of these superheroes and asked who the real people willing to put themselves in those situations would be. Deconstructionist writers found that those people might not be mentally all together. Batman might have deep-seated parental issues, Nite Owl might use crime-fighting as a sublimation for his own impotence, and someone like Miracleman might be a mad god.

The extreme popularity of these books (credited with reviving the comics industry) had a huge effect on those who followed. This included Zack Snyder, who has repeatedly credited The Dark Knight Returns for inspiring Batman v. Superman and who panel for panel adapted Watchmen. Hell, we’ve heard Snyder and his producing partner Deborah Snyder say they were deconstructing the heroes.

Fundamentally, there’s something wrong about breaking these characters down without ever having created them. The first big screen creation of Wonder Woman is starting off what should be years into her. We have no idea who she is, but we’re already being asked to question her. That’s a weird place for a character to be.

Am I willing to be wrong? Absolutely. I hope this is everything we need and that Justice League puts it all back together. But my teeth got set on edge, seeing the same attitude time and time again with these films.

Suicide Squad’s Extended Edition and Warner Brothers’ Most Fatal Mistake

Today came the most inevitable announcement of 2016. No, not that the King of All Clowns finally announced that recent clown attacks around the country have indeed been in support of Donald Trump. Guggo is speaking on Tuesday.

No, it’s that Suicide Squad is getting an Extended Edition. Despite the fact that we had already apparently seen the Director’s Cut, November 15th Digitally and then December 13th on Snail Media will see the Extended Edition of Suicide Squad being released.

This isn’t an article to speculate what’s on the Extended Edition. My guess is some sort of justification for why Jared Leto had to send dead pigs and anal beads to A- and B-list celebrities by putting back some of the apparently missing Joker scenes.

This also isn’t an article to further crap on Suicide Squad. I’ve done that enough. To be honest, I’m guessing that much like The People v. Batman v. Superman, the Extended Edition can at best trim some of the film’s incoherencies. The DCEU’s narrative problems are often the least of its crimes. Its story decisions, character-building decisions and tone problems will always ultimately be the most damning things that no Extended Decision can fix.

This will however be further bashing on the DCEU. Sorry about that, but I love the DC Comics Universe and the amount of leeway these films would have with me otherwise should tell you how root-of-it-all offensive I find a lot of the decisions. Moreover, I think the problem of Warner Brothers twice-now releasing an Extended Edition (three times if we count Watchmen) of their DC Films may speak to the root of what’s wrong with the thought process behind this universe.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Warner Brothers has let loose their Extended Editions. Trust me, we wouldn’t have these if it wasn’t for Lord of The Rings, a popular trilogy of releases that added back in a lot of content and pushed a watch of all three into true endurance test territory.

Now, those editions added a lot. Nothing that fundamentally changed the film, but plenty of new content to sink their teeth into. And that was largely true for Watchmen, just additions based on an already existing story.

But then that brings us to Batman v. Superman: Take Two.  Rather than being extra, the Ultimate Edition re-release functioned almost as an apology and second chance, an attempt by Warner Brothers to reconfigure the film after the less popular release. It added back in character moments, including almost rewriting Superman as a public figure, Clark Kent as a reporter, and extra detail about the beyond violent Batman. It also added in new plot details, including confirmation of Lex Luthor’s string-pulling and the death of Jimmy Olsen.

All of this actually does change the film, creating a different reading of its narrative arc and the way that we need to engage with its characters. It recontextualizes the film. The obvious problem is that releasing a separate (and arguably improved, though barely) version of the film, for lack of a better term, on DVD is a slap in the face to viewers and a total missed opportunity that shows how little thought Warner Brothers puts into planning this universe. Why was the best version of this material not available initially? Why was a film that needed these fixes put out well after the fact? What changed their mind?

There’s a bigger problem though, and it’s how Warner Brothers is engaging with the Cinematic Universe mode of storytelling.

Actually, I don’t like that term. When we get down to it, every film is a cinematic universe. They’re creating a world for us to live in with its own history outside the edges. A good film should be a universe on its own.

Rather, I want to propose that the model we see with Marvel Studios, DC Films, Star Wars, and countless other attempts should be better deemed “Open System” cinematic storytelling, which is a deviation from the standard mode of “Closed System” cinematic storytelling.

In Open System cinematic storytelling, there is no resolution. That’s the basic building block. The universe always exists for the viewer, and no one story is bringing it to an end. While you may close off an individual path, there is always a mind towards moving towards the next step, and the decisions made will affect each step. Because of that, Open System is inherently transmedia, because any media introduced into an Open System storytelling model will alter the characters and the universe around it, whether they’re acknowledged or not.

Just to note, this isn’t a new model. Comic books and most nerdy genre series like Star Wars and Star Trek have existed in this space. That’s why we have arguments about what’s Canon and what’s not, determining what’s a part of the system to understand the next step.

To contrast, Closed System cinematic storytelling is about resolution. The end of the film closes off the story loop, and even if it’s reopened, it’s closed the next time. Our adventure is over, and any hint at the next one doesn’t mean that the loop is still open. Our time in this cinematic universe can only be altered at fixed points, and there’s always an endgame in mind.

Lord of the Rings is very much a Closed System series. We’ve seen the end, we’ve had the resolution of the specific story universe therein. The Extended Editions are therefore a reopening and reclosing of that loop. No matter what happens, we still hit the same conclusion at the end, there wasn’t more to change.

On the other hand, the DCEU is an Open System series. We’ve not resolved the story, on the contrary, we’ve just begun. We see where our story is going, and we see there’s countless deviations and paths the story can go down. Which is why Warner Brothers recontextualization of their stories in multiple mediums is such a problem.

Marvel Studios adds, but never changes. We find out new information, but we do not change the information we know. On the contrary, the changes of the Ultimate Edition is an alteration to the story, with no clear path on which is now the story the Open System has absorbed. Is the Theatrical Edition the version of Superman that’s coming back to life in Justice League, or is it the Ultimate Edition? Is the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker loving or abusive, depending on the scenes the Extended Edition adds in, when it inevitably comes up in The Batman?

Warner Brothers isn’t thinking ahead to what it means to drop new information and change things around in their Open System, because they aren’t planning. They’re reacting, reacting to bad news and bad press and good news and potential new revenue streams. Which is fine, they’re a business. But they’re an artistic business, and they’re harming their art for business potential. Is it any wonder there’s been such behind the scenes drama when we see above the board evidence that Warner Brothers isn’t thinking through the decisions they made, with the consoling thought that they can fix it later?

If Warner Brothers, and countless other studios sure to soon jump on the Open System model, want to survive, planning and clarity is key. Otherwise, Justice League may end up the most expensive egg on their face any studio has ever had.

Superheroes without Supervillains

Superheroes are here to stop supervillains. If the heroes are mythic embodiment of what’s good and righteous in humanity, then villains are the devil, the stand-in for our worst impulses and our darkest desires. The wish we have that power really is the ultimate good, and that we had the ability to exert it. Or the wish that doing what thou wilt really could be the whole of the law.

In other words, superheroes and their villains are inextricably connected, two sides of the same coin. As much as the hero that they choose to fight defines the villain, so does the villains and their pushback against them define the hero.

The bastards and broken people that fight Batman are a reflection of his own psyche, and more specifically that he rose above his pain to become something greater. His villains allowed themselves to give into the darkness and sink into it. Part of the reason they attack him is that he repudiates the monstrosity they’ve become.

The best villains of Superman are all reflections of his power. People who are strong enough to have done good, but chose to exert it against the world rather than work for it. Lex Luthor is the peak of humanity, yet he chooses to spend his vast intellect and resources battling Superman rather then bettering humanity as he could, out of nothing but petty spite and jealousy.

So, with all that in mind, we’re left to ponder why the hell the modern superhero movie seems to have such a villain problem.

Namely, that the modern superhero movies seems to completely neglect the supervillain.

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A Few Thoughts On: Keeping the DC Cinematic Universe Together Going Forward

In the interest of keeping my productivity up and because Suicide Squad still has me just a little bit on the hot side, I want to turn to a subject I’ve been chatting about quite a bit recently. That being where does the DC Cinematic Universe go from here, given that they’re now on their third Rotten film in as many years. There’s not a lot of critical love which doesn’t necessarily matter given that

AS LONG AS THE MOVIES ARE SUCCESSFUL, QUALITY WON’T MATTER TOO MUCH.

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