Big Changes Coming For DC & The DCEU

This past week Discovery officially took over Warner Bros. and its properties including DC Comics and DC Entertainment. After doing so, the company (rebranded as WB Discovery) announced they were radically overhauling DC Entertainment and its superheroes, specifically their films and TV shows including those of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). Even though there have been very successful DCEU efforts like Aquaman and Peacemaker, other releases did not exactly hit the high bar when it came to box office sales or critical/fan reception (Wonder Woman 1984). The goal of the restructuring is to make the DCEU genuinely competitive with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

This would mean that a head honcho would be hired to oversee the production of DCEU films and TV shows in the same manner that Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, does with the MCU. This also implies that the DC films and TV shows will be more coherent and less disjointed, while some once-prominent properties will get more attention. In fact, WB Discovery stated that Warner Bros. allowed top tier properties like Superman “languish” to the detriment of the DCEU and DC.

The Snyderverse and Stalled Efforts

Frankly, the coming changes are a much needed shot in the arm for DC and the DCEU, which has lacked a strong visionary leader. Previous leaders like Walter Hamada, Geoff Johns and Zack Snyder proved to be unable to present a clear direction for their films. Only Snyder came the closest to presenting a vision that was coherent. Unfortunately, Snyder is also a film director and when his Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did not impress critics and fans, and Justice League failed to reach the success of The Avengers, he was ushered out of the door by Warner Bros. and the DCEU that he helped create basically fell apart. Part of the problem with Zack Snyder being in charge with the DCEU (or the Snyderverse as some fans called the early films) is that although Snyder is a gifted director, what was needed to oversee the films was a producer in the mold of Kevin Feige. A producer is tasked with the production of films or TV shows and brings a guided vision to entire productions. Directors are focused on individual films first and bring their own stamp to what they film. It is not possible given a director’s schedule to expect him or her to oversee the vision of several films at once.

Even before Snyder’s exit, projects were stalled after big announcements, while conflict occured with many actors and filmmakers. Directors and writers joined and left projects. Then there were the casting headaches Warner Bros. faced from the fact that Henry Cavill, cast as Superman in the Snyderverse, was for all purposes, dismissed to the outlandish and criminal behavior of Ezra Miller, whose film The Flash has not even come out yet. Then there is the fact that The Flash was in perpetual development hell for the longest time as directors and writers exited the film left and right. Now, there are rumors that Miller will be fired from his role and in his situation it would be easy. Since The Flash deals with the title hero time traveling and alternate universes, just reshoot the ending to replace Miller with a new actor. Even Grant Gustin from the TV version of The Flash would be a better choice, although that casting may be too confusing for some.

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Sonic The Hedgehog 2 Dashes Past The First Film!

[WARNING: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW]

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is delighting fans of the classic video game franchise during its cinematic premiere this weekend. It is probably the best video game adaptation to the big screen yet. It is full of material straight from the Sega video games Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Sonic The Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles (S2&K), which makes the film a bit predictable for diehard Sonic fans, but is still a fun time throughout for all.

The story starts about 8 months after the events of the first film, Sonic the Hedgehog, with Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey, who is as zany as ever playing Sonic’s foe) still stuck on the mushroom planet (a reference to Mushroom Hill Zone from S2&K) escaping with Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), a big red echidna. Robotnik promises Knuckles that he would take him to Sonic’s (voiced by Ben Schwartz) location on Earth, which ties into Knuckles’ trait of being gulible. Tails (Colleen O’Shaunessey), a two-tailed yellow fox, then arrives on Earth to warn Sonic about Knuckles and the two soon become friends. I won’t be covering the rest of the movie’s plot so that people can have a chance to experience it for themselves, but I will now get into the most interesting easter eggs, which covers MAJOR spoilers for the film, so beware.

The first reference that I loved was when Sonic and Tails was in a bar in Siberia, and Sonic does the iconic “Sonic Adventure” pose while in midair. That moment made my heart jump in excitement, and is one of the many reasons as to why the director Jeff Fowler and the filmmakers clearly care about the source material. The scenes at the bar was also very funny, by the way. The next BIG reference is, of course, Super Sonic and the chaos emeralds. Going into this movie, I would have never expected the inclusion of Super Sonic, but I was so happy they added the golden god into the film. Super Sonic first appeared in Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and quickly becomes a staple for Sonic games, so how could they not include him in this film? The next reference is literally big, The Death Egg Robot! This giant robot first appears in Sonic 2 like Super Sonic, but it is WAY bigger than any form the games include. It was really cool to see this giant robot in the film since, again, its a staple of the Sonic franchise.

Finally, the thing that got me most excited, but kind of worried, about a potential Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is with Shadow in the post credits of this movie. Shadow is a robot made by Dr. Eggman’s uncle Gerald in the Space Colony Ark. His backstory is very complicated, so I won’t get into it here, but that’s what worries me about the third film. They are basicially jumping 5ish games, as well as their characters, which are very important. He was first introduced in Sonic Adventure 2 and rose to be a fan favorite charcter of the franchise. However, I don’t think the story of Sonic Adventure 2 would translate well into a movie, it’s complicated and feels like it would be a weird plot to include in the Sonic films. The plot follows this girl named Maria, who was Robotnik’s granddaughter, and Shadow’s friendship with her. But she is killed by a guard on the Space Colony ARK and now Shadow hates humanity and wants to explode the Earth. The other problem is that the game included a lot of charcters we haven’t seen yet in the films. Amy, the Chao, Omega, Rouge, and Gearld, to name a few. I’m worried that they may jump the gun and go too crazy, but I still have faith in them, so I’m excited.

Overall, as a long-term Sonic fan, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is everything I would have asked for in a Sonic movie. The first just felt like a generic movie with Sonic in it, but the second one feels likes it’s Sonic’s movie, and I love that. It’s way better than Sonic the Hedgehog because that movie walked, but this movie can dash! The first film had to set up our characters so they could go crazy once introductions were out of the way. This movie is full of easter eggs and references to past Sonic games so fans will love it. It is also a fun and action-packed movie so anyone can sit down and enjoy this film. I cannot wait for Sonic The Hedgehog 3 and what it will bring to the table of an already full family of fans.

Angelo Soto

Morbius: When Trailers Deceive Us

By now, most of us have heard about Morbius and how it wildly differed from what the trailers promised. Namely, solid connections with Spider-Man or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). But what we got was downright deceptive.

For some time now, there have been grumblings by filmgoers and fans about how what was shown in trailers never showed up in the final films. Some recent examples include the famous charge of the heroes in the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, which prominently showed a very large and angry Hulk charging along with the other Avengers and allies. But as we saw in the film, the Hulk only appeared briefly in the film’s opening moments and the scene of the charging Avengers was nowhere to be found.

Another example was in the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home which digitally removed the other Spider-Men taking part in battling the many foes or alternate scenes with Doctor Strange that did not make it to the final film.

A big reason for these deceptions is because of spoilers. A decision was made for Spider-Man: No Way Home to keep the revelations about the other Spider-Men a surprise, even though this was the worst kept secret in Hollywood. In another case, for a trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, the God of Thunder was shown in channeling electricity with two eyes flaring with energy. However, when this happened in the film, Thor by this point, lost an eye while battling Hela.

Another reason for the deception is not that the films were intentionally deceiving viewers but rather the clips in the trailers failed to make the final cut of the films. This points to what probably happened with Morbius.

In the trailers for Morbius there were several scenes establishing the existence of Spider-Man in the world of Morbius. A great example is that clip of Morbius walking past a poster of Spider-Man with the word “Murderer” sprayed over the poster. This led to wild speculation if this film took place in the MCU given Spider-Man’s predicament or in the non-MCU Spider-Man films where the character underwent a dark chapter that we have not seen.

There were also a couple of scenes showing Adrian Toomes/Vulture (played by Michael Keaton) interacting with Morbius, which led to more speculation. But alas, none of this happened or was seen in the final film, which had zero Spider-Man connections until the post-credits scenes. Without going into spoilers, these scenes did not make any sense.

Obviously, eager Spider-Man fans were sorely disappointed by the final cut of Morbius. The question remains is how long will film studios and their marketing departments continue to deceive filmgoers? Yes, the audiences have to consider that usually when a trailer is released the film has not been completed, so they cannot expect to see every shot in a trailer to show up in a film. They also have to consider that studios want to leave some surprises for fans. But to outright tease connections to the world of Spider-Man and the MCU and deliver nonsenscal post-credit scenes is an insult to fans. What will happen is that fans will eventually tune out trailers and the enthusiasm for these films will diminish, and this could ultimately impact the box office. Being that this is the thing that matters most to film studios, they have to take heed about how they burn fans with deceptive trailers.

Looking Back At Silent Running

Fifty years ago this month, Silent Running was released in theaters. Right away, the sci-fi eco-drama stood out back in the 1970s thanks to its innovative special effects, set design and the ecologically driven storyline that struck chords with environmentalists everywhere.

Silent Running takes entirely onboard a spaceship near Saturn called the Valley Forge that serves as an environmental ark for the last remaining Earth ecosystems encased in giant geodesic domes that act as greenhouses.

Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a botanist and one of the four crewmen who care for the ecosystems, along with a trio of robotic drones called Huey, Louie and Dewey. The crew receives orders to destroy the domes and return to Earth, but Freeman is mortified by the orders even though the others are eager to go back home. During the operations of jettisioning and blowing up the domes, Freeman mutinies, kills his crewmates and hijacks the Valley Forge. With one dome remaining on the ship, Freeman heads out to deep space to continue caring for the last ecosystem with help from the drones. During his voyage, Freeman has to deal with loneliness, guilt and the logistics of caring for the fragile plants and small animals in the dome.

Elevated by Bruce Dern’s passionate and sensitive performance, and superior special effects, Silent Running is a contemplative and quietly emotional film. Despite its short run time and the over-the-top environmental message, the film is quite effective and leaves you thinking about it long after it is over. The late special effects guru Douglas Trumbull made his directorial debut with this film, though the only other film he directed was Brainstorm, which is a shame as he showed a lot of promise as a director. The effects truly stood out from practical effects, such as the drones which were performed by bilateral amputees, to excellent and intricate model work. The footage of the Valley Forge would pop up in other films and TV shows such as the orginal Battlestar Galactica.

Kudos has to go to Bruce Dern who largely spends the film by himself. He was able to project a kinship with the drones who despite not able to speak demonstrated emotions like bravery and loyalty. Of course, he is guilty of murdering his colleagues and his environmental rantings come off as too extreme, yet his passion for the last remaining plant and wildlife is sincere and relatable.

One nagging fault about the film has to do with unanswered questions about the domes and the film’s simplistic script. What exactly happened to the Earth and why was the Valley Forge crew told to destroy the domes and return home? What we know about the importance of plants in our complex enviroment with creating oxygen and food would mean that these domes would not be casually discarded. Did the environmental situation improve on Earth to make the domes unneccesary? In one exchange between Freeman Lowell and his crewmates, it is pointed out that humanity can now duplicate the benefits of plants. Does this mean air and food can now be easily created without vegetation? Based on the level of technology shown in the film, this does not seem likely. Even if this was true, why discard such precious resources so casually? It’s hard to imagine that all of humanity except for Freeman would be fine with this. If a remake is ever made for this film, these issues can be addressed or its premise should be updated given what we now understand about ecosystems.

There is also an unavoidable fault with Freeman’s thinking that honestly makes him out to be a complete fool. At some point, the plants are withering and the botanist spends significant time trying to figure out why, while the cause and solution are quite obvious.

Still, in spite of these lapses in logic, Silent Running truly was one of the best sci-fi films released in the 1970s and should be seen at least once by sci-fi fans. The film is a true gem with resonating message and images. The best example is Silent Running’s very last scene, which is very emotional and serves as a fitting allegory for our own fragile and special planet in the vast cosmos.

The Batman Is A Powerful, Gritty Look At The Dark Knight

The latest live-action incarnation of DC Comics’ most popular superhero, The Batman, was eagerly awaited by fans and for good reason. Director Matt Reeves promised his version of Batman would actually used his detective skills like in the comics and his film would be more of a gritty crime noir piece. For the most part, Reeves succeeded and delivered one of the most powerful Batman films of all time.

Taking elements from the film Se7en and the comic book mini-series Batman: The Long Halloween, The Batman takes place during the second year of Batman/Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) war on crime. As the film starts, a terrifying serial killer called the Riddler (Paul Dano) is killing the rich elite of Gotham City and exposing their dark secrets. This includes crooked politicians and police officers alike. Batman and his only ally in the police department, Detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), work together to capture the Riddler by solving his enigmatic clues before he claims his next victim.

Batman’s detective work leads him to the seedy, underworld empire of crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the criminal elements working for him, such as Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrel echoing Robert DeNiro in a fat suit) and Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz who redefines sultriness with her version of Catwoman). Their interactions expose many secrets about Gotham, including uncomfortable revelations about Bruce Wayne’s parents. At the same time, Batman starts questioning his vengeance-fueled crusade to rid crime from Gotham as he realizes the Riddler’s macabre vendetta is a dark mirror to his cause.

Unlike previous Batman films, The Batman is more grounded and gritty. Believe it or not, it feels even more realistic than the Christopher Nolan films. Gotham itself is shown to be a bleak and dreary locale without redemption and Matt Reeves revels in exposing it to the audience. Almost all the characters have dark elements in their souls and are tremendously conflicted. Batman most of all, who is at his core, a tragic figure. He is clearly emotionally damaged by the murder of his parents…thankfully this film did not bother to show us yet another version of his origin. Instead, it focuses on the aftermath of their deaths as Bruce has to learn to move past the idea of vengeance and find a more noble vision within himself.

Seeing Batman portrayed as a quiet and intimidating vigilante at odds with the police and displaying his cunning intelligence as he solves riddles was a novel approach and harken back to Batman’s Golden Age crime story roots. Pattinson does a fine job as the determined Caped Crusader and the gaunt Bruce Wayne. Unlike other versions, this Bruce Wayne is a true social recluse who has not yet adopted the outward identity of a charming billionaire playboy and it was an interesting take on the character.

The other actors were also striking in their roles, with Kravitz, Dano and Wright standing out. Dano’s horrifying take of the Riddler is truly chilling and rivals the best portrayals of the Joker. Speaking of the Joker, there is an unnecessary cameo of the Joker in the film which was distracting. We did not need to see the character and his appearance demonstrated one of the film’s weakness.

As powerful as it was, The Batman was bit too long in length, being nearly three hours long. Matt Reeves could have easily trimmed off fifteen or twenty minutes because the film dwelled too long on the intricate subplots of various villains and the corrupt elements of Gotham’s elites. Honestly, the material with the Riddler more than held up the film and those side stories were not needed. It was obvious these elements were put in to set up future films.

Regardless, from the excellent acting to the beautifully haunting cinematography to the thrilling fight scenes, The Batman is quite a neo noir achievement. It is not for everyone, especially younger children and those seeking a light-hearted superhero romp. But The Batman is one of those few films that makes you want to see again and again to discover something new with each viewing.

José Soto