Tag Archives: Batman v Superman

Return of the bad-ass ladies of summer

It’s become an annual tradition on this blog to celebrate the bad-ass ladies of summer — those women blazing trails of awesomeness into the male dominated territory of Hollywood action movies.

The summer movie season is winding down and, looking back on it, it wasn’t exactly bad-ass, what with flops like “Warcraft,” “The BFG” and “The Legend of Tarzan” casting a depressing shadow over the box office, which was dominated by uninspired remakes.

Despite this, there were female-centric performances to admire as many actors followed in the pioneering footsteps of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa and Daisy Ridley’s Rey to give us the strong, nuanced, wildly entertaining, butt-kicking performances we should be seeing more of. We do, after all, live in the 21st century.

Without further ado, here are the bad-ass ladies who led the way this summer. They deserve a 21 proton gun salute.

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The Cast of ‘Ghostbusters’

Who knew rebooting the beloved 1984 action-comedy classic with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon taking on roles loosely based on those originally played by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson would be such a subversive act?

When director Paul Feig announced his plan, he broke the Internet as wounded, mostly male fans took to Twitter to decry a “Ghostbusters” populated by women and declare it was ruining their childhood. This despite the approval of producer and original director Ivan Reitman.

Things only got weirder and uglier after the film’s release as online tirades directed at the cast continued and Jones became the target of a nasty trolling campaign that smacked of racism and misogyny. The incident prompted Jones to briefly shut down her account and Twitter to tighten up its regulations, but all ended well with Jones returning to Tweet another day and living happily ever after as a sidesplitting Olympic commentator.

Whatever your opinion of “Ghostbusters” — and it definitely has its flaws — the significance of its arrival on the cinematic horizon cannot be overstated. This is an action-comedy headlined not by one women, but by four, and none of them are sexualized or condescended to by the filmmakers or their male co-stars.

Whatever the movie’s failures, whether weak story or a lack of originality, the cast has nothing to do with them. “Ghostbusters” is a lovingly crafted showcase for a quartet of consummate comedians who are squarely on their game, hilarious, and in total control. (Kudos to Chris Hemsworth for good-naturedly going along with the film’s funniest gender reversal.)

This is empowerment of a kind that is extremely rare in Hollywood and done with a tone so light and playful, it’s easy to dismiss how important the film is. Because of “Ghostbusters,” women took to social media to ponder what their childhoods might have been like if this film had existed when they were growing up. And little girls donned the team’s trademark beige jumpsuits and proton packs with gusto.

We can only hope more filmmakers will join in the spirit of “Ghostbusters” and its delightful feminist subversion. Is it too soon for a female James Bond?

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Sofia Boutella as Jaylah in “Star Trek: Beyond”

The rebooted “Star Trek” franchise has always featured a strong heroine in the form of Zoe Saldana’s intelligent, fiercely loyal Lt. Uhura.

At the same time, it’s hard to shake the feeling that J.J. Abrams and company never know quite what to do with the miniskirt-wearing communications officer. Uhura tends to linger on the sidelines while Chris Pine’s Kirk, Zachary Quinto’s Spock and even Simon Pegg’s Scotty get all the action. That’s why the introduction of Jaylah in “Beyond” is so refreshing.

Boutella previously made an impression as Samuel L. Jackson’s blade-legged righthand henchwoman in “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” As Jaylah, the strikingly marked alien who becomes an unlikely ally to the crew of the Enterprise, she more than holds her own beside Pine and Pegg.

Jaylah is a loner, survivor, formidable fighter and technical genius who savvily makes her home inside a crashed Federation starship and protects it with a dazzling array of sophisticated booby traps. She also has excellent taste in vintage rap.

“I like the beats and shouting,” she declares.

Boutella graces this tenacious extraterrestrial heroine with stubbornness, humor and heart and, in the process, elevates “Beyond.”

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Comic Book Movie Heroes

Although Hollywood’s comic book franchises have lagged in embracing compelling, three-dimensional female characters to match their heroic male counterparts, this summer saw some encouraging strides in the right direction.

Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has long been the woman of substance in Marvel’s often feeble female lineup. While she’s enjoyed her fair share of butt-kicking action, “Captain America: Civil War” gives her an unprecedented opportunity to flex her fighting muscles, throwing punches as aggressively as The Cap, thanks to directors Anthony and Joe Russo.

The “X-Men” franchise has treated its superheroines admirably, providing them with meaty emotional arcs and equal opportunity action moments. This summer’s “X-Men: Apocalypse” is no exception. The crux of the plot turns on the evolution of Sophie Turner’s young Jean Grey, whose climactic wielding of power is something to behold.

The season’s most entertaining comic book movie performance, however, belongs to Margot Robbie as one of the few rays of light in DC’s messy “Suicide Squad,” starring as infamous villain and the Joker’s wannabe girlfriend, Harley Quinn.

With her inordinate, self-destructive love for the Joker, Harley Quinn has always been a problematic character. She’s insanely likable, but also a bit of a feminist nightmare.

Although I wish director David Ayer didn’t spend so much time allowing the camera to leer at Harley’s short shorts, Robbie succeeds effortlessly in creating one of the film’s only fully realized characters.

Her Harley practically leaps off the comic book page — completely unhinged, an unabashed romantic, scary but sweetly vulnerable, and 100% capable of taking care of herself. It’s kind of a miracle, actually, that Robbie is able to pull off this crazy balancing act. Give her a spin-off already, DC.

It’s been a long time coming, but it appears the makers of comic book movies are finally at least attempting to give female caped crusaders their day in the sun.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the most tantalizing element of “Batman v Superman,” however brief her appearance. Her stand-alone film, due next year, looks amazing from what we’ve seen so far. And Marvel has a “Captain Marvel” movie in the works, starring the astonishingly talented Brie Larson.

In short, things are looking up for bad-ass ladies everywhere. Here’s hoping next summer is even more epic for them.

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Photos: http://www.youtube.com, ghostbusters.com, yahoo.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Batman v Superman’ and The Six Things I Never Want to See Again in a Comic Book Movie

After months of anticipation by fans eager to see their ultimate comic-book fantasies come to life, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” debuted to a record-breaking domestic haul of $166 million.

Last weekend, the movie set another very different kind of record. In a phenomenon referred to as a “second week slump,” its box office dropped by 68%. That’s the eighth biggest drop-off in history when it comes to similar sorts of films.

As a recent Los Angeles Times story points out, this is no real sweat off the backs of the makers of “Batman v Superman,” considering how much money the movie has already raked into their coffers.

But this development did spark an interesting debate about whether the so-called slump was due to poor word of mouth or because everyone who was planning to see the superhero showdown simply turned out to see it that first weekend.

Widely panned by critics and received less than enthusiastically by many moviegoers, according to exit polls, “Batman v Superman” isn’t the tedious failure reviewers have proclaimed it to be. Still, there’s no question the film could be better, especially with a few more polishings of its capriciously nonsensical screenplay.

The face-off between the Man of Steel and Gotham’s Dark Knight — with a little Wonder Woman as the filling in this superhero sandwich — is a labor of love by director Zack Snyder.

Snyder has a gift for faithfully duplicating sacred comic book moments hardcore fans are dying to see, while leaving the rest of us in the dark.

On a visual level, he trades in striking, if cliched, imagery that is undeniably entertaining. When it comes to narrative and dialogue, things get bumpier. Snyder movies are a lot of flash, little substance.

Strangely enough, it isn’t these trademark qualities that most annoyed me about “Batman v Superman.”

Rather, it’s the fact that the movie leans so heavily on lazy, exhausted and, frankly, exhausting comic-book tropes seen too frequently in franchises of this genre, whether the films are produced by Marvel, DC, or someone else entirely.

If Hollywood expects us to continue to accept a new world order in which every other film it produces features spandex, capes and godlike beings who stoop to save puny earthlings, then filmmakers must stop serving up more of the same and offer more of what we haven’t seen before.

In that spirit, here are six things I never want to see again in a comic book movie.

(Warning: Mild spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen “Batman v Superman.”)

1. Wanton Destruction of Major Cities 

In 2013’s “Man of Steel,” a good third of the film is devoted to the cataclysmic clobbering of comic book capital Metropolis as Henry Cavill’s Superman attempts to thwart would-be Kryptonian overlord General Zod from conquering the planet.

This goes on for so long and with so much casual carnage, it becomes disturbing and, ultimately, tedious.

In “Batman v Superman,” we discover there is a method to the madness of this urban annihilation — it sparks the conflict the sequel centers on — but unfortunately this only gives Snyder the opportunity to rehash the Metropolis massacre.

I totally get that the impending end of the world, as embodied by havoc wrecked on recognizable urban landmarks, is a staple of comic book climaxes, but we’ve seen this so many times  now, it doesn’t even register anymore.

Whether the Avengers are defending Manhattan from Loki and his computer-generated Chitauri army or the Guardians of the Galaxy are stepping in to save the day after the entire Nova Corp fleet is blown to oblivion, there’s no urgency left in this most overused of urgent plot devices.

And while we’re on the subject, is anyone else bothered by the way these movies — Snyder’s especially — trot out 9-11 imagery for cheap emotional impact?

I know it’s been awhile since that dark day in American history, but I still can’t stand seeing skyscrapers on the point of collapse while workers utter desperate prayers and copy paper and dust clog the streets, accompanied by ear-ringing sound effects. It’s heartbreaking, not to mention tasteless.

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2. Origin Stories (Unless We Haven’t Seen Them Before)

When it comes to comic book origin stories, none have received more cinematic play than the young Bruce Wayne’s dramatic, traumatic loss of his beloved parents.

The horrific scene, complete with a dark alley, theater marquee, wild-eyed gunman, slow motion, and shattered pearl necklace, has been dramatized several times on film, including 1989’s “Batman” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight.”

Though “Batman v Superman” doesn’t delve too deeply into the backstory of Ben Affleck’s aging, world-weary Bruce Wayne, Snyder feels the need to revisit this formative, horrific moment yet again. He has his reasons, of course, which we realize toward the film’s end, but they’re not very good ones.

I don’t know why directors feel the need to keep returning to our favorite superheroes’ roots. Heaven knows, we’ve sat through Spider-Man’s origin story about 50 bajillion times now, not to mention Wolverine’s, which has been examined from just about every possible angle.

So how about we institute a new rule? No more origin stories, unless it’s one we haven’t seen before or, at least, most of us aren’t familiar with.

I’d argue that’s half the reason the Iron Man trilogy was so successful — many of us were unfamiliar with the character — and a big part of why the recent Deadpool was a hit as well.

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3. Damsels in Distress

Considering that comic book movies sprouted from an industry that historically has not valued strong female characters, it’s no surprise Hollywood lags behind in this area as well.

Still, the studios have been making some encouraging progress lately, introducing more strong women with superhuman abilities in substantial roles, even if there are still only a handful of them.

Among these promising female role models are Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven, and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora. And Hollywood has more female-centric comic book flicks in the pipeline, including a “Wonder Woman” movie and “Captain Marvel,” featuring a woman in the lead.

Snyder at least introduces Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot) in “Batman v Superman,” even if she only gets to really strut her lasso-wielding stuff in one scene. But troublingly, the rest of the film is populated by damsels in distress whose only function is to serve as bait for the gallant Superman.

In an egregious waste of the talents of Amy Adams, intrepid reporter Lois Lane spends the entire movie being rescued by Superman or doing inexplicably dumb things to motivate him, like tossing a Kryptonite spear into the water, only to clumsily attempt to retrieve it two scenes later.

Meanwhile, Supes’ beloved Ma Kent (again, a waste of Diane Lane) is held hostage in harsh fashion simply as a vehicle for the resolution of the male heroes’ conflict.

Fanboys may argue that the damsel in distress is a tried-and-true staple of comic book lore, but this is the 21st century and there is no excuse for any film’s female characters to languish without a reason to exist apart from their male co-stars.

And if all producers have in mind is lowest common denominator box office, it can’t hurt to present positive depictions of women that appeal to both genders.

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4. Easter Eggs for Movies I’d Rather Be Watching

This doesn’t happen all that often, but it did while I was watching “Batman vs Superman.”

There’s a scene in the movie in which Affleck’s Batman retrieves an old photograph of Wonder Woman. In the picture, she’s all set for adventure, wearing her classic character get-up and posing with three fascinating looking guys.

At that moment, I had an epiphany: This photo is the movie I wish I was watching right now!

I’ve experienced similar feelings at various points in the Avengers franchise or while watching the most recent Spider-Man reboots and I think this is going to happen more and more as we’re subjected to a continued onslaught of vaguely familiar sequels, reboots and spin-offs.

Part of the fun of comic book movie franchises is that directors lace the latest chapters with in-jokes just for the fans and references to favorite plot points or story threads. They also tease us with sneak peeks at future heroes, villains or developments, a la Marvel’s now famous end credit scenes.

The danger in this comes when a film’s purpose is merely to set up yet another film. If that’s the case, who can blame the audience for wanting to skip ahead and get to the good part?

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5. Boring Villains From Outerspace

Ok, so we all know extraterrestrial baddies are a big thing in comic books.

On the big screen though, this trend hasn’t proven to be very compelling, thanks to an abundance of brightly colored body makeup, cheesy CG effects, hammy acting, and a lack of motivation we humans can relate to.

In “Batman vs Superman,” for instance, Snyder introduces not one, but two extremely popular extraterrestrial megaliths the Man of Steel famously faces off against on the comic page.

To be fair, one of these big baddies is only hinted at, not shown, but even the prospect of this creature’s impending arrival fails to stir anything more than obligatory excitement. (And if you’re not a comic-book reader, you probably don’t even know what’s going on here.)

It can’t be just me who doesn’t give a fig what lumpy, purple computer-generated overlord Thanos is up to, floating around on that space rock, or why blue-hued Ronan (despite poor Lee Pace’s best efforts) is so hot and bothered about … er … I can’t even remember.

In the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” the fabulous Oscar Isaac dons the weird makeup of the epic villain the film’s title refers to, but the prospect only fills me with dread because these evil dudes from outer space and regions beyond are rarely worth remembering.

Give me a recognizably human baddie any day, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, with his chillingly uncertain motives and passion for chaos, or David Tenant’s Kilgrave — if I may reference the Marvel television series “Jessica Jones” — who channels his power to sickeningly selfish ends rather than aiming to conquer the world.

The human propensity to evil is always more terrifying than any otherworldly threat.

6. Joylessness Masked as Grit

One of the reasons critics have been quick to pile on “Batman v Superman” is because the film isn’t always fun to watch.

An over-the-top clash between two of comicdom’s biggest heroes should be full of giddy energy, to say the least, but too often the movie bogs down in a gloom thicker than the dust that lingers over a devastated Metropolis.

There’s a lot of glowering, and grumping, and daddy issues, and gravely cynical pronouncements about the nature of power, and muddy, muddled action sequences that don’t send our hearts racing or keep us teetering on the edge of our seats.

That’s not to say comic book movies shouldn’t be dark, or edgy, or disturbing, or that they should all be kid-friendly laugh-fests, like the Marvel movies tend to be.

“The Dark Knight” trilogy is lauded for its grit, but it’s many other things as well — elegant, stylish, thought-provoking and complex with kick-ass action and nonstop thrills.

“Deadpool” is shockingly jaded, but it’s also a hoot. Or consider Snyder’s own “Watchmen,” a film that, like its source material, is seriously twisted, but also very playful.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a massive hit because director James Gunn infused it with pure, infectious joy. Contrast that with the recent failure of the unbearably glum “Fantastic Four” reboot and you’ll see what I’m getting at.

Even the grittiest of comic book movies should speak to our sense of wonder.

Photos: http://www.youtube.com, marvel.wikia.com, marvelcinematicuniverse.wikia.com, blogs.indiewire.com, Marvel.

 

 

Is Warner Bros. Taking the Woman Out of ‘Wonder Woman’?

The Hollywood Reporter broke the news yesterday that Michelle MacLaren, director of Warner Bros.’ “Wonder Woman” movie, has exited the project.

According to a statement, MacLaren quit because of the mysterious “creative differences” so often cited as an explanation for director-studio splits.

BB-S5-Michelle-MacLaren-590 (1)Now, I know it’s probably too early to step up on my feminist soapbox. After all, we don’t really know what happened here. “Creative differences” could mean any number of things, from “she didn’t get along with the producers,” to “she was difficult to work with,” to “we just didn’t like her.”

There are rumors the studio was uncomfortable with MacLaren’s vision for the Amazon princess’ first solo film, which included a 1920s setting and maybe a tiger sidekick. Perhaps the director’s television background didn’t prepare her to oversee a potential blockbuster, though her credits include such formidable series as “Game of Thrones” and “Breaking Bad.”

Whatever the reason, which we’ll probably never fully know, MacLaren’s exit raises all sorts of red flags. I can’t help but wonder if the Hollywood boys club, not to mention the boys club of comic books, has chewed up and spit out yet another victim.

MacLaren would have been one of the first women to direct a major comic book movie, no small achievement. USA Today notes that Lexi Alexander helmed 2008’s “Punisher: War Zone,” but “Wonder Woman” is a movie of greater scale and bigger box office potential.

Just as there are few women in creative positions in the comic book world, there aren’t many to be found in the world of comic book movies either. There are woman producers, but they are seriously outnumbered by their male colleagues. Offhand, I can think of only one woman writer of comic book movies — the capable, crimson-haired Jane Goldman, co-writer of “Kick-Ass,” “X-Men: First Class” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”

Marvel came close to breaking new ground when “Monster” director Patty Jenkins was set to oversee the sequel to “Thor.” Jenkins bowed out due to — guess what? — creative differences, making way for Alan Taylor to inherit the mess that was “Thor: The Dark World.”

Of course, Hollyywood is notoriously male-centric when it comes to virtually every film ever made, not just comic book movies. There are only a handful of female directors who are household names, including Angelina Jolie, Kathryn Bigelow and Sofia Coppola.

Bigelow made history in 2010 when she became the first woman to win a directing Oscar. It took that long for a female filmmaker to claim the honor. Just this year, the Academy infamously snubbed “Selma” director Ava DuVernay in favor of a couple of male directors whose work was arguably less compelling.

I’m not going to argue that it is Warner Bros.’ sole responsibility to change the status quo. The studio isn’t obligated to appoint a woman as the cinematic guardian of “Wonder Woman.” It would be a nice gesture, though.

It’s difficult to ignore the fact that Diana’s debut in “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” — due in theaters next year — was entrusted to Zack Snyder, a guy whose idea of girl power is embodied in the objectified, video-game-shallow heroines of “Sucker Punch.”

Even so, I’m sure there are plenty of men who could sensitively and effectively tell the warrior princess’ story. One of them is Joss Whedon, whose name has been floated as the perfect replacement for MacLaren.

Whedon, who was involved in an earlier, doomed Wonder Woman project, recently announced his intention to take a break from Marvel. He presumably needs a rest after wrestling the impending “Avengers: Age of Ultron” into shape. The timing of this news sent the rumor mills swirling with the theory that perhaps a move to DC is in the director’s future. Such a crossover seems unlikely but stranger things have happened.

Whedon is celebrated for writing nuanced, powerful, three-dimensional female characters, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to “Much Ado About Nothing’s” Beatrice. I’m sure he’d do a wonderful job with “Wonder Woman,” but I’d be disappointed if he was named director.

Entrusting MacLaren with the keys to Diana’s kingdom was a step toward inviting women to contribute significantly to a genre woefully short on meaningful, memorable heroines. The director’s experience on series packed with strong female characters boded well for the film.

There’s always a chance Warner Bros. could bring another woman onto the project — although, by my observation, women who walk off a film are inevitably replaced by someone from Hollywood’s massive pool of male directors.

(I can’t help but think of Brenda Chapman, the ousted director of Disney’s “Brave,” or Catherine Hardwicke, who was replaced by Chris Weitz for the second “Twilight” movie.)

Once again, the studio is under no obligation to hire a woman to helm “Wonder Woman,” but somehow, it feels right.

At top, “Wonder Woman” star Gal Gadot, photo: mic.com. Above, director Michelle MacLaren, photo: blogs.amctv.com.