Saturday, June 6, 2015

Why Netflix Might Be A Better Format For The Marvel Cinematic Universe Than Feature Films

Marvel's Daredevil recently hit Netflix and was a big hit.  After watching it I was reflecting on it and on the MCU in general, and it occurs to me that Netflix, or a similar platform, might actually be the perfect format for the MCU.  Here are the is why.

Comics are a serial type of story telling.  Each story builds on the last one.  The movies do this, but are limited by two factors.  One is that the studio can only put out a few movies a year.  This means a much slower progression in the story, and you only get a few hours a year to build your story.  With a show you get several episodes to build your story.  The second factor is that each movie has to be crafted so that it stands alone.  Film makers want the widest possible audience, so any dependence on other movies or shows is going to be minimized as much as possible.

One advantage of serial story telling is character development.  You have time to build your characters.  In movies you have a couple of hours to establish your characters and tell you story.  Only characters that carry over from film to film get any chance to really grow or change.  This is why Marvel has the issues they have with their villains.  There is not enough time to flesh them out or make them relatable in any meaningful way.

The best villains in the MCU so far have been Kingpin from Daredevil and the villains from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  This is because they had the time to build these characters, and make us understand why they were the way they were.  Grant Ward's betrayal would not have had the same impact had it happened an hour and a half after we met him.  Since we were given a chance to get to know the character over a season, he has become one of the MCU's most effective bad guys.

Netflix has the advantage over ABC, though, in that shows can be darker, more violent, explore heavier themes if and when necessary.  AoS is a lot of fun and has gotten very good.  But Daredevil is on another level of story telling, being able to get into more complex themes.  Of course, the target audience is different, and not all the shows need to be the same.  It is fine to have AoS remain more family friendly.  The main argument for having everything in one place is just to make it easier for the fans.  More people will get involved with all the shows if they are easily found in one place.

I know the MCU is not going to abandon feature films any time soon, they make too much money.  But maybe some day we will see Netflix shows carry most of the weight, and movies be used for big crossover events and such.  That would give the best of both worlds.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What Themes Will Batman V Superman Explore?

Next year two of the biggest comic book icons will meet on the screen for the first time.  Batman Vs. Superman.  This is the movie that will likely make or break DC's cinematic universe.  It will be dark and gritty, like DC movies tend to be.  It will also likely tackle some pretty heavy themes.  Below are some of the topics I expect it might cover.

 The most obvious theme will be religion.  Besides the very well documented fact that Superman is a stand-in for Christ, the trailer made obvious that he is being worshiped as a god by some people.  This of course is going to inspire a backlash by the faithful of the traditional religions.  What will it mean for the Abrahamic religions to have a seemingly all powerful being show up?  Not to mention the effect of confirming that we are not alone in the universe, and the religious implications of this.  I expect this to be a big part of the movie.

Another one that seems inevitable is immigration.  Let's face it, Superman is the ultimate undocumented alien.  How does the government approach this?  He has proved his value, does that give him a pass on the process?  Since he was raised here, will they consider him to be naturalized?  How can we be sure of his true sympathies and loyalties?  I'm sure it will talk about the fear of people who are different from us, and the hostility that immigrants often face.

Liberty versus security is sure to be touched on.  There seems to be two ways for them to portray this. The first is obviously Superman, and his ability to keep us all  safe by bending us to his will.  Some of the apparently dystopian imagery from the trailer may indicate they are taking this tack.  The other is Batman, and the lengths he will go to punish those he considers a threat to society.  There are rumors that he will employ a drone army of some sort.  And he will take the decision of what should be done about Superman into his own hands.  Whichever way they approach it, the question will be raised, "Is total security worth the loss of some or all liberty?"

The final theme is not as certain.  Since  Wonder Woman is in the film, there is a chance that feminism will be a strong theme.  It all depends on how big a presence she has.  If she has very much screen time, I think it is a given that woman's equality to man will at least be brushed up against.  How can you have the strongest female character in pop culture and not touch on that?  If she has a brief cameo though, we probably won't get anything that deep from her involvement.

Perhaps you think that this is a superhero movie is not going to deal with these controversial issues.  Then you haven't been paying attention.  Marvel tends to make lighter popcorn fare than DC (I say this as a self avowed Marvel fanatic, I happen to prefer the lighter touch usually), and even Captain America: The Winter Soldier dealt with questions of security, privacy, and pre-emptive action.  Nolan's Batman Trilogy and Man of Steel both dealt with a myriad of weighty themes, and I fully expect this trend will continue.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Captain America: Civil War Hopefully Will Not Repeat The Sins Of The Comic

Next spring Marvel will kick off phase three of their cinematic universe with the third Captain America movie Civil War.  Based loosely on the comic book crossover event of the same name, it is going to feature virtually every hero introduced in the movies to date, including fan favorite Iron Man.  The comic event had a few flaws that made it a less than stellar story.  I want to talk about those flaws in the hope that the movie version avoids them.

When the crossover event was first announced, it was stated that they wanted to tell a story that pitted hero against hero, operated in shades of gray, and did not have an obvious villain.  The story revolved around a genuine disagreement about individual freedom versus the safety of society at large.  After a disaster resulting from a group of attention seeking superheroes taking on a villain who was more desperate and ruthless than they realized, the government takes steps to register all masked heroes, and regulate their activity.

Iron Man gets on board with the program.  Captain America sees it as a violation of everything he has fought to preserve all these years.   Captain America and his followers are considered to be criminals when they refuse to come in for registration.  Iron Man is put in charge of bringing them in.

Now it's not hard to see the real world events these stories were trying to parallel.  And even though Marvel claimed they were not going to take one side or the other in this event, someone in charge of the story obviously felt otherwise.  It did not take long before Iron Man became a heavy handed fascist, who went so far as to recruit supervillains to bring in the wayward heroes by any means necessary.  He uses a cyborg clone of Thor to subdue his foes, and as a result Goliath is killed.  Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic build a prison in the Negative Zone, where dissenting heroes are kept with the villains who declined to sign up.  No trials or release dates for these prisoners, and escape would mean being stranded in the Negative Zone.

This had the effect of Making Tony Stark seem a bigger villain than many the Avengers had fought in the past.  This seemed like a waste of a beloved character, and it took me a long time before I even wanted to read a comic with Iron Man in it.  It would have been far more interesting had they stuck with the original concept of not having good guys and bad guys, but two groups of good guys split along ideological lines.  Imagine how much better the story would have been had you wanted to root for both sides, knowing the whole time that one side was destined to lose.  Instead they cheapened the story and squandered the good will toward one of their major characters in order to make a political point.

I'm not saying politics have no place in comics.  They have often been a place to discuss topics too risky for other media.  But if your politics trump your story, you have a major problem.  People won't read it if it's not good, and those who do will have a bad taste in their mouth and are less likely to see your point of view.

I think the MCU is less likely to risk alienating half their movie audience by taking such an obvious political stance.  I also believe they are not likely to do anything unpleasant with Tony Stark's character, as Robert Downey Jr. is one of the most bankable assets they have.  Normally this unwillingness to push the envelope with the story would be seen as a negative.  In this case I believe it could actually make for a more interesting story than the source material offered.