Recommendation: Spider-Man: into the Spider-Verse

If you get the chance then I highly recommend going to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

I can’t say I had high expectations for this when I first saw the trailers. My initial thoughts were that this would be a cynical cash grab by a studio desperate to wring out as much money from the IP before Marvel inevitably took back all the film rights. But after glowing reviews we decided to give it a look, and boy was it worth it.

Other than being an interesting and engaging take on the Spider-Man concept (pudgy, tired, over-the-hill, Spider-Man anyone?), this movie is simply a love letter to the comics. The look is amazing, even going as far as using that old fashions colour bleed outside of the lines.

The writing is fresh, the look beautiful, and the characters new and engaging. Sometime you wonder how there can be so many different versions of the same character without exhausting the audience. Then something like this comes out and reminds you of that unique attribute of certain iconic comic book characters that allows them to be reinvented over and over.

But if you’ve ever felt ill watching a 2D film, be warned. I don’t think the camera was still for more than a second for the entire film. It’s a swirl of colour and art. All of it’s beautiful, but the least descriptive word I can think of is “kinetic”.

I’m not angry, DC, I’m just disappointed

Last week I saw Suicide Squad. I went in with very low expectations, and the film met them. So, I’ve made a decision.

I’m officially giving up on the DC Cinematic Universe.

Making a film isn’t easy. Often I hear people wonder aloud about how bad films get made. The truth is that filmmaking is such a fragmented, compartmentalised process that it can be impossible to get a true image of the final product until it’s too late to change anything. There’s no formula that can be followed to guarantee success.

And while I may bitch about a film being terrible when I leave the cinema, I’m willing to forgive the filmmakers in the long run. They tried, and they didn’t quite succeed, but hopefully, they’ll at least have made enough money to carry on, and learn and do a better job next time. If they make a truly terrible film, then they should try something else. If they make an okay film, they should be given another chance. If they make a great film, then they will be given another chance. It’s an industry and – at least theoretically – a free market one.

What I can’t forgive, and what gets me remarkably angry, is rewarding mediocrity.

Which is what we have with the DC films.

This is the way this should work: you make a film. If it’s a success it gets greenlit for a sequel. If the sequel is a success, and the IP is suitable, the studio can make the decision to continue building until you have a franchise. You can plan for a franchise, but you can’t just decide you’re going to make one happen. Money follows success, and success – at least in a perfect world – follows quality.

But what we have with the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) is the studio deciding that as franchises make money, they will simply create one. And because they know they have a guaranteed audience, they don’t worry about quality.

(Yes, this isn’t a problem just with DC. It’s an issue pervading the industry as a whole at the moment, but DC is the most obvious culprit right now – and the particular subject of this post – so I’m using them as an example.)

The DCCU has so far given us three films; Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and now Suicide Squad, and each of these has been equally mediocre. None of them at bad. I came out of each of them thinking they were perfectly workable films, but nothing worth writing home about. But none of them deserved any kind of sequel or follow-up. If it hadn’t been for this guaranteed audience they would have each been a box-office flop and any plans for sequels would have been quietly swept under the rug.

Remember Superman Returns back in 2006? I didn’t think so. It was a decent but forgettable movie, and justly warranted no follow ups. Man of Steel was no better, yet all those involved will be a major part of the following franchise. The world is a different place than is was in 2006. We live in a world of IP franchises. Now that Marvel has the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the cinematic landscape, DC can’t afford not to emulate them because (a) it would damage their reputation, and (b) they’ll make money anyway.

I know about the guaranteed audience, because I’ve been part of it. I really wanted these films to be good. I wanted there to be a second MCU, and I was willing to forgive the lack of quality shown in the hope that the later ones would be better. I really wanted DC’s movies to be just as good as Marvel’s. But they’re not. In each case, I could see exactly what DC was aiming for, but in each case, they were widely off target.

And it rankles. It comes across that they don’t care about earning anything from us. If the next MCU film is rubbish, or even just mediocre, I’ll still go and see the next one, as they’ve earned enough trust from me to do I. I’ll have reason to believe that this misstep will be a one off. They started the MCU off slowly, allowing us to get to know each character one at a time. Now we have films crammed with characters, but we’ve got to know them well enough that they can do a lot with the small amount of screen time each gets.

DC don’t seem to care that they don’t have this. Even though I really want the upcoming Wonder Woman movie to be awesome, I no longer trust that it will be. It will do well at the box-office because it will be driven by that guaranteed audience who desperately want it to be something it won’t be. There’ll be the same sense of disappointment followed by DC shuffling their creative team around, doing some reshoots for whichever film is currently in production, and promising that the next one will solve all the problems we had with the last. And even if it isn’t – even if Wonder Woman turns out to be the greatest superhero movie of all time – this would be the anomaly. I still wouldn’t trust that the next one had as much chance of being that good.

I could go into detail as to my opinions on the reasons behind all of this – studio interference, pressure from Marvel’s success, oversaturation of the genre, overused characters – but there is already so much more of that online already I don’t see the need to do so. A quick Google search will throw up more than enough opinions for you.

I’ll just state my own personal decision: I have decided that I don’t want to waste my time anymore.

I’m giving up on the DCCU. I might want Wonder Woman to be the strong, empowering movie it has the potential to be. I might want to see more of Ben Affleck’s older, burnt out Batman. I might want to see these actors – now tied into multi-movie contracts – be able to do something interesting and exciting with their characters. But I don’t think that will happen.

Mediocrity isn’t a crime, but it shouldn’t be rewarded. DC haven’t earned the franchise they’re giving themselves. They’ve just decided they deserve it. Instead, I’m going to invest my time and money on something that I believe might actually impress me. Something that has my trust or something new or interesting that deserves a chance.

I don’t want to judge those of you who actually enjoyed the films, or who still wish to remain part of their audience. This is my own decision, not yours. I just hope I’ve explained my thoughts clearly enough that you at least take a moment to think about whether or not you want to carry on enabling DC to do such a poor job.

So, enjoy the films. I hope they get better. (Spoiler: they won’t).

Why I’m glad there hasn’t been a Black Widow movie… yet

Before I get down to the main topic of this post I want to make one thing clear. I am going to discuss a topic related to gender inequality in cinema. While I have read and reread it before posting in an attempt to ensure that I haven’t said anything that means something other than I think it does, that doesn’t mean I won’t say something inadvertently stupid or offensive.

So, just to be clear, I am in no way intending to defend Marvel Studios’ obvious issues with gender equality. There is a whole ream of blog posts to be written on Marvel’s failure to address the cultural hangover of their 1960’s heritage. The fact that it will be an entire decade over the MCU’s existence (1) before they release a movie with a solo female lead is ridiculous, and the state the merchandising is in would be funny if it wasn’t so depressingly sad.

So please forgive me if I inadvertently say anything that sounds like I am defending them on this. That is not my intention.

In the “geek” community there is currently a lot of anger surrounding the way woman are being depicted in comics. Both in written and cinematic form it is obvious that gender balance issues still exist. As I stated above, I’m not going to attempt to go into too much detail about this, because (a) I know more intelligent people than me are putting it a lot better than I would, and (b) I’d inevitably say something that means something other than what I meant.

What I want to discuss today revolves around one of the more prominent focus points of this argument; that fact that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe there has yet to be a female lead solo movie, and that the most prominent female character in the series, Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, has been repeatedly relegated to a supporting role

a5d12ecyo9lleypvfs8o

But here’s the thing. I’m glad she hasn’t had her own movie, because without one she has become the most interesting character in the MCU.

I personally believe that Black Widow has had – possibly inadvertently – the best character development in the entire series. One thing Marvel has done well with their secondary characters in the MCU – and yes, at this point I wouldn’t call her secondary, but let us for now assume “secondary” means that they haven’t had their own movie – is develop them across multiple movies. I have always been a fan of reoccurring background characters. The ones who aren’t part of the main plot but appear throughout a series. It gives a story a sense of continuity. A feel that the world carries on while the heroes are busy doing their thing (2). Part of the reason the MCU came together so well was characters like Natasha Romanov, Nick Fury, Phil Coulson (3), and Maria Hill brought everything together. It wasn’t just the ‘Big Three’: Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, each working with interchangeable, faceless extras. They were part of a world that existed independently from them.

And some secondary characters grow to be come more prominent. Not all, but Natasha was one that did, until she was one of the main characters in the first Avengers movie. And that slow development – spread out over time rather than dumped on us in one go – has allowed her a layer of mystery the others are lacking. The Big Three Avengers are clear cut characters. They may have layers and development, and the actors do a great job of making them three dimensional, but we always know who and what they are. There is no mystery to them. Romanov isn’t like that. She’s not a celebrity, soldier, or god. She’s a spy. An enigma. Her entire life has been about deception. Whatever the situation has needed, that’s who she has become. Her scenes with Bruce Banner in Age of Ultron were probably the first time the audience have seen her completely honest and bare. We’ve slowly learned snatches of her history, but no more than that.

Then there is the fact that she isn’t really a “super” hero. Rather than gaining her abilities through some accident of birth or genius, she will have spent a life time training to become who she is. She’s not a demigod. She doesn’t focus on her own problems and adventures over anything else. She’s not so powerful that it’s impossible for her not to be the centre of the world around her. She goes where she’s needed, doing what’s needed to do.

And that leads to the fact that she is one of only two Avengers with no powers (4). Damage or injury that the others would shake off without thinking would kill Romanov or Hawkeye. But she keeps up with them. She chooses to keep up with them. No one would think less of her for letting the actual “super” members of the team take them lead, and than follow to mop up after them. What sort of person is she that she doesn’t?

And for one last point – and I know some people will disagree with me on this – I feel it’s important to recognise that she’s never been anyone’s sidekick. In Iron Man 2 she turns up as a spy, completely showing up everyone who underestimate her because they couldn’t see past her appearance. In Captain American: Winter Soldier Steve Rogers only succeeds because she is there at times to take the lead. She’s doing her job, which involves working with the others. She’s not working for them.

Remember, Black Widow was originally a bad guy. Assuming that they are keeping that back story – and I think that’s a safe assumption from what we’ve seen – she was a killer for the KGB. An assassin. She has red in her ledger. She was offered a second chance, and now does what she does now in an attempt to make up for her past actions. She doesn’t believe that she deserves to ever get to quit and live happily ever after.

As I said earlier, Black Widow is the most interesting character in the entire MCU.

It boils down to this: unlike with the other characters, as an audience we have had have to fill in the gaps in her story ourselves. We’ve had to use our imaginations to build up a picture of who she is from the little we’ve seen. With each appearance we see a little more, and build up our own personal interpretation of her backstory. It’s that interaction with the character that make her who she is. If we had been given a solo movie too soon, I don’t know if this would have been handled so well.

But I do have to say that this doesn’t let Marvel off the hook. I argue that her slow buildup made her a better character. That having her own film would have ruined this. However this is (a) no excuse for not introducing another female lead, and (b) no longer the case.

I can understand how the MCU ‘Phase 1’ was focused on the three main – male – heroes. They were the tentpoles of the franchise. I can forgive them that. But there was no excuse for not bringing one in for ‘Phase 2’. There is no excuse for waiting until the end of ‘Phase 3’ before we get Captain Marvel, or indeed develop Black Widow into her own story.

And now the mystique is established, Black Widow could easily slip fully formed into her own movie. We now have enough of an idea of her that we want to see more, not because we want a female lead movie on principle, but because the character calls for it. In the correct hands, with a writer and director who understand who to handle the character and don’t simply try to shoehorn her into an cut and paste action adventure, it could be amazing. It needs to be a spy thriller. Captain America: Winter Soldier showed Marvel that their fans can enjoy an action move tinted with political intrigue. A Black Widow movie with just be one step further along that road. It needs to answer some questions while leaving more open. Think of how Wolverine’s story was left at the end of Xmen 2. We knew more than we did, but there was so many more questions left unanswered. The answers we had were satisfying, but the character was still left with some mystery (5). The moment they simply decide to spell her out, the character would be ruined.

Actually, I don’t want her to have a movie. I want her to have a series, a la Agent Carter. And it should be on Netflix so it can be dark and gritty. Marvel have shown that can get the perfect mix of dark and fun with Daredevil. She needs story and character development, not just a series of fights and explosions.

The fan base is ready for it. There's a story to be told.

The fan base is ready for it. There’s a story to be told.

So come on, Marvel. All the elements are there. Time to make up for your lack of care with your female characters. Make it up to up with something awesome.

1 I mean since Iron Man. I’m not counting to two original Hulk movies because, well, who does?

2 Wedge Antillies is the best character in the original Star Wars trilogy. Why does not one else see this? Come on, he survives both Death Star runs!

3 Who should have stayed dead. People disagree. They are wrong. There will possibly be a future post on this.

4 I’m counting super genius and a metal suit that turns you into a superman as a “power” here. Go with it.

5 Xmen: The Last Stand and Xmen Origins: Wolverine DID NOT HAPPEN! Why do people labour under this delusion?