Piling On The MCU And Other Superhero Movies

The continued dissing on the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and other superhero films by prominent filmmakers and actors has gotten ridiculous!

For years as the MCU gained more and more popularity and the films became more and more successful there have been grumblings from various actors and filmmakers who have not being involved in such films. They would pooh pooh the films and claim that they were only interested in real art and bemoaned the death of cinema. Most of us fans dismissed their rants and chalked them up to sour grapes and not bothering to understand the emerging cinematic genre.

But this piling on the MCU and the other superhero/comic book films is now overboard with the recent rants from Martin Scorsese and most recently Francis Ford Coppola. Frankly enough is enough.

Yes, we understand these filmmakers’ frustrations with getting their projects off the ground but to take it out on these films is uncalled for.  Of course, everyone is entitled to an opinion and certainly the superhero films won’t appeal to everybody. However, Scorsese recently said he has not watched most MCU films and then went on to make a broad statement about how inferior they are and called them “theme parks”, in other words, inconsequential fluff. To have such an opinion when not having seen many films of the genre is backward. This also infers that Scorsese has not seen superhero films that transcended the genre such as The Dark Knight, Logan, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Of course, the genre film he produced Joker does not count (note the sarcasm).

While many superhero films may not be high art and are harmless entertainment, there are many that are high quality films and yes this applies to many MCU films. There is not a need to list the many fine superhero films but it is clear that they contribute to the cinematic art form. Logan was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards. It was the prejudice of many old fashioned voters that kept it from getting nominated for Best Actor or Best Picture. The same went for The Dark Knight, though Heath Ledger won a deserved Best Supporting Actor for his classic portrayal of the Joker.  Black Panther became the first superhero film to get the prestigious Best Picture nod, though there have been better superhero films. Nevertheless, this is an important achievement.

Superhero films are not alone in being disrespected by elite filmmakers. Sci-fi and horror continue to be disregarded by many of them even though many genre films are well made examples of cinema and have been very influential.

Keep in mind, much of this has to do with resentment. While Avengers: Endgame dominated the box office, Scorsese struggled to get his upcoming film The Irishman made and was forced to have it released through Netflix. The blame for this has to go to the studios who will only bankroll films that they are confident which will be successful, not just in North America but throughout the world. Superhero films happen to be the flavor of the decade. Each decade has a very successful genre that captures the public attention. Last decade it was epic fantasy films like the Harry Potter films or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In the ’80s and ’90s it was action films, sci-fi epics, slasher flicks and disaster films. There was a time when the Western was the most popular genre, it is certain that many filmmakers back in the day grumbled about Westerns and how they couldn’t get their projects bankrolled. That is just the way it is. Sooner or later, some other genre will take center stage at the box office and there will still be complainers.

For us, we should ignore these critics, especially if they haven’t bothered to watch superhero films. As for them, maybe they should open their minds and genuinely give the films a chance. Either way, we know how great superhero films are and that should be enough.

José Soto

Look! Up In The Sky! Superman: The Movie Turns 40!

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the first big budget superhero movie of cinema, Superman: The Movie. It truly is one of the most influential films of all time and is still considered one of the best superhero films ever made. That is no small feat considering all the high-quality superhero films that have taken over Hollywood. But it was not always like this. Back in the day, superheroes were something to be mocked and considered strictly for children. So, superhero films were a rarity. That all changed in December 1978 when Warner Bros. released the large-scale, live-action adaptation of DC Comics’ Superman.

Sky High Expectation – Delivered!

When released in theaters in 1978- a year after Star Wars, Superman was a commercial and critical success. There are several reasons for this achievement, so, let’s go over them. Start with the perfect casting of Christopher Reeve, who many still regard as the perfect Superman. For audiences leaving the theaters back then, and rewatching at home decades later- we hear from so many of them who declare that Christopher Reeve IS Superman. No other actor at the time could have successfully portrayed the greatest superhero of all time.

When it comes to the big-budge superhero film, Reeve was the first one to be perfectly cast. These days, there are so many spot-on castings in superhero films, but he was the first. As a respected Julliard graduate, Reeve’s dual role of the nerdy Clark Kent and the heroic Superman was like opposite ends of the spectrum. It was and still is amazing to watch. As Clark, his intention was to be seen as a shy, bumbling pushover, always tipping his oversized glasses to the top of his nose. Certainly not the center of attention, he purposely puts himself into Lois Lane’s “friend” zone, an unwanted role for any guy (it’s worse than being banished to the Phantom Zone!). But Reeve’s Superman secretly enjoys teasing Lois to make her have to be close to the bumbling Clark. Reeve’s look were perfect for the superhero. When he took the role, Reeve underwent an intense bodybuilding regimen and it showed! Not only that, he had the face of Superman as seen in the comic: square jaw, leading man looks and a robust mane of hair fashioned with the distinct “S” curl. Even in today’s comics, most artists draw Superman with this curl. For fans, this completes the look.

The film boasted a star-studded cast whose talents complimented Christopher Reeve; notably Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder. Each actor set the template for how their alter egos were in live-action that in many cases have not been topped.

Then, there was the perfect directing by Richard Donner, who demonstrated a true understanding of the heroic, epic and sincere tone  for the film. Unlike many potential directors considered for the job, Donner respected the character and it showed on screen. He helped present a Superman that was true to his comic book image and made him someone anyone could look up to.

Let’s not forget the timeless score by John Williams. His soundtrack was so stirring and epic. It captured the essence of Superman to the point that 40 years later it is still considered the character’s theme. Hum a few bars of the theme and anyone can tell it’s the Superman theme. Sorry, Hans Zimmer.

Another person who helped elevate Superman: The Movie was costume designer Yvonne Blake, who made Superman’s costume look like it leapt straight out of the comics. Richard Donner asked Blake to make Superman’s costume true to the comics. She referenced the Bronze Age Superman from DC artists Curt Swan, Neal Adams and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. The costume was so accurate, it was impressive! The way the cape stemmed from an open collar in pleated folds; the oval yellow belt buckle, the “M” shaped top of the boots; the yellow S in the back of the cape, and the colors were just perfect. The other costumes were also cool to see- the white, glowing Kryptonian outfits, each with their own family crest symbol on the chests and the three Kryptonian villains dressed ominously in jet black.

When Superman: The Movie premiered a key concern among fans was over the special effects. It was vital that the film, as its tagline promised, made us “believe a man can fly”.  Superman’s flying effects had to deliver, and they did. Christopher Reeve’s aerial acrobatics were so fluid and natural that even though the effects are dated now, back then they sold the tagline. The Oscar-winning special effects utilized analog optical effects, and many techniques were invented for the movie itself and used in other productions thereafter.

The set designs by John Barry were just jaw dropping, including the otherworldly crystalline planet Krypton, a starship literally designed to look like a Art Deco depiction of a star and its rays; and the imposing and majestic Fortress of Solitude.

Continue reading

Marvel Wins The Movie War…For Now, Part One

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Sorry DC Comics fans, but with the runaway success of the recently released Guardians Of The Galaxy film and the announcement that the upcoming film Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice won’t directly compete with the third Captain America film, it’s pretty clear that Marvel Entertainment has won the Comic Book Movie War over its rival DC Entertainment.

DC’s Early Success

For years DC was at the apex of comic book-based films thanks to Superman then Batman dominating the box office. Marvel wasn’t even a contender; it was consigned to bargain-basement FFshlock efforts like Captain America, The Punisher and Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four, which wasn’t even released. It seemed like Marvel just couldn’t get its act together and was floundering with its attempts to put something out into theaters much less TV. Meanwhile, DC had solid hits with its flagship heroes and films that although were flawed, were generally well received.

supe lexDC’s advantage was that it was (and is still) owned by the studio giant Warner Bros., which had the deep pockets to finance the superhero films. This was why the Superman and Batman films looked so good. In their day, they had big budgets with big-name stars, directors and the best special effects and production people working hard to put out quality efforts. The best Marvel could muster was getting Dolph Lundgren to star as the Punisher.

Fans asked for years where were the big-budget adaptations of Marvel’s best heroes? While Batman tore through theaters where was Spider-Man? Well, Marvel was just a comic book company then that went through many owners who didn’t know a thing about expanding into other media, specifically film and TV. Then there was the legal mess over who had the rights to produce a Spider-Man movie that was only resolved a couple of years before Spider-Man. By that time, Marvel had gone through bankruptcy and in order to raise money sold their coveted properties to different film studios. That is why properties like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man aren’t made by Marvel Studios today.

Double-Sided Victory

Despite their overall success, DC still had some chinks in their movie armor. For every rousing Superman II or Batman there were undeniable stinkers like Superman III or Batman & Robin. Worse were truly abysmal films like Steel and The Return Of Swamp Thing that not only failed in the box office, but sullied the reputation of superhero films.

batmanDC Entertainment didn’t fully capitalize on the success of the Batman and Superman films. Yes, they did push forward TV adaptations of the Flash and Superman, but they should’ve concentrated on making quality films of their other properties. Instead they pooled all their efforts into Batman, which made sense since he’s their most popular superhero. But the problem with that approach is that when a Batman film falters it affects the rest of their line. And this is what happened with the release of Batman & Robin in 1997. That film strayed far from the winning dark and gothic formula that director Tim Burton used in the first two films and instead was a throwback to the campy 1960s TV shows. That silly approach used by director Joel Schumacher irked many fans who felt that Batman was a dark and serious hero and putting him in goofy situations was undignified. At the same time, DC was floundering with their attempts to reboot the Superman film franchise after the pitiful failure of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace back in the 1980s. A lull existed for DC superhero films that lasted from 1997 until 2004 when the DOA Catwoman was released. DC wouldn’t get back on its feet until the following year when Christopher Nolan’s reboot Batman Begins was unleashed.

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That film’s success did come with a price. Chiefly that Nolan’s unique and grounded Batman universe couldn’t have any ties to the rest of the DC universe. Hence no mentions of Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. Not even their home cities seemed to exist in Nolan’s dark and brooding world where costumed beings didn’t have true superpowers. As good as that was for the Batman films, it meant that DC couldn’t use them to introduce other heroes. That’s not to say they didn’t try expanding. There was almost a Justice League film made. George Miller was supposed to direct it and a cast was set, but the 2007-2008 writer’s strike ended that dream. Then everyone knows about Superman Returns and Green Lantern, two highly anticipated films that failed and left DC’s expansion efforts stillborn. Unfortunately, as these two films floundered Marvel Studios began its ascension.

The first few films based on Marvel properties were huge hits with the public and fans, some decried how they ignored fundamentals in core concepts. For instance, as Hugh Jackman became a big star for his portrayal of Wolverine, many complained that he was too tall and good looking. Others griped about why Spider-Man all of a sudden had organic webbing and never invented web-shooters. Then there were the misfires that were forgotten in the wake of the successes of Spider-Man 2 or X2: X-Men United. Those included Daredevil, Hulk and Ghost Rider. Continue reading

Top 12 Most Anticipated Films Of 2012

2012 promises to be an exceptional year when it comes to sci-fi, fantasy and horror film releases. These are the top twelve picks (being that it’s 2012 “gulp!”) plus some promising runner-ups. Let’s hope these films live up to the hype.

12. Rise of the Guardians

This animated holiday offering by DreamWorkshas a fun premise; mythical characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost join forces to save the world from the evil Boogeyman. Release Date: November 21.

11. Wrath of the Titans

A sequel to the surprisingly good Clash of the Titans remake. Just based on the trailer, expect more heroics, monsters, angry gods, and giant cyclops, oh my! Release Date: March 30.

10. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It’s astonishing but the placid trailer didn’t really capture the public’s eye except hardcore Tolkien fans. Lots of talking heads and makeup. But being this is Peter Jackson’s follow up to his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s sure to stand up to his previous Middle Earth saga. Release Date: December 14.

9. Chronicle

Another one of the found-footage films; this is about a trio of young men who acquire super powers. The fun they have soon gives way to dread as one of the friends lets the power get to his head. Release Date: February 3.

8. World War Z

This adaptation of Max Brooks’ zombie epic would’ve scored higher on the anticipation scale but the word that it will be a PG-13 film and changes from the novel brought about some caution. (The book is told from the point of view of many people across the world. This film seems to be more linear with Brad Pitt in the lead role.) Release Date: December 21.

7. The Cabin in the Woods

This Joss Whedon-produced film was finished a while ago but sat on the shelf until this year. Promising to turn on its ear the cliché of a remote cabin found by a some young people, the buzz surrounding this film has begun to percolate due to Whedon’s genre clout (i.e. Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly). Release Date: April 13.

6. John Carter

The trailers keep looking better and better, capturing the fantastic swashbuckling feel of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. Directed by Andrew Stanton (who won Oscars for Pixar’s masterpieces WALL-E and Finding Nemo) the film about a Civil War vet’s adventures on the planet Mars could continue the trend of notable animators making successful transitions into live-action filmmakers (see Brad Bird with his Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). Release Date: March 9.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man

It’s pretty obvious that Sony is cranking this too-soon reboot to hold on to the lucrative franchise but it looks very promising. Andrew Garfield has an eerie resemblance to Peter Parker, Spider-Man’s mechanical web shooters, the evident back to basics approach and Marc Webb’s distinct visual style makes this film one to keep an eye on. It could be this year’s version of X-Men: First Class. Release Date: July 3.

4. Gravity

Alonso Cuaron who directed the best sci-fi movie of the last decade (Children of Men) as well as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban helms this film about two astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) trapped onboard a damaged space station and their efforts to return to Earth. Release Date: November 21.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan concludes his acclaimed Batman trilogy with the Caped Crusader’s greatest struggle in a Gotham that has shunned him. Meanwhile Batman’s absence leads to the rise of one of his deadliest villains, Bane and sexiest, Catwoman. Given the runaway success of The Dark Knight, this film is certain to be a monster hit. BTW, Robin (supposedly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is rumored to make his debut in the film. Release Date: July 20.

2. The Avengers

Any fan boy’s (or girl’s) dream come true. Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk team up and portrayed by the actors originating the roles (except for the Hulk). Add in other characters like Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Nick Fury and that’s a recipe for a blockbuster. While not as dark and serious like The Dark Knight Rises (just wish Marvel Studios would stop with the too-loud rock music in their trailers!), this Joss Whedon super hero mash up could be the big one for the summer. Release Date: May 4.

And the most anticipated film to be released in 2012 is (insert drumroll sound effect)….

1. Prometheus

Ridley Scott returns to science fiction in a big way with this prequel to Alien. Actually while it takes place in the same universe the ugly xenomorphs are nowhere to be found in this film. Not much is known about the plot outside of hints that it deals with astronauts trying to learn humanity’s roots and encountering the alien space jockey’s race (that creature was seen as fossilized remains in the original Alien). Once the official trailer was released, the film’s buzz level reached fever pitch. Release Date: June 8.

Others To Look Out For:

Looper (a time- travel actioner with Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt); Men In Black III (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as Earth’s best illegal alien hunters with a time-traveling twist); The Hunger Games (based on Suzanne Collins’ novel about young people surviving deadly combat games in a brutal post-U.S.); Cloud Atlas (The Wachowski Brothers return with this centuries-spanning story with an all-star cast; significant segments of the film take place in the future); Battleship (big, splashy alien invasion tale with plenty of action, effects and military hardware, thankfully Michael Bay isn’t directing this one); Iron Sky (a zany premise involving Nazis escaping to the moon’s dark side and returning to Earth a few years from now); Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (hey if the trailer has the balls to show Ghost Rider peeing fire, then the film deserves to be checked out!), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (adapted from the best-selling novel); Brave (Pixar’s newest film about a heroic Scottish girl in ancient times);  Skyfall (the next James Bond film is directed by Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig returns as the grittiest Bond); and The Divide (Michael Biehn stars in this claustrophobic apocalyptic thriller).

Remember all release dates are subject to change and add in a few other films (notably Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli’s delayed Area 51 that could debut anytime) that were left off or without official 2012 release dates but may impact geekdom in a huge way.

José Soto

UPDATE: Both World War Z and Gravity have been pushed to 2013. With Gravity’s case, this was due to some reported mixed reactions to a test screening.