characters

Logan is the Superhero Movie We’ve All Been Waiting For

We’ve suffered through a few rough installments of the X-Men series, and frankly, we’ve been suffering through a lot of superhero movies that blatantly ripped apart character development or spat in the face of canon all for the sake of the Big Audience. Blockbuster movies have been a staple of the superhero/sci-fi/fantasy genre for decades, and for many viewers, the predictable plot lines, deaths for shock value, and poor application of special effects, editing, or cinematography have made the movie-going experience a little stale. But we’ll go because we love the genre, and the production houses know it.

Last year, Fox Studios was backed into a corner when it released Deadpool, a rated R superhero (antihero) movie that featured sex, cursing, and more bloody murders than any red suit could conceal. It was a hilarious punch in the face to movie execs who swore that the superhero movie’s target audience was the PG-13 crowd, and it couldn’t be a success if there wasn’t the opportunity to market the movie to the whole family and pump out some serious merchandise for kiddos to gobble up.

What Deadpool did for the genre in terms of shaking things up, Logan has taken a step further by doing the unexpected. Going a step in another direction, Michael Green, David James Kelly, and James Mangold present a grim character-driven film that does what X-Men has always (or should have) done – presented the audience with interesting characters, a social commentary that is culturally relevant, and questions that stay with them when the lights go up.

Logan is a lightly-played prophetic dystopia of what feels like a very realistic future. It drives into the heart of society, of Logan and Charles Xavier, and of our own humanity while posing questions about personal autonomy. Mangold’s story has depth without exposition, and paired with John Mathieson’s eye for shooting compelling scenes, Logan is a beautiful film – something that most superhero movies can’t claim. There’s action, explosions, and all the other traditional action fodder that audiences eat up, but it’s done in a way that is compelling. There were moments while watching I was captivated by stunts and choreography that I hadn’t seen before. And even better, Logan doesn’t guarantee anyone’s safety; there’s no sense of the hero shall prevail. Instead, the audience is in the moment, not sure whether or not anyone will make it to the next day. There’s no nightmare to wake up from, and everything will not be okay.

Beyond the outstanding visuals and somber story, the acting of Sir Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Dafne Keene (who we should all most certainly watch) was superb. Perhaps there was more body to the script than previous movies, but Logan simply stands out from the performances of previous installments. The supporting cast, including Orange is the New Black‘s Elizabeth Rodriguez, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, and Eriq La Salle, is excellent as well, seamlessly adding to the dynamic of the narrative.

At this point, I don’t have any criticisms of the film – the questions left unanswered aren’t truly relevant to appreciating the story we were given. There was drama, humor, action, and meta-references that actually prove to aid the story and aren’t a standalone prop for fans to point and smile at. To top off the already deep satisfaction of the film’s ending, Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” plays us off in a fitting tribute to the title character.  Hopefully the success of this film leads to more R-rated, character driven flicks that do these characters and their stories justice. These movies don’t have to be guys and gals in spandex who never curse; take these characters and ground them in reality and you still have an extremely compelling story to tell, both through narrative and visually.

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Weak Storytelling and Mishaps for Marvel

I received an ask on my tumblr asking me if I saw that Steve Rogers was now and always has been Hydra according to new canon. I’m angry enough about this topic to come out of my hiatus to rant.

I’m completely and utterly disappointed in this “new twist” on the Captain America canon, essentially rewriting everything that came before it. This move falls into the [does something dramatic and controversial for shock value] arena of poor writing. I know it’s poor writing, because I’ve written a plot twist in a novel and questioned it every day since. Luckily, the novel isn’t available and I can rewrite my mistakes, and the character isn’t a beloved symbol of good and an example of humble greatness.

The new development was discussed in an interview with Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort by TIME magazine. Marvel writer Nick Spencer apparently pitched the idea, and for the 75th anniversary of our man Steve, there was to be a shocking twist: a good guy was actually a member of a Nazi-adjacent evil organization. This whole time?! This whole time. But why is this a bad thing? From the the representation the character has and how beloved he is, to the concept and timing, it’s bad all around. It’s a recycled story line; they already did this with Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and with the S.H.I.E.L.D./Hydra agents in Winter Soldier. It’s a concept for the character that is neither compelling or coherent in thought. Like the killing characters off for shock value trope that has become a tiring staple, this twist is no longer a twist or a continuation of established canon – it’s awkward, offensive, and kind of fucked up. Some people simply don’t care and don’t understand why the outrage. Their response is shrug, big deal, it’ll be forgotten in a few months, but the reaction of people who love the character has been a resounding Fuck This, and I’m obviously in this camp.

[Note: I’m most definitely not in the send death threats to the writer camp either – please don’t do that. That’s more than unhelpful, does not prove any point, and is wrong. Steve Rogers would be ashamed of you.]

Why is this fictional character’s negative characterization so upsetting to me? Just his week, I explained to my oldest what “Hail Hydra” meant and why I didn’t want to hear him saying it again. He actually hung his head in shame the second I mentioned the link from Hydra to the Nazi party, and he’s only ten. He understands Nazi atrocities and what they represent. I hugged him and reassured him that he wasn’t in trouble, and that sometimes we do things we don’t know are offensive because we don’t know the meaning. When you do know the negative meaning of something, whether a symbol or phrase or action, and still perpetuate it,  then you’re an asshole. To hit me a little harder in the gut, I have been hand-painting a Captain America shirt and making a shield for my youngest’s Cap cosplay for Denver Comic Con. He’s eight, and Steve Rogers is his hero. So yeah, it does feel personal.

If this isn’t some bad idea for publicity gone incredibly wrong, it’s an amateurish, gimmicky plot twist that weakens the Marvel brand – a poor move, especially with the MCU being where it is right now. As fans are begging for female driven comics and diversity, excited about Black Panther coming to the big screen, and questioning why the Captain Marvel movie keeps getting pushed back while slipping in yet another Spider-Man reboot and an Ant-Man sequel (but we’re getting the Wasp so…), this only adds to the negativity regarding actions the profit-driven studio heads (i.e. the “women don’t sell toysIron Man 3 fiasco). Creating outrage on social media by disappointing fans equals dollars right? And that’s why we’re here…right? #WeWin.

If they’re doing this story line to avoid Captain America going after the Big Bad of the world at the moment (ISIS) like he was created to do with Hitler, that’s weak. I’m sure if that’s the angle, they would argue that it would cause greater Islamophobia (despite the fact that intelligent people realize that Muslims do not equate to ISIS and the same could be said for the first installments of Cap back in ’41), but how is Steve Rogers being on the side of the anti-semitic Hydra helpful at all when you have a xenophobic “leader” like Donald Trump running for president? Steve Rogers was created by Jewish men (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) to fight Nazis. He controversially punched Hitler in the jaw before the United States even entered World War II. He questioned his government and its overreaching practices over the years. He is an example of what it means to be on the side that tries to do what’s morally right despite opposition – whether that is internal struggles or fighting against a world power vying for domination and promoting genocide – and to want what’s best for the people of a nation you love.

As the daughter of a Veteran, the wife of a Veteran, and a Veteran myself, patriotism has been gently instilled in me since I was a child, so I know how much a patriotic character with a moral compass means to kids – and how horrible it is to see the needless destruction of heroes when we so desperately need goodness. A rough lesson in how not all “good guys” are great men is one thing; taking a hero like Steve Rogers and making him Hydra – on the 75th anniversary of his creation, close to Memorial Day, and during Jewish American Heritage Month –  is frankly gross.  Watch the special that recounts the history of the character and how people feel about Steve Rogers and tell me this Steve is Hydra! story is a remotely good idea, let alone makes sense for the character, whether in the comics or in the cinematic universe.

Steve Rogers being Hydra goes against everything that the character was created for and fought against for his 75 years of existence. This feels not only like bad writing and poor creative choices, but like a terrible publicity stunt that is working – it’s certainly got everybody talking.

TL;DR – Making a ‘Steve Rogers is Hydra’ story line is utter bullshit, but that’s just one fan’s insignificant opinion.

Ashley Wallis, Sagacity, Serene Guipahgo, Original Characters

Sagacity

Over this hiatus I’ve done a lot of art therapy for fun. I’m not an artist by any stretch, but I do enjoy making things, however good or bad I am at it. I’ve worked up graphics for my portfolio, applied to jobs, and actually done no writing. It was kind of nice to have my brain not overworking itself creating something for a moment. But then the Youngest wanted help in creating a superhero for Pop Culture Classroom’s contest at Denver Comic Con. He was really interested, but his attention strayed because…he’s eight. We decided to work on our separate computers on the Marvel website to create a base for a character that we would design and come up with a backstory for, and hopefully end with a comic.

While his mind wandered to something else, I found myself consumed over the past 36 hours with creating this character. I’ve never felt so desperate to make a character happen. Of course I have no idea how to go about making her come to life because she fits into a universe that is established and copyrighted, but here she is.

Disclaimer: None of the Marvel characters or groups listed below are my intellectual property and I have no rights to them. The character that is my intellectual property, including appearance and personality, is Serene Guipahgo (Sagacity). @ Marvel – Hire me. 

Meet Serene.

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Can I buy the Deadpool team a round?

There have been a few comic characters that have consistently stood out to me as being hands down perfectly imperfect and absolutely awesome. While my love for other characters may seem to waver in intensity (and I always have a writer or two I’ll favor over others when it comes to characterization), my love for Deadpool has been steadfast since I picked up the comic a couple years ago – but my adoration for Wade Wilson is nothing compared to that of Ryan Reynolds’.

The beauty of the Deadpool movie is the passion that went into making it. The utter relentlessness and tenacity it took to get this thing made is fucking inspirational. Reynolds took the phrase “if you want something done right, do it yourself” and ran with it, while writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (give these guys a raise) took an amalgamation of characteristics from various Deadpool writers’ take on Wilson over the past twenty-five years to create this awesome cinematic version that is true to the comics. Tim Miller’s vision for the movie and insistence on Deadpool being pansexual made me want to pull a Macho Man Randy Savage Oooooh yeah! and punch a straight white boy whining about Deadpool’s non-existent heterosexuality in the face. I was already sold at the leaked footage, but with the genius marketing team (and Reynolds himself) pushing Fox Studios to the point that those who weren’t completely sold on the profitability of the NSFW style of super hero were probably suffering from stomach ulcers and anxiety, I knew walking in that I was not going to be disappointed – and that’s an amazing feat when it comes to Fox Studio superhero films. The X-Men franchise is one that I always have high hopes for and am slightly disappointed with if not entirely upset that I didn’t spend the time writing crack fiction instead. This time, Fox got it right – thanks to a creative team fighting the studio for Wade the entire way. Honestly, they should be thanking the pains in the ass that kept fighting for this movie to be made for all the heartache.

deadpool, deadpool movie

Deadpool, Fox Studios 2016

The movie that resulted was a visually pleasing, crass, in-character, fourth wall-breaking ride that had the entire theater laughing. I’ve never been in a theater with so many pleased audience members – except maybe the morons that let their children sweet talk them into taking them to see the R-rated “super hero” flick – which was R-rated for a hundred different reasons, as it should have been; if Deadpool hadn’t been R-rated, it would have been untrue to the character and a disappointment with fans. Thankfully, it wasn’t PG-13’d down. It was oddly refreshing and appropriate to hear “Fuck fuck fucking shitfuck!” coming from the speakers. As for the cinematic elements, even though there were amazingly violent visuals that were on par with the comics, we weren’t overwhelmed with special effects. Other than Colossus and the instances of Angel Dust’s landing and Negasonic Teenage Warhead using her powers, the only obvious special effects sequence is also one that had a lot of physical effects – the road and bridge scene we saw in the leaked footage and the trailers. 

Ultimately, this movie came down to the characters and the story. When it comes to character background, I’ve always leaned toward Marvel because of how much I’m invested in their personal narrative. Whether it’s Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. agents or Agent Peggy Carter – these characters have stories that are begging to be told and the audience wants to hear, which is obvious with the film and television franchises. Deadpool’s success is notable not only because of the R-rated content, ingenuity of marketing, and unique storytelling that matched wits with the source content, but because of the characters. Had the characters been watered down in either humor or tragedy, this movie wouldn’t have been a success, let alone a record breaking one. In an interview with Forbes magazine, Rhett Reese said that the success of the movie showed “how much people really love character above special effects”, and this is especially true with comic book fans. We love the explosions and fights, but fuck if we don’t love the characters above all else, which the Deadpool team brought in force. Being accurate when it comes to a character and providing an interesting story doesn’t have to involve $100 million in special effects, dramatically and inaccurately killing off a character for shock effect, or laser eyes. Critics are saying this is a game-changer in the super hero movie genre, and I sincerely hope it is. The family-friendly movies are great, but when the opportunity is there to create a movie for adults, why not take it? Sure, there’s not a lot of marketing opportunity for the toy aisle at Target, but I’m sure the adult market will make up for it. Maybe this will finally be the dick waving in the face of the studios that makes them realize it.

Moving away from the “strong female” trope and just writing good characters

Over the course of television and film history we’ve watched as generations of women lobbied for female representation. Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman in the 70s has been iconic, as well as the ladies that made up Charlie’s Angels leading into the 80s and Lucy Lawless’ Xena in the 90s. The badass women who were beautiful and beat the hell out of the bad guys were important to lots of girls growing up, but The Powers That Be take these characters as a base for building not so great characters with traits that became a tiring trope – a disservice to the audience, let alone the women behind these characters.  While female characters who dress scantily, are excellent marksmen, and punch assholes in the face are awesome, when the characterization stops there the importance of creating a female role in the first place is lost.

Important steps forward have been seen in characters like Buffy Summers who was feminine, wore makeup, and loved pink while also being exceptionally skilled, allowing girls to see that just because you like things that are typically associated with girls doesn’t make you weak – and that you don’t have to discard femininity or look down on girls who drew hearts in pink glitter pen on their notebooks to be powerful.

Michonne, Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead

Danai Gurira as Michonne [from TWD Wikia]

The Walking Dead‘s Michonne has been a touching example of a fascinating female character as we watch her slice through zombies and enemies alike with a cold and quiet demeanor, only to be shown how vulnerable and nurturing she really was. Her strength was displayed in putting down her weapon when she had the opportunity to and picking it back up again when she was needed. Meanwhile, Bella Crawford on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal was stubborn and desired to die with dignity and Orphan Black‘s clones display a mixture of science mastery, ability for manipulation, and suburban motherhood among their strengths. Creating female characters with depth that didn’t bust in people’s faces on the regular was also important, redefining “strong women” and broadening the characters we were seeing on screen, both big and small. Showing emotions doesn’t always make you weak, wielding a weapon doesn’t always make you strong, and giving a diverse display of what it means to be a woman reaches and resonates with a broader audience.

We’re seeing a beautiful change in female representation in media overall, but within the shows themselves that are providing this representation, it’s better than expected. While the film industry is still trying to catch up, television (network, cable, and instant streaming) is sprinting away with characters that are dynamic and fully fleshed out with strengths and faults in all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnic groups, and sexualities in shows like The 100, The Walking Dead, Agent Carter, How To Get Away With Murder, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Vikings, and so many more. More than that, we’re getting relationships between women and platonic relationships between women and menI have to pause for a moment in disbelief and joy because those two things make me so incredibly happy. Women are not only being written with characteristics like fierce loyalty, cleverness, ruthlessness, and nurturing love, but we’re also being shown why the pretentions of previous decades are absolutely ridiculous. Recently in an episode of Agent Carter, already noted for doing at excellent job in representation (especially for the time period in which it is set), the male characters scoff at the idea of a larger woman – despite being a trained member of the agency – being able to take on an integral part of a mission that required her to be physical.

Lesley Boone, Rose Roberts, Agent Carter

Lesley Boone as Rose Roberts in Season 2 of Agent Carter

This attitude is similar to what the men did to Peggy Carter herself, and while no longer doubting Peggy’s prowess, Sousa doubted this woman’s ability to do her job while scapegoating it on him being able to focus and not be worried about her. Of course she accomplishes her task with a satisfied grin. Reinforcing the same point that Agent Carter made in its first season, this moment added appearances into the mix, giving bigger women such as myself (who had to experience disheartening looks of shock when I told people I did 5ks for fun and was training for a half-marathon) representation and a boost of confidence.

The true heart of these shows is character, and it seems as if creators are realizing just how important these things are to their audiences. Some are understanding better than others by giving us a wide range of female characters that are representative of not just their audience, but the world we live in. What we’re seeing more and more of is a move away from creators struggling to write a “strong female character” in an original way that avoids the cookie cutter trope and just creating female characters – and writing good story lines for them. What an intriguing concept.