And this in turn reminded me of an online discussion about over-masculine heroes - this is years ago. Essentially the debate centred on a certain type of protagonist who is granted "hero" status for solving problems he has created himself. Now this perfectly describes the first Iron Man movie: Tony Stark built WMDs, has some kind of epiphany where it occurs to him that WMDs make people die, decides that the solution is to turn himself into a WMD, which causes a bad guy to try the same thing... I have difficulty seeing morons as heroes.
I don't know if this is what Ridley Scott meant, but it does occur to me that for many superhero movies, it is true that if you remove the protagonist from the plot, either nothing changes (as in Raiders) or the original threat fails to materialize (as in Iron Man). It's terribly sloppy sorytelling. I don't think it automatically makes a bad story (I'll never call Raiders bad!), but I do think that, if I can figure out a way to turn this into an easy-to-test "rule", stories and movies that fail the test will be poor ones more often than not, at least in my subjective judgement.
Take Batman v Superman for example. If you can work your way through the convoluted plot (to what was really going on, it boils down to Lex Luthor was manipulating everyone because he wanted to kill Superman. So if you remove Superman from the plot, Luthor wouldn't want to kill him and so nothing would happen. [The same is true, incidently, of Man of Steel.] Contrast this with Captain America: The Winter Soldier: there the plot is about a shadow organisation, Hydra, building a super-weapon which will kill millions of people. It is uncovered by Nick Fury, prompted by Captain America's suspicions, and ultimately foiled by Cap. What happens if you remove Captain America from the plot? (Assume he never came out of the ice; don't erase him from existence entirely.) The plot is still happening independent of him and the key events of the movie would follow: Fury would have ucovered the plot, leading to the attempt on his life; the super-heli-carriers would still have launched as planned; Hydra would still have attemted to take over. In other words if you remove the protagonist, there's still a plot - the presence of the hero is what makes events play out differently.
Lest anyone accuse me of racking on DC, Batman Begins is so focussed on Bruce Wayne that there wouldn't be much story without him, but nevertheless the plot to attack Gotham was in progress before Bruce took on the cowl. This means that what Scarecrow and Ras Al Ghull were up to was going to happen with or without Batman's intervention and how other characters responded is where he makes the difference (which, IMO, is kind of the whole point of Batman). Arguably, this is where the next two films of Nolan's triloy fall down - would Joker or Bane have come to Gotham if Batman wasn't there? These show that the "disposable hero" doesnt automatically make for a poor story.
It's harder to apply that standard with ensemble movies like Avengers and Suicide Squad, but the latter, at least does support the theory. There's no one protagonist, but the film is about Amanda Waller solving a problem she created herself. That is, if she didn't have this dumb idea about creating a team of bad guys, there would have been no pissed-off Enchantress bent on destroying the city and therefore no need for the team to fix it. Since the audience wasn't privy to the key detail of how Waller got hold of the heart or what June/Enchantress was up to before that happened, there's no reason to assume she would have gone on the rampage if Amanda Waller stayed the hell out of it in the first place.
It's not just DC - as well as Iron Man, Marvel did almost the same thing with the first Thor movie, most definitely did it in Avengers: Age of Ultron and arguably again with Captain America: Civil War (though I would argue against the last of those, since that plot was built around how the heroes would deal with the consequences of their actions from earlier installments, so the trigger event in the movie itself wasn't really the thing that led to the conflict.
So...is Ridley Scott right? If this is what he meant by "no story" (and I don't know for sure), I feel obliged to point out that it also applies to Prometheus. But also - yeah, it describes some Superhero movies. But not all of them...not the best of them.
These lists are restricted to films I actually sat in a cinema to watch.
( My 10 Worst Films of 2016 )
But the nice thing about having a season ticket to the movies is I don't generally feel bad about seeing bad films. They are outweighed by the good ones and 2016 has been particularly good.
( My 10 Best Movies of 2016 )
Happy New Year, everyone!
I've been searching for a response to last week's events. Something that isn't burying my head in the sand, which is my first instinct. The rest of this decade is going to be unpleasant. My country will bleed in the wake of a catastrophic referendum, and the USA...I can't even begin.
I feel like I've gone through the stages of grief fifty times in he past week. But this weekend I was at a meeting of the Women's Equality Party in Cardiff. I sat in a room with people who are very different from me and from each other - men and women, Welsh, English and from overseas, all ages and races - with one thing in common: we were all looking for a way to do politics differently. To move on from a world in which the loudest liar wins the day. And on my way home, I remembered something.
"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always."
That's it. That's what I have today. Tomorrow, I start finding ways to fight.
I'm actually glad I didn't post this sooner, because after seeing it a second time, I've changed my mind about Suicide Squad. It's actually not bad. It's not as great as it needed to be to "save" the DCEU, but if you divorce it from the trainwreck, it's a decent movie that does well on its own terms. That's how I tried to see it.
Suicide Squad should have been to the DCEU what Guardians of the Galaxy was to Marvel. By that, I mean far enough away from their main "universe" that it should be free of all that baggage. If it succeeds - great. If it bombs, it can be written off as a failed experiment. I suspect that was the idea, at the start. But the critical failure of BvS has got everyone saying that this is their chance to redeem the DCEU. Hell, even I said that the best thing about BvS was the Suicide Squad trailer! On that level, I'm afraid, it fails. On the other hand Suicide Squad doesn't suck. I can name a string of comic book movies that are worse and most of them are on my DVD shelves.
So I won't compare Suicide Squad with BvS or Guardians or anything else DC or Marvel have put out recently. Actually, the comparison that comes most readily to my mind is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - does anyone remember that one? Sean Connery as Alan Quartermain, bizzarely teamed up with Dorian Grey, Jekyll and Hyde, the Invisible Man, Mina Harker (somehow a vampire/human hybrid) and IIRC, Captain Nemo. It had he same kind of team-of-oddballs-saving-the-world concept as Suicide Squad and it sort of worked, but the film wasn't exactly memorable. And Suicide Squad is pretty much in that league, but better.( The plot - spoilers! )
( The Characters )
Overall, I did enjoy the film and having seen it twice I do think the critics are being a bit unfair to this one. It's not perfect by any means, but it's not the hot mess BvS was, either.
But I also feel there's an opportunity missed here. You have a roster of "bad guys". This means it can be something really different from the regular superhero fare. Suicide Squad could be knockabout comedy, it could be high-octane drama, tense spy thriller, body horror, gore-fest or farce. It could work as almost any genre imaginable, depending on which bad guys are on the roster and how much courage the director has.
You know what I really want? I want R-rated Suicide Squad directed by Kathryn Bigelow. She has a unique way of showing horrible things in a way that simultaneously condemns them, and also makes the audience complicit in the atrocity. Her films are disturbing to watch but it is what this film needed. I want to be cheering on the bad guys one moment and horrified at myself for doing it the next. I want to see these characters truly being "the worst of the worst" and still be the heroes of their own stories. I believe it can be done...but this film missed that particular mark.
Author: Morgan Briarwood
Fandom: Batman v Superman (DCU)
Summary: An alternate take on how events might have unfolded after Man of Steel - three superheroes come together just in time to save the world...and each other.
Read the whole story on AO3
It's too long for LJ, but there's a copy on my Dreamwidth:
Chapter 1: In The Aftermath
In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Metropolis, Diana Prince travels to the USA in search of Kal-El, Bruce Wayne finds his efforts to identify Superman interrupted by a horrific series of murders in Gotham, and Lois Lane helps Clark Kent make some decisions about their future.
Chatper 2: Beneath The Masks
Diana comes face-to-face with Clark Kent; Bruce Wayne takes his campaign against Superman to the next level; and Lex Luthor acquires something that threatens to expose Diana's past.
Chapter 3: Batman and Superman
An assassin targets Batman; Lois interviews Lex Luthor; and Lois's determination to interview a suspected terrorist leader ends in tragedy.
Chapter 4: One Bad Day
While Clark struggles with the consequences of his actions in Nairomi, Lex Luthor's plot to destroy the superheroes reaches its deadly conclusion.
Epilogue: Dawn of Justice
Now he knows they are out there, Bruce wants to find the other super-humans.
( My commentary on the story )
So way back in...what, March? I posted my review of Batman V Superman. Suffice to say I still think it's awful. Not long after, I further posted that I was writing fic about said crappy movie.
It's not that crazy. Almost every time I've got started in a fandom, my first fic has been some version of a fix-it, at least in my own mind. And there is so very much in BvS that needed fixing.
Anyway...that little story is now at 75,000 words. And not yet finished, though I'm in the home stretch.
I think it's pretty good, actually. In the process of researching and writing, I figured out why I hated BvS so much when I love the Marvel movies (except Iron Man, but that's a different thing). Marvel are comic fans and they pack their movies with "easter eggs" that devoted comic readers will love, but they don't get in the way of the plot. The bulk of the movie is for a general audience. BvS isn't. Maybe the original 4-hour version I've heard about addresses the problems, but to understand the movie they actually released you need to know a whole bunch of shit that you can only know if you're a serious DC nerd (Parademons? Injustice? The whole side-effects-of-Flash-time-travel thing? You don't just drop things like that into an already-overstuffed script and expect them to make sense). But assuming every comic fan is also a movie-goer, they make up, at most 7% of the audience a movie needs to hit the billion-dollar target, and that's assuming repeat viewings. (Yeah, I'm that person. I did the math.) So basically: Marvel got the formula right, DC didn't. At least not on that one.
But this post isn't meant to be another rant. I am going to post that story soon. It's almost there. It's like giving birth to a freaking monster here - seriously, this thing will not let me go. I've always said writing isn't a voluntary thing for me: I write to silence the voices in my head. And these have been shouting at me for months.
It was meant to be three parts - part one set immediately after Man of Steel; part two six months later; part three covering the BvS movie, but different, because what went before would change the outcome. I'm on part four now; I needed that extra to tie everything up. Not everything in the story has gone the way I originally expected. I have characters showing up who were never in the movie, I have some relationships playing out differently, and fixing things like, you know, a plot that made absolutely no sense does kinda change the plot. Or maybe that should be create one? At least my version is logical and consistent.
I need to get my hands on the movie and re-watch it a few times, and it's not released in the UK until the end of this month. But I hope to finish my first draft before then, so I can fix my fix-it after getting what I need from the film.
And I'm putting this in writing so I can't take it back! I will post this story in August.
I don't want to write BvS fanfic at all.
So why have I written almost 2000 words already?
Yeah, I know why. It's because my primary motivation in writing fanfic has always been to "fix it" and that movie has so very much that needs fixing. I've never written fanfic in a fandom where I'm fully satisfied with watching. I have to have something I passionately dislike as much as a whole I passionately like, or I can't get started.
Apparently BvS has engaged my passion.
I don't know if it can go anywhere. I will not post a story unless I'm sure it works, and for me that means obsessively reviewing the source. And I'm not going to add to the box office of that awful film. So unless I can find a download (and I do not illegally download movies, so that would be a first for me), I can't really do this until the DVD is out. What's that, July? But the story is begun now, so it's going to nag at me until then.
Maybe I can buy a ticket for a different movie and sneak into the wrong theatre....
Turns out this movie was the final piece of evidence I needed to prove my personal highly (un)scientific rule of superhero movies: if it's Marvel it will be far better than I expect it to be. If it's DC, the inverse is true. If I think it's gonna be okay, it will suck harder than I ever thought possible.
I spent Easter weekend watching Nolan's Batman Trilogy in order to scrub BvS out of my brain.
I am quite certain my opinion counts for nothing with whomever has power over these movies but on the slim chance someone with influence will read this, please, I beg you do not ever let Zack Snyder direct another movie based on a comic book. Ever. The man is the M.Night Shyamalan of the comic book world: he did okay with one movie but whatever magic he once had has since turned EVIL.
And you know, I really wanted to love these films. I didn't hate Man of Steel. I didn't have an issue with Superman killing Zod which apparently was a huge problem for many fans. The way it was done, the guy needed killing and Superman didn't have another option. There was a lot to like in Man of Steel: Lois Lane, tough, smart, actually had some agency and didn't come across as galactically stupid for failing to see through a pair of glasses because their relationship didn't play out that way. I loved Diane Lane as Martha Kent (then again, I'd love Diane Lane reading the phone book), and I enjoyed the take on Krypton and Superman's origins. I liked Henry Cavil as Clarke Kent/Superman (Dean Cain will forever be "my" Superman, just like Tom Baker is my Doctor Who. But I can accept others in both roles). The overdone CGI world-destroying climax was the first film's main weakness, but that OTT final-act showdown is something all superhero movies do, and rarely do well. It seemed like an okay reboot.
Okay, I've tried to avoid huge spoilers, but the rest discusses the BvS movie, so here's the cut:
( There be spoilers within )
In short, it's awful. And it shouldn't have been.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2nd viewing)
I never had the same love for SW that I did for SF on TV. Maybe that's why I don't get the universal adoration for TFA. I mean, it's not a bad film and all the good things people are saying are true. But After my second viewing I just came out with stuff bugging me. And I don't mean unresolved plot threads.
For instance: why are there so many droids in the SW universe? C3PO I understand: he's a translator programmed with 6 million languages - no human could match that. But the other droids don't seem to do anything that people couldn't (certainly nothing that requires sentience) and mostly they don't do it as well. The cynical answer is that they exist to sell toys (and I'd love to own a moving BB8 and don't dare as my dogs would kill it) but their presence should make narrative sense as well. In the original Star Wars, C3PO and R2D2 each had a function that a human (or alien life form) couldn't have fulfilled; in SFA this no longer seems to be the case.
Also, how did BB8 manage the stairs at Maz's cantina? We saw it following Rey down - with some difficulty - but gravity would prevent it rolling *up* the steps in the same way. Is it secretly a dalek?
The other thing that's bugging me is more philosophical. I don't understand the draw of the Dark Side for Ren. In the original trilogy Luke is tempted by vengeance when he believes Vader killed his father and by hatred as he sees more and more of the evil of the Empire. In the prequels, as clumsy as the narrative was, Anakin had a horrible childhood, he was driven by fear and drawn to power and control. I saw nothing in the film that makes sense for why Ren, being who he is, would turn dark. He doesn't even seem a particularly bad person - except for the one obvious evil deed at the end.
Branagh Theatre Live: The Winter's Tale
Shakespeare on the big screen is rarely average. Terrible or wonderful seems to be the way of it. The Winter's Tale has the plot of a Wagnerian opera and is most famous for its impossible stage direction "exit, pursued by a bear". In Branagh's production, the bear was the only disappointing part: impressive sound-effects but so overdone the sense of peril was entirely lost. Otherwise it was a really good production.
The Big Bang Theory 1-3
Sis bought me seasons 1 through 7 for Christmas. She's been telling me for ages that I'd love this show so I suggested she buy it for me (I rarely watch scheduled TV because I loathe the ads). So she did, and I am watching.
So, basically it's "Friends", except every character is Ross. Except the girl, who is Joey. And with added nerd jokes. I don't have much sense for comedy but overall it doesn't seem that funny to me. There are exceptions - 3 or 4 episodes so far that I've found really funny, but that's a pretty poor ration.
On the other hand, I am very fond of Sheldon. "I'm not crazy: my mother had me tested" brings back memories of my mother doing the same thing (no, really, though it wasn't until much later I figured it out), and his room-mate agreement with its provisions for what to do if one of them should develop super powers or invent time travel seems a far better model contract for a life partner than wedding vows.
I'm still watching...
Tales of Max Carrados by Ernest Bramah (read by Stephen Fry)
This was a freebie, or I wouldn't have listened, but I'm glad I did. An interesting story that feels very unfinished. It's essentially Daredevil meets Sherlock in a Dickens story.
The Dead Won't Sleep by Anna Smith (read by Sarah Barron)
This is a thriller set in Glasgow, centred on an ambitious young journalist who stumbles across a police corruption story. The story plot is unremarkable but the focus on the forgotten of society gave it a level of realism that's unusual in this type of thriller. The prostitutes, runaways and addicts come across as real, rounded characters instead of plot devices and I have a sense that the author has at least some experience of what that world is like. It felt right, and in a way that makes poverty a villain more evil than the "bad guys" of the fiction. The narration was also very good: she does enough to bring the characters to life and draw me in to the tension without being over-dramatic.
So let's not talk about the real world. Here's the year's high points in fiction.
Best film of the year: The Martian
OMG this movie! When I first saw the poster and trailers I thought this was some attempt to do Gravity but with a male lead, because that's what Hollywood does. If a woman can be awesome, a male actor has to do it better. I was so wrong. I mean, yeah, on the surface it's Gravity with Matt Damon playing the stranded astronaut. But I love it. I love the snarky humour, the crappy 80's music, the ridiculous edge-of-the-seat climax... I have never been so happy to be wrong about a film.
Honourable mention to: Carol because it's about damn time.
Most disappointing film of the year: Mockingjay part 2. (Note, I don't mean worst film, I mean the one that most disappointed me.) It was always going to be tough to make this work as a film. Mockingjay is the weakest book of the trilogy and while I do think it was the right decision to split it into two, that put most of the best moments into part one. They did a good job with tough material, but it just didn't spark for me the way the first three did.
Best book of the year: Rawblood by Caitriona Ward
A father raises his daughter in isolation, hoping to avoid the curse that falls on every generation of his family. But the daughter wants a life of her own. It feels like a gothic horror, a bit of Woman in Black, a bit of The Haunting of Hill House. As the story flits back and forward in time it gets a bit hard to follow, but the payoff is so very worth it. As the story unwinds toward its climax and you come to understand just what the curse/ghost really is, it's almost like being part of the story - I didn't know what I should feel (pity, horror, empathy, revulsion) and it blew me away. Not for bedtime reading!
Best audiobook: Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
It's an audio dramatisation of a graphic novel. The story of the Locke family and Key House, where magical keys open doors to the weird, the wonderful and the horrific. It's a horror story - it has to be called that because some really awful things happen, but I loved it for the other stuff, the characters and relationships. A full cast, sound effects and music really bring the story to life. I've got to read the original as soon as possible!
Best TV show: Jessica Jones
'Nuff said. Worth the price of a Netflix subscription on its own. Season 2, please!