Review – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

bvsBack in 1986, as Superman star Christopher Reeve was prepping work on the ill-fated Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he approached the writer of Superman I and II, the late, great Tom Mankiewicz, for advice. Reeve pitched Mankiewicz on his idea for Superman to rid the world of nuclear weapons, a parallel to real-world social issues of the time. Mankiewicz replied with this advice:

Don’t ever get involved with something Superman could fix. He could disarm the world in fifteen minutes. He doesn’t have to go to the UN. If he feels that strongly about it, he could get rid of all the missiles. Superman could feed the world if he wanted to. He could establish agricultural fields in outer space. Don’t bring up things like that.

I would like to add an addendum to that. Don’t get Superman directly involved with real-world issues. Do not twist his mission of peace into a political struggle. Do not bog him down with the ugliness of reality, the superfluity of man’s government, or the problems of democracy, especially at the expense of his message of hope, of inspiring the best in humanity.

I write this, because my many concerns over the past few years with director Zack Snyder’s approach to Batman v Superman were finally realized last month. Not only has the filmmaker indulged in all the above missteps, he’s delivered the most vile, morally reprehensible depiction of Superman and DC Comics on film to date. The film is a brutal assault on our senses, on the spirituality and idealism of these characters, on our intelligence as moviegoers, and on the vitality of quality filmmaking in big-budget studio tentpoles. It’s not just a disappointment; it’s a resolute misstep for the future of the DC Universe on film.

The film centers on a middle-aged Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck getting first billing in a long history of big actors being billed before the guy playing Superman) who after witnessing Superman (Henry Cavill) and General Zod topple one of his company’s buildings at the end of Manbatman-v-superman of Steel two years ago, grows weary of such dangerous forces being left unchecked.  Rather than blaming the indulgences of the director in the previous film, we are to blame Superman for Metropolis’ destruction. Bruce’s fear is shared by a great deal of the public, who endlessly debate Superman’s heroics and the fact that he “answers to nobody.” Bruce returns to Gotham City plotting to neutralize, and kill if necessary, the Man of Steel, despite repeated claims by butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons) that “he is not our enemy.” “That son of a bitch brought the war to us!” replies Bruce. Blah blah post-9/11 themes.

Back in Metropolis, Clark Kent is living comfortably with fellow Daily Planet staffer Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I guess Lois knowing Clark’s secret identity from the get-go at the end of Man of Steel hasn’t yielded any interesting twists on their decades-long will they/won’t they relationship from the comics. Contrastingly, Superman has been entirely anti-social in public, saving the world yet not really interacting with it in any way beyond that for these two years. Meanwhile, wealthy philanthropist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) plots to acquire the recently-discovered Kryptonite to control Superman, by manipulating a senator (Holly Hunter) and indeed everyone else around him. Oh, and there’s also other DC characters like Wonder Woman (Gal Godot) lying in the wait for the eventual Justice League movie.

It’s an overflowing plot, but there are traces of intrigue. Chris Terrio of Argo fame uses the characters as players in a larger piece about terrorism, power, corruption, and security, the groundwork of an intriguing political thriller. It is critical of heroes like Batman and Superman, examining their failings and the real consequences of their actions. It’s also a huge deviation from the reverence Snyder and his Man of Steel team showed for the universe in that film. In part to blame is perhaps the director’s long-standing love of Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns; Snyder carts over that story’s older, world-wearier Batman, some talking-head-style political commentary, and perhaps intentionally or not, Miller’s own disdain for the Last Son of Krypton.

Indeed, Dawn of Justice continues the tradition of recent Superman media by placing the hero in no-win scenarios that go directly against the winning spirit the character has always been about. There is a scene wherein (avoiding spoilers) Superman enters a building and a bomb goes off, and Superman just watches somberly as everyone around him is vaporized. Uh, Zack? This is Superman. Not Doctor Manhattan.

That’s an issue I had with Man of Steel too, though to a lesser extent. The Superman mythology isn’t about “well, what if he were REAL? What if a humanoid that had all these powers came to earth?” I don’t care how the real world reacts to Superman’s presence. That’s not appealing to me. Superman is about fantasy, he’s an ESCAPE from the real world. He’s a guy flying around in a red cape who makes a difference in his community and inspires those Batman-V-Superman-Trailer-Fight-Heat-Visionaround him to pitch in themselves. Why is there debate about whether or not he’s doing the right thing? We KNOW he’s gonna do the right thing. He’s SUPERMAN. And yet here we are, watching Charlie Rose and Neil DeGrasse-Tyson (both make brief appearances) debate about a Superman that exists and whether or not his power should be checked. But this is a Superman that hasn’t even begun to build bridges with people publically, so he’s clearly failed in his mission. The Superman of the comics won people over with a smile and a wave as he flew above them. Pity Henry Cavill’s Superman isn’t allowed such joy, regulated to stand and mope idly about how people don’t understand him.

As for Ben Affleck’s Batman, he busies himself in these ridiculous, jarring dream sequences reflecting his fear of aliens from the sky. I had hope after one such sequence, wherein a bat-creature bursts from the tomb of Martha Wayne to attack him. It recalls the jump-scares of a horror movie, a cool new twist that might really transport audiences into Bruce’s tortured psyche. Yet the movie never goes anywhere with it, taking us into even more absurd (and immodestly-budgeted) nightmares, one of which is a full, unabashed teaser for the Justice League movie. Pity Affleck, who’s been suckered into this mess with the promise of redemption after the indignity of 2003’s Daredevil. The actor/filmmaker isn’t altogether unfitting in the cape and cowl, but is also far from the finest performer to fill it.

But I digress. After characters have waxed poetic enough, director Snyder yanks the film’s breaks and yells, “less talk, more EXPLOSIONS!” All political discussions or reflections on real-world politics (clumsy as they were) are gone, leaving all its ideas entirely unresolved, lost in Snyder’s blaring self-indulgence and Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer’s blatant, blaring, borderline parodical score. What of Scoot McNairy’s legless homeless guy? Why has Amy Adams’ role been all but reduced to damsel-in-distress? Shouldn’t Clark be getting in trouble every time Perry White (Lawrence Fishburne) passes by his empty desk? No answers here, we only have enough time left in the already bloated two-and-a-half hour runtime for the movie to live up to its namesake – the bout between Batman and Superman.

And…it sucks. Not only does Snyder fail to build up their conflict in any meaningful way, their fisticuffs aren’t satisfying, nor are they really even warranted in the context of the film. It’s seriously the weakest explanation for pitting these two characters against each other. And it was at this point in the movie, after suddenly becoming aware of the intense grimace on my face, I wondered, “aren’t I supposed to be having fun?”

Apparently not. There’s actually a really ugly undercurrent to Dawn of Justice, boasting such brutality, such bloodlust, such hyper-machismo bullshit that makes for the most uncomfortable, punishing experience. That’s not just during the title fight too, that’s the whole movie. Snyder and his cinematographer Larry Fong absolutely do not know when to stop with the hypermasculinity, when enough is enough, to the point where one starts to feel ashamed at being a man at all. It’s more than enough to build a case accusing Snyder, who also shoots the death of Bruce’s parents with all the slow motion and heavy breathing of a sex scene, of using DC Comics characters to work through his own crippling manhood issues.

The studio is even prepping an R-rated cut of this movie for home video release. That’s right, your favorite childhood comic book characters have been perverted into a movie that, without certain cuts, was deemed too violent and too intense by anyone under 17 years old. Wow.batman-v-superman-the-complete-guide-to-frank-miller-dark-knight

So inevitably, we know Batman and Superman are to resolve their differences at some point. And after all that thirst for blood, all that shoddy build-up, their altercation is capped off in the most mind-bogglingly stupid, overwhelmingly left-field conclusion, that literally any idea you, the audience, could come up with as to why these characters should stop fighting, will better qualify you to write this movie than the filmmakers being paid hundreds of thousands to do so.

And then they’re friends, as if nothing had happened, teaming up to destroy an even more laughably stupid threat. And if you thought this film would be answering for Man of Steel’s destructive climax, you’d be wrong, wrong, wrong. Batman v Superman doubles down on the needlessly high body count. In fact, in one scene Batman has the big baddie in a totally isolated area, but rather than returning to the city to bring the necessary tools to kill the baddie to him, he actually draws him BACK INTO THE POPULATED CITY to get HIM to the tools. Remember how Christopher Nolan’s Batman had that one rule about killing people? Apparently Zack Snyder doesn’t share that sentiment.

So we finally realize, Batman v Superman is a movie about uncomfortable extremes. Snyder has always been an overwrought mess of a filmmaker, favoring style over substance, but the responsibility of pitting together two beloved DC characters has done nothing to curb his sadist, ear-rapingly obnoxious hard-on for destruction. What the hell? Doesn’t this go against everything DC Comics characters have stood for the past 70 years? You bet. Both Batman and Superman are acting totally out of character here. Batman’s a crazy, single-minded bruiser who brands criminals and wants nothing short of Superman’s death, while Superman is totally willing to bend his own moral code if his family is threatened. In the comics, the two have had their quarrels, occasionally even violent ones, but they have never, ever been pushed to the point of foaming at the mouth, hungering for each other’s head on a spike like in this movie. Pity the children who have to witness such overt brutality by the hands of characters who should, ideally, be serving as their role models.

And again, pretty much all the problems posed by the movie would’ve been solved immediately had Superman simply TALKED OPENLY. A simple, “Bruce, we’re being played!” would’ve stopped the title fight altogether. And every single other problem of the movie could’ve been completely avoided had Superman simply stood up in front of the public after Man of Steel and been like, “Hey guys, my name’s Superman, I’m just here to help out with the problems you can’t solve yourselves and really just help everyone to do better. Sorry about that Zod character, he’s a bad guy on my home planet, and I was just trying to stop him. Next time we face a threat like this, I’ll do it in space or something so there’s not as many casualties. Again sorry, still new to the whole superhero thing. Anyway, up up and away and all that!” *woosh*

Boom. /conflict.

Even the other DC characters teased in this movie lack subtlety; they basically appear in mini-trailers for their upcoming solo movies. It’s a sad day when I’m longing for the more natural, thoughtful teases of Green Lantern.

I haven’t even mentioned Jesse Eisenberg, who gives the most abysmally misguided performance as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg, known for his mousy-yet-charming teenage characters in Adventureland and _1436830197Zombieland, is not only insanely miscast as the powerful billionaire, he’s clearly never even glimpsed a Superman comic long enough to know who this character is supposed to be. So he instead plays Luthor the only way he knows how – by going over-the-top awkward, hammy, and creepy, his hands shaking as he speaks about power at a charity event, stumbling over the girth of his words. There’s even a point at the end where he actually hums the notes of the musical score. It’s just uncomfortable, a lot like…well, Zack Snyder’s id – angry, unrestrained, bratty, unlikable, and sadistic.

And that’s pretty much Batman v Superman too, the Donald Trump of superhero movies – loud, blunt, ugly, stupid, fear-mongering, extremist, tasteless, and bearing several cringe-worthy teases of what’s to come. Zack Snyder was always the wrong architect for the DC Universe on film, merely a loud, annoying kid bashing his action figures together. I don’t think Tom Mankiewicz could’ve envisioned anything like it, but if he could see Dawn of Justice now, there is no doubt he’d be shaking his head, collecting his valuables, and leaving the theater. I’d be right behind him.

3.5/10

 

QUOTE: Rossen, Jake; Millar, Mark (2008-02-01). Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon (Cappella Books) (p. 164). Chicago Review Press. Kindle Edition.

IMAGES: cinemablend.com, mirror.co.uk, screenrant.com, cdn.idigitaltimes.com, i.ytimg.com

X-citing Changes: Highlights of Comic-Con 2015

ccdp“I’m touching myself tonight,” announces Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool in front of a packed Hall H crowd of over 6,000 people. The Con posits a reminder in front of panelists their audience may be under 18, but that didn’t stop anyone from blowing the roof off the hall with hard language, innuendo, and brutally violent imagery.

And it was beautiful.

It’s the people going against the grain that elevate Comic-Con from a mundane gathering of smelly nerds worshipping at the feet of a bunch of contractually obligated stars, themselves shoved out into the spotlight to recite canned answers to banal questions and collect their paycheck.

Yeah, I’m letting my bitter old fuck side show again, but I did quite enjoy what I saw of this years’ festivities online. And for my annual coverage I’ll be going against the grain myself, limiting myself to a single post recapping the whole of what I got out of the Con, rather than laboriously recounting panels you’ve likely already read about elsewhere. Lots to cover, little time.

Supergirl pilot screening

While San Diego glimpsed the official premiere of CBS’ new superhero series by “Arrow” and “Flash” showrunner Greg Berlanti, I treated myself to the leaked pilot from months prior. “Supergirl” centers on Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist), sent to Earth from the dying planet Krypton just after her cousin Kal-El. But Kara is caught in the Phantom Zone and delayed in her arrival on Earth by 24 years, long enough for baby Kal to have already grown up into the Man of Steel. After some time to grow up herself, Kara now works in National City as a lowly coffee-fetcher, but is slowly beginning to follow in her cousin’s footsteps by using her powers to help others.

“Supergirl” owes a great deal to Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman: the Movie in tone, musical cues, design, and occasionally, cliché. Where the new cinematic Superman in Man of Steel abandoned Clark Kent’s mousy Bringing Up Baby routine, now “Supergirl” picks it up in its stead. Your mileage on that may vary, thoughSupergirl_Promo_SG6F30H_587252_640x360 undisputedly, every player in the pilot gives a pretty solid performance handling the usual clunky pilot writing, complete with Kara doing “woman things” like picking out what to wear on a date with an online match.

In the funny books, Supergirl is an inherently silly Silver-Age spinoff of the Superman mythos. She does all the same things the Man of Steel can do, except she’s a woman. “Supergirl” makes a valiant effort to remove the character from Superman’s world, but comparisons are inevitable. Superman is sorely missed from this series, referred to only as “the big man” or glimpsed briefly as a silhouette in the sun.

I do wonder, with the whole of the internet demanding studios for more female superhero adaptations, would it not be more beneficial for Warners to have picked someone like Zatanna or Power Girl to lead a new series? As an original adaptation not tied to any other male heroes, is that not making an even greater statement, that women don’t need to live in the shadow of men?

Still, this about as good as a Supergirl pilot gets, so if it fails, time to call out the aforementioned rabble-rousers for not supporting the type of quality product they incessantly demand more of.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

mayclylksn2pjygltivcAfter a brief look at Ezra Miller as the Flash (an interesting but highly questionable casting choice) and the Green Lantern Corps reboot, the Batman v Superman panel had a brand new trailer to showcase, released officially online afterward.

A lot of what I wrote in my editorial on the first trailer still stands – it’s all very overwrought, with the Batman/Superman conflict painted as more of a political struggle containing underlying themes of security/taking-the-fight-to-them-type stuff (what snooty critics would tiredly label “post-9/11 subtext”). Substance is always good, but the dark, Christopher Nolan-esque seriousness of the whole thing feels gloomy when it should be thrilling. I miss the fun, winking charm of previous Superman films, the ones where he’s solving things rather than creating more problems. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – Batman is about having problems, Superman is about finding solutions.

We’ll see come March. This is a very important movie for the future of DC Comics on film, and I worry we’ll never again reach the heights of The Dark Knight or Superman: the Movie. Still, kudos to Warner for their filmmaker-driven approach, which should nonetheless deliver more satisfying adaptations than Marvel Studios.

Suicide Squad

Leaked from the con and later officially released by a comic-con-international-2015-warner-bros-presentationgrumbling Warner Bros, footage from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad has been rocking the internet, and for good reason – it looks far better than Zack Snyder’s dour team-up. Uniting some of DC’s more obscure villains to tackle impossible missions is great movie material not just because of its excellent source, but because it looks to be something bold and visionary, something DIFFERENT in the face of the same old superhero shtick Marvel continues to peddle. Even Jared Leto’s Joker looks quite solid, not that there was any doubt in my mind.

Here’s hoping for a movie that lives up to what Jon Ostrander accomplished with the comics. Provided director Ayer is channeling Fury and not Sabotage, I think he’ll do just fine.

Deadpool

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Before Bryan Singer provided an intriguing, if expected look at X-Men: Apocalypse, it was director Tim Miller, star Ryan Reynolds, and the cast of Deadpool that brought the thunder Saturday night. In a bit of leaked footage from the upcoming film, as Reynolds is being wheeled away on a stretcher on the promise of gaining superpowers, he cries out, “Please don’t make the suit green. Or animated!” I’ve since watched the leaked footage several times over.

Deadpool’s hilarious panel followed suit, providing some uproariously funny commentary about Miller’s occasional on-set crying, cracking jokes about bestiality, and more. The panel proved the sweet irreverence the Con desperately needed; everyone involved appeared genuinely proud of what they’ve accomplished with the film thus far. Vulture wrote it first and I agree wholeheartedly; if Deadpool is as funny and entertaining as it looks, it could prove the most vital superhero movie of 2016.

Honorable Mentions

I’m not a big fan, but Ash vs. Evil Dead looks like a fun return to an old fan-favorite franchise. The Hateful Eight should have an incredible soundtrack now that Ennio Morricone is onboard for the score, and I may just have to travel to catch it in 70 mm from how passionately Tarantino speaks of the format. The ever-funny Bill Murray proved a welcome addition to the Con family appearing for Open Road’s Rock the Kasbah, which if the trailer is any indication, looks to be a great showcase for the actor’s brand of dry, cool-as-fuck humor.bm

Jay Garrick will appear in the second season of The Flash played by Teddy Sears, a welcome addition to a series that I quite enjoyed overall this past fall. But can we all agree that Legends of Tomorrow looks like shit?

People continue to jizz themselves over The Force Awakens. I will say that all involved seem very genuine about making the best movie they can, but I’ve still seen nothing to convince me the film won’t be anything more than ordinary and unessential, not unlike this summer’s Jurassic World.

Victor Frankenstein’s panel featured stars James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe exchanging unintentional innuendo about their character’s sexual proclivities, proving an entertaining break from the norm. And M. Night Shyamalan stopped by to promote his return-to-form of sorts in The Visit. It’s a prime vehicle for the director’s comeback, but I can’t help but feel that prospect is more cosmetic than anything – the first trailer looks just as awkward a mix of creepy and unintentionally hilarious as The Happening. We’ll see come September.

Dishonorable Mention

Quick bone to pick with the rapidly-devolving Arrow, a show which has producer Greg Berlanti claiming that season four will finally feature the hero’s transition from Arrow to Green Arrow. But isn’t that what viewers were promised each summer preceding the last two seasons? Then there’s the eye-rolling decision to turn classic Justice Society character Mr. Terrific gay on the show. I think Stan Lee said it best, why fundamentally change who these characters are when you can just create new ones? Aside from that, I may delve into the specifics of what I hated so much about Season 3 of “Arrow,” but suffice to say, they’ll have one less viewer tuning in this fall.

Reflection

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We are in the midst of an evolving infrastructure at San Diego Comic-Con. People waiting in line for Hall H for days are now being treated to J.J. Abrams and Zack Snyder bringing them water, t-shirts, a surprise Batmobile appearance, and private invites to a John Williams concert.

And to big money-hungry studios bitching about your trailers leaking – fuck off. People are inevitably going to try to leak your footage, so instead of whining to news outlets about how your footage “wasn’t ready” for public consumption, either be ready to screen it, or don’t screen it at all. Leakage proves thousands of online viewers are interested in your product, and they shouldn’t be excluded just because they didn’t spend thousands to travel to San Diego.

When I started writing these Comic-Con posts, it was difficult to even find footage of the panels themselves. We’ve come a long way since then now that all of this years’ are readily available, however it’s time to take the next step. How about a paid VIP service giving online viewers a live streaming experience of the panels? There’s a huge online audience out there waiting and studios are too busy bitching to realize it.

Regardless, it takes a great panel to remind me why I follow this event in the first place and Deadpool’s was the one to do it. The film was not only the shake-up the convention needed, but that the movie industry will need as well; here’s hoping it delivers as positive an impact as it did in San Diego.

IMAGES: MetroUK, moviepilot, CBSstatic, Wall Street National, altpress, pagesix, flavorwire, nytimes

Fantastic Endings: San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (Wrap-Up)

cc4My most hectic blogging period of the year is over, and with little left to say of Sunday’s events, I’m once again using my last Comic-Con post to share my final thoughts and mention some missed opportunities fans lamented over the weekend.

Overall though, how were this year’s festivities? Can’t really say. I was far more detached from the Con, didn’t have time to truly immerse myself in it like I have in years’ past. Not to mention, I’ve been soured on a lot of the gross fanaticism surrounding the event in recent years. Learning from last year, I’ve taken to skipping the Marvel.com and DC official liveblogs for this reason. Maybe I’m just getting older and more jaded.

Among those conspicuously absent from the Con were Fox’s Fantastic Four reboot, already the subject of a great deal of fanboy animosity over its untraditionally youthful cast, among other things. There’s also the controversy over African-American Michael B. Jordan playing the Human Torch, normally a white character (I have much to say on that subject, but such is a topic for another day). Either way, Fox could’ve scored a huge coup winning over fans with an early panel this year. The Four are most most known in the comics for their regular interaction with the larger Marvel universe, even introducing several Marvel mainstays like Black Panther and Namor the Sub-Mariner in its pages. Without the rights to those characters, Fox will no doubt have an uphill battle convincing fans the team are compelling enough characters to go it alone.

Many were also disappointed J.J. Abrams and Star Wars Episode VII did not make an appearance, merely Disney and Lucasfilm’s new animated show Star Wars Rebels. I kind of expected it; VII is still a year-and-a-half off at least, plus Disney would probably rather save such a panel to bring people into its own D23 expo in August.

I suppose I should also comment on the lack of Shazam news, with no official confirmation that Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson will playing either Captain Marvel or Black Adam in a new movie. It’s not a project I’m particularly passionate about, but I suppose an expanding slate of DC films is worth getting excited about regardless. As long as the script has evolved to a place where it’s not a Superman: the Movie ripoff (*ahem*, William Goldman), this is one to watch for.

Finally, Marvel surprised many when news outlets attempting to pre-emotively ruin their surprise, did not actual reveal their surprise, that Joaquin Phoenix is being courted to star in Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange adaptation. I’m going back and forth on this one. There is an ethereal, out-there, otherworldly quality to Phoenix and the projects he chooses. He’s built quite the reputation for himself over the years, starring in several subtle, intense roles that make him an interesting pick for Strange. Yet he looks nothing like the character, whose rugged good looks are a defining aspect of his personality. The Strange of the comics has always struck me as more of a swashbuckler, a charmer with humility, an Errol Flynn with a mind to help people. Needless to say, Phoenix’s quirky, even mousy persona doesn’t quite fit that. Jean Dujardin, on the other hand…

As always, I’m wrapping up with Kevin Smith’s yearly talk. This year his Q&A is conspicuously absent from Youtube, limited to only his nonetheless entertaining account of visiting the set of Star Wars Episode VII:

I have some evolving thoughts on Episode VII which I’ll discuss in a future post as well.

That’s about all I have. As always, thanks so much for following and being patient. Hope you all enjoyed this year’s coverage, which I’m praying I’ll have more time for next year.

Multiverse of Possibility: San Diego Comic-Con 2014 (Day Two)

cc2Do you feel that? That is the itch of anticipation, dear readers. An itch that can only be quelled by tomorrow’s smorgasbord of panels, sure to be a true roller-coaster ride of commentary. Until then, we must settle for the kibble and bits we’ve been given during Friday’s panels.

 

Grant Morrison’s Multiversity

Bleeding Cool have posted a great recap of this panel, detailing writer Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, a 9-issue comic which took Morrison eight years to script. Every character in the DCU will make an appearance of some kind, in addition to a healthy dose of meta-ness – each subsequent issue will feature children reading the previous issue. Morrison’s got a huge ego and isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, but he is talented, and this is certainly one to look out for.

Marvel TV presents

Once again Marvel TV man Jeph Loeb was on hand to talk Marvel’s growing slate of TV adaptations. The first was Agent Carter, set to premiere in mid-season 2015, centering on Peggy Carter, the love interest from Captain America: The First Avenger. Yet despite the awesome prospect of bringing back Cap movie directors Joe Johnston and the Russo brothers to helm episodes of the series, there’s not a lot for me to be excited about here. As with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. last year, I’m wondering what exactly makes this rather minor character compelling enough to warrant her own series.

I suppose the idea makes sense from a business perspective. There is financial risk to be had in female-led comic book properties, and a low-budget TV show starring a pre-established character is, on paper, a great way for Marvel to test the waters for more female-centric projects. But wouldn’t a show based on a different, as-yet-unadapted Marvel comic prove more exciting? Or at the very least be set in a time period which allows for more connectivity with the rest of the Marvel universe? Jessica Jones, anyone? Not to mention, if Agent Carter is to pick up after First Avenger, imagine the number of feminist critiques one could level at a show very likely to feature its leading lady predominantly pining after her seemingly-dead male lover.

Then there is Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show which I shared similar skepticism over last year for the same reason that a show lacking in comic-based Marvel characters might not be able to prove its worth. I got about three episodes in upon its premiere last fall before growing fatigued. It’s very hard for me to get invested in these low-level black suits when I know there’s infinitely more thrilling characters like Iron Man and Cap living out their lives elsewhere. I will say the addition of Mockingbird to the cast should prove interesting…some interplay with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, perhaps?

Disappointingly, the panel did not feature any appearances or announcements from the currently-filming Netflix series Daredevil. Perhaps more disappointingly, the Marvel tool camp was out in full swing, desperately trying to make, “Hail Hydra” a thing, when I can say  wholeheartedly, unquestionably, irrevocably, and without fear of contradiction, it is, in fact, not.

 

20th Century Fox

Fox brought a whopping five films to Comic-Con, barely any of which actually fit the criteria for a CC appearance (Let’s Be Cops? Really?) Standout however was Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service, moderated appropriately enough by Mark Millar, and featuring stars Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson. The actors talked about the influence of spies in our culture, with Jackson commenting he always wanted to be one. He’ll be playing a character with a strange lisp and a baseball cap, and I can’t wait to see how that works out this October.

What I wanted most from the Fox panel was a special appearance from Ridley Scott to talk Exodus: Gods and Kings, the Prometheus sequel, The Martian, the Blade Runner sequel, that movie about football concussions, or any other number of projects he’s attached to. No such luck.

 

Arrow Q&A

The above trailer is a first look at Season 3 of what is apparently “CW’s most watched show two years in a row,” released during a panel featuring the writing team and cast. The crew teased new developments in the show to come over the next season, including Thea being taken to a far darker place, Oliver and Felicity starting to date, and Roy Harper becoming Arsenal. Which brings to light some of the criticisms I have with the show – why can’t Ollie and Felicity just be friends? Why does there always have to be some sort of sexual tension between unrelated male and female characters? The showrunners maintained that they’ll be looking “honestly,” at the characters’ feelings for each other, which they believe “have always been genuine.” Yet it’s abundantly clear comparing the two’s interactions between the first and second seasons that a relationship between them was not initially in the cards.

The panel also revealed there will be episodes flashing back to Felicity’s time at MIT, with one episode titled, “Oracle.” Pure speculation, but with last season’s “Birds of Prey” episode, coupled with the above trailer showing Felicity receiving some serious injuries…could Felicity be being groomed to stand in for Barbara Gordon as Oracle? For that matter, what of the persistent rumors that the team has cast an actor to play Nightwing and feature more Batman characters? Only time will tell…

Tune in tomorrow for a post I’ll be working overtime on. Until then, courtesy of Edgar Wright’s Twitter, here’s a quick taste of the controversy I’m hoping will erupt in full force at the Marvel Studios panel. Stay angry, folks…

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Script Review: Justice League Mortal

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Justice League Mortal is one of the more curious entries in the storied history of DC Comics adaptations that never were. Back in 2007, out of seemingly nowhere, Warner had greenlit a script written by Mr. and Mrs. Smith writers Michele and Kieran Mulroney for a live-action movie uniting all of DC’s premiere Leaguers – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman. Yet it would reportedly have no connection to Batman Begins, nor Superman Returns, and neither Christian Bale nor Brandon Routh would be joining the proceedings. In their place was a cast of young then-unknowns, people that looked more fitting for a CW drama about high school and dating and locker-side talks about whether or not I’m ready to lose my virginity than the premiere superhero team-up epic for 50 years and counting. Mad Max trilogy helmer George Miller was signed to direct, and production set to begin in Australia. A start date was set, WETA Digital was standing by to do the effects, and the actors had all familiarized themselves with their location and costumes. All that was left was to start shooting.

Then it all went away.

Just as abruptly as it had come, a myriad of complications – the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike, Warner’s Australian tax rebates expiring, a ballooning budget, and overwhelmingly negative reaction from fans – put the project on indefinite hold. Years later, the disenfranchised players would express their disappointment, among them Jay Baruchel, better known as the awkward kid from Knocked Up. Baruchel was set to play the villainous Maxwell Lord, which if you know anything about the character from the comics, illustrates exactly how insanely ill-fitting the casting was. “It would’ve been the coolest thing ever,” enthused Baruchel. “It would have been the neatest vision of Batman and the coolest vision of Superman you’ve ever seen. It would have been dark and fairly brutal and quite gory and just fucking epic.” More recently, on the press circuits for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, would-be Superman actor DJ Contra agreed, “It was a damn shame that we didn’t get to finish that. I promise you that it would have been amazing. It would have been incredible.”

Last year I wrote a scathing blog post about my disgust over the leaked details of the project, which was based on the Tower of Babel arc (see my Justice League Doom review for further details). After reading the script itself (which has since leaked online), I can say without fear of contradiction that it is easily the worst possible treatment I’ve ever seen these characters receive in any medium. There’s just one problem – months after I read the draft, I came across another incomplete draft of the screenplay which I can confirm as legitimate, and its story structure is far different and far removed from the abysmal, seeming fan-fiction senselessness of the first draft. Despite everything contained in this first draft matching up with everything we’ve learned about the production, could this draft be a fake? If it is, I would be very surprised that it took me as long as it did to find it and read it, but if it isn’t, I weep for the state of screenwriting in Hollywood today.

Either way, Mortal’s production hinged on the idea of rushing out a movie based on six different characters without actually bothering to properly introduce them first. Thankfully it seems WB have realized their mistake and are now taking time to introduce and build a cohesive universe for their characters. As for this forgotten relic of yesteryear, I took a long, beat-for-painful-beat look at this first, hopefully phony draft, which makes the likes of Batman & Robin look like The Dark Knight.

***

We open with the “S” on Superman’s chest, described as “black on black.” How that would even be visible is anyone’s guess. We see the heroes, Superman, the Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, and Green Lantern (no Batman), laying a fellow member of the Justice League to rest. Wonder Woman stands at the podium and delivers a eulogy. Cut to two days earlier, where Barry Allen and his girlfriend Iris are dining at a superhero-themed burger stand called Planet Krypton, Barry’s favorite. Their grumpy waiter approaches dressed like the Flash, introduces himself as such, and asks to take their orders. After taking Barry’s order, Barry quips, “And Flash…make it quick, will you?” following up with a burst of laughter. Hilarious.

Iris tells Barry her nephew Wally is coming in tonight, but Barry’s attention is glued to a nearby TV broadcasting news footage of Wonder Woman, whom he apparently has a thing for, and even says as much in front of Iris, because fuck being a good boyfriend. We are then violently yanked into space to glimpse Brother Eye, a satellite set up by Batman to spy on the other Leaguers and study their weaknesses. The script tells us at least three times during this sequence that Batman is acting paranoid. Perhaps if we were given some kind of, I don’t know, characterization, I might care one way or the other about the fact that Batman is acting paranoid. This is where the original Tower of Babel got into a fascinating freedom vs. security debate, but without any kind of character background, we can’t lend Batman any sympathy or understanding for his actions, because all we know is that he’s removed from humanity and, well…paranoid.

Paranoid

And not the good kind.

Batman changes out of his suit and heads upstairs to his “surprise” birthday party, which apparently he does a lot because the same damn thing happens in Batman Begins. Suddenly, without his knowledge Brother Eye automatically targets Denver policeman John Jones, alias Martian Manhunter, in a scene awkwardly intercut with the birthday party, where rich guy Maxwell Lord is making a big speech about how great it is to be rich. We cut back to John investigating when he finds some kind of murky black goo in a barrel, which attacks and sets him on fire. He reverts back to his Martian form, speeds away in his car, and promptly runs it into a wall. Okay.

Back at Planet Krypton, Iris is talking to Barry about the other members of the Justice League she’d like to fuck. The script reads, “Warm smiles between them, like you only see with two people who’ve been in love a long time.” Dear god, this exposition is terrible. Barry soon has to run to stop a fire nearby as the Flash; upon arriving at the scene, he creates a tornado with his arms to blow it out, but accidentally sucks another firefighter into the blaze. Nice going, fuckwad. Wonder Woman then enters to save the firefighter, leaving Flash completely in awe of her. “THE FLASH sticks out his hand like an idiot.” Well at least these writers are somewhat self-aware.

We see Martian Manhunter approaching from nearby, completely blackened by the fire. Flash, being the idiot he is, says, “Isn’t he supposed to be green?” before Manhunter catches aflame again. Acute observation, Flash. You’re exactly who I want to help me when I’m burning alive right in front of you. Speaking of terrible characterization, what exactly is Wonder Woman’s purpose here anyway? We’re given absolutely no idea of who she is, where she came from, what she’s fighting for, or any other real details about her other than she’s hot, wears a costume, and helps people sometimes. It’s as if the writers are just dangling action figures in our faces and expecting us to think nothing more than, “wow, Wonder Woman! COOL!”

Back at the birthday party, Bruce is now the one standing slack-jawed at the entrance of Talia Al Ghul, while Maxwell provides the exposition that Batman fought and won against “the Demon Head,” which I’m assuming is a tactless reference to the events of Begins. There’s also a brief “one year ago” flashback which shows Talia and Bats making out, before Bats dumps her altogether. Oh, and Maxwell’s nose starts bleeding, because apparently even the characters in this script can’t handle its complete disregard for logic. Where did Talia come from? How does she already have a history with Batman? Did she just randomly show up after Ra’s died and decided she wanted to fuck the man who let her father die? THIS SCRIPT IS HORRIBLE AT EXPLAINING THINGS.

We again cut back to Martian Manhunter and his Earth Band, where he explains that fire is his one great weakness. This is important, because it’s literally the only semblance of character depth we’re going to get from him. The writers have clearly done their homework, looking through Manhunter’s extensive character history on Wikipedia and scribbling down, “Manhunter, fire=bad.” Superman then enters and ponders with Diana over who could’ve done this. Flash wonders if there isn’t something going on between them, remembers the girlfriend he’s currently neglecting, and makes his exit.

Cut to Maxwell Lord in what I’m presuming to be his secret underground lair, where he’s…um…looking at a bunch of giant monitors with dead little boys on them. Feel free to insert your own necro/pedophilic jokes here. Back at their hours, Barry decides to raid Iris’ fridge and makes a mess by tearing the door off the fridge and emptying it. I’m not exactly sure how this character is supposed to be likable in any way. Iris tells him to go downstairs and see Wally, who’s just arrived. Barry does and sees a ping pong ball being hit back and forth across the table with no actual players visible. Barry quickly reaches out and grabs an arm, and we see it’s actually a 17-year-old Wally West. “Embarrassing,” Wally says, “You caught me playing with myself.” Eeww, when has a 17-year-old ever talked like that, much less to his Uncle? You know what, don’t answer that.

We then randomly cut to Superman flying and crashing into the Aegean Sea with the intent of recruiting Aquaman, before returning back to Barry and Wally’s conversation. What is it with these random cuts back and forth between unrelated scenes? Are the writers not satisfied with fucking up the script, they have to fuck things up for the editors as well? Suspecting nanotechnology to be the cause of Manhunter’s accident, Barry asks Wally to do some research into nanotechnology, because Wally is portrayed as one of those clichéd “good with computers” characters. Seriously, shouldn’t everyone under the age of 50 know their way around the fucking internet by now? For that matter, what is Barry Allen, a fucking police detective, doing leaving a top-secret attempted-murder investigation in the hands of a 17-year-old?

But Barry isn’t the only detective-turned-idiot out there trying to solve the mystery – back in the Batcave, Batman is hypothesizing that maybe, just maybe, someone might’ve hacked his Brother Eye system and used the satellite to compromise Manhunter. Cut to Maxwell and Talia, watching Batman ponder on a giant monitor and making evil comments while Talia hints that she’s not quite over the Caped Crusader. I’m wondering exactly where the tension is in all this, because in Tower of Babel we had no idea who or what was attacking the heroes, even hinting that it could’ve been Batman himself. In this script, we’re already told Maxwell and Talia hacked Batman’s system and are now systematically taking down the League. So why am I supposed to care about this story again?

But who cares about any of that deep stuff when we can have Maxwell initiate “phase one” and get an entirely pointless scene of Batman kicking the shit out of a motorcycle gang? “Damn, this was a brand new cape…” says Batman when the motorcycle gang shoots through his cape. I think I’m finally starting to realize what this script actually is. No character, thin veil of a plot, powers/skills used solely as effects sequences, random things happening out of nowhere with no explanation, and all the thoughtful craft of a twelve-year-old’s shameful fan fiction…this is Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. This is literally Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters.

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I’ve made a terrible mistake.

So Superman meets up with Aquaman, who bitches about Earth-dwellers treating his realms like a “toilet.” For some reason Aquaman has a hand made entirely out of water, which I’m not sure would really prove useful to him seeing as how he’s surrounded by water. Aquaman agrees to leave his kingdom and help, but only after confirming Wonder Woman is present. “For her…” he nods. Okay, so everyone’s just gonna be in love with Wonder Woman for no reason then? I mean, aside from the obvious?

Meanwhile, Batman is chasing one of the motorcycle gang members into a theater when he’s suddenly attacked by an OMAC, basically a giant blue robot with a single center eye (pictured below). The OMAC, operated remotely by Maxwell, tears off Batman’s mask and overpowers him. When the OMAC is about to kill him, Talia begs Maxwell to stop, so he…does. Wait, what? Apparently Maxwell was just proving how easy it was to take Batman down and reveal his identity, after which he leaves him completely alive as the OMAC departs. It’s also worth mentioning that the big public revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman has absolutely zero bearing on the rest of the story. Words fail me.

In another corner of Idiot Land, Aquaman is examining Manhunter while Flash babbles like a five-year-old. “You can call me the Scarlett Speedster. Some do,” to which Aquaman sighs at. I think the person who wrote this script has been permanently cut off from humanity or something, because WHO FUCKING TALKS LIKE THIS. Back at the Batcave, Batman is still trying to figure out how he and the other Leaguers were attacked. He tries searching his system for “OMAC.” The system won’t let him. Batman tries to reset the system. “Access denied.” Batman wonders what’s going on. “There is no fault in the system, creator. No fault in the system.” IT’S BEEN HACKED. THE SYSTEM HAS BEEN HACKED. HOW DOES FUCKING BATMAN NOT UNDERSTAND WHEN HIS GODDAMN COMPUTER GETS HACKED?!

Finally, somebody with a brainstem comes onto the system and transmits the message, “you don’t control it anymore.” You’d think that Batman would have some kind of backup self-destruct to his entire system, but judging by the above scene, I’m guessing this Batman isn’t exactly the kind of forward-thinking guy we once thought.

Cut to Green Lantern John Stewart, in his civilian identity toiling away at a small model of…er…Hal Jordan Memorial Park. So…Hal’s dead? When did this happen? Is it a throwaway reference? A hint at a past we’ve never seen and never will? Stewart uses his ring to create two green little kids swinging on the model swingset, and smiles. O-kay…

Back with the others, Flash childishly gushes over Aquaman’s water hand when a robot mosquito bites Aquaman just as he’s about to return to water. Cut back to Stewart, who bites his pencil and is overcome with the black stuff from before. I’m trying to imagine an actual spy satellite’s detailed files on the Justice League making a note of, “Green Lantern John Stewart – bites his pencils a lot. Possible weakness.” Meanwhile, Aquaman’s eyes grow big at the sight of water and he tosses away his water hand in fear – the nanobots have made him afraid of water. Flash comments helpfully, “Can’t be good for a fish…” and turns to the severed water hand and says, “Now that’s creepy.” The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Flash isn’t being written like a ten-year-old as many would suspect. He’s being written like how a terrible middle-aged writer would write a ten-year-old. Congratulations writers, you’ve failed on two different levels.

At the Batcave, Batman asks Alfred to bring him the backup computers as he watches all his superhero friends suffer. Great idea, don’t go outside and help them or anything. It’s not like you’re partly the cause of all this. Wait, is Batman even friends with the League in this script? Has he even met them before? Can they even be considered the JLA at all yet? Why does Batman leave Alfred to carry those heavy computers downstairs by himself? I just don’t know what to believe anymore.

The JLA, or whatever they are, each start running through their respective rogues galleries – Scarecrow, Parasite, Mr. Freeze, insert your favorites here –  for an entire page to figure out who might be responsible. Aquaman asks about “The Batman.” Flash says Batman won’t be a target because he’s a hero, but for some reason no one else in the League seems to think so. Back to Batman in the Batcave, where Batman makes the incredible deduction that the satellite is attacking their strengths. Uh, don’t you mean preying on their weaknesses? Batman finally resolves to help…by continuing to sit behind his compromised system and try to fix things. Okay, maybe the rest of the League has a point.

Superman decides to take them all to the Fortress of Solitude where they’ll be safe. Flash bubbles, “Oh, man…Fortress of freakin’ Solitude! I gotta tell Iris…” It’s like if Shia LeBouf, Jake Lloyd, Jar Jar Binks, and the kids from Jurassic Park all fused their worst qualities into the body of a beloved DC comics character.

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If you don’t want to physically punch this guy, then you’re probably reading something else.

But wait, it gets better….Flash pays a quick visit Wally (yeah good idea to head home to your loved ones when there’s a spy satellite tracking and preparing to compromise you), who’s researching at super-speed, before putting on his own homemade Flash costume. Barry says he doesn’t want Wally in the suit, I guess because it’s dangerous or something. Did this script even bother to explain why Wally has the same powers as Barry? Barry stops off in Iris’ bed and explains the situation to her, then they have sex. Or at least I think it’s sex. Flash starts to vibrate, and the script reads, “HE PASSES THROUGH IRIS’ BODY. She GASPS…feeling him inside her, all of her, inside her very molecules.”

Eeww. No one told me I’d be reading Fifty Shades of Scarlett.

After…whatever that was…we see the heroes get to the Fortress of Solitude, an ice cave which for some reason contains an exact replica of the Kent family farmhouse. “Wow. He’s…homesick,” says Flash. Which would make sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s FUCKING SUPERMAN. If he was truly “homesick,” he could literally just fly back home to Smallville, instead of building a creepy replica of his old farm to occupy all by himself. But hey, apparently things don’t have to make sense anymore.

Meanwhile, Batman’s researching the OMAC project and ponders its connection to the Brother Eye satellite. Hmm, yes, could it be that the someone who compromised him might be the very same someone who’s trying to compromise the other League members? How curious. The satellite starts targeting another hero, so Bats tells Alfred to “keep digging” and speeds away in the Batplane, presumably to finally help out the people being attacked. Hey guys, here’s a thought: start searching for the satellite, blow it out of the sky, then go beat the shit out of Maxwell Lord. Cool?

Oh, and I forgot to mention that Manhunter has been in some sort of “water cocoon” since his fire accident at the beginning, to keep him from catching aflame again. Because that’s what fans want to see…their favorite DC superheroes completely incapacitated the entire movie. Flash continues babbling about how “homey” the Fortress is and asking if there’s anything to eat, then gets the message that nobody’s really interested in his stupid bullshit. “No, keep talking, it helps, ” says a blinded Green Lantern. Helps what, speed up your death? Flash asks him about his ring, and Green Lantern talks about being chosen and using willpower and all that stuff that isn’t actually insightful into his character at all. “FLASH’s energy is infectious,” the script reads. Yes, just like herpes. Herpes-Flash, everybody.

Thankfully, Maxwell begins targeting Flash as Batman enters and fills everyone in, confessing the satellite is his system and his responsibility. The heroes realize that someone else is controlling his system. Then there’s this gem of an exchange between Superman and Batman:

“Who?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who is it? Who?!

“I don’t know!”

Hmm, do you think he knows who, Supes? Better ask him again. Then this:

“How do we turn it off?”

“I don’t know. I’ve tried.”

“Where is this thing?”

“I don’t know.”

“Tell us!”

“I don’t know!”

It’s a good thing this script is teaching me so much about how actual people communicate. Why, just the other day I decided to try putting its wisdom into practice:

“Hey honey, do we have any more Apple Jacks?”

“I don’t know. Look in the cabinet, dear.”

“Where are they? Where?!

“I don’t know! Check the cabinet!”

“Okay, which cabinet?”

“I don’t know, maybe the lower one?”

“TELL ME!!”

“I DON’T KNOW!!”

*slaps divorce papers on the table and leaves*

So Batman suggests it’d be safer if they all split up. Flash takes a call from Iris on his cell phone, and…um…nanobots enter his ear through the phone receiver. Because that’s how phones fucking work. The bots inside him make him vibrate so hard, he begins vibrating through the Earth altogether, bouncing back and forth between the planet’s poles. Wonder Woman catches him with her lasso, and they begin one of the most thrilling sequences ever conceived for a comic book movie…a surgical procedure! JUSTICE LEAGUE! WORLD’S FINEST HEROES! ACTION! ADVENTURE! E.R. DRAMA!

So Green Lantern, still blinded, uses his ring to envision surgical instruments, which are guided into Flash’s brain via Manhunter’s telepathy. Flash spouts cliches like, “This is gonna leave a mark!” and leave me praying that Lantern just outright lobotomizes him. It’s also worth mentioning that this is all taking place in the goddamn Kent family kitchen inside the house contained within the Fortress, which makes this whole thing seem even less dignified. The procedure works, Flash briefly talks like a retarded Looney Toons character while under Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth, and sadly ends up totally unharmed.

The heroes then go their separate ways – Superman flies into space to find and destroy the satellite he’s obsessed with finding out about, while the rest of the League sans Batman work on removing the rest of the nanobots inside them. In his Batplane, Batman contacts Alfred and asks him to try to access the Brother Eye system. Why it would somehow work now when it hasn’t this entire time is anyone’s guess, but…oh, no wait, it totally fucking works. Cool. Batman asks the system for the data it has on him, including weaknesses. “Just one word, sir…” says Alfred. Are you ready for this? Batman’s weakness is…

LOVE.

Fucking gag me.

Batman flashes back to all the women he’s bonked, including Silver St. Cloud, because anyone who hasn’t read a Batman comic totally knows who that fucking is. Batman realizes Talia is his weakness, flashing back to their fuck-session, which apparently he still had his suit on for. Kinky. The two share some rather uncomfortable bite-filled kisses, which is how Talia transferred the nanobots into Batman’s body and in turn his computer system. Back with the other idiots, the nanobots are surgically extracted from Manhunter and Aquaman, leaving only Green Lantern. How do they get the nanobots out of him? Why, only the most obvious, sensible way, by having him swallow Aquaman’s water hand and letting the water flush the nanobots out through his ears. I would say that I wish I were making this all up, but I would never wish to be that stupid.

Meanwhile, Flash, energy depleted from the surgery, takes Wonder Woman to Krypton Burger so he can load up on carbs and refuel his strength. He offers her food, but she refuses, to which he replies, “Guess that’s why you fit so nicely in that costume…” Wonder Woman says she doesn’t understand the need for males to objectify women. Then Wally West enters and does nothing but stare at her, effectively objectifying her. Wow. Good thing Wonder Woman hasn’t been an inspiration to millions of women for nearly 70 years, or a continuing symbol of female empowerment or anything. Nope. She’s a lasso and a pair of tits. That Michael Bay Transformers comparison is looking more and more on the money.

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Objectification of women, check!

Batman finds Talia and sees she’s operating Brother Eye. He suspects she isn’t working alone. Whatever gave you that idea, Batman? Back at Krypton Burger, Wally says he discovered the OMAC project was designed to raise infants to work as one with these special machine suits, but they all died in the process. So go ahead and add child slaughter to the list of abominable things this script purports as storytelling. Then we reveal what we knew all along. The guy behind everything is…gasp, MAXWELL LORD! HE’S AN OMAC! You mean to tell me the villain of the script is also…the villain of the script?! Shock and awe! So Maxwell turns all the people from Bruce Wayne’s party at the beginning into OMACs. No please, not the faceless socialites neither Bruce nor we the audience care anything for! So this new OMAC army starts beating the shit out of Batman, but Talia somehow convinces Lord to stop…again. Lord monologues about how evil he is and how the League are gods, but “imperfect gods.” Riveting. Back with the League, Manhunter detects Batman is in distress and they all fly off to help him.

The last act of the script is pretty much just the shit hitting the fan. OMACs begin attacking, and the heroes all burst into Lord’s lair and try to fight them off. Lois Lane is apparently killed off-screen, and Lord briefly takes control of Superman’s mind to make him think that Wonder Woman was responsible. I’d complain, but at this point I’m so completely indifferent, I just want to power through the rest of this fuck-up with my sanity intact. So Wondie and Supes fight for a while, and at one point they fight on the moon. The only way I could ever possibly be emotionally invested in this entirely insipid conflict is if I had a controller in front of me.

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The only Injustice is this script.

So then Aquaman fights Superman, and then Green Lantern creates a green copy of Superman to fight Superman. Wonder Woman lassos Lord and asks him how to turn it all off. Lord says, “You want to know the truth? The truth is you weren’t there. None of you. Not one of you was there. They were children! And they were dying! And you weren’t there!” Well yeah, no shit they weren’t there, how were they supposed to know the whole OMAC thing was going on? Really, given how young the actors for this piece of shit were going to be, would any of them have even been born at the time these kids were dying?

Lord reveals the only way to stop everything is to kill him, but he knows they won’t do it because they all took an oath not to kill or something. Proving…what exactly? By killing Lord and shutting down all the OMACs, you’re saving millions of civilian lives. If that’s the only way, then there’s really no ethical debate here in killing him. Manhunter tries morphing into Lara-El to calm Superman down, but it doesn’t work. Wonder Woman refuses to kill Lord, and Lord continues asking “Where were you?” to which Batman replies, “Right here,” and snaps his neck. You’d think the script would take a page from when Wonder Woman herself did the same thing to Lord in Infinite Crisis, but no, shock value over logic. Zero fucks given.

Superman lands, cured, and says Batman killing Lord makes him no better than him. Uh, no…idiotic execution aside, just because Batman made the tough call to kill one and save millions, including you, does not automatically make him as bad as a mass murderer. I can see people drawing comparisons between this and the ending of Man of Steel, but let’s be honest, that film properly built up to that climax. Mortal uses it as a gimmick.

So somehow Talia and Lord and…an OMAC, I guess…all transform into an amalgamation of each other. Things transforming, check! Then the whole world’s population turns into OMACs because Lord put nanobots in the food or something. I guess this whole thing is supposed to be from the OMAC Project storyline tying into Infinite Crisis, but I have to imagine the explanation they came up with for people turning into OMACs was better than, “it’s in the food!”

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Sense. This script makes none.

So being a machine is too much for Talia and she promptly dies in Batman’s arms. Wally West shows up in his makeshift Flash costume to help, but Barry protests again, because the script desperately wants him to be this great father figure without actually putting forth the effort to write him that way. But Barry quickly starts turning into an OMAC himself because of all the Krypton Burgers he ate from before. Which makes the whole “eliminate the heroes via their weaknesses” plot entirely pointless if Lord could’ve just turned them all into OMACs anyway. Thankfully, only 13 pages remain.

Superman starts fighting the Flash OMAC and discovers it can regenerate body parts. Flash is apparently the host OMAC, so he begins vibrating so fast that he bursts free of the OMAC and enters the Speed Force, where time stands still. He goes to visit a frozen Iris for the last time, then runs around the world carrying a mass of OMACs with him in his wake. Wally runs alongside and asks what he’s doing. Barry says, “Tag, you’re it…” hits lightspeed, and destroys them all in a burst of energy. It’s perhaps the only partly redeeming moment in the script, but at this point it’s like finding a silver dollar in a steaming pile of dinosaur feces.

Flash’s costume falls from the sky, just like in Crisis on Infinite Earths. Cut to the funeral from the beginning, where we now see that it’s Barry being laid to rest. Wally West takes up being the Flash, and the heroes agree to officially form the Justice League after convincing a hesitant Batman. Then Superman’s conveniently-placed alien detector detects a weird, starfish-shaped alien creature heading for Earth. GET IT STARRO CUZ HE WAS THE FIRST JUSTICE LEAGUE VILLAIN AND WE HAVE TO MENTION HIM. The heroes jump into action, and the nightmare finally ends.

***

This is without a doubt the single most sour, poorly-written, unpleasant piece of fiction I have ever had the displeasure of reading in full. It’s practically unfathomable, how massive a kick in the groin this script is to  these characters. If there is actually some executive that approved such a ghastly script as a workable template for a film that was mere weeks away from shooting, I fear not only for the state of blockbuster movies, but humanity itself.

Despite most of the traps being taken straight from Tower of Babel, this script executes them without half the thought or urgency, squandering a great setup in favor of a lifeless effects show. Only a fraction of the obligatory team-building dynamic is present, and with no drama, no character, no explanation for anything that happens, and really no purpose for being at all, it’s simply one big clusterfuck that amounts to little more than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. Check that, it is far worse than Michael Bay’s Transformers with DC characters. It’s just chaos. Shit blowing up. And some people with powers in costumes. It’s no wonder the details of this draft soured me on not merely Justice League as a viable film property, but Justice League in general. It is a pure hellish chore to read through and a shameful, shameful piece of filth.

Luckily the legitimate, incomplete draft I acquired resembles nothing out of this draft, and does in fact use its opening 14 pages to establish each character in his or her respective universe before bringing them together to fight a common enemy. It’s actually pretty well-written, detailing who these heroes are and what they’re fighting for. But the ultimate question, regardless of the former draft’s legitimacy, is this: why, instead of establishing each of the heroes in solo films, would Warner choose to blow its collective load early and give us the team-up first? Why risk tarnishing the names of several heroes in one bad culmination, when the company can reap less risk and greater reward by building them up individually? In the end, it seems Warner agreed, and we can thank heavenly Christ they did.

Script Review: Lobo by Jerrold E. Brown

lobo123UPDATE: Revised introduction/history section. Thanks to Angel Dean Lopez for clarifying my errors, and for being such a good sport!

The 90s were a particularly strange time in comics. A time of violent anti-heroes and jagged, spiked, Rob Liefeld-illustrated pencils. Lobo, created by Keith Giffen and Roger Slifer, was one such colorfully violent character, a charming, frag-the-world kind of guy, the perfect cult icon of the decade. Giffen says he designed the character as a critique of violent, law-bending characters like Wolverine and the Punisher. “And somehow,” Giffen says, “he caught on as the high-violence poster boy. Go figure.”

With this inexplicable catching-on spurred the film division of parent company Warner Brothers and writer/producer Angel Dean Lopez to quietly express interest in developing Lobo for the big screen, backed by legendary Lethal Weapon producer Joel Silver, and later not-so-legendary producer/writer of pretty much every terrible DC Comics adaptation, Akiva Goldsman. Two drafts of the script were written by Lopez himself before he departed the project, leaving writer Jerrold E. Brown to step in and pen a new draft, which was presumably shelved following the failure of Batman & Robin.

In the months that followed, WB approached Giffen himself to write a Superman vs. Lobo movie, which was passed on after the writer submitted his treatment. “They don’t know what to do with it,” Giffen commented in the pages of Superman vs. Hollywood. “Believe me, I’ve read some of the scripts and oh, my god, they’re horrifying.” Only in 2009 did buzz finally begin to pick up again, when Warner officially announced development on a Lobo film. Brown’s script was unshelved, dusted off, and rewritten by Don Payne, a draft which changed hands over the next three years from directors Guy Ritchie (Snatch) to Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), the latter of whom rewrote with a mind for Dwayne The Rock Johnson to star, a not altogether terrible choice.

What didn’t change, and what WAS altogether terrible was each subsequent draft. Seemingly nobody could make compelling the dull, cookie-cutter template of Lobo coming to Earth, meeting a young girl, and fighting off a band of alien criminals all on Earth in a decidedly neutered PG-13 context. Not only did the fish-out-of-water concept feel as dated as its protagonist, but by 2009, the overly-safe approach to such a C-list character simply stuck out like a sore thumb in a world where big, bold, creative godsends like The Dark Knight and Iron Man existed. The game had changed, and Lobo was too rooted in yesteryear to be salvaged.

In years since, the separation of producer Silver and WB, as well as recent comments from Johnson, it seems a Lobo film has all but completely faded away. Few fragments of the production remain, but script collectors know well this lone leaked draft, the second of Jerrold E. Brown’s, dated May 13th, 1998. And “horrifying” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Brown’s script opens with an alien prison carrier slowly floating through space, somehow labeled as “TRANTOR MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON” in perfect English. As we cut to the inside, Brown writes, “The technology is impressive, but prison is prison. It’s dark and dismal, just like prison should be.” Way to paint a picture, Brown. Is it also filled with prisoners like a prison? Maybe there are armed guards walking around like in a prison? I’d like to see how Brown fares writing poetry.

“Um, there’s a field of flowers. They’re…uh…beautiful, like flowers should be.”

We meet prisoner Armand Throke, a supercriminal quietly building a makeshift gun in his cell. A guard robot approaches to confirm that he has information on a planned prison escape. Throke tells the robot warden he’s the one who plans to escape, and does so by shooting the gun he made at the robot, for some reason described in heavy detail followed by “(Got that? Good).” One by one, we are then introduced to our supporting antagonists, all aliens with different sets of powers, including one made completely of water/ice. I’m getting a strong Ghost Rider vibe from this, which can’t be a good sign. So the criminals ditch the prison ship into a nearby sun and make their escape.

MEANWHILE AT THE HALL OF JUSTICE (no, really)…

INT. IMPERIAL HALL OF JUSTICE – CORRIDOR

An alien named Cardoon and another drone determine that the escapees will be heading for Earth to steal a Drell, a dangerous and powerful weapon hidden on the planet 3,000 years ago. This sequence lulled me into a false sense of security, because I was imagining a largely alien world with some cool, Rick Baker-designed, Men in Black-esque effects for the aliens. The robot magistrate wants to destroy Earth altogether to prevent the criminals from getting ahold of the Drell, but after Cardoon pleads them not to, the two parties eventually agree to release the captive Lobo, a bounty hunter, whom they will hire to capture the escapees on Earth within 24 hours, or else Earth will be destroyed. It’s here that it seems as though the script is starting to really pick up, when in fact it is exactly the opposite.

We cut to…oh god.

INT. SOUND STAGE – THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW – DAY

No.

Where a crowd is going wild for that scrape-the-bottom-andgive-
everybody-a-taste showman of showmen, JERRY SPRINGER.
He waves to his loyal market share.

Goddamnit.

*Sigh* So…fucking Jerry Springer is interviewing Emily Urgess, a 30-year-old who believes she’s the ambassador for all alien life on Earth and is currently putting out a new book based on her…theories. If this is to be our female lead, it’s an absolutely terrible way of establishing her, because we don’t know what to think about her. Is she crazy? Attention-whorish? A liar? The female equivalent of Randy Quaid in Independence Day? For that matter, would anyone, even a crazy person (so…Randy Quaid) really consider the Springer show to be the best outlet for what they’re trying to pass off as serious information? That’s all aside from the fact that this script sticks Jerry Springer in a damn comic book movie, an obvious and idiotic pandering to the mainstream. Next.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, we watch as a legion of troops blow open a heavily barred cell containing Lobo, described exactly as he looks in the comics, cigar-smoking and all. After a mildly amusing exchange with Cardoon, Lobo agrees to the terms outlined above as long as his bounty hunting license is restored and his bike returned. “Anything else?” asks Cardoon. “Nope,” replies Lobo. I liked this bit, even if it did yet again fool me into thinking this script might have some merit to it.

We cut back to Emily speeding down the road on the phone with her agent. Do all people appearing on the Springer show have agents? He tells her her publishers want to meet with her to exchange notes, and describes her as, “on a roll.” Yes, because everyone knows that an appearance on Springer means you’re “on a roll” and someone to be taken seriously. How exactly is she being taken seriously again? Then again, how are the Kardashians, or the cast of Jersey Shore? But I digress. Emily doesn’t want the publishers to compromise her material, but the threat of going back to writing about fires and dogs or something jars her out of it. “Baby wants a new Porche” she says. Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen.

This brings us to the first big problem with this script – the Earth scenes suck. It’s just too jarring a contrast to the comic-y alien world of the comics, which doesn’t see a lot of screentime for what are clearly budgetary concerns. Remember how Green Lantern featured Van Wilder in space for all of ten minutes? Good to know some things don’t change.

Lobo and Cardoon argue over who Lobo gets to kill, ending with Lobo blasting off towards Earth on his bike. Then we get this diddy:

Lobo doesn’t wear any kind of space suit, so he
should freeze, suffocate and his head should explode. But
none of these things happens. Even his cigar doesn’t go out.

Thanks for the science lesson, Dr. Dipshit. It’s a fucking comic book. If Lobo can survive travelling through space without a suit, then just show that and move on. Drawing attention to it is just gonna make executives scratch their heads even more. How about instead just, “Lobo blasts off towards Earth on a flying motorcycle with no space suit, because that’s just how Lobo rolls.”

Emily meets with the executives and refuses to take their notes. The executives tell her, quite rightly, that she’s a fake and her books are garbage, “spoon-fed crap” put out there just to make money. Oh, sweet, sweet irony. She replies that her book is supposed to be serious, and that she doesn’t want to, “appeal to the lowest common denominator.” Yes, this lying, cheating con artist who claims aliens are real just wants to be taken seriously!

Armand Assante and the alien escapees reach Earth and immediately kill an innocent hobo by ripping out his brain, because apparently Armand can, “alter his molecular density at will.” The scene plays like a more cartoony version of, “So this is Planet Hooston!”, which I honestly didn’t think was possible until now. One of the aliens, named Volarian, uses her power and sucks the life force out of one of the cops that drive up to the scene. The rest of the cops open fire, and Calysto, the water/ice alien, drowns one of them by engulfing him in water. The rest of the police get similarly destroyed. Nearby, Emily watches in horror as all this unfolds, and after being discovered by the aliens, gets thrown and knocked out against a brick wall.

The clichés continue when Lobo touches down and rides through the streets on his bike. The cops, apparently unaware that several of their units just got annihilated by aliens across town, give chase. They pull up alongside Lobo and yell at him to pull over, to which Lobo responds by casually jamming his hand through the hood of their car and yanking out the engine before speeding away. This might be an amusing scene if the dialogue didn’t completely ruin it. It’s the kind of audience-winking dialogue you’d expect from such a scene, where both cops look at each other incredulously, mouths agape. Brown might as well have typed, “LOOK HOW ABSURD THIS ALL IS!! HAW HAW HAW!!”

Emily wakes up and finds Lobo surveying the scene. After retrieving Armand’s discarded neck collar, Lobo interrogates her and she says she doesn’t know anything. She asks, “Who are you people?” Lobo tips his sunglasses to reveal his glowing red eyes and replies, “We’re aliens.” Uh, wouldn’t only people from Earth actually call them that? To Lobo, wouldn’t Emily and the rest of humanity be the aliens? For that matter, how the hell is Lobo speaking English?

So Emily is discovered by the cops and taken into an interrogation room. The cops don’t believe Emily’s story because of, you know, her being a pathological liar and all. Emily is locked away in a cell. I really, really hope she stays there for the duration of the script. Meanwhile, Lobo visits a bar and, when he doesn’t have Earth cash to pay for his drinks with, the bartender points the barrel of a .45 at him, which Lobo promptly takes a bite out of. It’s moments like this that illustrate just how jarring this Earth setting really is. This script is essentially treating Lobo like a Looney Toons character in the real world, a contrast which doesn’t even work for the Looney Toons characters themselves.

Oh, how I hate thee.

Anyway, Lobo overhears on TV that Emily, the “ambassador for aliens,” is being held at the prison and, thinking she’s the Earth-authority he’s meant to contact, goes to see her. Specifically, he breaks her out of jail nonchalantly, to the tune of several misspellings of “your” with “you’re.” Emily says she doesn’t want to ride on his motorcycle because they have a “high mortality rate.” Yes, the motorcycle is the least of your problems lady. Oh, and while being carried out of prison by Lobo, she comes out and admits she’s a liar. So, even less sympathy for her than if she was just batshit crazy. And now on top of that, she’s a prude when it comes to motorcycles. Why, the waiting line to audition for this role must’ve stretched well around the block! Haha, just kidding. There’s no way this piece of shit would ever even get near the casting stage.

So while the alien fugitives butt heads and start collecting supplies that they need to bust open the portal containing the Drell at a place called the Heads of Boro (I don’t know, just go with it), Lobo and Emily speed away in a police cruiser Lobo steals. Here, Lobo finally explains the lack of a language barrier, albeit flimsily, passing it off as a “weird coincidence.” Admittedly, Lobo does get in a few funny lines. Emily reads through a list of the escaped prisoners and discovers one of them is a machine, wondering why anyone would bother locking up a machine when they could just reprogram it. “Where’s the fun in that?” Lobo replies. Right, there’s a galaxy filled with countless super-criminals hell-bent on the destruction of worlds, and they’re using cell space for robots they could just reprogram because it’s “fun.” Oh, Brown. Even you know this script makes no sense.

Emily turns to a page all about Lobo. She reads that Lobo was charged with 164 counts of first degree murder – turns out Lobo had been tracking a bounty that had himself cloned 164 times, and rather than spend time determining who the original bounty was, Lobo just killed all the clones. Wouldn’t that make 165 counts of first degree murder? Either way, the dialogue in these scenes makes me sad, because Lobo is such  a fun, colorful character who could be so awesome in a setting more faithful to the comics, and a career-defining role for whoever would end up playing him.

So the alien gang head to a nuclear power plant to get the first item, plutonium. Calysto kills a technician and literally wears the dead man’s engorged, sputtering body around as water leaks out of him. I’m just going to assume they also stuck a fake mustache on the guy for good measure. The disguise fails when the body collapses, and confused workers flee in terror, only to be held at bay by Shrak, one of the other aliens, holding a machine gun. Which makes this scene utterly pointless, a sequence designed to show off what would’ve likely been some pretty shitty effects, even for late ‘90s standards.

Lobo gets to the plant to kill the aliens and, for some reason, requires water to make his high-end gun grow to usable proportions. I’m not familiar enough with the comics to know if Lobo’s add-water-watch-it-grow gun is from the comics or not, but in this context, it’s stupid. Lobo enters and exchanges a few clichés with Shrak before the two literally just stand there and unload on each other point blank, bullets bouncing off the other like reasons not to make this movie to a studio executive. I’m not sure why they’re even bothering with the guns if they’re this ineffective, to the point where even Brown writes, “This has to be the dumbest gunfight anyone has ever seen.” It’s like he’s doing my job for me.

After a long fight, Lobo ends it with a grenade, tosses what’s left of Shrak into a vial, and he and Emily go to find the others…but not before some HILARIOUS hijinks at the supermarket! Get this: in a bit of truly inspired wackiness, Lobo pushes around a cart that’s “filled to the brim” with raw meat! Then, he sees a magazine with Gene Simmons on the cover and gets mad that the singer stole his look! Stop, my sides!

So let’s pause here and point out another major problem with this script – how it laughs AT the characters, being all too aware of the absurdity of its pulp roots, rather than laughing WITH them, embracing their universe and letting the humor of it flow naturally from it. It’s not funny when you’re constantly hitting the audience over the head with, “LOOK! IT’S WEIRD! LAUGH DAMMIT!” It’s a sign of fear, a hesitance to fully commit to what you’re selling. Warner is basically the scared little kid who never wants to bring out the more obscure of his action figures to play with the other kids because he’s afraid of being judged.

Lobo and Emily take a breather at an abandoned warehouse, where we get kind of a lazy retcon of Lobo’s comic origin. While he’s still the last survivor of a race of Czarnians, (which, irritatingly enough, Brown regularly misspells as “Czarians”), Lobo reveals that the Drell the aliens are after actually destroyed his home planet, not he himself, despite “planning to do it [himself] the following week.” It’s a cheap way of making the stakes more personal to Lobo’s character, like Joker killing Batman’s parents, sans actual thought. So they somehow manage to take that vial with the piece of Shrak in it and resuscitate the alien, getting him to spill the beans on the alien’s next stop: sapphires from a jewelry store. Makes sense. Shrak then leaps out a window to his death, presumably to get out of this script as quickly as possible.

Afterwards, we see the police on the hunt for both Emily and what they call a “male, 6-5, 400 pounds. Blue skin. Red eyes with no pupils.” They discuss that maybe Emily wasn’t lying and that the aliens she described were real. They then devise a plan to catch the alien, even directly naming E.T. in the process. There really is not a single original thought in this script, is there? The cops, fearing Emily might blow the plan, resolve to “take care of her.” DUN DUN DUUUUUN.

Pictured: concept art for Lobo.

Meanwhile, back in space, Cardoon’s ship is on its way to Earth with a giant plasma cannon in case the operation goes awry. He tests out the cannon on Pluto, destroying the not-planet completely. Curiously, this has absolutely no repercussions whatsoever to the rest of the Solar System. Back on Earth, Emily steals a phone book from a phone booth (hey, remember those?) at a nearby gas station. As Lobo refuels the police cruiser, he takes a swig of gasoline from the pump and gets some more incredulous stares, because we haven’t had someone give Lobo an incredulous stare for almost seven pages. Cut back to the police station, where we learn Emily is their number-one suspect for the alien cop killings earlier. Yes, because a rational police mind would conclude that the female author who held a gun once briefly at the scene is far more suspect than the giant, 400-pound, blue-skinned alien.

Emily and Lobo head to the jewelry store and discover the remaining three aliens. Lobo tries to swing his trademark hook chain, but misses thanks to Armand’s telepathic abilities. Armand escapes in a truck outside and Emily gives chase, with predictably unsuccessful results – a spider-looking device disables her engine and causes her car to flip. Somehow, she staggers out with little to no injury. Cut back to Lobo taking on the robot M-4, Calysto, and later Volarian, the latter of whom sucks out his life-force like a parasite. Afterwards, the cops show up and take down Lobo with tranquilizers.

Then…oh, this is great. This is exactly what comic book fans want to see. With Lobo’s fate in Emily’s hands, the writer finds Lobo’s motorcycle, hesitantly gets on, steals the restraining collar Lobo retrieved earlier, puts on his sunglasses for some reason, then speeds off. Hey, you can’t sell a toy of Lobo’s motorcycle if it’s only in one scene. Emily dicks around with the weapons on the bike, which all read like, “FRAG-BOMBS,” “FRAG-GUNS,” etc. You know Brown, “frag” isn’t actually funny when it isn’t being used as a substitute for “fuck.” She takes out a pursuing cop car with FRAG-ACID, which melts away the entire car and apparently the officer’s uniforms with it. “Get me some damn clothes!” one of them says to the other officers who get to the scene too late. Genius. Absolute genius.

Emily frees Lobo from a police van up ahead and tells him it’s 5:17 a.m. Lobo gets worried. A giant hologram of Cardoon’s head appears in the sky and tells Lobo that time’s up and he’s destroying the planet. Lobo argues that he needs more time. Cardoon refuses to give it to him. “Who is this…creature?” asks Cardoon. “She’s the local authority I made contact with. Her name is…something, and she’s the official ambassador to non-humanoid life-forms.” That’s actually pretty funny, because let’s face it, Emily is an entirely trivial character in all this. Emily asks if there’s anything he hasn’t told her. Lobo admits the Earth is going to be destroyed. But instead of reacting like someone with an actual personality, Emily just doesn’t react at all, because it’s “too much for her to take in.”

Somehow, the script has taken a step back in time as it’s now 5 a.m. according to the slugline, with Lobo and Emily sitting at a diner wallowing in defeat. Brown describes Emily as wearing, “that face people get when their planet is about to be nuked into rubble.” A little kid approaches their table and asks Emily to sign a copy of her book for him, but Lobo scares him off. Emily has a heart-to-heart with Lobo, lamenting her lack of a male suitor and her complete sham of a career. “When you’re running a scam you can’t have anyone in your life who might turn around and expose you.” Oh, boo-fucking-hoo lady! You lie to the entire world and somehow make millions off these idiots, including that gullible little kid just now that no doubt wasted his hard-earned allowance money on your book, and we’re supposed to feel bad for you because it doesn’t get you laid?! Suck. My. Dick.

Lobo flips through her book and after seeing a picture of Stonehenge, reveals that the structure is actually a Cenobite toilet. He spots the Heads of Boro (that place the aliens found the portal to the Drell at from earlier), recognizes the language on them as Czarnian, and asks Emily where it is. Apparently they are at a museum, which Lobo and Emily get to and proceed to fight Calysto in…again. Then, oh my god, Calysto DOES THE WATER DISGUISE THING AGAIN WITH ANOTHER SECURITY GUARD. AND LOBO FUCKING FALLS FOR IT. I slam my head on the desk repeatedly as Lobo and Emily realize they’re both severely retarded and go after him. Lobo continues fighting Calysto, when finally the alien tries to drown Lobo like he did the cop at the beginning. Lobo just inhales him and spits him out into a nearby cement mixer, where he’s turned into hard cement. It’s probably the cleverest thing this script has done so far.

So Armand and…what’s-her-name, Volstagg? The other alien chick and him manage to open the portal and release the Drell, who promptly kills Voltron Voluptuous Volarian. Armand orders it to kill everyone. The Drell goes crazy, so Lobo comes in and fights it off. But wait! Armand devilishly informs Lobo that the Drell gets stronger with every hit it takes! So the thing hurls some kind of plasma at Lobo and turns him into a statue. Then it goes after Emily while Lobo heals, and finally pushes it back into the portal with a medieval battering ram hung in the museum. The two are then thrown into what Brown calls Dimension-X. As the beast readies another plasma shot, Lobo winds up and kicks the Drell in the nuts (ugh), then throws it down a bottomless pit and escapes through the portal as it quickly closes around him.

Defeated, Armand takes ahold of Emily and threatens to kill her if Lobo comes closer. Lobo, quite sensibly, tells him to go ahead. Honestly, I’d have to give this script some credit if…nope, Emily pulls out Armand’s restraining collar and slips it on his neck, rendering him powerless and stuck inside a pillar. Lobo hurls the pillar into the portal just as it closes. When the cops arrive, Emily elects to stay behind and be arrested, stupidly enough. But then, just as Lobo takes to the skies on his motorcycle, a handcuffed Emily is engulfed in a white light and suddenly disappears. Okay…

We cut to Emily in front of a giant congregation of alien beings, who offer her the position of official ambassador for Earth…for real! So remember kids, if life doesn’t hand you what you want, just lie to everyone about being whatever it is you want until you actually become that thing! But then, after all the horrible things this character has done, after still somehow getting this illustrious, exclusive job offer, Emily has just one question for the aliens.

“By the way, what does this pay?”

Seriously. Fuck. this. character.

We then, quite unnecessarily, cut to Armand in Dimension-X giggling to himself, then Lobo drinking and riding his bike through space. The end.

At first I didn’t hate this script, because it’s not entirely unreadable. There are words, which in turn make up sentences, and I suppose that’s worth something. But really, I do love Lobo as a character and I don’t think the script does a particularly bad job with his cigar-smoking, devil-may-care attitude and snarky one-liners. But as soon as Lobo leaves space behind for Earth, everything goes to shit due to the studio’s pre-packaged tripe of a template. Earth doesn’t work as a backdrop because it’s such a jarring contrast to Lobo himself, who’s also the blunt of several bad jokes and thus muffled from being the complete badass we know and love. Emily doesn’t work because she’s such a shitty, empty character. The alien antagonists don’t work because they’re all morons and spout clichés. It’s all evidence of Warner distrusting the material to hold its own. Lobo’s world from the comics is so imaginative, creative, and funny, and this script and its alien inventions are…not.

What’s most inexcusable, I think, about the whole thing is that this same, hackneyed template was STILL being actively developed in subsequent drafts ten years later. It’s the equivalent of Warner dusting off Gilroy’s Superman Lives instead of producing Man of Steel – infinite rewrites won’t change the fact that the core template is shit. Perhaps most disheartening is that Warner’s overly formulaic approach hasn’t changed for little-known DC characters – the live action Green Lantern suffered from many of the same problems. A Lobo movie really does need to be set mostly in space to do justice to the comics.

Summed up, we can be thankful this is a project somebody had the good sense to place in the proper receptacle, even if it did take over ten years for them to do so.

Right on Target: Thoughts on ‘Arrow’

 

arrow_hoodbow

Contains spoilers for several episodes.

When it comes to comic book adaptations, there are, generally speaking, two methods of approach: the safe route, relying on a set formula and/or sticking close to the source material to tell the story (see The Avengers), or the balls-out, all-or-nothing route, aiming to transcend the property’s pulp roots to potentially varying effect (see The Dark Knight on one end, Ang Lee’s Hulk on the other). The CW’s new superhero show “Arrow” is unique in that it finds a comfortable balance between the two, sticking to an established formula while still, in many ways, deviating from it.

Since its October debut, Arrow has centered on billionaire playboy Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who washes ashore a mysterious island after a yacht carrying his father and girlfriend’s sister capsizes. Fives years later, he returns to his home town of Starling City alive and well, but things of changed; for one, he’s returned with a mission, adapting his bow-and-arrow survival tactics he learned on the island to oppose the city’s corrupt and criminal. Along the way, family and friends, new and old, including sister Thea (Willa Holland), mother Moira (Susanna Thompson), stepfather and new CEO of Queen Industries Walter (Colin Salmon), former girlfriend Laurel (Katie Cassidy), partner Diggle (David Ramsey), and Detective Quentin Lance (Paul Blackthorne), present conflict upon Oliver’s return.

There are elements of DC Comics’ Green Arrow mythology here. Queen’s origin is kept largely the same, and the look of the vigilante is a logical update from the classic Robin Hood-esque ensemble. If the series can be traced back to any particular comic incarnation in terms of tone, substance, and overall approach, it’s both Andy Diggle and Jock’s Green Arrow: Year One and the entirety of Mike Grell’s run. The writers have also snuck in several other nods to the mythology, though some work better than others. Case in point, Ollie’s sister Thea is nicknamed “Speedy” because she used to run really fast as a kid. Yeah.

On the whole though, the series closely adheres to a lot of the storytelling methods employed by Christopher Nolan for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And by closely, I mean that if the show was produced under a company other than Warner, it’d be accused of plagiarism. In both its style and scripting, the series shamelessly takes cues from the former films, whether it be the protagonist flashing back to his early years, or throwing people off by playing a drunken playboy. Even some of the show’s staging seems to be emulating Begins in particular. It could be argued that the CW’s inability to convince parent company Warner to produce a Bruce Wayne TV show (something the network has wanted since before Smallville over ten years ago), the network settled for a similar hero in Green Arrow and altered much of his mythology to be closer to the Caped Crusader’s. Originality aside, the conceit works.

Arrow’s initial episodes quell concerns that an adaptation of the character might come off as merely a Batman/Iron Man clone, another billionaire-turned-superhero that returns to fight crime after losing his way. By adding a good number of original characters, including the family dynamic, Arrow stands out as something else entirely. Even the show’s pilot in particular is merely the standard hero’s journey, yet it’s executed near-perfectly – Queen is characterized as human and relatable, constantly struggling in the new world he’s faced with.

Initially, I was worried the familial drama would distract from what should largely be Queen’s story, but over the course of the first season, it’s evolved to a place where I don’t mind it as much. I like a lot of the more intriguing subplots, one of which explores Walter’s investigation into Moira’s position in a criminal organization that recovered the wrecked yacht from the island where Oliver was found, for reasons yet unknown. Despite this, certain episodes do tend to veer too closely into soap opera territory. More curious are the Hamlet allusions with Moira and Walter, Oliver’s father’s former partner. It’s an unnecessary added dynamic that goes nowhere, less an effective literary parallel and more illustrative of how shallow the writers can be.

The vigilante himself, as he’s called in the show (because god forbid they just call him Green Arrow), is actually quite cool, yielding lots of intense, well-shot action, even if the camera shakes a bit much. A stark contrast to many of DC’s heroes strict “no-kill” policies, including Queen’s, the show turns Oliver into a killer, treating casualties in battle as collateral damage. Still, the change isn’t as jarring as one might suspect. It’s not particularly well thought-out – Queen could’ve just as easily been written as a more restrained hero and the story not lose its poignancy – but it isn’t blasphemous. The character did kill criminals for the duration of Mike Grell’s run, so there’s that. Still, you have to wonder when characters like the Huntress (Jessica De Gouw) show up, and Queen begs them to stop recklessly killing people, if his argument isn’t a tad hypocritical.

In his alter-ego, Amell’s Oliver Queen is thoughtful, if a bit stilted, as is the case with most CW actors. His pained, determined brooder is a far breed apart from the outspoken, liberal charmer as written by Denny O’Neill, an incarnation that came to define the character. Again, it’s not so much blasphemous as it is just different. I cannot, sadly, say the same for Katie Cassidy’s “Laurel” Lance, a mere poster girl for CW’s female demographic. In early episodes especially, she plays the stereotypical busy, uptight businesswoman, flat-out cold to all and yet, despite Oliver sleeping with her now-deceased sister, she’s still somehow in love with him. It’s a character begging to evolve, preferably in the form of leather and fishnets.

On its antagonists, the show employs the standard villain-of-the-week angle, which is hit-and-miss. China White, one of the supposed leaders of the city’s underground crime ring, only appears onscreen occasionally. Deadshot gets wasted after a single appearance, and Deathstroke has yet to speak a single line of dialogue. These are some of the best villains of the DC universe, why not use them more conservatively? Wouldn’t spreading them around several seasons draw in more comic readers over a longer period of time? Still, in truth, I’d rather see the series take a page from both O’Neill and Grell’s runs, focusing on more realistic, hard crime or social issues. In those stories, the real villains were the drug dealers, the sexual deviants, the corrupt cops, etc. Some truly great writing could make that a reality; using the iconography of famed DC villains as a crutch will only get you so far.

Most episodes so far have been jam-packed with plot, so there’s very little time for the show to keep a so-called “status quo.” Things are constantly changing up, keeping the show’s pacing fast and loose. I only hope the writers don’t run out of steam before Season 2. One such fast-paced episode features Queen, suspected of being the vigilante, on house arrest, and Diggle being forced to don the green hood to throw people off his trail. I’m reminded of the old 1960s Batman show, when Alfred had to dress up as Batman whenever Adam West’s Bruce Wayne and Batman had to be in the same place at the same time. The silly solution always made me smile – really, people can’t tell the difference between a white guy and a black guy under a hood, or an old guy and a young guy beneath a cowl?

Arrow is my new Wednesday night ritual. It’s a solid, if not excellent start to a series I will hopefully be tuning in to for a long time to come. It’s certainly not any kind of definitive statement on the mythology, but on its own merits, the show works. Now if only Warner could accomplish the same with their silver screen efforts.