Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? It’s A Comic Book Stunt?

Superhero comics run on the old serial narrative. Hero faces death. Hero is threatened by death. Then Hero saves the day. And then after a few hundred issues you have to give the threat some credibility by killing the Hero. Then you replace him with something else. Then you bring him back.

Four Supermans. Three Batmans. Doc Ock as Spiderman. And then once you’ve shaken things up, cleared the ground, you use that 8f_118056_0_SupermanVol1250HaveHorseWillFlas an opportunity to give the whole thing a fresh look before going back to the way things were all along.

Nothing really changes in comic books. That’s truer than ever because the comic book audience is now 40 year old males and they want more sophisticated storytelling without changing the stuff they grew up with. Those two are irreconcilable. And this is how you reconcile them. You make big changes and then reset them. Spiderman reveals his secret identity and then makes a deal with the devil to undo it. Big stuff happens and then it doesn’t. Everything changes and then it doesn’t.

The one thing that comic publishers fear for their IPs, even big ones like Spider-Man, is that they will be shelved and ignored. Event comics are a cry for attention. Making big changes gets readers to browse it on their iPads one more time. They make it seem like the comic is going somewhere when it’s not. When it can’t.

What can you really do with an iconic character that hasn’t been done before? Nothing.

Every comic book character has died, been replaced, had to kill, been accused of murder, lost the loves of their life, been defeated, had their identity exposed etc…

There is nothing else to do. Not a thing. Oh you can make him gay. That’s about it. And then change him back. See Vampire Slayer, Buffy. And once every comic has done its gay love story, there will be even less out there.

Superhero comics stopped being relevant a while back. Even Spider Man, one of the younger of the top superhero comics, is out of it. These aren’t stories, they’re IPs. Like Mickey Mouse or the Simpsons they’re just around because people remember them and kids buy the merchandise. That’s it.

There are no more stories left to tell. Just lunchboxes to sell. Or Apps. And the kids who buy Spider Man gear aren’t reading the comics now, they’re seeing the cartoons or the movies.

The comics began it all, but now they’re just this odd relic tagging along. Disney isn’t interested in Spider Man because it wants to sell Spider Man comics, but because it wants to make Spider Man movies.

DC and Marvel are relics full of characters to be monetized by movie studios who put movies first, games second, cartoons third and comics zeroth. Their target audience is 17. The comics audience is 37.

Batman, Superman and Spiderman comics have become the ugly stepchildren of their own IPs. Their audiences are too old, their medium is dated and they have to pull off new stunts that their audience is familiar with because their audience is pushing 40 and grew up on those stunts.

Comics aren’t dead, but the big boys are irrelevant. And being irrelevant means fighting harder for oxygen. It means more stunts which get reset and alienate whatever audience remains after the initial buying frenzy for the issues that aren’t going to be worth anything in twenty years dies down.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a dying industry trying to pull off one more comic book stunt. Peter Parker dying in Doc Ock’s body is a metaphor for the entire industry. Old fans. Old characters. No reason to go on.

Die Hard Must Die

A Good Day to Die Hard? That’s not my title, that’s the actual title of the next Die Hard sequel. Sure they could just call it Die Hard 5 or Die Hardererer, but this is dumber.

Why should you look forward to A Good Day to Die Hard? It comes to you from the writer of Wolverine, Hitman (the movie not the game) and the A-Team. All three of those movies were horrible failures. But he did Swordfish ten years ago. And it comes from the director of Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix and Max Payne. Those are at least better movies than Wolverine and Hitman.

But that’s not the problem with A Good Day to Die Hard.

Do you know who John McClane is? He’s a cop. Ordinary guy who somehow stumbles into extraordinary situations and stumbles through them while running with bloody feet and cursing. That is what made Die Hard work. Then John McClane got jammed into an adaptation of a novel that wasn’t about him, but it still worked a bit. Then he got dumped into a buddy cop movie in the middle of New York City. That didn’t work that great, but it sorta worked. All of those movies were on some level still grounded in the ordinary nature of John McClane, who can kill a dozen bad guys, but does it by the skin of his teeth and never intended to dive into this.

All that came to a complete end with Live Free or Die Hard. It’s coming to a bigger end with A Good Day to Die Hard which is set in Russia. Yes Russia. Because when you think of John McClane, you think of Russia.

Now A Good Day to Die Hard is very obviously borrowing from Taken. But it’s actually worse than that.

Q. What can you say about the story?

A. McClane and Jack are very estranged, but like any parent it doesn’t matter how estranged you are from your kid, you still feel for them. He discovers that Jack is in trouble in Moscow and he goes to try to help, but he’s got the wrong end of the stick. Jack is not the person he thought he was and he’s mixed up in some very serious international business, and John finds himself in the eye of the storm. He finds himself in a situation that he, at first, screws up for Jack, but ultimately finds himself in a position where he helps Jack put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Q. Fox chairman Tom Rothman said that Jack was more badass than John. Is that fair to say?

A. I think it’s probably fair to say that what was accidental in McClane Sr., coming face-to-face with international turmoil and bad guys who stay up late at night coming up with very clever stuff, is very much much a career choice for Jack McClane.

So get this FOX is making a Die Hard movie that’s about John McClane’s son being a superspy whose goal seems to be to turn the Die Hard franchise into a Bourne franchise starring McClane’s Australia son. FOX couldn’t have done a better job of missing the entire appeal of Die Hard if it had set a bunch of giraffes on fire and filmed it as a romantic comedy.

I don’t know about you, but what I really wanted was not just a Die Hard sequel, but a Die Hard sequel in which we discover that John McClane’s son is Bourne.

It’s obvious how this horror was born. Studio executive looks at Bourne and at Taken, two top action movie franchises. Then he decides to marry them and graft them onto an existing IP. Mission Accomplished.

This is a different kind of fix. This is for people who get a kick out of the Bourne movies.

So says John Moore. But easy question, why not just make a Bourne movie? Because FOX doesn’t have a Bourne IP available. They do have Die Hard.

This is why Die Hard should have died long ago.

The Dark Knight Rises movie review

When working on The Dark Knight Rises, a movie about Batman, the Nolans forgot one minor detail. Batman. The Caped Crusader doesn’t show up until about 50 minutes it and shows up so incompetently that he might as well not have. It’s only 2 hours in that Batman actually arrives and that’s also the point at which The Dark Knight Rises become a watchable movie instead of a montage of violent scenes and shots of Christina Bale brooding in the dark.

Rarely have a superhero’s appearances felt like a cameo in his own movie. But The Dark Knight Rises, like The Dark Knight, isn’t really about Batman. It’s about how we rise and fall and how we solemnly talk about rising and falling. It’s not really about anything. Like artsy commercials, it’s a really expensive way of getting your attention and then once it has your attention, The Dark Knight Rises has nothing to say.

The Dark Knight Rises Poster

While the last two movies ended with Batman doing his shadowy thing, The Dark Knight Rises begins with no Batman and Christian Bale living alone and walking around with a cane. Something that he’s been doing for years. The way the story is usually told, Batman broods and Bruce Wayne puts on a grin and goes to parties. There’s a reason why the story is usually told that way and it’s not just because Christian Bale can’t act and can barely get by with a dopey playboy, but is completely unwatchable as a moper.

No the reason is because that character, the one who spends almost two hours of The Dark Knight Rises whining, is not the one that people want to see. It’s not just the whining. This version of Batman is almost superhumanly stupid. No I take that back, he is superhumanly stupid. This Batman has worse combat skills than Catwoman and has trouble figuring out how to get into his own mansion. His detective skills instantly enable him to deduce that Catwoman is after his fingerprints, they just don’t lead him to disable any forms of authorization that depend on his fingerprints or pass them along to a proxy. After noticing this interesting factoid, he doesn’t do anything about it except unsuccessfully ask Catwoman why she stole his prints. The man who is capable of immediately detecting a plot to steal his fingerprints never considers what things out there might require his fingerprint authorization.

But that’s okay because this is also a movie where all the good guys are superhumanly stupid too.

Just to get your head around this level of stupidity, no one on the Gotham Police Force believes Commissioner Gordon when he describes being attacked by Bane, even though Bane was being hunted by the CIA and had managed to kill a number of officers. After walking into one explosive trap in the sewers set by Bane, the Gotham PD dispatches thousands of police officers, most wearing no protective gear, clumped closely together into the sewer. There they fall victim to another explosive trap. In the culmination of their role, the Gotham police charge unarmed at Bane’s gang who are armed with machine guns.

In possibly the worst piece of stupidity in this entire movie, the Gotham police and Lucius Fox are aware that the nuclear bomb will go off anyway. Instead of getting on the radio and conveying this information to the outside world so that the US Army will step in and liberate Gotham, they only tell it to a few special forces officers who get killed right away, which leads the military to blockade Gotham.

In The Dark Knight, the Joker was an evil genius. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane isn’t a genius. He just has a gift for being in the right place at the right time. His enemies just happen to be retarded.

Total creative control can be a bad thing. It’s a very bad thing in the case of The Dark Knight Rises which is too long and too pointless. About half of its problems could have been fixed with some major cuts to the first act, which feels like a long slow commercial for a product that you really don’t want to buy. The other half could have been fixed by nuking the whole project from orbit.

There are unnecessary flashbacks to the previous movies that don’t contribute anything to this movie even if you didn’t see the previous movies; the exception to this is the flashback to Gordon with a young Bruce Wayne. And then there’s the dialogue which consists of blocks of emotive speeches that might work in a play but sound ridiculous in a movie. Every actor gets to deliver his or her own soliloquy. And the dialogue handed to them veers between the ponderous and the cliched. “His only crime was that he loved me” is an actual line of dialogue in the movie.

It’s all too easy to point out what’s wrong with The Dark Knight Rises. There’s three bad accents, from the occasionally incomprehensible Tom Hardy as Bane, Marion Cotillard’s nearly equally horrible accent and Christian Bale doing his usual ridiculous Batman voice. But the really incomprehensible part is the plot.

The plot for The Dark Knight Rises looks like it never got past the scene cards stage. It’s stupid and too complicated at the same time. Sure Gotham could just happen to have a nuclear reactor nearby, but instead we have to spend 15 minutes discussing a Wayne fusion reactor project and why he shut it down. Bane’s backstory is equally messy and told in the most complicated way possible. Nothing goes from A to B if it can instead get there by way of F.

The degree of improbable events and coincidences are even worse. Bane discovers that Harvey Dent was a madman when he finds a speech admitting the lie by Gordon who had just been carrying it around with him. Blake figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman because he saw that Bruce Wayne is angry on the inside. No seriously, that’s it.

There are great moments in The Dark Knight Rises and the movie picks up once Bane seizes control of Gotham and fully comes to life when the true villain is revealed. But it’s hobbled by the same old problems. Nolan still can’t direct action and the movies are too long, but this time there are no saving graces. There are hardly any ideas in The Dark Knight Rises worth discussing. There are no moments here to compare to the ferry scene or the hospital scene in The Dark Knight. And the movie, like Bale, spends too much time alone in a dark room.

There are good ideas somewhere in the script. Turning the Lazarus Pit into a hole in the ground prison had potential. Forcing Bruce Wayne to learn to walk and climb out of his prison also had promise. Even the takeover of Gotham occasionally works. But unlike The Dark Knight, we don’t really get to see much of the ordinary people grappling with the moral dilemmas posed to them, and Bane shouts a lot about the people, but we have no idea how the people react to it.

Moving Batman’s defeat up to the first act, instead of spending hours wallowing in Bale’s misery, and then playing out the takeover, might have made for a stronger movie. But this is the movie we got. It’s not the movie we need, but maybe it’s the movie we deserve.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a standout performance and steals major chunks of the movie. I wouldn’t have said it before, but if WB decides to replace Bale with him, it would be a major improvement. Anne Hathaway isn’t completely terrible, but she is out of her league and her performance is uneven. The role she’s supposed to be playing is street, but she can never sell it. Marion Cotillard is irritating until you realize why she’s in the movie. And that provides the only surprise and one of the few strong moments in the film. It’s Nolan’s prestige act, but it’s also all he has to offer.

There might be a good movie lurking in The Dark Knight Rises. A good edit might even bring it out. And had The Dark Knight not achieved mythical levels of success, WB wouldn’t have let The Dark Knight Rises out of the gate in this condition. But it did and the critics are in no mood to talk about any of the shortcomings of an inevitable film.

The Dark Knight Rises is brilliant because it must be, because everyone says it is.

Art and Games

In a post at The Verge, Brian makes an important point about how seductive art or the illusion of it can be to game reviewers.

I think the reason critics fell for it was because they were perfectly set by the nature of their position as professional reviewers to be hooked by it. The game is (according to some, I’ve not played it) a poor execution on the mechanical level. The controls are poorly implemented and the game takes ‘real is brown’ to a ludicrous extreme.

Critics and reviewers, and I speak as one of the breed, want to talk about the meaning of things. We want to find the meaning of things. But often games are not about meanings, they’re about experiences. There are bad art games, the way that there are bad art films and bad literary novels, works that exist only to make some higher point while providing a miserable and unpleasant experience, but they have even less reason to exist because a game is an interactive experience.

Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops the Line fails mechanically as a game. It plugs that failure by referencing Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad and setting up an absurd cliched ending that most of us have seen done in movies before. But this blew away game reviewers, even ones who would have laughed off Spec Ops the Line as a movie, because it was moving gaming forward, in their minds, to some wonderful world where games would be deeper works of art instead of murder sims.

Unlike Day Z, there really isn’t much talk about Spec Ops the Line, even by those who like it, because there isn’t much to say about it. Unlike Day Z it doesn’t provide moral choices or a complex experience. It is just a student film cover for incompetence. But that cover makes people feel smart and critics like feeling smart.

The seduction of the critic is that trap of fake intelligence, whether it’s reviewing what a game should have been instead of what it is or reviewing a game positively because it made you feel smart, not because it was a good experience.

The Spiderman Reboot… it Bombed

I never saw any sense is such a rapid reboot of movies that were doing pretty well, but Sony knew better. Sony was so smart that it cast some Twilight emo kid and decided to make a worse version of the same movie that they made 10 years ago. That was a move intended to capitalize on teenagers who were just learning to walk when the first Spider Man movie was released and who were just trying to make it to puberty when Spider Man 3 was released and can’t be expected to relate to a thirty something Spidey.

the Amazing Spider Man poster

It’s like the Dark Knight… but with more teen angst

But studios forget that they’re not the only audience out there.

The original Spider Man cost half of what the Spider Man reboot did and made more faster. The original Spider Man hit 400 million bucks. The Spider Man reboot got plowed under by The Dark Knight Rises and made 11 million over the weekend bringing its total to 228 million dollars out of a 230 million dollar budget and unknown promotional budget.

That’s not quite a bomb bomb, but even with foreign box office those are bad numbers. Spider Man 3, which had an oversized 258 million dollar budget still had a 336 million total and that was enough to trigger a reboot. Spider Man reboot probably won’t clear its full budget domestically and while its opening weekend is big enough that much of the money doesn’t go to the theaters, this is still bad.

As usual the Spider Man reboot has made more money in the foreign box office than the old domestic one, but the Amazing Spider Man is underperforming internationally too.

Does this mean Andrew Garfield will be sent home, along with Marc Webb who went from directing a few TV episodes and music videos to a summer tentpole? Will Sony give Sam Raimi a call?

Probably not. In their defense a chunk of the problem was releasing this puppy right before Dark Knight Rises and after Avengers without figuring out a way to make the Amazing Spider Man into an event movie.

The original Spider Man was an event movie. The new one would have done better in a barren season, but this summer had actual event comic book movies and it couldn’t compete.