Arrow Hits Its Mark

“My name is Oliver Queen. I was stranded on an island with only one goal, survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this I must become someone else. I must become something else.” — Oliver Queen’s opening intro to Arrow, first season

The long-running superhero TV series Arrow just aired its final episode “Fadeout” on the CW. As series finales go, “Fadeout” was surprisingly well put together and a fitting conclusion to Arrow. The series had its ups and downs during its eight-season run but generally was a solid superhero show that introduced a larger DC universe that was appropriately dubbed the Arrowverse.

When Arrow premiered on October 2012, there was some trepidation over it. Some saw it as a weak version of Batman, specifically the Christopher Nolan version because of its initial grounded feel. Others unfairly complained Arrow’s version of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow was not the one played by Justin Hartley in Smallville. Keep in mind, Smallville ended its run a year earlier and it was hoped then that some spinoff would be created from that show. Instead the character was reimagined by Arrow’s showrunners, Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim and Andrew Kreisberg.

The Hood

However, thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of actor Stephen Amell as the title hero and the shows’ supporting cast, Arrow quickly won over many viewers. Looking back, it made sense that the show had a grittier and less fantastical feel than standard superhero fare. Amell’s Green Arrow (first called “The Hood”) was an intense, no-nonsense hero who took no quarter. This enabled the showrunners to tell solid stories about crime and corruption in Oliver Queen’s Starling City and his quest to save his city.

Establishing A Universe

In many ways the sophomore season of Arrow was among its best with its ongoing story of Oliver Queen’s confrontation with Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, who was so well played by Manu Bennett. A distinctive feature of Arrow was its use of flashbacks in most episodes that interwove or were relevant with current storylines. The flashbacks during the show’s early days focused on Oliver’s adventures when he was marooned on the island Lian Yu. This structure paid off handsomely in the second season as we saw him first meeting and befriending Wilson on the island and how the two became bitter enemies. Meanwhile, the current storyline in the second season featured the return of Deathstroke and his machinations to destroy Queen and his city.

Naturally, as the show found its footing and gained in popularity, the DC universe was introduced. To Arrow’s credit this was done organically and not rushed. It started with blink-and-you-miss-them Easter eggs and the introduction of more superhuman-related plot devices like the strength-enhancing drug mirakuru or characters like Huntress, Deathstroke and later Barry Allen/The Flash. This introduction of the larger DC universe, as well as its driving plot lines helped propel the show’s popularity late into its first season and during its second.

While the show introduced viewers to the Flash (who was soon spun off into his own series), it also featured other distinctive DC Comics characters like Black Canary, Wild Dog, Ragman Batwoman, and Supergirl, who were often introduced in series crossover events or became important supporting characters.

One outstanding character was Queen’s confidante and best friend John Diggle (David Ramsey). Although Diggle was an original character, many speculated he was a stand-in for the Green Lantern, John Stewart. The showrunners teased fans with cloy Easter eggs throughout the show’s run such as the revelation that Diggle’s stepfather’s last name was Stewart. Finally, in the last few minutes of “Fadeout” it was shown that Diggle was on his way to becoming Green Lantern to the delight of many. However, do not expect more to be made of this. Even though Greg Berlanti is developing a Green Lantern series for the upcoming streaming app HBO Max, it is doubtful Ramsey will continue to play the role or that the show will be part of the Arrowverse. The best we can hope for is that Ramsey will reprise his role as Green Lantern in other Arrowverse shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow. Incidentally, John Diggle is slated to appear in an upcoming episode of The Flash this season, but he won’t be Green Lantern.

Diggle finds green lantern ring

Another notable character introduced in the show was Ray Palmer/The Atom, who was played by Brandon Routh. When Brandon Routh was first announced to portray Palmer, it seemed like stunt casting since he portrayed Superman in Superman Returns. This casting turned out to resurrect Routh’s career as he was promoted to the show lead in Legends of Tomorrow and excelled in his performance as the goofy scientist. As many know, Routh’s redemption came full circle when he reprised his role as Superman in the recent Crisis on Infinite Earths Arrowverse crossover event.

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The Fallout From Justice League

Come together

This was not how things were supposed to turn out for Warner Bros. and DC. Justice League, the culmination of the studio’s version of their own shared cinematic universe, is not getting the reception they were expecting. The film’s main selling point was the fact that it featured the long-awaited teamup of DC Comics’ greatest superheroes, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. However, its opening weekend take was only $94 million, the lowest for any film in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). It’s being ravaged by critics and it’s not drawing in the numbers it should be. Now, Justice League’s weak performance brings up a very important question, where does the DCEU go from here?

DCEU’s Uncertain Status

It is foolish to think plans for the DCEU will continue as if anything is wrong. Something has to change. Surely, Warner Bros. executives are taking a long, hard look at their superhero franchise and determining how viable it is. Expect announced films to be canceled, new personnel, and other radical changes to the DCEU, including a reboot.

The DCEU will not suddenly go away. Right now, Aquaman has finished filming and is slated for next year. Then a sequel for the successful Wonder Woman will certainly be made given Wonder Woman is the DCEU’s biggest hit. A Shazam film is also slated to begin filming next year to join the Wonder Woman sequel for release in 2019.

An Aquaman solo film…dig it

After that things get murky. There will be a Batman solo film directed by Matt Reeves, but that has been mired in controversy. Originally, Ben Affleck was to direct and star in The Batman, but the actor/director has had a falling out with Warner Bros. and first it was announced that he would only star in The Batman. That began the Internet rumblings that he would vacate the role, which is too bad since he is quite good as Batman. Adding fuel to the fire are Affleck’s recent statements suggesting that he is ready to move on from the role. At this point, it may be easier for DC and Warner Bros. to set the film apart from the DCEU.

Affleck’s swan song?

To date, there aren’t any solid plans to give Superman a sequel to Man of Steel and it’s unknown if it will ever happen. Henry Cavill, who portrays Superman, is contracted for one more film and it is possible that Warner Bros. and DC may just have him appear in someone else’s film before recasting the role. It is a shame because Cavill, like Affleck, has done an excellent job in portraying the superhero, but it is not the end of the world. As we saw with Spider-Man it is fairly easy to replace actors, though overall, it is regrettable that we may never see a full evolution of Superman into a beacon of hope as shown in the end of Justice League.

Other projects with uncertain fates include Batgirl, Gotham City Sirens, Green Lantern Corps, Cyborg and a Suicide Squad sequel. Given the problems Warner Bros. has had with its core superheroes it may be best to put those projects on hold so they can right their cinematic ship.

A Flashpoint To The Future

On a related note, a Flash solo film has been stuck in development hell for years as writers and directors join then leave the project. Most recently, the film is supposed to be an adaptation of the Flashpoint mini-series where the Flash time travels and resets the DC Universe. Using this storyline would give Warner Bros. a convenient way of rebooting the DCEU, but the story, with its alternate takes on characters and situations, sounds expensive and may go over the heads of casual viewers. It would be easier for the film studio to just do a hard reboot without any explanation. This has worked in the past for other franchises, and the one instance where time travel was used to reboot a franchise was Star Trek and it left fans with a bad taste.

Flash to the reboot/rescue?

One option for the studio is to repeat what happened with Wonder Woman. The solo film was set in the past and largely apart from the DCEU. Reportedly, the sequel will also take place in the past and this example could be a way to ease out of the DCEU. The same thing can be done with Aquaman and Shazam; remove references to the DCEU and focus on the characters. That is why Wonder Woman succeeded. Concentrate on solo films with little to no references to a larger universe and let the shared universe grow organically.

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And A Justice League For All

Justice League is the latest film for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise and I think it is one of the best. Once again, a DCEU film has for some bizarre reason received a divisive reception, but to me this film works on just about every level. The story continues from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and in a nutshell, shows Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) seeking out other meta-human super heroes: Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller), and Cyborg )Ray Fisher) to form a team capable of stopping an alien invasion led by supervillain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds).
The action and stunts in this movie are top notch and the story is relatively straightforward. Some would say too much so since it is a two-hour film as opposed to Batman v. Superman, which was two and a half hours long. I would have liked to have seen more world-building and perhaps another 10-15 minutes of runtime to do so, but Justice League still did not feel rushed to me. Another complaint I’ve heard is the CGI, especially with Superman’s missing facial hair due to actor Henry Cavill having a mustache during reshoots. There were maybe a few seconds where I noticed this, but it did not ruin any scenes and the rest of the effects in the movie were quite good. Everything from Cyborg’s armor to Steppenwolf’s parademons were all well done. The fight scenes were a thrill to watch and the history lesson shown early in the film that depicts a previous invasion was a special treat since it shows alien Green Lanterns for the first time in the DCEU, as well as massive armies of Atlanteans and Amazonian warriors facing off against the hordes of Apokalips. I do wish this scene was longer to set up the whole invasion storyline, but what we did see was great.
 
The acting was also a positive as the chemistry between the team members was a highlight. Ben Affleck continues his role as the definitive live-action Batman, Gal Gadot is just as good as she was in this summers big hit Wonder Woman, Ezra Miller(the Flash) provides hysterical comic relief as the youngest member of the team, Ray Fisher is effective as the troubled hero Cyborg and Jason Momoa gives fans a good preview of Aquaman, the next DCEU film in December 2018. The underwater battle sequence shown was a sight to behold and should be great to see for a whole film come next year. Finally, Henry Cavill returns as the iconic Superman. His resurrection is handled well and showcases his awesome powers as things don’t go quite the way Batman planned because Supes isn’t in a good mood when he does wakes up. His eventual return to battling the villains is a great moment and gives fans their first glimpse of the hopeful Superman in the DCEU they’ve been waiting for. I also enjoyed Steppenwolf’s portrayal by Ciaran Hinds. He was a powerful adversary for the League and his parademons were also scary looking henchmen. I did not see him as a weak villain, however I would have liked to have seen more of where he came from, the planet Apokalips, as well as his ruler Darkseid, who is only mentioned but not seen.
The tone of this film is lighter than Batman v Superman, and there is more banter between the heroes which is not surprising since Joss Whedon took over from Zack Snyder during reshoots. Most of the quips are amusing and they didn’t take away from the stakes the Justice League faced with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Batman is a changed character from the previous film since Superman’s sacrifice and death gave him a new outlook on what it means to be a hero. This propels him first to form the Justice League and then to bring Superman back to life when he realizes that the League are overmatched and need the Man of Steel to get them over the top against Steppenwolf and his legion of parademons. Wonder Woman is shown still dealing with the aftermath of losing Steve Trevor in her solo outing and even argues with Bruce about having to come to terms with your past. I liked seeing this character progression and it seems to bring the heroes full circle from where they started in previous films.
 
Aside from the minor quibbles of the shorter run time and mustaches, Justice League is a film that I definitely enjoyed. The ending sets up further adventures for our heroes and villains with a  post-credit scene (SPOILER ALERT!) showing a freed Lex Luthor wanting to create his own group of supervillains starting with Deathstroke. Whether this happens or not is unclear due to the mixed reception the film has gotten.
I would love to see another JL film, especially if it features the League battling a rival group of supervillains and having Green Lantern joining the team as the seventh member. New characters joining the league is hinted at in the end and this is something that should be explored in future films. Previous incarnations of the Justice League in both comic book and animated films, plus, characters like Martian Manhunter and Shazam, would be nice to see. In any case, even if this doesn’t happen, it was great to finally have a live-action Justice League film featuring these legendary characters. It was a pure joy seeing them joining together on the big screen for the first time, showing off their amazing powers, and saving the world. Any future team-up movies with them are something we all can look forward to.
C. S. Link

DCEU Woes & Growing Pains

justicv-league

We all just learned that The Flash, the big-screen version of the Scarlet Speedster, has gone back to a page one rewrite over at Warner Bros. OK, this is not good for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).

This latest mishap with Warner Bros/DC is now fermenting the common thought that the DCEU is veering out of control. To date, the film studio has released three films in the DCEU and all of them have received mixed reactions to outright hostility from fans and critics. Box office-wise, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad have done well, but they haven’t exactly taken the world by storm unlike their competitors Marvel Studios.

All three films weren’t complete turds, in fact, they have many admirable traits. IMHO Man of Steel is a misunderstood classic while Suicide Squad introduced us to many memorable anti-heroes like Harley Quinn and Deadshot. But to say that they have been controversial is an understatement.

Now comes rumors that this year’s Justice League and even Wonder Woman are considered to be unfixable messes. Sure, these could just be nasty rumblings from nervous executives, but it leads us to wonder if it’s time for Warner Bros. and DC to start panicking. Hell, they could all be quivering already for all we know.

The sad part is that these developments are truly shameful because it’s a disservice to the wonderful DC Comics characters and their fans. Many of them must be rightfully rankled that Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and even the Fox X-Men films are for the most part well received. These woes do not mean that DC’s superheroes are inferior to Marvel’s, it’s just that the films these days are being mismanaged. It’s frustrating because the potential is there for some exceptionally classic films.

justice-league-oneThis doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. At least with The Flash, Warner Bros./DC, at least, knew something must have been wrong with the script and instead of just plowing ahead, decided to start over. In the long run this could mean we’ll get a quality film, but don’t get your hopes up that The Flash will premiere in 2018. No, get your Flash fix from the excellent TV show that is still airing. Now, the problem is that too many people have felt burned with the uneven Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Then add to that the fear that Justice League may turn out badly and now all hopes are turning to Wonder Woman for being the film that knocks it out of the park for the DCEU. If neither film can deliver, then expect to see a radical shake up over at the film studio over how these films are made.

The obvious problem is that there are too many cooks in the the DCEU kitchen and no clear boss who can provide a strong hand in the films’ direction. Basically, Warner Bros. needs their version of Kevin Feige, the mastermind behind the MCU’s success. Sure they recently appointed Geoff Johns to run the DCEU, but it’s too early to tell if he will have a positive impact. What if he fails?The good news is that the film studio probably does have their own Feige and that person is Greg Berlanti, who is responsible for the success of DC’s television efforts. Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl are all successful, well-regarded TV shows that have a lot of energy and stay mostly faithful to the superheroes’ roots. Berlanti has skillfully interwoven a shared universe that isn’t clunky or convoluted and encourages viewers to sample all the shows. The DC shows are actually better than some of Marvel’s MCU TV shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because they are more lively and explore the full potential of their stories and characters.

Another thing to remember is that it is still early for the DCEU. There have only been three films and if memory serves us correctly at the same point with the MCU they had their share of growing pains. When there were only three films in the MCU, it wasn’t certain if the MCU could have succeeded. Those films happened to be Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2. Only the first Iron Man film was well received but all was forgiven with the later films. The same situation could happen with the DCEU, so patience is called for and better management at the studio. For instance, stop making all these announcements (like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson will play Black Adam) before the films are ready. Another thing is to slow down and stop trying to compete with the MCU. Marvel Studios carefully crafted their shared universe and the payoff was and continues to be huge. That is the lesson that Warner Bros. should take; slow and steady will yield higher rewards.

UPDATE:

The DCEU’s woes continue with the latest news that Ben Affleck is stepping down from directing the upcoming Batman solo film. This is especially disheartening because Affleck has the directing chops to elevate a superhero film. We’ll find out later what caused him to relinquish his directing task, but let’s be thankful that Affleck is still producing and starring in the next Batman film. Supposedly one of the short list directors that Warner Bros. Is considering is Matt Reeves. If Reeves or another talented director is tapped then all may not be lost for the Dark Knight in the DCEU.

Lewis T. Grove

Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

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10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

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6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

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4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

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10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

expanse cast

3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.