Prejudging Dark Phoenix Before Its Release

20th Century Fox has released a new trailer for the last, proper X-Men film, Dark Phoenix. What is most interesting and disturbing, depending on one’s point of view, about the trailer’s release is the reaction from fans. While some enjoy it, and look forward to the X-Men film, others are reacting with indifference or downright negativity. This is somewhat baffling to witness and is evidence of how divided fans and our culture at large has become. We’re seeing this everywhere with vitriol hurled at Star Wars, Doctor Who, Star Trek, DC, the MCU and other franchises for many reasons. But the negativity towards Dark Phoenix before the film has come out is just going overboard.

There are many reasons to be skeptical for the upcoming superhero film and it’s not just because the director is a newbie. The film essentially retells a major subplot from X-Men: The Last Stand, which adapted parts of the famous and beloved Dark Phoenix story from the comics. However, the film was subpar and the trailer to Dark Phoenix uncomfortably reminds some of that film. While this is unavoidable, the new film will focus on the Dark Phoenix story and Jean Grey’s struggle. True, it won’t be a beat-by-beat adaptation of the comic book story, but what live-action adaptation of a comic book story is completely faithful? A couple of them are considered among the best superhero films of all time.

Then there is the anger that some have towards Fox for being neglectful towards the X-Men franchise. Fox’s track record with the X-Men films is admittedly mixed. For every Logan there is an X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The last X-Men film, X-Men: Apocalypse was not received well, though personally, I thought it was enjoyable and had an epic tone in its last act. The poor reaction to X-Men: Apocalypse has fed the negativity toward X-Men films going forward.

But we have to give the studio some credit. If not for them, the superhero films as we know it would not exist. Kevin Feige, the Marvel Studios guru, got his start in superhero films with the Fox X-Men films. He gained valuable insight and experience that helped him launch the successful MCU. Also, Fox released high-quality productions like Logan, Deadpool and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Still, many feel that the Fox X-Men films have run their course and a much-needed break is due. Or rather a radical reboot that is faithful to the comic books, which Marvel Studios can only produce.

As we all know, Marvel Studios will reboot the X-Men films since Disney has acquired the film rights to the X-Men. At this point, many are more than ready to move on from the Fox version of the X-Men and are eager to see how Marvel Studios reimagines and recasts the X-Men films. For them, Dark Phoenix feels redundant and think “what’s the point?” of this film since the Fox X-Men franchise is coming to an end. Some are angered that based on what is known about Dark Phoenix and some negative early screening reactions that the film is destined to be a stinker and don’t feel the need to see it.

This is unfair towards the film and the efforts of the cast and crew. In the end, it may wind up being as bad as many believe and a terrible way to end the Fox X-Men films. However, it’s best to keep an open mind and being objective towards this film. Hopefully, it can be a decent wrap up of the X-Men saga. After all, it will be the last X-Men film for a while given Marvel Studios’ crowded plate.

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Superheroes Represent At The Oscars

Last night, the Academy Awards were surprisingly kind to superhero films. Sure, there were some disappointments, big and small; seriously, First Man had better special effects than Avengers: Infinity War? Please. But on the whole the superhero film genre was well represented in the Academy Awards for films that came out in 2018.

Recognizing the MCU

Comic book fans had reasons to celebrate last month when Black Panther was nominated for best film. As we all know, this is the first time a superhero film earned that prestigious nomination. Whether or not the film deserved it is open for debate. But nevertheless it was a great and historic moment for fans as at last the superhero film was recognized as a genuine piece of cinematic art. OK, this is a bit hyperbolic, but the fact is that for too long superhero films were considered juvenile fare though that has been far from the truth.

black panther at wakanda

In the past, these films were often nominated for best visual effects or some other technical category and sometimes won. That has changed slowly over recent years. The Dark Knight picked up an award for Best Supporting Actor in addition to getting numerous technical nominations. However, many rightly felt that The Dark Knight should have been nominated for Best Picture, and this snub caused a changed in the amount of films that can get the Best Picture nomination. Others also believed that Logan should have received a Best Picture nomination, but it did get one for Best Adapted Screenplay. This was the first time a superhero film got such a distinguished nomination. With this, it was only a matter of time before a superhero film was nominated for Best Picture and that happened only a year later.

Of course, cynics will credit Black Panther’s numerous nominations to a strong marketing campaign from Disney, and they would not be wrong. But in the end the film studio was largely successful with Black Panther nabbing the coveted Best Picture nomination. Honestly, it winning was always a long shot, especially since it didn’t garner nominations for directing, writing or acting. Traditionally, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a huge bias against genre films. No science fiction film has ever won, and only a couple of fantasy films have won including The Shape of Water. Also, that film just won for Best Picture the year before. There wasn’t any way the Academy would allow a genre film to win for Best Picture two years in a row. In fact, this doesn’t happen with other genres. Besides, the Academy likes to pick “important” biographies or historical dramas with timely messages.

Put all that aside for now. It was great that not only was Black Panther nominated, but that it actually won three well-deserved awards. The most for any superhero film. Frankly, it would have been a shock if the film didn’t win for Best Costume Design or Best Production Design. In these categories, Black Panther excelled with its unique and eye-popping visual look and costumes. The award for Best Original Music Score was a pleasant surprise since the score was so enchanting. These wins signal the Academy’s recognition of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) quality and caliber. This will be the first of many awards that the MCU will win. It may be a long time before an MCU film or any superhero film will win for Best Picture, but it will happen.

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Netflix Moves In New Superhero Directions With The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is the newest streaming series from Netflix and is that service’s first step away from their Marvel superhero shows. This time, Netflix adapted the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. Both the show and the comic book are a about an eccentric family of superheroes and their dysfunctional relationship. What makes this superhero team stand out is that they were once seven infants who were instantaneously conceived and born back in 1989 at the same time. A goofball billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) buys and “adopts” these children then begins grooming them to be superheroes. Eventually they leave him to find their way in the world and away from superheroics.

Flashforward to the present and Hargreeves has died, prompting a reunion by the now-adult children who have gone on their unique and separate ways. Luther (Tom Hopper) is a gentle giant with super strength and lives on the moon in isolation. Diego (David Castañeda) is a rebellious vigilante with extraordinary knife-throwing skills. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is a famous movie star with the ability to manipulate reality by using the Rumor. Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is shiftless drug addict who can communicate with the dead, including the sixth member, Ben (Justin H. Min), who died some time ago. Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) can travel through time and space, while the final child, Vanya (Ellen Page), doesn’t have any powers and is treated as the black sheep in the makeshift family.

When the siblings come together, Luther and Diego quickly argue over whether or not their father was murdered. Meanwhile, Number Five was trapped in the future for several decades and is finally able to return to the present to join his siblings for their father’s funeral. But he is determined to find out what causes a worldwide apocalyptic event in a few days that wipes out humanity. At the same time, he is hunted by mysterious superhuman assassins (Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton) for unknown reasons. These events bring out revelations about each member of the Umbrella Academy and forces them to drift further apart as it becomes clear that they cannot relate to each other.

The Umbrella Academy is a quirky and entertaining family/superhero show punctuated by offbeat characters, inventive editing and show-stopping action scenes. It’s not as great as some critics and fans are proclaiming. It sometimes tries too hard to be edgy and quirky to the point  that it can be offputting. The first episode was a bit of a chore to get through because the premise’s setup was not particularly engaging. But it quickly picks up the pace and grabs your attention after the first episode.

Some characters like Klaus can be annoying and cloy, but overall all of these oddballs are endearing as they grapple with their father’s memory. He was a cold, distant person who treated them as objects and this created damaging trauma that each of them deal with in their own ways. Other members of the Umbrella Academy and their associates stand out like kindly Luther, Number Five with his dilemma of being an adult trapped in a child’s body and Vanya who struggles to find her place in the world as an ordinary person. Obviously this is not your standard superhero TV show and it is refreshing as it is more like Legion than traditional fare like the CW superhero shows.  More importantly, the characters and their interactions, not to mention the exciting fight scenes, are reasons for comic book and superhero fans to watch The Umbrella Academy.

 

Requiem For A Dark Knight

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The status of Ben Affleck’s role in the upcoming Batman film directed by Matt Reeves has been a source of both interest and mystery ever since Affleck left that film’s role as director two years ago. This mystery was finally solved a few days ago with the article on deadline.com that detailed a release date for the film titled The Batman, which will come to theaters on June 25th, 2021 with a new actor to be cast in the role. This was seemingly confirmed by Affleck himself, who retweeted the article on his Twitter account. This news has brought a reaction from fans that of sadness and regret since he will no longer be playing a role that he has owned since his debut in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The initial announcement of his casting as Batman was met with some skepticism at first, but after the first trailer for the movie, with the image of Bruce Wayne staring at his Batman outfit, consumed with rage, fans were convinced of his ability to play the dual role of playboy millionaire and costumed vigilante, obsessed with stopping what he saw as the ultimate threat in Superman. His excellent performance in the somewhat divisive film cemented his legacy as the definitive live-action Batman. His brief, but well received, cameo in Suicide Squad further excited fans. His last full time appearance as the Caped Crusader in Justice League in 2017 was met with mixed results since he seemed somewhat disinterested. Possibly this was due to reshoots by Joss Whedon and rewrites to the story that changed what the original director Zack Snyder had planned. But, overall, I thought his performance was still a great interpretation of a transformed Bruce Wayne who was trying to live up to Superman’s example and not let his sacrifice in Batman v Superman go in vain. 
I do wish that Ben Affleck was given another opportunity to play the role. However, due to the reaction to both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, as well as his own personal problems with alcoholism and a high profile divorce, this led to his wavering on whether or not to continue the role. Also complicating things was the fact that Matt Reeves wants to tell a story of a younger Batman that takes place maybe 10-15 years before the events of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There were some rumors that Affleck might play the older version of Batman at the start and end of the movie, but this seems to have been rejected by Reeves.  His vision of a noir-driven detective film does sound interesting and unique, but it would have been great to see Affleck in this type of film as well, since his previous movies as Batman focused on his fighting abilities and strengths. As for who will replace him, there are, of course, lots of rumors on that as well. One is Armie Hammer, who would be a good replacement. Hammer has been rumored to be up for the part of Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern Corps film, but that movie is still several years away with Geoff Johns writing a new script for it. Another one rumored is Aaron Taylor-Johnson from 2014’s Godzilla and 2010’s Kick-Ass. Whoever is picked should not be so young as to look more like Robin than Batman. Even though Reeves is supposedly looking for an actor in the range of 25-30, this Batman should already be an experienced crime fighter. Christoper Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005 already told the story of the Caped Crusader first starting out. Another origin story is not needed. Whoever is cast needs to have the same presence that Affleck had and be able to show that he will eventually become the force that dominated Gotham’s underworld in Batman v Superman.
If there is ever another Justice League movie or another DCEU film that takes place in present day, one hopes that Affleck will be called on to don the cape again, but that is unknown at this point. If he never plays the role again, his legacy is still cemented in comic movie lore as arguably the most accurate Bruce Wayne and Batman to show up on the big screen. Every role is eventually recast at some point. Look at how many actors have played the role of James Bond over the years. Batman is no exception. The character is over 75 years old and will go on no matter who plays him, so while it’s sad that Ben Affleck is leaving, any hysteria over this is not really necessary. I just hope that whoever takes the torch from him is able to live up to the standard he set and helps Matt Reeves make another great Batman movie.
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Aquaman Salvages The DCEU

It’s official, Aquaman is the biggest hit for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) or the Worlds of DC. The newest superhero film released by Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment has proven so successful that it has joined the lucrative billion dollar club as of this weekend. Aquaman’s success could not have come at a better time for DC and Warner Bros. as the film studio desperately needed to have a genuine supehero hit film given all the headaches they’ve had with the DCEU lately.

The DCEU has always had an uneven existence with films that either polarized audiences or just left everyone unimpressed. For every Wonder Woman there was a Suicide Squad. The DCEU was supposed to be a viable competitor to the far more successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but that did not turn out to be. For the most part, Warner Bros. was to blame with the way they micromanaged the DCEU films and their directors and never gave the people running the film universe the chance to organically develop it. In their rush to compete with the MCU, many of the DCEU films felt like rushed trailers for subsequent films. This all came to a head with Justice League last year. What was supposed to be DC’s answer to The Avengers was poorly received and flopped in theaters.

Adding to the woes were all the behind-the-scenes headaches that have been covered before such as the inability to create a proper sequel to Man of Steel, the drama of whether or not Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill would reprise their roles of Batman and Superman. Films were announced and shelved. Directors and writers came aboard for films only to depart soon afterwards.

After the failure of Justice League, not many had hope for Aquaman. After all, he was not a popular superhero and was often derided by many for being so underwhelming. His appearances in previous DCEU movies redefined the character into more of a fun-loving surfer dude type, but this did not inspire confidence that he could carry a film. Thankfully, many of us were proven wrong.

An Underwater Spectacle

Aquaman turned out to be a fun, exciting and spectacular film that just went for broke. It is outrageous with its imagery and the film created a stunning underwater world that is so richly detailed and colorful that it evokes films like Avatar or the Star War films. As with the latter films, Aquaman is one exhaustive film that constantly moves in terms of plot and action. Some parts of it, especially the scenes in Italy, recall the brisk pace of the Indiana Jones films. Much of this credit goes to director James Wan who injected needed levity and adventure to the DCEU and people reacted positively to Aquaman.

Of course, the film can be silly and goofy but it is never dull. On top of that the natural charms of the leads Jason Mamoa and Amber Heard helped sell the film to wide audiences. What also helped was the timing of its release. Unlike previous Holiday seasons, there was no Star Wars film to compete with. Audiences who are weary from all the sour news of the world want escapism and fun in their films. And Aquaman delivered that to them.

Finally, it seemed as if Warner Bros. left Wan and the other filmmakers alone and didn’t try to inject the greater DCEU to Aquaman. Aside from two references, this film could stand apart from the DCEU, and it helped since this allowed the characters to have the spotlight to themselves and for the film’s story to develop naturally. Does this mean this formula will work for future DCEU films? It’s possible, just think about it, Aquaman followed the same path of the early MCU films in that they were largely standalone affairs with lesser known characters that won over audiences. By the time the MCU expanded into team up films, people were invested in the characters. This does not mean this standalone formula will work with every film. But for now a loose affiliation with the DCEU may be the key…for now.

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