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‘Kong: Skull Island’ Is A Quirky Adventure Just Barely Worth Taking

kong

What if the story of “King Kong” took place not during the 30s, but instead the orange-blazed Vietnam era, just as the war was ended-er-abandoned and complete with a poster that outright mimics Apocalypse Now? What if it also contained a collection of modern character personalities who’d probably feel more at home in a Marvel flick or a better sequel to Independence Day? What if it took itself about 50% less seriously than Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake? And what if, to top it all off, you layered it against a budding monster cinematic universe franchise that is already underway with 2014’s Godzilla?

Kong: Skull Island is the answer to those questions and more — a sort of mashup of interesting ideas and directions blended together by second-time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, an indie auteur who’d make Gareth Edwards blush. The basic structure is still in place: a team of scientists, civilians, and soldiers travel to Skull Island, the last uncharted territory hiding in the South Pacific. There, they uncover prehistoric threats and a massive, titular primate named Kong. From there, it’s a tale of survival, but a much smaller one in scope than the 2005 remake, at least removed from its ties to bigger monster threats around the world and the mysterious “Monarch” organization.

The idea to paint this as a Vietnam film is definitely inspired. The same, “what are we doing here” mentality is played just right an overwhelming message, though that’s not to say Kong ever tries to be more than a big, blustering blockbuster that succumbs to movie logic willfully and enthusiastically. You can probably respect the fact that Kong knows how bonkers it is throughout, and in a better movie with more surprises, it could even be hailed as an inspired new turn for monster movies (Shin Godzilla or no).

kong

Strangely, though, Kong suffers from 21st Century film editing, a new wave of trailer-inspired cuts and cutaways that make this film feel more like a collection of intriguing short films spliced together to just barely hold together as a two hour feature. The screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and in small part, Derek Connolly is certainly in a great place, as this is one of the few flicks in a while I caught myself thinking about the script (in a good way).

The story, by Need For Speed and Real Steal‘s John Gatins, is less innovative, yet mostly salvaged thanks to a serviceable ensemble of characters featuring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and many others.  The best scenes in Kong belong to Jackson and Reilly without any doubt, as Reilly plays the island survivalist from World War II who kindly fills us in on just the right amount of exposition to get a sense of place and relevance in Skull Island.

What truly saves Kong from mediocrity, though, is what monster movie fans are itching to come see. A visually striking action movie with big monsters, big stakes, and big battles. This movie checks off those boxes in force, while mostly eschewing other expectations of its legacy, like the tendency to play up Kong as a “possessor” of a beautiful woman.

Brie Larson takes the role in her own way as a photographer in search of discovering something new, instead moving along the movie in a jog, playing about as crucial a role as the other ensemble characters without much of a special relationship with Kong, which is likely for the better. It’s replaced with a passive respect, rather than an otherworldly affection, and at the very least, it makes more sense for a film set in the 70s, not an escapist tragedy set in the 30s.

kong

Most films would suffer from tonal shifts as drastic as the ones in Kong. But for whatever reason, the scattershot ideas in this monster mash adventure movie manage to lend the film something of a personality, much like they accomplished with the CGI primate himself. There are just as many moments showing what Kong does when no one is around, and it’s one of a few morsels of surprising touches this movie thankfully scrambles to find.

Grade: B

Extra Credits:

  • There is a post-credits scene, and it’s actually awful. Badly edited. Bad in the way it teases. See it if you must, but I left the theater feeling a lot less excited about the future of Warner Bros.’s monsterverse.
  • With so many characters in this movie, I didn’t have much of a chance to get to each one. And that’s not a good thing. They’re mostly forgettable, even Larson and Hiddleston, whose motivations are actually interchangeable. Great screen presence, but this movie’s heart belongs to Reilly and Jackson.
  • This movie might look a tad familiar. It was shot in Hawaii, close to where Jurassic World was filmed. Samuel L. Jackson even utters his famous line, “Hold on to your butts” from the first Jurassic Park.
  • I also forgot to mention one of my favorite things about this movie: Kong’s design. It’s a clear combination of the 30s version and the adapted Japanese version. He stands tall, and it looks great.
  • Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell have great, understated roles in this movie. They last acted together as Dre and Eazy E in Straight Outta Compton.
  • Weird Easter egg that might be important: Riley’s character, Hank Marlow, wears a jacket with a reference to Akira, a manga that came out years after this movie takes place.  It’s a pill and the line, “Good for your health. Bad for your education.”

    Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

    Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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Get Out, Rock Dog, & A United Kingdom Review – Cinemaholics

In my new weekly podcast, Cinemaholics, co-host Will Ashton and I finally reviewed Get Out, along with I Don’t Feel At Home In This World AnymoreRock DogFences and A United Kingdom.

We also talked about the Razzies, some news coming out of the DCEU’s Batman and Nightwing movies, and our own version of the Oscars, where we picked our own winners in our own ceremony. Obviously.

Go on…Get Out, Rock Dog, & A United Kingdom Review – Cinemaholics

Snarcasm: 5 Non-Reasons Why the DC Movies are Working

dc movies working

Snark + Sarcasm = what you’re about to read.

Hey, did you guys know that the DCEU is working? I mean, it’s working hard, for sure, to dominate headlines and pointless online arguments about the very essence of filmmaking between people who’ve never watched Before Sunrise, but that’s not all!

The DCEU is also working in the sense that this was somehow the plan all along for DC and Warner Bros. That’s right, their first three films were critically panned on purpose. It was the plan all along for Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to get outclassed (financially or otherwise) by a movie about the Suicide Squad. And for all of these movies to scream “we’re a huge step back from The Dark Knight” on every poster that isn’t a bowl of Suicide Squad cereal for some reason.

How do we know the DCEU is working? Because Cowboy Bebop enthusiast Kofi Outlaw has five, count them, five reasons. And haven’t list-designed essay substitutes been the absolute best when it comes to persuasive arguments? I sure don’t think so.

DC Comics and Warner Bros. have had a strange year trying to get their DC Extended Universe established.

What a long, strange year it’s been in Rotten Tomatoes hell.

Big questions like “Who is to blame for the DCEU’s problems?” get tossed around the interwebs daily, but are they questions that need to be asked at all? 

Nope! No one needs to get blamed for failure or be held accountable for the consequences of certain actions, anymore. We now live in a society where doing something wrong is actually right, at least if you want to get “saved” from Rotten Tomatoes hell.

It’s clear there are people who do not like the films already released in the DCEU saga

And if it’s not clear, they’ll make it clear within five seconds of talking to them.

or the direction the films are taking with the likes of Zack Snyder’s Justice LeagueWonder Woman

Patty Jenkins is directing Wonder Woman, to be clear, not Zack Snyder. Though Snyder did have a hand in writing it, but alongside Geoff Johns, DC’s “budget Kevin Feige.”

But opinion is just opinion;

Oh, thank goodness.

and here are 5 Reasons Why the DCEU is Working, and could end up being dominant and cohesive shared universe movie saga. 

Terribly written sentences aside, you just stated that opinion is opinion, which is the exact equivalent of saying onion is onion, which takes less time. So why is your opinion opinion a better opinion opinion than anyone else’s?

Start slideshow –

God help us.

#1 It Makes Bigger Headlines

That sure is impressive.

DC makes bigger headlines than Marvel.

Source? Ah, who am I kidding.

And let’s be frank, here. DC’s biggest headlines happen to be more about how the movies are getting ravaged by critics (which Kofi later admits), instead of the headlines Marvel makes on good reviews. Assuming DC does have “bigger” headlines (what, is it like a bigger font or something?), Marvel still has more movies, which is only relevant if we care about quantity over quality, no?

I was there when Chris Evans won the long casting search for Captain America, or Chris Hemsworth won the role of Thor; they were big deal headlines, yes, but they were nowhere near the scope of when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman, or Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. 

That’s nice, but how does that mean the DCEU is working? It really only means that DC has recognizable characters, and we knew that alreadyOf course a casting announcement for Batman is going to get more attention than Thor. How is that indicative of the DCEU working?

The divide is even wider when it comes to villains: No villain Marvel has cast touches announcements like Jared Leto playing Joker or Jesse Eisenberg playing Lex Luthor.

Again, this is a battle not even Marvel cares about. You think they’re losing sleep over the fact that Yellowjacket didn’t have as many depressed journalists covering his casting than they did with the Joker and Lex Luthor, two of the most well-established comic-book villains of all time?

No, they were too busy enjoying the fact that they don’t need superfluous news coverage to dictate the success of their movies. It’s known as Metacritic Heaven.

Trailer releases put things in solid numbers, with the last few years at San Diego Comic-Con proving in indisputable viewer stats that DC movie trailers get more exposure than Marvel’s.

The DCEU has had great trailers, that’s for sure. I watched every Man of Steel trailer dozens of times because I couldn’t get enough. Then the movie utterly failed me and most of the audience. Turns out that good trailers don’t equate good movies, and if your idea of a film universe “working” has more to do with good marketing, then I’ll show you to the door that has a huge Transformers logo on it.

#2 It’s Established an Edgier Alternative

That’s like saying Christian Rock is inherently good because it’s “alternative” to mainstream music.

Nowadays, Marvel movies are released to slightly varying degrees of praise, make and expected level of money (half a billion at least) and pass through theatrical release with few waves. It’s a reliable machine, but does threaten to get a little boring in the long run. 

Yeah, it was really boring when they did a space movie that was nothing like what they’ve done before, a comedy heist movie featuring a guy who talks to ants, and a trilogy closer that rivals The Last Crusade.

BO-RING.

Thanks to Zack Snyder immediately going “full edgy” with his tinkering and re-imagining of DC’s core heroes –

Oh! I’ll finish this for you: everyone wants him fired. Well, not everyone, but everyone who has at least seen Before Sunrise. Or Sucker Punch. Or any other Zack Snyder movie.

the DCEU has established itself as a place where the rules get broken, and not everything is as “Disneyfied” as the squeaky-clean MCU. 

Yeah, I was so annoyed when the MCU decided not to “break rules” by starring a talking raccoon and a tree alien in one of its movies. Or when they pulled off a 70s spy thriller starring Captain America, one of the previously most one-note characters in all of comics.

But DCEU breaks rules left and right! Like when the characters in Suicide Squad fight a villain with a beam of light hitting the sky! And when they wrote Lex Luthor as Edward Nigma from Batman Forever! Or when they used virtually every visual trick and style Zack Snyder has featured in his movies since 300, but with DC characters!

Who would have thought style beats substance?

Long after people stopped caring about Iron Man 3’s shenanigans, they’re still arguing for and against Man of Steel;

Believe me, people still bring up Iron Man 3.

that says the DCEU is like punk rock: the financial returns may lower than a pop-culture formula, but the loyalty and love is exponentially more intense.

Again, though, this is all based on cheap intertextuality. A love and loyalty earned by the comics and previous iterations of the characters, not anything at all what the DCEU has earned on its own. Do you truly believe the majority of these fans would love Batman v Superman if it was featuring characters they didn’t recognize?

Meanwhile, people who’ve never read a comic in their life show up to see Marvel movies, because they don’t rely too heavily on intertextuality to tell a good story. They just tell good stories.

#3 Cult-Status Double Dip

Oh, this feels like a cult, alright.

While the theatrical releases of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad have all been plagued by harsh criticism, they’ve also achieved a sort of cult-status amongst the fans that embrace them,

Of course they do, and for the same reason people still think the Star Wars prequels are actually good movies. When you want something based on something you love to be good, you find ways to make it good. And since when are comic-book movies intended to be cult films? They’re made to be widely accessible and approachable. You’re essentially admitting that the DCEU is failing to find an audience outside the devoted few who would love anything with Batman and Superman in it.

With BvS:UE still making strong sales (and headlines), DC/WB has pulled off another trick: getting people to double-dip for a movie initially deemed “a failure.”

Yes, the DCEU is doing well in terms of DVD sales, but they’re a fraction of what a worldwide box office will bring you. It’s like saying the DCEU is “working” because they found a $20 bill on the side of the road.

I’ll grant you that a sizable group of fans love the DCEU movies. but that only means the DCEU is working for them. For these movies to become truly successful and grow in that success, they have to speak to larger audiences and prove themselves worthwhile films. But nothing in Kofi’s article explains how specific decisions made by Warner Bros. have yielded better results than they could have hoped for.

#4 Heroe$ & Villain$

Oh, Kofi, you outlaw.

As of writing this, Suicide Squad has just crossed the $500 million mark at the worldwide box office. At a nearly $200 million budget, it’s not a slam-dunk win like, say, Captain America: Civil War, but at three weeks at the top of the domestic box office (and overwhelmingly positive viewer ratings), Suicide Squad is far from the prophesied disaster that would die quickly on bad word mouth. 

A couple things. Like we mentioned earlier, Suicide Squad had fantastic marketing. The trailers sold a lot of people (not literally), many were curious because of the controversy, and many many people were itching to see Margot Robbie and Will Smith. Critics arguably put a sizable dent in the film’s potential returns, but nothing would have stopped the fans from showing up and rightly so.

But what did they think of the movie after they saw it?

Of course, Kofi doesn’t source his “overwhelmingly positive viewer ratings,” and I think he should because the data doesn’t back up his claim. It has a Rotten Tomatoes user rating of 68%, which is more “whelming” than anything else. And its B+ Cinemascore is decent at best. In comparison, Guardians of the Galaxy has a 92% user rating and an A Cinemascore. But hey, onions are onions.

So yes, Suicide Squad is doing well despite terrible reviews. For that reason, I’ve decided that the Transformers movies are “working.” Working to make a few people rich, at least.

the DCEU has now proven that it can make lucrative franchises out of its stable of heroes and villains.

Lucrative? Sure. As lucrative as they expected? No.

And diminishing returns are a big deal, Kofi. If these movies don’t improve in quality, more and more people will stop paying ticket prices to see them. Full stop. Short term success is one thing, but Warner Bros. is smart enough to know that they can’t keep churning out critical duds and expect growth.

#5 Better Woven Saga

Oh, this has to be a joke.

The truth of the matter is

…nothing you’re about to say.

cinematic shared universe world-building is always going to be somewhat clunky, given that a movie is supposed to be a standalone story while shared universes work in episodic chapters

And yet every Marvel movie has been a modest success at the very least. So maybe it’s not that clunky always.

The MCU phased 1 thread connects were superficial and arguably weak: 

This…is a joke a right?

post-credit “Avengers” name drops before anyone knew such scenes existed

…What?

characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow get half introduction while wedged in some one else’s solo film, etc

…What?!

First of all, both Hawkeye and Black Widow had introductions. Not “half” introductions. No one came up to ScarJo, asked her name, and walked away knowing only “Black.” Both characters made sensible appearances to slowly establish themselves before getting better fleshed out when it mattered. How is that weak? How is restraint weak?

The MCU has gotten a lot smarter about weaving its many many threads together (see: Captain America: Civil War), but it had a rough start. 

A rough start? Is that why The Avengers (the culmination of their “rough start”) is the highest-grossing superhero film of all time, complete with some of the highest ratings?

The DCEU, on the other hand, took a standalone film (Man of Steel) and managed to drop enough Easter eggs seamlessly into the mix to create a universe where Batman and Lex Luthor not only already exist offscreen, but are directly impacted by Man of Steel’s events.

What the Rotten Tomatoes Hell is this guy talking about? What easter eggs in Man of Steel are stronger than flat-out introducing characters in MCU films? How was it seamless? How is any of this part of your sentence?

One of the easiest criticisms to lob at the DCEU is their rushed cinematic universe. Instead of a sequel to Man of Steel or a standalone Batman movie, they skipped ahead to a movie with both characters, combining several comic storylines (Dark Knight Returns and Death of Superman) that don’t fit together and shouldn’t even exist at the beginning of a film universe.

Rotten onions are rotten onions. Or are they tomatoes? Now I understand that website.

Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad both grew organically out of both narrative developments in the preceding films, 

Said the most wishful thinker in the history of opinion opinions.

That interactivity and forward-thinking right from the start will inevitably make the DCEU a long-term investment that could come back to pay off in a much more fulfilling way than the MCU.

Forward-thinking? The DCEU has been one of the most reactionary products in modern cinematic history. They’re constantly shifting the tone and talent behind their movies to appease public opinion, hence the debacle that was Suicide Squad‘s final, Jokerless, cut. It’s not a bad thing that they’re at least trying, but to suggest that the DCEU has failed on purpose is an utter joke.

I also take umbrage with the idea that this “investment” will pay off in a more fulfilling way than the MCU. In order for that to be true, I have to rewatch Man of Steel and Batman v Superman one day. But honestly, if the DCEU rights the ship with Justice League and Wonder Woman (fingers crossed), I’m just going to pull a Green Lantern and pretend those first few movies never happened.

Seriously, this entire article is the equivalent of watching an infomercial. “Buy now! Guaranteed results!” It’s one thing to point out reasons for optimism in the DCEU, but it’s another to rewrite history and make your opinion sound factual. While I don’t disagree with Kofi that the DCEU could become a force to be reckoned down the road, he seems to have taken a page from Warner Bros’ handling of BvS, in that he just wants to skip ahead without any of the real work being done.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar.

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Ep98: Suicide Squad’s Goals

suicide squad podcast

This week on Now Conspiring, we have a clash of opinions here to review and sort of politely discuss the latest DC comics/Warner Bros. film, Suicide Squad. Our conversation is spoiler-free at first, but we jump into a full-spoiler conversation at the time marked in the show notes.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK (and you’re required to answer this): What would you do to fix Suicide Squad?

Go on…Ep98: Suicide Squad’s Goals

Review: ‘Suicide Squad’ is a Guilty Pleasure Worth Admiring

suicide squad review

Note: This review is spoiler-free, but it does contain a major spoiler from the ending of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You have been warned.

When it comes to comics that center around bad guys defeating even worse guys (and gals), Suicide Squad is one of the most lasting and recognizable of the lot.

It wasn’t the first book to be about villains, of course (though this movie is the first comic book film to have a main cast of villains as characters). But it was one of the first that was actually successful. And that’s probably because Suicide Squad essentially defined the idea of reluctant heroism found in the vilest of our society.

That’s tricky territory, because it presents a philosophical debate that modern society is mostly split on: Are people inherently bad, or are they tainted by an inherently bad world? 

suicide squad review

Fortunately, Suicide Squad doesn’t dwell on these questions for easy dramatic fodder (at least, not as much as it could have). Instead, it takes a note from some of Marvel’s recent films by emphasizing character over spectacle, at least with some of its titular bad guys.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the set up of Suicide Squad from the comics — of which the 80s run is still the best — the idea is simple. A shady black ops leader named Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) wants to assemble her own team of metahumans, like Superman, and unhinged specialists, like Batman, in the wake of Superman’s death from the end of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

The team is codenamed “Task Force X,” but as one of their recruits points out early on in the film, they’re really a “suicide squad” in the sense that they’re not expected to live through the mission that takes up the majority of the film. And that’s because most members of Task Force X are dangerous villains, accompanied by a Colonel and “good” metahuman to reign them in.

As noted earlier, the structure of Suicide Squad is brazenly different from typical superhero and comic book films. It’s focused and constrained to one major location, a familiar technique if you’re caught up with director David Ayer’s other work.

suicide squad review

And the decision to limit Suicide Squad to one mission ends up being one of the film’s greatest strengths, because by the end credits, the viewer is left feeling as if they’ve gone through a significant ordeal with these characters, even if the movie doesn’t always stick the landing with some of its big moments.

There’s as much good as there is bad with Suicide Squad, in the sense that Ayer and his team succeeded at getting this movie right where it really counts — notably with  standout characters like Deadshot (played by Will Smith). The problem is that like previous entries in the DC comics cinematic universe, Suicide Squad just doesn’t sweat the details enough.

These details include basic plot mapping (the opening scenes, for example, are a glaring mess), action set pieces (especially toward the end), and the film’s worst offense: its script. Though Suicide Squad has its moments of surprising and smile-inducing dialogue, a great deal of it comes off as hastily tacked on in order to elicit a reaction, usually humor.

For that reason, Suicide Squad practically forces the viewer to accept it in a very specific way. That is, it’s painted and executed as a guilty pleasure movie, and you get the sense that the movie has no aspirations for self-importance or melodrama. Which makes it an easy film to get lost in and just enjoy, without having to “turn your brain off,” for the most part.

suicide squad review

One of the reasons the movie swings more toward guilty pleasure has a lot to do with the care Warner Bros. has put into better fleshing out its world of DC characters, and a good number of them are paraded beautifully. As revealed in the early trailers, Batman (reprised by Ben Affleck) has a small presence in this film, and it plays out about as well as his best moments from Batman v Superman, without any of the confusing quirks added to the character.

And it goes without saying that Suicide Squad is brimming with loving references to other DC stories, reminiscent of how shows like Arrow and The Flash insert subtle asides for eagle-eyed viewers. Put simply, this is the first DC comics movie that does a good job of establishing a coherent personality for this world of heroes and villains, while also integrating it in a more graceful way than we’ve seen in the past.

The only weak link worth mentioning is certainly the Joker (played by Jared Leto), who is balanced with the other characters in this film in a gratifying way so as not to steal the spotlight. This ends up being for the best, though, because this is easily one of the most uninteresting depictions of the Joker of all time, not just in the movies.

Granted, the movie works hard to dress Leto up as the Joker, and sparse dialogue certainly sounds like something Joker might say. But upon close inspection, this version of the Joker does virtually nothing reminiscent of what’s fundamental to the character. There’s nothing he truly does that sets him apart from a flamboyant crime boss/pimp who wants to find his girlfriend.

suicide squad review

Yes, he wears funny costumes. Yes, he looks weird and kills people. But there is far more to the Joker than “oh by the way” scenes of him laying on a floor surrounded by knives. And that’s because his only true motivation in this film is to get Harley Quinn back. There’s no chaos, comedic insanity, or diabolical planning to anything he does or wants to do in the film. He simply acts like he is crazy, rather than truly showing it, and it’s one of the film’s biggest disappointments.

Thankfully, Joker is not the crux of Suicide Squad. Far from it. So it’s easy to overlook the shortcomings of his character in lieu of this film as its own standalone story. It’s not easy, though, to overlook the fact that too many characters in Suicide Squad have poorly fleshed out character ideologies that make sense of their own payoffs toward the end. They do it in spades for Deadshot and Diablo, but that’s about it.

Lastly, the soundtrack does little to enhance or even complement the story, instead only reminding viewers that Guardians of the Galaxy did a much better job integrating a playlist with the rhythm of its plot (as proven by the film sharing one of the same songs from Guardians). In Suicide Squad, it really just feels like the music was added out of obligation, not because it was essential to the scene it was put in.

suicide squad review

And better thought (and edits) put into the scenes is all it would have really taken to make Suicide Squad a better movie than what we’ve gotten, which is a guilty pleasure that only looks good by comparison to the in-universe movies its attached to.

Grade: C+

Extra Credits:

  • There’s a mid-credits stinger and…well, it’s not that relevant or surprising, honestly.
  • I’m not a fan of most David Ayer movies, so Suicide Squad sort of defied the odds in my case. According to all the evidence, I should have hated this movie.
  • The chemistry of the cast is one of the film’s biggest strengths, as emblemed by the fact that a lot of them got “SKWAD” tattoos for the movie.
  • It’s not saying much, but this is my favorite live-action depiction of the Suicide Squad. That’s what full Will Smith can do for a film.
  • A standalone Harley Quinn movie featuring other DC femme fatales has been announced by Warner Bros., but it’s likely that the success of Suicide Squad will still determine whether or not that actually happens.
  • For once, Cara Delevingne wasn’t one of the worst characters in a movie.

    I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Marvel Has Been Successful Because It’s Better at Being Different

marvel better different

Until the end of the “superhero golden era” finally comes, we won’t be able to analyze the full impact that Marvel Studios has had with its cinematic universe of movies. But even though we don’t have the full picture at our disposal, everyone has their own reasonable guess for how and why Marvel been the dominant superhero movie franchise for nearly a decade, in terms of both critical and fan reception.

Some of the effects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are quite obvious, and I think that’s why vague observations about Marvel Studios are tossed around by its naysayers. When you think of shared universe movies — that is, movies that share the same characters and other sandbox elements without being direct sequels — you might feel the urge to groan a bit, especially if you watch and keep up with a lot of different movie franchises that all strive to replicate what Marvel did so well with Iron Man in 2008.

Sony tried to kickstart a Spider-Man shared universe of villains and ultimately failed. Universal has long been planning a shared universe of monster movies, citing they could have the “Avengers” of Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, the Wolfman, and more. Even a Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe is reportedly in the works, planned to kick off with a new Scooby Doo movie. And this year’s Ghostbusters ends with a universe-setting teaser straight out of the ambiguously defined Marvel formula.

Marvel’s most direct rival, and for several obvious, yet key reasons, is DC Comics, which Warner Bros. owns the exclusive rights to. After a hugely successful trilogy of Batman movies, all helmed by Christopher Nolan and universally praised by fans and critics, Warner Bros. took the next logical step toward establishing a shared universe of their own that could do for Wonder Woman and the Flash what Marvel managed for Iron Man and Captain America, just to name a few.

marvel better different

Remember, just one year after Nolan’s Batman trilogy ended with The Dark Knight Rises, Warner Bros. released Man of Steel, the perfunctory beginning of what was meant to be something completely different compared to anything put out by Marvel Studios.

Except, well, Marvel has already  been “different” by its own standards for years, and it’s found great success doing so, while DC Comics hasn’t. At least not on the same scale.

To be fair, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were not financial failures, but they did fail to live up to their profitable potential, making less money domestically than Deadpool, which is based on a character far less popular and recognizable than Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. And even more recently, Suicide Squad has been panned by critics for sharing a lot of the same flaws of these movies, though it will still open to huge box office numbers, regardless.

What’s odd, then, is that the films have been criticized by many for being too different, using phrases like joyless and dark to color a picture of a movie that doesn’t deliver the same experience viewers got with most of the Marvel movies.

marvel better different

Supporters of these DC Comics movies have a right to call out this opinion for being intellectually dishonest. Of course a movie like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is different, they say. If it were the same formula as a movie like The Avengers, then critics would complain just as feverishly.

Both sides of this argument have it wrong, then. Because what they both forget is that while there is a bare-bones formula to the Marvel movies that makes them feel cohesive — that is, it’s easy to believe the movies exist in the same universe at all — none of them are all that similar to any of the others in just about every other way, unless the movie is a sequel, and even then, Marvel movies have a habit of changing entire subgenres in between their sequels.

One of the best and most famous examples of Marvel being “different” involves the entirety of what sets up the first Avengers movie, which serendipitously released the same year as The Dark Knight Rises. The very concept of setting up an ensemble superhero film after several standalone pictures that establish the characters was brand new at the time and, more importantly, untested.

Yet The Avengers is the highest-grossing superhero film of all time and was universally acclaimed by moviegoers, which holds up even today.

marvel better different

It’s fair to judge Marvel for being good at being different based on the fact that people loved The Avengers, despite how risky the structure of it was, and because it provided a sizable return on investment both financially and even culturally, hence we’re even having this debate about superhero movies being different.

What’s even more interesting, though, is the fact that Marvel movies have continued to be different and surprising, even though they have a proven formula they could repeat on end to minimize the risk of failure.

For example, the Marvel films that have truly defied expectations include Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, arnhich were both proven hits for the studio, despite being completely different from any other Marvel film in tone, structure, and many other crucial elements.

Guardians of the Galaxy is an action comedy set in space, and most of its characters aren’t even human. That’s a far cry from any other comic book film, period, let alone Marvel movies like Iron Man and even Thor. The premise of Ant-Man is absurd enough, despite the movie actually taking place on Earth. Yet it feels so different as a superhero movie because first and foremost, it’s really a heist film with bits of Edgar Wright’s unique editing style thrown in.

marvel better different

The upcoming Doctor Strange, set to release this November, is also a movie that — judging by the marketing and previous knowledge of the character — looks and feels different from previous Marvel offerings, because it seems to be tackling unchartered territory in terms of fantasy elements and dimensional science for the hero of that movie to experience.

These movies, excluding the as of yet unseen Doctor Strange, have been hits with both critics and casual audiences because yes, they’re different. So it’s strange, then, when both critics and naysayers of Marvel movies speak as if this cinematic universe has a firm license on vague storytelling elements, like humor and quipping. There’s a desire for DC to be the other side of the coin, different and more progressive than what might be called a mainstream superhero franchise with Marvel.

The problem with that desire, though, is that Marvel has already been the other side of that coin, and the other side of many coins that they, themselves, have inserted into the zeitgeist of superhero films. They don’t always get it right, of course, and some of their risks have been paid off better than others, but if DC should take notes on being “different” for the sake of surprising and delighting its fans, it should really be paying more attention to Marvel. Not less.

Because being different, while a good start, is not a merit on its own. Fantastic Four was different, which we can all agree on. But that definitely didn’t improve what was inherently flawed with that film. A non-Marvel movie that’s great at being different is Deadpool, made by Fox, proving that a superhero film doesn’t have to be made by Disney in order for it to be beloved by just about everyone old enough to see it.

marvel better different

I still have high hopes for DC Comics moving forward, though not nearly as high as I used to three years ago. But if you’re reading this and feeling a bit alienated because you want DC Comics and Warner Bros. to keep taking risks and producing films with these iconic characters that demand to be different from what we’ve seen before, then you can definitely take solace in one, major thing: The DC Comics movie universe under Geoff Johns — their new Chief Creative Officer and co-developer of The Flash on CW — kicks off next year with Wonder Woman.

And from what we’ve seen so far of that movie, the future could still be quite bright (not dark) for DC Comics.


I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Popular YouTubers, like PewDiePie, Got Paid for Positive Game Reviews

pewdiepie paid reviews

Rich McCormick, via The Verge:

…Warner Bros. deceived customers by paying thousands of dollars to social media “influencers,” including YouTube megastar PewDiePie, to cover Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor without announcing that money had changed hands.

Warner Bros.’ deal with the influencers involved stated that they had to make at least one tweet or Facebook post about the game, as well as produce videos with a string of caveats to avoid showing it in a negative light. Those videos could not express negative opinions about the game or Warner Bros. itself, could not show any glitches or bugs, and must include “a strong verbal call-to-action to click the link in the description box for the viewer to go to the [game’s] website to learn more about the [game], to learn how they can register, and to learn how to play the game,” according to Ars Technica.

I don’t want to focus on the YouTubers being at fault here, even though they are. Just reread that second paragraph because the key point here is that this is happening all the time, and for the most part, people are getting away with it.

Getting paid for positive/negative reviews is an insult that gets thrown around a lot, especially at critics who disagree with the majority of fans over something. Just take the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice backlash directed at just about anyone who hated the film, like me. But you can’t argue that the practice is some conspiracy. The studios are doing this every day.

Not to be confused with the more common practice of luring influencers to exclusive “events” in order to extract a positive sentiment from the person or persons. It’s hard to criticize a game, TV show, or movie when the makers of said property have put you in an environment where it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in the day. I know this from firsthand experience, and it’s a bitter thing to overcome.

You’ll never read a paid review or “sponsored article” on this website. I get the requests on an almost daily basis, and it’s not happening. Not because I’m above it all or that I’m scared I’ll get caught (even though that’s a fair consideration). But because you’re reading my opinions, presented by me and no one else. That’s what you’re here for, and it would be useless, even moronic, for me to give you anything else.

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