Double Take: Pocahontas vs Moana

When I first planned this series, I wasn’t quite sure what I would do about the Disney Princess movies. They are, after all, in a way different takes on similar ideas. But an article comparing all of them didn’t seem feasible so I originally intended to focus on other movies first before making a decision about them.

But then Lindsey Ellis did an excellent video which compared Pocahontas with Moana. Her angle was the question how Disney’s approach to other cultured developed over time and she made a number of good points. Though I did feel that she also missed a few and I considered doing my own take on the same topic, but with a broader focus. There is after all more to a movie than just how it handles sensitive topics. I hadn’t really decided yet if I should do it when I got a reviewer request for exactly that article. Well, I frequently ask my reviewers for suggestions, and I am always pleased when I get one which really calls out to me, so here it is,my personal take on Pocahontas vs. Moana.

Pocahontas-Choice-31. The Princesses

There are naturally some aspects all  princesses have in common – usually with one notable exception. With the exception of Jasmine and arguably Aurora, they are all the leads of their respective movies. With the exception of Merida they all sing and have cute sidekicks. And naturally they are all beautiful and have some sort of goal they want to reach (though the nature of said goals changed a lot over time).

But Pocahontas and Moana have some additional similarities.  Their stories are not based on European fairy tales, but on the culture of native tribes whose way of life was destroyed by colonisation. They both have some sort of connection to nature which gives them access to special power, something none of the other princesses have (Elsa is technically not the Princess of Frozen, Anna is). And they are both the daughter of the chief and conflicted about accepting their position in the tribe.

But there are also a number of important differences, some of them based in their characters, some or them based in the tribe itself. Pocahontas’ big conflict boils down to not wanting to get married to Kokoum. Moana’s dream is to be a sailor, but she is supposed to be a future leader. Pocahontas’ is portrayed as free spirit, spending her time in roaming in the woods. To be honest, she comes off as irresponsible and lazy at times, and I don’t think that this is intentional. Moana on the other hand is shown to be integrated in the tribe, doing clearly her part in society. Pocahontas is deeply connected to the spirits and decides early on to follow her own path, Moana initially looses the connection she has to the myths and history of her ancestors in favour of following the wishes of her father. Both end up leading the tribe on a new path in the end, but Pocahontas points them towards a new future while Moana pushes them to reconnect with their roots.Description-Pocahontas

And now I’ll say something which will most likely earn me a couple of angry comments: I think that both of them are less interesting than they could have been, though for very different reasons. Pocahontas motivations and goals are too vague to really root for her. She is more defined over what she doesn’t want – marrying Kokoum – than clearly stated goals, and her main reason for the actions she takes in the movie is that she literally “feels” that this is the right thing to do. Meaning she has some sort of dream or is guided by the wind, allowing her very little in terms of agency. There is little about her personality which goes past “free spirit connected with nature”, though to her credit, she gets a little bit character development towards the end when she decides to stay with the tribe instead of fulfilling her desire to stay with John Smith. Except I am not sure if this actually is character development and not just another instance of her just doing what the wind tells her.

My issue with Moana is more complicated. In isolation she works fine, especially since the child version of her has so much personality. There are some settled touches I really like, for example her putting the protection of a baby tortoise over her desire to get a beautiful shell. And I really like that her first attempt to go past the reef fails. She first needs the right kind of boat and then she needs to learn how to navigate properly. So, if I like all those aspects, why do I still think that Moana could have been a better character? Because there are a long string of princesses before her which had similar personalities, and most of them were pulled off better.

Don’t get me wrong here: I don’t necessarily mind the concept of a young girl having a dream and coming of age while trying to fulfil that dream. But if you do the same basic concept so often, it should feel organic. Disney has done the “I want”-princesses since the Disney renaissance. But do you know what they had in common? Either their desire is driving the story or the story defines their desire.

If Ariel hadn’t dreamt of seeing the human world, Ursula would have never been able to lay her little trap. If Rapunzel hadn’t wanted to see the lanterns, she would still sitting unhappy in her little tower.  Those are all leads whose desire lead to pretty much everything which happens in the story. But there are also a few for which it is the other way around, where events out of their control lead them an a specific path. Mulan wants to proof her worth, but she certainly doesn’t dream of being a soldier, and yet that is exactly what she becomes. Belle is unhappy in the little village she is living in and longs for adventure, but once she ends up in said adventure, she is everything but happy about the situation, since getting captured by some sort of beast is certainly not what she had in mind. In Tiana’s case it is a mixture of both: Her desire to own a restaurant has no relation whatsoever to Naveen’s plight, but without it, she would have never kissed him.

Moana on the other hand dreams of being a sailor and then is forced to go on an adventure which requires of her becoming one. Wow, this is convenient. There is also no particular reason why that should be her dream. Ariel finds all those strange things the humans create and is fascinated by it. Rapunzel sees the lanterns every year for her birthday. Belle dreams of adventure because she has read all those books and feels uncomfortable in her village. Tiana has all those memories of cooking for her father and sharing her meals with the neighbourhood. Moana likes the ocean because…it is there? And it played once with her when she was a child?

See, usually this wouldn’t be such a big deal, at least not quite (I will get to this later on when I discuss structure). But in the context of the Disney Princess Franchise it feels like Moana wants to be a sailor for one reason alone: Because it is kind of expected for a princess to have some sort of dream and the desire to go against social expectation. It feels like the Disney went for the less interesting story by fulfilling some sort of check list. Moana deciding to brave the waves would be so much more compelling if it were something she decided to do because the stories of her grandmother convinced her that this might be a way to rescue her people. That she is doing something she always wanted to do anyway makes her actions a little bit less heroic in my eyes.

And that is a real shame. Having a protagonist which starts out satisfied with her position in live and then setting out to fight a threat against it while also discovering her own culture on a deeper level would have been a new and fresh approach to the Disney Princess franchise. Instead they fell back in familiar patterns, cheapening the narrative in the process.

2. The Conflict with the FatherHard-knocks-5

I already addressed this point briefly, but let’s analyse this a little bit further. Pocahontas relationship with her father is fraught with clichés. He only wants the best for her, but doesn’t really listen to her desires. He sees her mother in her. And he finally accepts her wisdom. The problem in all of this is that the conflict isn’t really much of a conflict because it is kind of one-sided. Pocahonta’s father isn’t really aware of what she does all day, and when he gets angry with her over Kocuum dying, it is because of the wrong reason. He believes he died because she was careless and has no idea about her relationship with John Smith until the very last moment of the movie – at which point he listens to the wind and immediately changes his mind.

Moana’s father on the other hand knows exactly what her dreams and desires are, and the conflict between them is expressed in arguments instead of two people basically talking past each other. But the movie really drops the ball when it comes to the solution to the conflict. See, there is actually no reason whatsoever why Moana’s father should suddenly change his mind about leaving the island at the end of the movie. Even if he would be ready to believe her story about finding a Demi-god and rescuing the sea, why should he suddenly develop a desire to lead his people away from a secure place? It is like the movie has suddenly forgotten the original conflict.

As sudden as the change of mind of Pocahontas’ father is, at least he has some reasons for relenting, above all seeing a bunch of foreigners with what he knows are dangerous weapons ready to kill his people, and the movie takes its time to show him making his decision. In Moana on the other hand something which was introduced as central conflict is just dropped halfway through the movie and then the story suddenly jumps to it already being solved without really showing the steps in-between.

3. The Villain

So, every princess needs someone or something to overcome. In the past, this tended to be the classic Disney villain. Radcliff falls into the category, and he ticks off the usual boxes: Flamboyant, greedy and scrupulous. More recently though, Disney has started to do the villain with a twist – meaning, they often go for a surprise villain or reveal something unexpected about the villain in question. I am not overly found of this particular trend, partly because I just miss the dramatic, over-the-top performances of the classic Disney villains, partly because I am a little bit too good in spotting the twist from a mile away. So far Disney only got me once and no, that one time didn’t happen to be Moana. That is not necessarily a knock against the movie, though. For one I am very aware that, without wanting to brag, not everyone is as genre savvy as I am, especially not the intended target audience of the movie. And two, I think it is way more important that the villain fits into the themes and the story of the movie.Pocahontas-4-Three-words

So, what are the themes? Pocahontas is not just the story about two star-crossed lovers, it is above all about the clash of two different cultures and overcoming prejudices, making the addition of an outright villain deeply problematic. If you want to say something about the human tendency to see oneself as superior to others, you need to allow the characters to act thoughtless and brutal on their own merits, instead of providing a very relativistic view on the whole process of colonizing America by symbolically putting the guilt over what happened to the native Americans on a few bad white people, thus implicit suggesting that the other settlers were just mislead. And I don’t think that this excuse really flies. The settlers had a lot of reasons to go to America, some more sympathetic than others – it is hard to blame someone who is fleeing from poverty or prosecution for taking the chance of a better future – but no matter what their reasons were, they still took away the land from someone else and they still destroyed countless tribes and their culture in the process. This is the kind of national guilt which has to be acknowledged, not shuffled away by blaming a few especially brutal examples of leadership.Pocahontas-3-villian-quote

In short, the presence of Radcliff undercuts Pocahontas as a movie. He doesn’t even work on a narrative level. The point of a villain like this is that there has to be some sort of emotional relationship between him and the heroine, as well as some sort of final confrontation. But Radcliff isn’t aware that Pocahontas exists until the very end, and he never interacts with her.

Te Kā doesn’t interact with Moana until the end of the movie either, but in this case it works because this is an entirely different kind of villain which fits perfectly into the themes presented. Moana is largely about rediscovering your cultural roots, but above all about identity. Consequently it makes sense that the “villain” needs to rediscover her true identity, too. And it makes sense that Moana’s journey is about following the myths of her heritage, with Te Kā providing the big boss battle for the finale.

There are a couple of problems with this set-up though. Mainly: How is it that Maui doesn’t know about Te Kā being Te Fiti? He was there when she transformed, wasn’t he? Or does he know and just didn’t tell Moana? A question which brings me to…

 

4. The Support

Let’s start with Moana, because that is faster done. After all she is alone with Maui for the majority of the movie. And while Maui isn’t portrayed as love interest for Moana, his role in the story is pretty much the same, minus the kissing naturally. He guides her, he challenges her and they develop a relationship with each other. Maui also has his own arc which plays into the bigger themes by realizing that he shouldn’t base his own worth on the adoration of others. And that he is more than just a magic hook.

Pocahontas-Choice-1John Smith has a change of heart too in that he realizes that natives aren’t savages after all, but considering that this change happens pretty much within one song I hesitate to call this an arc. This is a guy who proudly proclaims that he improved the live of savages everywhere, and that he would gladly shot them if they aren’t appreciate of his improvements – mirroring the typical colonist mind set – and then suddenly does a 180 just because Pocahontas sings about the colours of the wind. I mean – really? And then he is the perfect hero for the rest of the movie. Sigh.

Then there are Nakoma and Thomas. Nakoma’s purpose in the story is to be Pocahontas sounding board. Her role is to voice doubt over the actions of Pocahontas. The problem is that her point of view isn’t given any relevance.

Nakoma-0-with-best-friend

None at all!

 

Both her and Thomas seem to be mostly around to make the protagonists look better. Pocahontas sneaking around leading to Kokoum dying is pretty much laid on Nakoma’s feet because she told Kokoum about the meeting, and John Smith survives the attack of Kokoum without having to kill him because Thomas does the dirty work for him. Consider this, the representation of the colonist mind-set isn’t even allowed to kill in self-defence, which would underline the questionable position of even well-meaning explorers, instead he heroically takes the fall for someone else.Nakoma-6-Name

At the end of the day, the support of Pocahontas had the potential to be the more interesting one,  but falls flat in the end. Moana on the other hand is oddly isolated and Maui is kind of stealing the spotlight from her on multiple occasions. Thankfully Maona also has pretty good comic relief.

5. The Comic relief

Did I ever mention that pigs are my favourite kind of animals? It’s true, I even have a whole collection of pig figures at home. Most of them are from my childhood since I stopped actively collecting ages ago, but I really, really adore pigs. And sometimes I have the feeling that Disney is trolling me about it. After The Black Cauldron, Moana is the second Disney movie which puts a pig into its marketing just to have it off-screen for the majority of the movie. And yes, I get the joke. But I was too disappointed to actually appreciate it. Bad Disney. Bad, bad, bad!

And just because I do get the joke, it doesn’t mean that I think it is a good one. In fact, the self-referential humour and the occasionally modern joke is easily the weakest aspect of the movie. It is very distracting. Heihei for example is absolutely hilarious except for the one scene in which he is used to “tweet”.

But while Heihei is easily the funniest aspect of the movie, I think Tattoo Maui is actually the best kind of comic relief. Not only is he funny, he also tells us a lot about Maui himself. It’s like seeing Maui’s inner monologue play out.

Pocahontas-with-sidekick-5Pocahontas doesn’t do a lot of humour, but what is there fits into the setting. There are no modern or self-referential jokes which take me out of the movie. And I appreciate this. On the other hand, though, the comic relief feels really disconnected. Flit is pretty much useless. Meeko gets a lot of screen time but the majority what he is up to is not at all related to Pocahontas story (with one notable exception). This is worse than the mice in Cinderella, which do take up a lot of screen-time, too, but everything they do is directly related to her. There is also something iffy about native Meeko being portrayed as this thieving raccoon who keeps annoying poor foreigner Percy.

The only comic relief which kind of adds to the story is Radcliff’s servant, Wiggins, who is both funny and a good sounding board for the villain. But, as I already pointed out, since the villain itself shouldn’t even be in this particular story, he is by association entirely superfluous, too.

Even though I prefer the overall style of humour in Pocahontas due to being less distracting, Moana’s comic relief works better for me because it adds to the story. And, to be honest, whenever they don’t go pop culture references, the jokes in Moana are funnier. Or at least speak more to my particular sense of humour.

Pocahontas-8-half-blue-half6. The Power of Nature and the Magical Guide

I already expressed some grievance over the role the wind plays in Pocahontas, especially the way it robs her of her agency. But I have some issues with the ocean, too. It feels a little bit like the writers have put a cheat code into the movie. Whenever there is a situation Moana can’t handle on her own, the ocean turns up and helps her. It would be one thing if this were Moana’s own power she had to learn to control, or if there were a specific set of rules when the ocean can intervene and when not, but nope, there are no rules to it, and if Moana needs some help to bully Maui into teaching her, well, she gets it.

To the credit of the movie, though: The ocean not only allows Moana to make her own decisions and have her own agency, when she throws the heart away even this decision is accepted. When was this ever the message of a chosen one plot? That it is okay to give up and that one shouldn’t face a challenge just because of a prophecy or a vague concept of fate? This sentiment is even echoed by Moana’s Grandmother Tala, who is, btw, a way better spiritual leader than Grandmother Willow is to Pocahontas.

Pocahontas is constantly told to follow signs, or arrows, or dreams or to listen to the wind. There is never any discussion of what the presence of the intruders might mean for the future of Pocahontas’ tribe, or even how the situation at hand could escalate.  Moana on the other hand is constantly told that she has to make her own decisions and accept the consequences of said decisions. She can follow the lead of her parents, but then the island might not have a future. She can leave and try to fulfil her role as chosen one, but there is no telling if she will succeed, no guarantee that this is the right decision. And, most importantly, no judgement if she fails or decides to give up.

7. The StructurePocahontas-Choice-2

On the surface, those two movies have structurally not much in common, but there are a couple of narrative tropes which are present in both of them. Most notably the Hero’s journey, the “All is lost”-moment and the Ticking Clock

I won’t go too deep into the different literature theoretical models for the hero’s journey, but in its very basic it boils down to departure, initiation and return. Meaning the hero – or heroine in this case – hears the call to adventure, faces the trials put in front of him and finally returns home a changed person.

Moana plays this trope pretty straight. Her story could be straight from Greek mythology, with her sailing across the sea and encountering numerous monsters. This has the effect, though, that a lot of what happens in the movie feels kind of random. I’ll be honest here: The first time I watched it, I missed all the explanation about the various monsters in the starting narrative, because I was only paying attention to Moana’s reaction to her Grandmother’s stories and not to what said stories were about. But even with this knowledge in mind, mentioning the existence of some monster is poor way to set up said monster appearing down the line. It’s a little bit like the obligatory scene in the James Bond movies in which James Bond gets a bunch of gadgets from Q, all of which he will conveniently need later on. Just mentioning said monsters doesn’t make their appearance later on more logical, since there is a lot in the narrative which doesn’t really grow out of what happened beforehand.

For example: That Maui needs to go to the world of monsters to steal his hook back makes kind of sense, even if it feels like a detour just throw in to give the two leads time to get to know each other. That Moana jumps after him into a seemingly bottomless hole doesn’t. She is human. How can she even expect to survive this jump? There is no reason whatsoever for her to follow Maui other than her being the protagonist of the story. And then, later on, they encounter even more mythological monsters outside of the monster world. They don’t even feature as part of a hurdle to overcome or inhabitants of a dangerous part of the ocean, they just turn up so that Mana gets a nice little action scene in the middle of the movie.

And, as I mentioned already, the movie more or less skips over the third part of the heroes journey. The return is shown, but only in a fast montage, there is no true weight to it.  And speaking of weight, the same can be said about the “All is lost”-moment.

Some of my readers might now wonder: Wait a minute, didn’t she just praise how Moana handles this moments by not putting pressure on the protagonist to fulfil a specific destiny? And yes, that is true, the Moana overcoming her despair is wonderfully written. But her arrival at this point isn’t. Through the whole movie Moana stubbornly pushes forward to do what her Grandmother wanted her to do. And then she just gives up basically because Maui gives up. Maui having a crisis at this point makes perfectly sense because his whole being is wrapped around the hook. But Moana giving up is completely out of character for her and not really motivated by the narrative. Even if she failed, even if Maui abandons her, the narrative has already established that Moana will always push forward in the end. But it is time for the “All is lost”-moment and Moana, not Maui, is the designated protagonist, so we get to see her having a crisis while Maui’s pivotal character moment happens off-screen.

The ticking clock is similarly clumsily handled. Early on the movie introduces the notion that Moana’s people are in danger because the island is not save any longer. But there is no time-frame give for how long they can survive under the circumstance, nor do we see the darkness creeping further and further into the island. There is one dream sequence to remind the audience what is at stake, but without any notion of how much time Moana actually has or how much the danger has grown at this point, it doesn’t create the urgency it should. This decision by the writers is especially puzzling since showing the slow destruction of the island would be a really good explanation why Moana’s people have to start travelling again at the end of the movie.Pocahontas-9-Last-Scene

Pocahontas’ hero’s journey is more spiritual than physical. She literally hears the call of something new, goes to explore this new world through the eye’s of John Smith and returns home in a sense that she eventually rejects the notion to turn her spiritual journey into a physical one. On its own this is a pretty strong concept which suffers in execution only due to the unwillingness of the movie to seriously tackle the themes it claims to explore.

Consequently Pocahontas’ “All is lost”-moment is a little bit contrived, too. If John Smith were actually guilty of killing Kokoum, even if it were in self-defence, it might make a little bit more sense to not speak up and explain that Kokoum attacked first. And to be honest, it does make Pocahontas’s look a little bit callous because she waits until the very last moment to act, and even then she only does it because she gets a sign that she should. But, to the movie’s credit, it makes the most of the moment.Free-Round-Set-3

Especially by adding a ticking clock which works. If Pocahontas doesn’t reach his father by dawn, John Smith will die. In this case the audience not only has a specific time frame, but also the visuals to match it. It sees the conflict which is about to escalate while the heroine mobilizes all her strength to prevent the catastrophe in the making.

8. The Tune of the Culture

By now I have discussed at length the narrative elements of those movies, but what about the technical aspects? Music is after all an important element of most Disney movies, especially the Disney Princess movies. And in this case, not only are both typical Disney musicals, you can also nearly match up the songs to each other.PC1

Moana starts with “Tulou Tagaloa” (which plays over the Disney logo) and “An Innocent Warrior” to set the mood and introduce the culture. In Pocahontas “The Virginia Company” (which represents the settlers) and “Steady as the Beating Drum” (which represents the Powhatan tribe) fulfils the same function while also introducing the cultural differences between those groups.

“Where You Are” is basically a song about why Moana should be happy with the live she leads.  The Reprise of “Steady as the Beating Drum” conveys the same message to Pocahontas.Pocahontas-C5

Both express their desire for something else in their respective “I want” songs “How Far I’ll Go” (Moana) and  “Just Around the Riverbend” (Pocahontas). Though Moana gets way more mileage out of “How Far I’ll Go” through repetition through the movie than Pocahontas gets out of any of its song, since Alan Menken prefers to use the score once a specific theme is established instead of filling the movie to the brim with songs. Even “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” ends in the familiar reprise of “How Far I’ll Go”. This song is mirrored in Pocahontas with “Listen with your heart” which also happens to contain a message of staying true to yourself.

There is not direct parallel song to “You’re Welcome” in Pocahontas, but John Smith’s lines during “Mine, Mine, Mine” fulfil basically the same function to flesh out the co-lead. And “Mine, Mine, Mine” has in turn an equivalent in “Shiny”, which is also a villain song about greed.Nakoma-5-Fire

The two songs which contrast the most with each other are “Know Who You Are” and “Savages”. Both are played during the respective climax, and both contain the core message of their respective movies. But “Know Who You Are” is a very calm a soothing tune while “Savage” is the exact opposite, created to raise tension. This is not a knock on either of those songs, though, both are a perfect fit for what their respective movie is going for.

Amusingly “If I never knew you”, the one song which doesn’t have a thematic equivalent in Moana, is also the one which eventually got cut from Pocahontas (yes, I know it is back in the extended version, I am discussing the theatrical released version). But its themes is still in the movie itself and it is played over the end credits, so I feel I should mention it here nevertheless. It is no surprise that there is no song to mirror that one, though, considering that this is a love song and Moana doesn’t have an outright romance.

Pocahontas-2-WalkingBut the songs most worth discussing here are “Colours of the Wind” vs “We Know the Way” and “Logo Te Pate”. “Colours of the Wind” has two functions: On the one hand it is a passionate plea for respecting other cultures and nature itself, on the other hand it is a montage song, played while the movie shows the two leads forming a bound with each other while one is teaching the other. Which is exactly what “Logo Te Pate” is used for, too, covering a number of scenes showing Maui teaching Moana how to sail, while “We Know the Way” celebrates the sea faring tradition of Moana’s people.

What is notable is the heavy use of, I think it is Samoan, in Moana’s songs.  Music and language are two of the most essential elements in any culture. They are communication and expression. Which is why it was a brilliant move of Disney to hire Opetaia Foa’i, leader of the Ocean music group Te Vaka, for the soundtrack.

It is not my intention to diminish in any way the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Marc Mancina. Miranda is the current Broadway star and Marc Mancina a reliable Disney composer who has a particular knack for using traditional instruments and tunes in their work. But if you look in the track list for Moana you’ll discover that Opetaia Foa’i is responsible for every bit of Samoan which is sung in this movie, while Miranda is credited for the more Broadway styled elements. And I feel that due to Miranda’s recent success, the contribution of Opetaia Foa’i has been unfairly overlooked. “Logo Te Pate” is entirely sung in a foreign language, but it doesn’t matter, because this is not about the actual meaning of the words, this is about the expression of a culture.

Pocahontas doesn’t really have this. At the very begging of “Steady as a Beating Drum” there are a few lines which are vaguely Powhatan, but overall, the soundtrack is dominated by the Broadway style Alan Menken does best. To be fair, the Powhatan’s approach to music is way less palatable for the American or European ear than Polynesian music is. It is also way more difficult to fuse into a musical due to consisting mostly of drums and vocals. I still think that it could have had a bigger presence in Pocahontas.

Not that Alan Menken’s work is in any way lacking otherwise. Pocahontas is a movie which wasn’t exactly loved by critics, but he nevertheless won two academy awards for his work. Moana only scoring one nomination in this category doesn’t automatically mean that he wrote the superior soundtrack, though. For one, him walking away with academy award seven and eight within five years prompted the academy to change the rules for the consideration of musical scores. And two, Moana faced stronger competition.

At the end of the day, those are two very strong soundtracks. Moana’s songs just do a better job of giving the culture represented in a movie a voice. Quite literally, considering that Opetaia Foa’i sings a lot them himself.

 

Pocahontas-C39. Animation and Artistry

If there is one thing I adore about Pocahontas, it is the background animation, especially in the scenes when it moves from a realistic landscape to something which looks like it was inspired by a Franz Marc painting. Who happens to be my favourite artist. Which in turn might be the reason why I consider this my second favourite background animation Disney has done, after Sleeping Beauty. The colours pop, the details are exquisite, the landscapes are gorgeous! There isn’t anything I would want to improve about it.

If I have one beef with the style, it is the character animation. Partly because I feel that Pocahontas looks too adult for the story they gave her. The question if Disney should sexualize “exotic” characters aside, this is a coming of age story. While the age of some of the heroines has always been a little bit iffy from a modern point of view, especially considering that they tend to fall in love with partners who are at least in their twenties, it kind of undermines the whole “growing up” aspect if the character looks, well, grown up. I always felt that Pocahontas grown-up body is a really bad fit for the story they are telling and hence very distracting.Pocahontas-C3

Another issue I have with the character animation is that this angular style doesn’t allow for much expression in the faces of the characters. Especially the size of the eyes are an issue here, the smaller the eyes the more difficult it is to convey expression through them, hence the need to balance this out in the rest of the face – for example, Mulan’s face switched from female to more male looking just by changing the eyebrows and her mouth allows for a lot of different expressions. But Pocahontas has in addition to the small eyes a mouth which barely allows any movement, hence all her expressions have to be conveyed through the eyebrows (which works well enough in close-ups, not so well from afar) and body movement alone. In the end, it is often the music or the dialogue which does the heavy lifting.

Nearly all the human characters in Pocahontas have this problem to a certain degree, I think the only characters who are particularly expressive are the various side-kicks. Who as a result stick out, and not in a good way. They are so much more cartoony compared to the rest of the animation, it feels like there is a series of shorts cut into the movie at random moments, not just on a narrative but also on a visual level.

Moana has the usual problems which come with CGI movies. The more of the animation is done by a computer, the less individual touch you will find in it. It is a little bit like the difference between having a DJ and listening to a playlist on shuffle. A DJ might have certain preferences, but he will also pick the music based on the audience and sometimes follow specific wishes. With the playlist you sometimes have the feeling that you can predict the next song, and you might even be able to. This is because the order of the songs are based on an algorithm, and while we usually don’t actively try to figure it out, subconsciously we get a sense for the order over time. Watching a CGI animated movie is a little bit the same way, there is just something familiar and predictable about the movements and the designs.

Thus said, the backgrounds are absolutely gorgeous. Animating water or hair is famously difficult, but Disney crushed the challenge. They also tried out more realistic body shapes. But above all, they went for a proper Disney Acid sequences. I really, really missed those! Even though the mix of CGI and 2D animation looks awkward overall, I give Disney a lot of credit for putting the art back into animation and trying out something different. I hope we will get more of this in the future.Pocahontas-C2

10. The Big Difference

You can point to the number of native people involved in the respective production or to Disney having learned from previous attempts to tackle minority characters as explanation why Moana has been received much better than Pocahontas, but I think the actual difference is the mind-set behind those movies. Pocahontas was created with an eye on a possible academy award for best picture, at the same time the people in charge were not bold enough to try something truly revolutionary and different. As Walt Disney would have put it, they tried to top pigs with even more pigs.

Moana didn’t have any ambitions like this. It only wanted to be the best possible movie about this specific culture. It does stand in the tradition of the Disney Princess Franchise (sometimes to its detriment),  but it also tests out the boundaries of it. In short, the focus is where it should be, on the actual story, and not on some sort of award.

Pocahontas-C4Above all though (and that is a point Lindsey missed in her video), Pocahontas is pretty much the worst story one can pick regarding Native Americans. Because at the end of the day, Pocahontas is not a Native American story. It is a story which John Smith told (and most likely made up) about a young native who was kidnapped, forced into marriage and brought into London society. Meaning it is a story some white guy told about Native Americans. Disney didn’t really put the uncomfortable Colonialist BS into the story, it is inherent to the source material and I actually don’t see how you can remove it – though arguable Disney made it worse by turning it into a bland love story and a message about tolerance and peace. Not that I mind tolerance and peace, but considering what happened to the Native Americans, they might have been better off if they had destroyed every ship which ever managed to reach their shores, thus preventing being overrun by people who had no regard whatsoever for their way of live or their culture – and who brought deadly diseases with them.

Moana on the other hand is based on actual native myths – kind of. The story the movie tells is entirely original, its only nod to Polynesian mythology are the deeds Maui lists in “You’re welcome” and his backstory. But that is pretty much the Disney approach to everything they adapt, especially when it comes to their mythological based movies. And I really don’t buy into the notion that there are different rules depending on from which culture Disney borrows, because at the end of the day, there are two choices: Either you want Disney to go out of the box and tackle something other than Western myths and literature, or you don’t. If you don’t, this is totally understandable – it would be a lie to claim that I am not sometimes a little bit frustrated by the way Disney permanently changed the perception on the fairy of my own culture (no, Snow White wasn’t awakened by a true love’s kiss, damnit!). But if you want Disney to represent your culture too, than you shouldn’t complain about the result being a Disney movie, meaning a reinterpretation and not a simple retelling. Disney doesn’t do those. Like, ever. I can’t think of a single Disney movie which didn’t put a twist or two on the source material.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that Disney shouldn’t do its research and naturally the rules are entirely different the moment they tackle the fate of an actual person, which is why I feel that Disney should just stay away from actual historical events. Moana is entirely made up, the only historical aspect in the movie, aside from going out of its way to portray details like the clothing, drums, ships and constellations correctly, is that the Polynesians really stopped travelling from Island to Island for a while at one point in history and nobody quite knows why. Disney’s explanation is as good as any other.

I have to give Disney props for the nature of the story they choose to tell in Moana. Pocahontas is at its very core the attempt to acknowledge the arrogance of the first settlers while also trying to find excuses for them. It is not really about the plight of the indigenous people or even about their culture outside of contrasting it to the Colonialist point of view.  But Moana is not just about self-discovery, it is above all reclaiming your own roots. It is not just a movie about Polynesian culture, it is a celebration of it. As it should be.Pocahontas-6-feet

11. Conclusion

While Disney movies are usually timeless, they also tend to reflect the status of society in the period in which they were made. It is therefore not really surprising that a movie which is made today does a way better job respecting foreign cultures than one which was created two decades earlier, when Disney was just dipping its toe into the notion of featuring a different culture in their movies. Regarding the overall quality of the movies in question, both are in their own way flawed.

Not on a technical level, in terms of animation and music both of them shine. But narratively, they both have issues. Pocahontas has an overall solid structure, but a predictable narrative which doesn’t take any chances. Moana takes more risk, but has structural issues which undermine the movie at various points. I feel that both movies would have profiteered from being less beholden to the Disney Princess tropes.Nakoma-Choice3

As I said before, the purpose of this series is not to declare a winner when I compare two movies. And I will stick to it. No, the fact that this movie is full of icon’s featuring Pocahontas is not an indicator of preference, not at all.  Truth is,  since Moana is a fairly new release, I haven’t created any icons featuring her yet, and forcing myself to do some just for this article didn’t feel right. But, as you can see, I have a whole bunch of Icons relating to Pocahontas created back when I was still participating in Icon contests. Which is why I used them freely for this article. And you are free to use them too, if you want to.

I’ll say this about those movies, though: Personally I have an easier time to forgive flaws in a movie which takes narrative risks than in one which goes for a more run-of-the-mill story. But I am also a sucker for artful animation and a catchy soundtrack. Make out of this what you want.

 

Advertisements

Marvel Musings: Ego

I hope I didn’t spoil anything for anyone. But then, if you are interested in Marvel, you should have seen Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 at this point. And yes, I realize that I skipped a few movies, but for one this one belongs in the timeline directly after the first Guardians and two, I feel that it would be better to contrast this one directly with its predecessor. After all, one of the reasons I cut Ronan some slack is because the need to establish multiple heroes as well as doing a lot of world building is inherently more important than having a complex villain. But how does the franchise fare once the basics are established?

MV8-Ego

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Ego is a supposed to be a surprise villain. As such, the rules for establishing him are a little bit different in that ideally he shouldn’t come off as particularly evil or threatening. Now, was I surprised that he turned out to be the big bad of the piece? No, not really. But there are a lot of things which did surprise me, above all how callous he was regarding Meredith and Peter. I really bought into the notion that the love between him and Meredith was mutual, and while I did expect him to have ulterior motives regarding Peter, I also thought that he saw a little bit more in him that just some human battery. So I would say, mission accomplished. They fooled me just enough that there was a shocking reveal in the end. 5 points for this one.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Ego’s motivation is basically “ego”. His whole being is so centred around himself and his own needs that he simply doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. If he were human we would call him an egomaniac or a narcissist. And since he has the power to do so, that means that he wants everything in the universe going his way – as soon as he has gotten rid of all the vermin crawling around on it. It is a logical motivation for a powerful being, but also a little bit run of the mill. So I’ll settle for 3 points.

 

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

He wants to reshape the universe but because he hasn’t enough power to do it on his own, he has spread his seed all over the galaxy in the hope that one of his offspring might share his power. Simultaneously he has left plants on all planet he has visit, so that he can activate them whenever he wants. So far, so good, his plan is easy to follow. I call fool though on the idea that someone is able to plant a particularly alien looking flower close to a populated area and it doesn’t get discovered in over 30 years – and on some planets those weird alien flowers have to have been around for even longer. I think I have to ding a point for this, and give him 4 points.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

He is operating in secret for who knows how long and comes really close to actually reaching his goal. But naturally he doesn’t win in the end and if you consider that he could have gotten to Peter way earlier when Peter was still vulnerable if he had just fetched him himself or at least bothered to do his research when Yondu didn’t deliver Peter, you just have to dock a point from him. So, 4 points.

 

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

Ego is even more dangerous as Ronan. Being a celestial he is way, way more powerful than any of the heroes. If he hadn’t been so focussed on Peter during the fight, or if Mantis hadn’t decided to side with the Guardians of the Galaxy (and even she was only able to stall him, not to stop him), he could have easily crushed all of them. 5 points

 

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very theme driven movie. It mostly examines toxic family dynamics, but also how we ourselves can destroy the relationships in our lives if our decisions are driven by, well, ego. Especially in the interaction between Peter and Rocket this theme takes centre stage, and it is very fitting that the Guardians of the Galaxy have to overcome “Ego” in their second movie in order to become the kind of unit they should be.  At the same time, though, Ego is the logical continuation from the first movie. Him being around answers the questions about Peter’s heritage and in a lot of way concludes the second step in Peter’s journey to come to terms with the trauma of his past. For a villain which works both in a narrative and a thematic sense I can’t give less than 5 points.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

This is a hard one. I am tempted to give Kurt Russell full points for this one, because he is playing a great character and it is not easy to make a character that disgusting charismatic. And yet I do feel that he could be a little bit more intimidating towards the end. He is great playing the typical Kurt Russell character, not so much playing the crazy the maniac. So I’ll go for 4 points.

 

8.  Costume

Does the costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

I am using costume here in the widest sense, because technically the kind of “cool medieval chick” the human version of Ego is wearing is only a fraction of his actual costume. Considering that Ego’s actual form is the planet, I am taking his celestial/planet form into account. And that one is really impressive. Not only is the CGI practically flawless, the world itself has so many memorable elements, from the flying rainbow bubbles to the structure of the building with the fountain in front of it. Considering that they even throw in a shot in which the whole planet seems to have a face, I can’t give this one less than 5 points.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

I can say without any exaggeration that I have never ever hated a villain has much as Ego. And I don’t mean “hate” in the sense that I wanted something else in place of him, I mean it in the sense that I had the deep desire to jump into the movie screen and punch him into the ground. I am not sure what is worse, him callously admitting that he killed Meredith as if it is no big deal, or him destroying the Walkman, the last connection Peter had to his mother. And yet, there is still something fun and entertaining about Ego. There really shouldn’t be, considering that he is a sociopath hell bend on destroying the universe,  but he does have this rare magnificent bastard charm. 5 points.

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

As I already pointed out last time, Guardians of the Galaxy is a franchise full of memorable characters and moments. But Ego gets his fair share of them. From surfing through the air in an egg-shaped spaceship, to his interactions with Peter, there is little he does which isn’t memorable. Even all the exposition he is delivering is packaged in a memorable way. And then there are naturally his various transformations during the end fight. Plus, he is a living planet. How can I give him less than 5 points?


Ego is such a great villain, a 4,5 points average sounds like it is a little bit low. But it truly isn’t, not in my point system. It will be hard for any villain to beat this score.


Disney and Fox: What’s the Deal? Part 1

Honestly, when I did my little article about the possibility of a deal between Disney and Fox, I didn’t quite expect that we would get definitive news that fast. What I said back then still stands, though, in that it will take some time before the deal comes in full effect. Still, time to discuss what Disney has actually bought. But not in one article, that would be a way too long read. So I will start with movies today, then go into Live Action TV, then into TV animation and finally into everything else in later articles.

Keep in mind though that I am not an expert in this sort of thing. I did basic research, but I can hardly fly to the US in order to look up the relevant sources personally. I need to trust into what is available on the internet. I am basically just laying out information for you other people have researched, and there might be mistakes in my assessment of them. Also, a lot of what I’ll write is pure speculation. There is no way to predict exactly what Disney will do, just some movements which would make more sense than others.

This in mind, what are we actually talking about when it comes to the movies side of things? Well, 20th Century Fox naturally, but not just that. There are also sister companies and subsidiaries. Though some of them are more important than others, and not all of them equal Disney getting their hands on a bunch of properties.


Let’s put three of them aside for the moment: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is simply the home video distribution arm of 20th Century Fox studio, meaning they are not in the business of creating content themselves. Honestly, their whole business will most likely be simply folded into the Disney company. One home video distribution company is enough.  So, if you are wondering if this merger will lead to job losses, this is where most of them will most likely happening. It is mostly the distribution companies which will be hit hard by this.

A second subsidiary I don’t plan to discuss in detail is Fox Studios Australia.  This studio has been involved in a number of movie productions, but that tended to be productions by other companies. Ie the studio worked on the Lego movies, but those are naturally property of Warner Bros. They were also involved in Mad Max Fury Road, but again, not their property. How much what they do translates in revenue and if Disney is interested in keeping them going, I can’t tell. I would need to see the books to make a definitive judgement about it. But considering how much of a hassle it was to lease the former Sydney Showground for the studio, as well as the sheer size of it, my money is on Disney continuing to use the studio one way or another.

And finally there is Fox Star Studios, which actually does produce a lot of content, but for the Indian market. I will get to it when I discuss the acquisition of Star India in a later article. In terms of Hollywood movies, this studio is irrelevant.


That leaves Fox Searchlight Pictures, 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios. Meaning the “Oscar bait” and the animation branch of the company.

Let’s be honest here: The whole animation branch is nothing Disney cares about. When it comes to animation they are way ahead of Fox. I am not even sure how to categorize 20th Century Fox Animation, considering that it has only two movies on its name, Anastasia (1997) and Titan A.E (2000), both being Don Bluth movies. As far as I can tell the studio isn’t defunct though, so I assume that it does some sort of animation for Fox. They apparently work with Blue Sky on the regular basis.

And Blue Sky – honestly, this studio might be the biggest question mark in that merger, and of all the production companies it might be in most danger to get shut down. But I have somehow the feeling that Disney will try to resell it instead. Animation has become a huge market – some of the biggest grossing movies in the last years were animated – and while Blue Sky doesn’t have the pedigree Pixar or even DreamWorks has, it has a recognizable mascot in Scrat, and in Ice Age a worldwide successful franchise. Yes, I know, most people feel that this franchise has really overstayed its welcome, and I would agree (hell, I was over it when the first sequel hit the theatres), but studio executives tend to look at the bottom line, and the bottom line is that this franchise made a ton of money, with two instalments easily passing the 850 million mark worldwide. In addition, Blue Sky just managed to produce its first academy award nominated movie with “The Peanuts”.

This in mind both Paramount and Sony might be interesting in purchasing Blue Sky. Paramount because it is the only major studio which doesn’t have its own animation department. Though they used to distribute for DreamWorks and still own the rights to – you know, what, let’s not go into the complicated history of DreamWorks distribution and ownership. Let’s just say that nearly every major studio distributed at one point for DreamWorks and leave it with that. Currently the company is owned by Comcast which also happens to own Universal and Illumination, and whatever rights Paramount has, they are hardly replacing the ownership over an established Animation Studio. If they can afford it and/or plan to branch out in this direction.

Sony naturally already owns an animation studio, but one with a terrible reputation which last year managed the seemingly impossible to get even more tarnished by the Emoji movie. Just like Comcast owns both DreamWorks and Illumination and Disney owns both Pixar and the Disney Animation studios, Sony might have room for an additional studio. Thinking about it, Warner Bros might too. After all their CGI movies are currently still co-productions involving multiple companies. Hell, even Netflix might be interested. They want to produce their own content after all. I just doubt that they have currently access to this kind of money.

But let’s assume that Disney sells Blue Sky with all its IPs (to sweeten the deal). That would leave Anastasia and Titan A.E. with Disney. And no, that doesn’t mean that Anastasia is now a Disney princess. Technically not even Anna or Moana are Disney princesses yet, because there was no coronation ceremony for them. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Disney just buries both properties.


Which means we are now getting to the part Disney was actually interested in, the big movie properties. Let’s discuss Fox Searchlight first though.

A lot of people seem to work under the assumption that Fox searchlight is a production company. That isn’t quite correct. It is a distributer specialised in independent and foreign film productions, with a focus on dramedy, horror and especially art-house movies. But it is the kind of distributor which is also often involved in the financing of said movies.

Currently it releases ten movies every year and the track record is frankly impressive. Part of the catalogue are three best picture winners (Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman), as well as eleven movies which got nominated (The Full Monty, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Tree of Life, The Descendants, Beast of the Southern Wild, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Brooklyn). In 2017 it released A United Kingdom, Table 19, Wilson, Gifted, My Cousin Rachel, STEP, Patti Cake$, Battle of the Sexes, Goodbye Christopher Robin, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape of Water. I am not in the business of predicting the award season, but as far as I can tell, there is some buzz around the last two movies.

And this track record is the reason that even though Fox Searchlight is mainly a distribution company, I do think that Disney will not only keep it running, but capitalize on its ability to pick projects which resonate with the critics. Disney has its share of academy awards (in fact, Walt Disney alone won 26, more than anyone else in history), but only four best picture nominations (Mary Poppins, Beauty and Beast, Up and Toy Story 3) and not one single win. Being the only animation studio which ever got nominated in this category at all is a huge deal, but if Disney wants to appeal to the film fan demographic with its streaming service, it needs to drop a share of academy award nominees and winners on a regular basis. Fox turns up on the nomination list nearly every year, often with multiple productions, and in the last ten years it was especially Fox Searchlight which provided the Oscar bait. Disney would be a fool not to capitalize on this.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney mostly keeps the company as it is, except for the marketing. If there is something Disney does really, really well, it is convincing their audience that their name (or Pixar or Marvel) stands for a particular kind of movie in a specific quality. Rebrand the whole business as “Searchlight” or even “Disney Searchlight”, and market it as THE studio/distributor of sophisticated movies, and they might be able to get the target group into the habit of at least checking out a movie released under the “Searchlight”  label, the same way animation fans automatically check out Disney and Pixar movies and Comic book fans won’t ever miss out on a Marvel Studios movie. Simultaneously to letting “Searchlight” be on the look-out for worthwhile productions and perhaps giving it a bigger budget to finance more or the projects they are interested in themselves, they could release all Fox studios productions which seem academy award worthy under this label.

If they do manage to establish “Searchlight” as a brand, they would have the additional advantage of being able to release Oscar bait movie the whole year. Currently most movies of this kind are released close to award season, because the studios expect to make more money if the movie gets award buzz. This results in a shortage of more serious-minded movies for the majority of the year. If Disney manages to convince the audience that a critically acclaimed “Searchlight” movie is a Oscar contender by default, they could start to release those movies whenever they want and, at least regarding this particular demographic, without any direct competition.

Granted, the downside of those more high-minded movies is that they are rarely franchise fodder. Fox has a long library of critically acclaimed movies, many of them seen as true movie classics. They are great to bolster up the library of your streaming service, but they will hardly be enough of an incentive to get people to subscribe in the first place. For that you need the big money makers, the movies everyone wants to see.


Fox has its share of blockbuster movies. Ignoring DreamWorks releases, Star Wars and their more successful Marvel movies, the highest grossing movies include Avatar, Titanic, Independence Day, The Martian, Life of Pie, Night at the Museum, The Day After Tomorrow, The Revenant,  Home Alone, Castaway and Mrs. Doubtfire. Notable Franchises include Alien, Predator, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, The Omen Film Series and The Kingsman movies. The latter is interesting because Kingsman is a release of Icon Comics, an imprint of Marvel for creator owned work.  But then, I don’t think that there will be another sequel anyway. The last one already made considerable less than the first movie.

Which is something to keep in mind. A few of those Franchises aren’t exactly posed to make profit through additional instalments in the future. Die Hard, Alien and Predator are all pretty much on their last leg, and I am not sure how much the audience is still interested in Planet of the Apes after the last movie underperformed. Home Alone and its sequel will always be holyday classics, but the later instalments better stay forgotten. The Omen series seems to be pretty much dead already, while the remake was a modest success, there was no follow up and the TV show Fox launched based on the franchise was cancelled after one season. Independence Day thoroughly botched its attempt at becoming a franchise with the sequel.

That doesn’t mean that Disney won’t find a way to squeeze money of those franchises down the line, maybe through a remake or by exploring a new angle, but currently the only ones of those properties which look like they could produce a string of blockbusters down the line are Avatar and the Marvel IPs. And I am not even sure about Avatar. Maybe I shouldn’t doubt James Cameron after topping the highest grossing movie of all time list twice, but I am not quite sure if the interest in Avatar is really that big anymore. Avatar is the kind of movie people saw for the spectacle, not for the characters or even overall quality. But then, that is exactly what Jurassic World was about, too, the spectacle. If Cameron can dib into the concept again, Avatar could become a huge deal. And, to be honest, I believe that Avatar has a bigger chance of impressing the audience if Cameron has the experts at Disney to back him up. Which they will, they didn’t invest in theme park rights for Avatar to see the franchise fail.

But then, how many blockbusters can Disney actually release each year? Currently they do two, rarely three animated movies (ideally one Pixar and one from the animation studio, but the schedule got kind of messed up by the delay of The Good Dinosaur and Zootopia), one live action remake, one Star War movie and the schedule for Marvel is currently up to three movies a year (counting the Sony releases in the MCU). There is the possibility that they step it up to four Marvel movies each year and I guess they will squeeze in Avatar for the years in which they don’t have a live action remake scheduled. Meaning we end up with at least eight nearly sure money makers each year.

Is there still room for other blockbusters? Sure there is. The good thing about those truly big franchises, at least from a scheduling point of view, is that they tend to make most of their money within the first two weeks. Plus, those animated movies aren’t quite addressing the same demographic. Nor does the majority of Fox other productions. This is exactly why Disney bought the company in the first place, to cover the kind of movies they aren’t known for already.


Which includes r-rated material. To be very clear about this, even though it ended badly in the case of Miramax, Disney has dabbled in r-rated material before. Even in some X-rated stuff. And they could easily continue to do so and just release it under some brand name which allows Disney to stay invisible. But I don’t think that this is in Disney’s interest. They want everyone to know that they are the master of all possible movie genres, not just of family entertainment. And while the so called “edgy” approach of Miramax (as well as some other aspects of the company) were a bad fit for Disney, Fox’s kind of risk taking is more up the alley of what Disney has tested out with Touchstone.

Thus said, a lot depends on if the deal includes the Fox name. If Disney purchased the studio including name, fanfare and everything else, and it will be the Fox TV channels which will change their name eventually, Disney will most likely just allow Fox Studios to continue on its path with a few adjustments to improve revenue. Honestly, after all the scandals in the last year which resulted in Fox news getting hit hard in advertising revenue, they might want a fresh start anyway, and 20th Century Fox is certainly more worth with the tradition-laden name, even if the association to Rupert Murdoch has tarnished it. Otherwise though, Disney will have to rebrand in a way which clarifies “this is our level of quality but in a different style than you are used to”. Maybe by reviving the Touchstone brand, maybe by coming up with something new.


To summon up what I said so far: I think that once the deal has gone through properly, Disney will do some serious rebranding. In the end, the movie division of Disney will look like this:

  1. The Disney Animation Studios and Disney Pixar will cover family friendly animation, with Pixar continuing to create originals and franchises based on said originals, while Disney Animation focusses on loose adaptations and the Disney Princess Franchise, with an occasional original along the line of Zootopia or Wreck-it Ralph thrown in. I hope though that with Disney Animation sequels will become the exception, not the rule.
  2. Walt Disney Pictures for family friendly entertainment. That covers the live action remakes, the Park Ride based movies and the occasional children’s book adaptation.
  3. Lucasfilm for Star Wars. And maybe Indiana Jones. Let’s be honest here, outside of those two franchises Lucasfilm is responsible for maybe a dozen movies, and it doesn’t look like they intend to do anything original anytime soon. It is worth to keep it as a separate entity, not just because of Star Wars but also because of the technical expertise assembled at Lucasfilm
  4. Marvel Studios for Comic book movies. Maybe even comic book movies in general, but I’ll address the future of Marvel in another article once we know a little bit more about their plans.
  5. Searchlight for Oscar Bait.
  6. Fox studios as a big umbrella for everything else, from more adult themed movies to some more experimental stuff.
  7. Maybe – just maybe – they will also take Fox’s various horror franchises and built a brand around them. Recently horror movies have proofed to be low-risk money makers, so it might be worth to establish a horror brand or franchise. Maybe something along the line of what Paramount is currently doing with the Cloverfield movies, doing movies under a familiar label without them necessarily having to connect too tightly with each other aside from a familiar theme.

The Bottom line here is: I don’t think that 20th Century Fox has much to worry about when it comes to the production division of the company. Disney didn’t buy the movie studio to shut it down, but because it was honestly interested in the kind of content it produces, the kind of content which is a perfect addition to what Disney is already doing. There might be a little bit reshuffling and renaming in the future, but at the end of the day, Disney isn’t in the habit of meddling in a working concept. With one exception: Disney will most likely put the Marvel rights under the control of Marvel Studios. This means that 20th Century Fox will loose some of their most reliable franchises. But this might actually a win for the audience in the end, because (even if Comic book movie fans don’t like to hear it) it will ensure that the Comic book movie market doesn’t end too oversaturated each year, and it will push Fox to look for other alternatives instead of focussing on a Gambit movie next to nobody cares about or a Fantastic 4 movie nobody wants to see outside of the MCU.

There is also the possibility that Disney will release the Avatar Franchise under the proper Disney name. After all, there will be a park ride based on it and Disney has earned a reputation of providing great blockbusters in a way Fox does not. Fox on the other hand has a reputation of providing great low to middle budget movies, making it the perfect match for Disney.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Marvel Musings: Ronan the Accuser

Theoretically Ronan is a henchmen for Thanos in GotG, but since the story is about his goals and plans while Thanos just sits around in the background, he is the actual main villain of the piece. Plus, it would make no sense to discuss Thanos before even watching Infinity war. So, let’s focus on Ronan for now.

MV5-Ronan

 

 

 

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Ronan’s introduction scene is a work of beauty. I just dig the dramatic set-up of him emerging from his ritual bath, being prepared by his aids in an elaborate ceremony. The monologue is a little bit much, but then, it is a good way to summon up his point as view for the audience immediately. And it is immediately punctuated with Ronan acting on his fanaticism by killing a prisoner – and letting his blood flood into his ritual bath. I think a lot of people just miss the implication that Ronan is literally bathing in the blood of his enemy to use it as foundation for his ritual makeup.  Trust Disney to get crap past the radar! Pointwise I am between 4 and 5, but since I only give 5 for perfection and the monologue is a little bit over the top, I’ll go for 4 point.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Ronan is basically a fanatic terrorist, driven by the desire for revenge but also pure hatred for another culture. For a villain who is operating somewhere in space his motivations really hit close to home. Which makes judging the creativity aspect a little bit complicated. On the one hand, there is no denying that fanatic terrorists are dime to dozen as possible villains. On the other hand, they usually don’t turn up in space operas. The standard space villain is usually interested in power and conquering the galaxy, having a space terrorist is in a lot of ways a new approach. Which is why I settle for the middle ground with 3 points.

 

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

Ronan wants to destroy Xandar with the help of the power stone. It doesn’t get more straightforward than this. 5 points.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Let’s see, he kills the enemy, he manages to initially defeat the Guardians and take the stone from it, he does great damage to Xandar, destroying its whole fleet in the process and comes very, very close to destroying the whole planet. He looses a point though for allowing Gamora to manipulate him into sending her after the stone and then loosing the trail. He really needs better minions. Without Drax’s drunk call, he might have never caught up with them. So I settle for 4 points.

 

 

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

Despite Thanos calling Ronan a “pouty child”, there is not one point in the movie in which I don’t believe fully that Ronan isn’t just extremely dangerous, but also way more powerful than our group of heroes. Mostly because Ronan doesn’t even really care what the Guardians are up to. They don’t survive the first encounter with him because they outsmart Ronan, but because they are too insignificant in his mind to make sure that they – or at least Drax – are dead. When the finale battle starts, I don’t doubt for a second that they are going up against a nearly undefeatable opponent, and that the only reason they do it is because they have no choice if they don’t want to run away from Ronan wrecking havoc on the Galaxy for the rest of their lives. On pure power-level alone, Ronan is freaking terrifying, even before he has the stone. He swats Drax away as if he is a fly. And let’s not forget that he kills Groot as well as the whole Nova Corps fleet. 5 points.

 

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

Thematically, not at all. The overreaching theme with the Guardians is that they are all people who were ripped out of their normal live by circumstances out of their control (or in Rocket’s case, never had a normal live to begin with). They are people who live at the fringe of society not necessarily by choice but because that was the hand which was dealt to them, but who have also stopped caring a long time ago. Ronan only exists to provide an opportunity for them to “give a shit” for once and do something more than survive. But honestly, it is kind of refreshing to have a villain who is not a reflection of the hero and who has totally different abilities. Also, I am kind of okay with the villain not really being the focus of the story. There is only one thing a villain really has to be and that is a believable threat. Which, as we just established, Ronan actually is. So while I doesn’t necessarily add to the story, he fulfils his role within it perfectly. 4 Points.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

I know that a lot of people will disagree, but I dig this performance. It is naturally totally over the top, but exactly that makes it perfect for that particular setting. I especially love how serious Ronan takes himself while he prances around like a diva. This could easily look ridiculous, especially when an actor doesn’t really commit to the role or doesn’t take it serious enough. Here we have the perfect balance between hamming it up and still respecting the character itself. The result isn’t a performance for the ages, but I have trouble to imagine anyone else in this role. 4 Points.

 

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

It’s a great costume. As I mentioned beforehand, I especially dig the ritual make up. The idea that Ronan permanently walks around coated in the blood of his victims is disgustingly awesome. And the costume which goes with it is appropriately dramatic. The only issue I have with it is the colour. Yes, I know, black always looks menacing, but it is also a little bit the easy way out and it kind of results in Ronan looking like a Darth Vader copy. A little bit dark green or blue would have done some good here. Still, the result is memorable enough, so 4 Points.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

Outside of the fear factor, not particularly strong. This is, I guess, the biggest weakness of Ronan as a villain. His status as a terrorist is kind of academic since he commits his most heinous acts off screen. Him killing Groot certainly causes an emotional response, but since this isn’t really a direct act and more something which happens as a result of his actions, this emotional response isn’t as connected to him as it should. On the other hand, I was kind of disappointed when he died because his overdramatic demeanour was kind of fun to see. I guess I go with the middle ground, 3 Points.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

Well, there is the ritual bath scene, then the one in which he breaks with Thanos and finally the ending. His face when Peter starts to dance is just hilarious. In a movie full off strong characters is a little bit overshadowed at times, though. Plus, Peter, Rocket and Drax are hogging the best one-liners. But I think I can give him a solid 4 Points.


And this results in a 4 Star rating….and yes, I know that a lot of people will disagree with me on this one. Not everyone enjoys the more hammy villains, and his role is very understated in favour of fleshing out the heroes of the piece. But I think this was the right decision for this particular movie. And I think that is what counts in the end.


Marvel Musings: Malekith

Somehow starting with the villains who didn’t survive their movies ended up with me having to go through the weaker villains first. Well, I guess this is a good thing. After all, it would be a shame if Marvel routinely killed off the compelling villains while leaving the forgettable ones alone. Speaking of forgettable, remember Malekith?

MV4-Malekith

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

One should think that a scene which is paired with narration would at least establish the basics of the character, but it actually leaves more questions than answers. Why exactly was there  a war? Why does Malekith think that self-destruction is an acceptable reaction to a lost battle? Why are the other dark elves still follow him after that? I just don’t get it. 1 point.

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Honestly, if I could, I would give him zero points for this category. I have honestly no idea what Malekith actually wants aside from some vague spreading darkness over the world nonsense. Why? Even if I assume that Dark Elves don’t suffer sunlight partifularly well, there is apparently a whole empty world they could live on if they wanted to. 1 point.

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

Okay, he wants the aether for…something, convergence, something, reality (honestly, how is that related to spreading darkness?). And he can apparently sense where it is, so he needs to break into Asgard. In order to do so, he sends the Kursed in as some sort of living bomb so that he can open the shields – I guess. I am actually not sure if the Kursed is actually doing something aside from creating a distraction. Anyway, if Malekith can feel the aether and it following his call, why exactly is he then fooled by an illusion of Jane? After all, he has no idea how Jane even looks like or that the aether is in her. Shouldn’t he go straightforward to the aether instead of caring about the illusion of a random person? And after he has to leave Asgard without getting what he wanted, he is sulking around until Thor conveniently brings Jane to him. In short, not only do Malekith’s plans suck, they don’t even make much sense once you think about them. 1 point.

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Well, he does manage to break into Asgard, but even then he doesn’t get what he actually wanted. I guess I should give him credit for actually getting his hands on the aether, but that doesn’t happen because of anything he did, it is Thor who decides that Jane’s live is more important than keeping the aether as far away from Malekith as possible. So…1 point.

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

Not dangerous at all. In fact, the Kursed is actually the dangerous one. He is the one who creates chaos in the dungeons, he is the one who kills Freya when Malekith fails to do so and he is the one who secures the aether and keeps Thor and Loki from immediately following Malekith. And even when Malekith has one of the most powerful things in the universe in his hand he is still defeated by a bunch of humans with tripods. The whole movie is a string of Malekith trying to do something and loosing. First against Bor, then when he tries to steal the aether the first time, loosing half of his face in the process and then again at the very end. He has to be one of the most ineffective and non-threatening villains ever. 1 point.

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

Malekith feels more like a distraction. Partly because Loki’s story is way more interesting than whatever he is up to. But above all because Malekith doesn’t really have much of a relationship with any of the heroes, not even with Odin, since the Asgardian king he fought against was Bor. I guess he has a beef with Asguardians in general, but not even Thor is that concerned about him, he mostly cares about what the aether does to Jane. Even though Malekith is supposed to be the big bad of the movie with the world destroying plan, none of the conflicts seem to be directly related to him. Even Loki seems to feel that he has gotten his revenge for the death of his mother when he kills the Kursed and then blissfully leaves it to Thor to clean up the rest. There is just something wrong with a film when the big dimension hopping battle feels like an afterthought instead of the big event. So, you guessed it, 1 point.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

I said it before: I really hate to lay into the performance of an actor. Especially in this case because selling this role is a nearly impossible task. The character is just badly written from start to finish. And the elfish doesn’t help. It is just harder to emphasis specific words when you are speaking in a made-up language and the audience is focussed on the subtitles anyway, and not on your performance. But I also think that there are moments in the movie in which a little bit scene chewing would have helped. In a role like this, you go big even at the risk of going down, but in this case the performance is extremely understated. It feels as if the actor is just there for a paycheck and deep down considers the role beneath him. So, 1 Point.

 

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

I actually like the basic design of the dark elves. I am aware that some think that the alternative designs would have been a better pick, but I disagree. They are supposed to be elves, not some sort of power rangers. Thus said, I have a number of nit-picks with the designs they went with. For starters, those masks. I know they are supposed to look terrifying, but the movie is too bright and colourful for that to truly work. Those masks are perfect for a darker setting but since Swartalfheim is more greyish than actually dark they kind of blend into the environment. The other thing which bothers me is Malekith’s strange helmet. It seems to press the head down into the high collar of the costume. But this aside, at least I remember the costume and it fits the character, so I go for 3 points.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

Zero. But I can’t give out a zero, so 1 Point.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

Honestly I can’t come up with a single memorable quote or moment. 1 Point.


Well, this was more a rant than a review. Sorry, but I think Marvel really dropped the ball with this one. 1,2 Stars, a result which will hopefully never be repeated.


A Disney and Fox merger?

I usually don’t comment on Hollywood politics, but the rumour that Disney tried to acquire some of Fox’s assets has put the internet in a state of, well, that:

giphy

 

And I honestly have the feeling that most of the discussion is either totally overblown “Disney takes over the world” talk, or full of unrealistic expectations. So maybe it is time for a huge step back and examine the situation rationally.

tumblr_nirmfsBnkO1u5cv3mo1_500

Just follow my reasoning step by step.

Let’s first talk about the assets in question, because some talk about this as if Disney intends to buy the whole of Fox. That isn’t quite correct. They are interested in the movie studios and in part of the Television division. To clarify, they are interested in the part which is not News (*cough* propaganda *cough*) or sport related, instead they have their eye on the entertainment side of things. And this is not about having another studio lot, this is about the IPs connected to the studios and the Fox TV productions.

 

Sadness-sadness-inside-out-38697569-245-145

So why is Disney interested?

This is only conjuncture, but let’s consider this from Disney’s perspective: When Disney initially made the distribution deal with Netflix, I fully expected that the deal would end up in a merger. Even when they announced that they would go ahead and start their own streaming service in 2019, I still thought that this might be a negotiation tactic, pressuring Netflix to sell for a lower price by threatening the company with serious competition. After all, Netflix doesn’t just own a streaming service in the US, it is the only one so far which has taken serious steps to be a world-wide provider. But now it looks like Disney will go ahead with building up a Netflix rival at least for the US market. And in order to do that, there is something Disney needs above everything else: Content.

Yes, Disney has a huge library of movies and TV shows, both animated and live action (don’t forget that Disney doesn’t just own the Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel, but also Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Disneynature and ABC, just to mention the most relevant ones). But at the end of the day, Disney is mostly known for family entertainment. A streaming service can’t succeed when it only appeals to one group, even if it is a particularly broad group. Disney needs more content for “grown ups”, and I am not necessarily talking about r-rated movies and TV shows, I am talking about genres which Disney only covers from time to time under its Touchstone label, like heavy drama, horror, dystopian science fiction aso. They also could use some classic movies. Disney is far from being one of the oldest studios out there and it started to produce live action movies fairly late.

Consequently there is a huge gap Disney has to fill, and the easiest and most substantial way to do it, is to acquire those rights through a huge buy-out. Under the other studios, there are two possible candidates for a buy-out like this, Sony and Fox, and while it seems like Sony is the easier option, due to the well-known financial troubles of the studio, Fox might actually be the better one. It has a larger and more diverse library which would match what Disney already owns perfectly, and it has some incentives to sell to a reasonable price.

disgust-inside-out-bff-bae

But why should Fox agree?

 

Fox is currently owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is well known for aggressive expansion. Selling anything seems to be counterintuitive. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Disney successfully brokered a deal, considering that it acquired what is now Freeform from Fox a few years ago.  In addition, there is currently a generation change going on in the Murdoch empire. The two sons are taking on more and more responsibilities, and their view on the future of the company might be somewhat different.

Let’s take a look at this aggressive expansion strategy: It has lead to Rupert Murdoch practically owning the British media and having considerable influence on public opinion in the US. I do wonder about the financial situation overall, though. Again, this is just conjuncture, but here are a few things one should consider: Murdoch trying to spread his influence over the European continent by buying Sky might have been a huge misstep. Sky is a pay-tv channel and was frankly a financial mess when Murdoch got his fingers on it. Then there are all the newspapers the company owns in the UK. I wonder how many of them are still creating a decent revenue now that more and more people are looking up the news on the internet. And finally there is Fox studios itself which overall hasn’t really done all that well in the last years either.

The Media is currently in a state of flux, due to the rise of the streaming services. The live viewing numbers for TV shows are constantly falling, because more and more people prefer to watch on their own time. The exceptions are sport events, news, live-shows, everything which looses relevance directly after airing. Soon every media company out there will have to decide if it wants to jump in with its own streaming service or if it wants to retool its programming accordingly. For Disney it makes totally sense to do the former, since it is a brand people recognize as a sign of quality. For the Murdoch group it might actually better to focus on its core business – which is the newsroom – and get rid of everything else. They have a vast library which would match Disney perfectly, but it is not vast enough that Fox could built a streaming service on it, the way Warner Bros, Disney or Universal could. Avoiding to the competition might be the better move, even if that means to give up some IPs which currently stand to make a lot of more money in the future. I say currently, because we have seen in the past how a studio can destroy an IP thoroughly (see Fantastic 4 as prime example). And Disney might actually do better than Fox with some of those IPs.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-23469-1435276061-5

Oh, which IP’s we are talking about?

 

That is the question. I’ll be frank here: rights issues at Fox are incredible complicated. With Disney it is usually fairly easy: Disney makes the movie, distributes said movie, gets the revenue and owns the rights to said movie. Sometimes there might be issues considering the property on which their movie is based, but since Disney has a tendency to go for either public domain properties or original stories, in most cases they are the sole owner of at the very least the particular incarnation of a character. There are some movies Disney released under their alternative labels which are co-productions, but as a thumb rule Disney is the owner of its own productions and distributes them worldwide. It took a few decades, but nowadays they are really good in keeping control over every aspect of their creations (sometimes too good – trying to trademark a foreign holiday was not cool, Disney).

With Fox it is a little bit more complicated. Take White Collar. White Collar is a television series which originally run on USA Network, which belongs to NBC. But it was produced by the Fox Television studios. Though they apparently don’t control any of the relevant rights. White Collar was syndicated in the US by Ion Media, while the distribution rights in other countries are an entirely different matter. I suspect in Germany, Disney has those rights, based on the channels on which White Collar was shown (currently Netflix and the Disney Channel).

Bottom line: regarding the TV shows, it is sometimes difficult to tell which ones are actually Fox properties, and even those which are might be caught up in some sort of distribution deal, which is lowering their worth for a prospective buyer. It is a little bit easier to figure out regarding the movies, but again, there are a number of co-productions or distribution only deals in the mix. In addition, Disney is already owning a number of Fox IP’s, acquired during the aforementioned deal to buy the Fox Family channel (which turned into ABC family which turned into Freeform). Which is the point at which I am pressing the alert bottom.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_filename_640

DANGER! DANGER!

 

Remember Peter Pan and the Pirates? Nice little TV show you won’t see on DVD anytime soon, because it, along with a lot of other shows which originally run on Fox Family have vanished in the Disney vault. And of all those shows which ended up in there, it has the smallest chance to ever see the light of day again, because Disney has its own version of Peter Pan and wants it to be the ultimate one.

Naturally not all IP’s which were acquired back then ended up in the vault. The Power Rangers have found a home at Disney and the X-men, being a particular popular series, has gotten its dues, too. And, as I pointed out above, this is about having more content, so Disney starting its own streaming service might lead to some of those properties being pulled from the vault for additional content. But between all the assets Disney would purchase from Fox there might be IP’s Disney is simply not interested in or actually wants to bury because they are rivalling their favoured product.

And no matter what property, don’t expect a DVD set anytime soon. Disney doesn’t even manage to release their own productions properly, something has to be particularly successful for them to even consider that move. And even then you end up with some oddities. For example Disney released the first two season of The Tick on DVD, but from each season one episode is missing because Disney feared that the parodies in it would lead to them being sued by Marvel. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Thus said, Disney is by far not the only company with a spotty record regarding the release of shows or a tendency to self-censorship. It might therefore be premature to sound the alarm. Having a all the rights which are relevant for one property under the control of one company has a number of advantages. To just mention the most obvious example (no, not Marvel): Fox owns the distribution rights to the first Star Wars movies. Disney purchasing those rights might lead to nifty collector boxes, maybe – just maybe – even containing the original version of the movies. The more rights Disney has, the more freedom the company has to use them.

fc41fa6c-65ee-4f57-817e-afbcbd159753

Disney is taking over the world!!!

 

Not quite. Disney would add to more of the media to its market share and this would certainly change the media landscape, but those changes are way more relevant on the TV than the movie side of things.

Oh, before someone brings up the story of Disney squeezing more and more money out of theatre owners: That is pretty much an unrelated matter. For one, this is nothing new, the smaller theatres in Germany have already stopped running the Disney blockbusters if they can help it. Just recently the German comedy movie Fack ju Göhte 3 placed on top of the German box office, ahead of Thor: Ragnarok. You can guess which movie the smaller theatres decided to run.

And two, what puts Disney into the position to raise the prizes is not the number of IPs they own, but the desire of the audience to see those movies. What they pull with the Star Wars or the Marvel movies would never work with a number of their lesser properties. Be assured though, that there is a breaking point in all this. After all theatre owners have to make their money somehow, meaning the ones who have to eventually pay for Disney’s additional revenue is the audience. In short, sooner or later the market will regulate itself. Or it won’t, but then it will be our own fault.

tumblr_nw1fe7vNbY1u9xr6co1_250

So no reason to panic!

 

The truth is, even if Disney merged with Fox studios, it would still produce less movies every year than either Warner Bros. or Universal. In fact, Disney is pretty much the only studio small enough that it could buy Fox Studios without outright violating current anti-trust laws but also rich enough that it can afford the price-tag on a sale like this.

Television is another matter though. Not only would Disney double its presence, with those IPs Disney can easily run a streaming service containing only properties over which it has full ownership. Which is considerably cheaper than having to buy distribution rights. Netflix has started its own productions for exactly that reason, but it will take time to replace its library with them. Disney on the other hand can easily fill a streaming service with its properties, especially if it also has control over the Fox IPs. This would mean that Disney (and other studios which might follow) can easily undercut Netflix and perhaps even force it out of the market in the long run. After all, Netflix is known to have huge debts due to the various investments it made into infrastructure and TV-productions. In the end, this could be a bad thing if Netflix doesn’t manage to hold its ground, but also a good thing for the audience, because some healthy competition would have a positive impact on the fees and the effort made to produce compelling content.

7037cc21923a628c715fc95c05a274a2

But what about those IP’s?

The biggest fear some people seem to have is that Disney takes over and then “ruin” franchises left and right with their family friendly approach. I honestly don’t get where this fear is coming from. We had those discussions in the past, when Disney took over Marvel and Lucasfilm. And what happened? Both companies thrived under Disney’s tutelage. Marvel Studios does better than ever since Disney removed it from the influence of Perlmutter, and Lucasfilm goes from one success to the next. Honestly, I never understood what Disney was supposed to ruin in terms of the Star Wars franchise anyway. After the Prequels, the Ewok movies, the Ewok animated series and the Star Wars Holyday special, there was nothing Disney could do to make it worse.

Precedence shows  that Disney is not in the habit of micromanaging its subsidiaries. Granted, a lot of Fox’s IPs are further removed from what Disney stands for than Marvel, Lucasfilm or Pixar. Especially the Alien Franchise, the Predator series and the whole McFarlan verse comes to mind. But remember what I said in the beginning about Disney’s motivations? This is about variety! Meaning that it isn’t actually in Disney’s interest to just ignore or sanitise the IPs in question.

In the end this is not a question of who owns what, it is a question of branding. All Disney has to do is to present the Fox properties in a way that clarifies to the audience that those are their own thing. Disney has done this in the past by releasing projects under the Touchstone label. Even the streaming service can be set up in a way that the general audience has a clear cut between the different Disney branches. The same way Netflix has a “Netflix originals” category in its streaming service, Disney could sort their movies not based on content, but based on brand.

And the same is true for the TV properties. The question is if Disney can set up an environment in which the creative minds can thrive and create even more content for their service under the Fox brand (or however it will be named under Disney). But again, this has rarely been Disney’s problem, unlike Fox they aren’t exactly known for excessive studio interference.

raw1

What about the Marvel IP’s?

 

To all those who are either salivating or complaining about the prospect of Marvel studios getting the X-men and the Fantastic 4 rights back: Calm down. Keep in mind that even if this deal becomes reality, it won’t happen from one day to the other. It could take years to figure all this stuff out, and by this point the MCU might be at least in the midst of Phase 4 if not Phase 5, Deadpool will have had so many sequels that we might already be tired of the character and the X-men, well, who knows. Hell, there is a real possibility that the Fantastic 4 rights revert back before the merger happens.

On the other hand, this might be the perfect time to push the merger through because thanks to Trump anti-trust laws have never been as weak. Just to be on the safe side it would be better to act before a new administration cleans up house. So let’s assume that the deal happens within the next years. It stands to suspect that Disney would shuffle the Marvel rights over to Marvel studios. And I actually see only advantages in this.

tumblr_nlsofcZ3751u8zsalo1_500

NO! This will be horrible!!!!!

 

Oh, I know the arguments against it: We will get less movies every year, Disney will never go r-rated, the X-men don’t fit into the MCU…. let’s take those apart.

For one, I take quality over quantity any day, and I think that the majority of the Marvel movies are vastly superior to the Fox output. Plus, Fox isn’t that fast in churning out those movies either. On average, they barely do one per year. They want to step their game up now, but who knows which projects will actually happen in the end. Plus, keeping the number of comic book movies per year reasonable will ensure that every project will get the attention from the audience it deserves.

Two, Disney has been gone R-rated in the past, as I pointed out above, this is more about the right branding than about what Disney would or wouldn’t do. In this case the question is more what Marvel Studios would do. And Marvel Studios has already gone R-rated with its TV shows. Now the question is if they would do it in the movies. A R-rated movies seems to be a terrible fit for the MCU but then, who says that everything Marvel studios does has to be part of it? As I said beforehand: All a question of branding.

Which brings me to the last point, that the X-men are a bad fit for the MCU. I agree. Marvel kind of got away with it in the Comics, but I don’t think that it will work in the MCU. Comic book continuity has always been fluid, but the MCU is way more beholden to what came beforehand. Putting a society in which Mutants are systematically hunted in the same setting in which the Avengers are considered heroes just doesn’t jive. Even if the MCU starts the franchise with a clean slate – as it should, the X-men are overdue for a reboot anyway – the Mutants are one element which are better off out of the MCU. But that doesn’t mean that Marvel Studios can’t run a second Franchise parallel to the MCU.

Hell, they could even make it a proper parallel world from the get go, starting with the premise “What if the Kree had never played around with human DNA, but instead the Mutants developed down the line, and the world feared those strange powers?” Think about it, Hydra would have never been created, Captain America or the Hulk would have never been a thing because nobody would play around with a supersoldier serum when there are already powered people one could draft running around. Thor might have never been send to Earth because Odin wouldn’t want to put him seriously at risk in such a hostile environment. And once this universe is properly established, they could do a dimension hopping crossover event. Or they could just leave the whole X-men verse as its own thing, with the difference that Marvel, unlike Fox, would actually make X-men movies instead of action movies which happen to feature mutants.

Plus, there are the Fantastic 4 and all the other properties involved. I think most fans agree that Marvel really should get those rights back. Above all, though, they will soon be desperately needed. Let’s look at the MCU again. The current line-up will mostly bow out with Infinity war. Which leaves Ant-man, the Wasp, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel as the core of the next generation (just counting the characters which can headline a movie for sure). And then?

Well, Marvel can switch things a little bit up, for example by letting Bucky take over the mantle of Captain America, or by doing a team up movie involving supporting characters. They might finally do this Black Widow movie.  But they also need to introduce new characters, and in this area, they are slowly running out of options. There is Namor, provided that the Disney lawyers have managed to free him from legal limbo.  There is Blade, but I don’t see him fitting into the MCU at this point, especially not into the movies. There are various legacy and young characters, like Miss Marvel, Amadeus Cho aso which could build a version of the Young Avengers. And then there are some second tier characters and teams which might work the same way Guardians of the Galaxy did. But a lot of those are currently in the area of overlapping rights. Especially the whole British Pantheon of Marvel is fairly tightly connected to the X-men, and I have honestly no idea who is currently owning the rights to the Savage Lands.

Even if the MCU finishes eventually, Marvel can still really use those rights. Remember, this is a studio which exist for one reason alone, to produce comic book movies. They could branch out, I guess, but their safest option is a steady supply of new properties.

At the end of the day this is neither are reason to go all:

tumblr_np2g39PlZP1un8fiuo3_500

Nor a reason to be all:

giphy1

Whatever will happen, won’t happen anytime soon, and the consequences will be partly good and partly bad – depending how much you care about Star Wars or Fox’s take on Marvel properties or any other IP. In the end we can just wait and see.

 

 


Marvel Musings: Aldrich Killian

Yep, we make a giant jump to Phase 2. That’s because the villains of Phase 1 actually have a pretty good survival rate overall. Well, there is Laufey, but he isn’t really the main villain of Thor, Loki is. So, Aldrich Killian, maybe the most controversial villain of the MCU. This should be interesting.

MV3-Aldrich-Killian

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Technically, the character is established twice, once in the past in interaction with Tony and then again in his scene with Pepper. The scene with Tony is nearly perfectly done. There is so much information in it which is not part of the dialogue. His disability, his awkward behaviour, those are all details which hint towards a history of rejection. But the second scene doesn’t work even half as well. For one it is confusing that after the character was introduced in relation with Tony, it suddenly hints prior interactions with Pepper instead. Yes, Killian might have met both of them at one point, but this feels immediately like too much of a coincidence. In addition, this version of the character is so generic. He feels more like a run of the mill slimy businessman. And yes, I know that this is the point, but that doesn’t change the fact that his reappearance is kind of boring, nifty brain graphic or not. I settle on 3 points overall.

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Some would say that it is revenge, but I don’t think that this is true. At no point in the movie does Killian indicate that he is interested in revenge. Initially he seems to be more interested in working with Tony, maybe even earn his respect. He only attacks Tony after Tony challenges him, and overall, none of his plans have anything to do with Tony other than that his mind might be able to solve the flaw in extremis.

So, what is it what Killian actually want? It is not fame, since he has learned to appreciate the anonymity. I think what he actually wants is power, the knowledge that he can form the world however he wants. Tony only plays into this as some sort of rival, someone Killian would enjoy to either beat or draw into his scheme one way or another. This isn’t the strongest motivation, but it is way more complex than just revenge. I would give it three or four points if not for the whole matter with Pepper slightly muddying his motivations which isn’t really that well fleshed out in the first place. If it were, the audience wouldn’t confuse it for revenge. So I can’t give him more than 2 points.

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

The issue with Killian’s plan is that there is always a next goal, but not an end goal. Let’s take this apart: In his attempt to reshape the world (and his own body) he conducts illegal experiments with extremis. When it turns out that extremis is instable he invents a terrorist to explain away the explosions. Clever. He then attacks Tony because Tony goaded him. At this point the matter becomes complicated, because a few scenes beforehand he wanted to work with Tony and a few scenes later Maya reveals that they need Tony’s ability to stabilize the extremis Killian himself has already used. Granted, Maya might not have told Killian this for some strange reason, but even then the attack on Tony seems to be an ego thing more than anything else. The next step seems to be to kill the president so that the vice president, who is one of Killian’s people, can assume power. Again, this makes sense, this will make it easier for him to conduct his experiments. But what happens after?

A number of aspects in Killian’s plan are very clever but his end goal is kind of hazy. Does he want to dominate the world from the shadows? Or is he some sort of misguided humanist? I don’t know, therefore I can’t give him more than 3 points for this category.

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Let’s see…he manages to get the body he always wanted, terrifies the US, destroys Tony’s home and nearly kills him, he captured Tony, Pepper and Rhodey and he comes very close to actually killing the president,but the end, he doesn’t really get all that far in actually realizing his plan. Tony escapes before he can get what he wants from him and the president survives. Even the most basic aspect of his scheming, the extremis, has a major flaw he can’t solve on his own, so I give him only 2 points.

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

Very dangerous. A clever mind is always the best weapon, but Killian is also scrupulous, not caring one bit who gets caught in the crossfire of his experiments, and with the extremis in his body he is physically powerful, too. In the end, Tony is unable to defeat him, instead another extremis-powered person (Pepper) has to step in. In a way Killian defeats himself by giving Pepper the extremis, and by stepping out of the shadows because Tony goaded him. 4 points.

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

I have to clarify something: I really like the mandarin twist. I think it is clever, and pointing out how eagerly we jump on any enemy which is represented to us is certainly something I can get behind. But I do think that the message gets a little bit muddled up right from the start. The big thing we are supposed to take away from the first scene is that Tony created his own demons. But, well, Tony didn’t exactly do anything wrong in that scene. Yes, sending Killian to the roof is kind of cruel, but consider Killian’s actions up to this point. For starters, just because Tony is rich and famous and happens to be in a semi-public place it doesn’t give Killian the right to demand his attention. He can ask for it, but Tony is in no obligation to listen to him. And Tony makes it perfectly clear that he has no interest to do so. But instead of taking the hint, Killian follows him into the elevator and is about to follow him to the floor, too. Killian was in a lot of ways twisted before he ever encountered Tony (Pepper even confirms this later on by indicating that there was always something off about Killian). And AIM is also something Killian founded beforehand.

In addition, if you tell the audience that the monsters of the movie are in this first scene, well, it makes it much harder to pull-off the mandarin twist. Thanks to this first scene I saw it coming from a mile away. There was a slight hope that Killian was around as additional distraction and that the actual villain of the piece would be Maya, because that at least would have been kind of interesting, but nope, it is the guy who has been walking around with a giant red arrow over him the entire time.

All in all Killian just keeps clashing with the themes of the movie and sometimes actively undercuts them. He is in a lot of ways the weakest part in the story, so he gets 1 point.

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

Well, I give him the transition between awkward and smooth Killian but otherwise I just don’t buy this guy as a threat.  And it really doesn’t help that Kingsley is cheerfully chewing the scenery which he stays entirely unremarkable. Which is kind of the point, but even when he drops the pretence he is still unable to keep up with the other actors on screen. 2 points.

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

He is wearing…a business suit? I have actually no idea, I only remember him spitting fire. 1 point.

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

Urgh…honestly, the only emotional response I felt was disappointment that this guy is the big villain in place of Maya. 1 point

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

I guess the scene with him on the roof with the fireworks in the background are kind of memorable. I guess I will be gracious and give him 2 points.


Well, this was all over the place in terms of ratings, but we end up with an average of 2,1 stars, which is kind of a shame. This concept could have been brilliant.


Some thoughts about the DCEU

The internet is currently in arms (again) because a movie based on a DC-property didn’t life up to the hype (again) and now everyone is accusing each other of bias (again). I am tired of this sh… And apparently the general audience is too, if the numbers for the opening week-end of Justice League are any indication. And it would be a lie to claim that I am in any way surprised.  In fact, I think the DCEU was pretty much still-born, for multiple reasons.

I’ll be honest: To a certain degree I am satisfied by this development. Not because I hate DC, I really don’t, I cheer whenever they create something I like and I respect them for a lot of movies and shows I don’t like, but in which I see value on a “this is just not for me” basis. No, I am satisfied, because I predicted that this would happen, and like most people, I like to be proven right, even in situations in which I would have preferred to be wrong.  There is a lingering sadness because I would have loved to see a strong and popular Wonder Woman without her being dragged down by the mess which is the DCEU. But I am also glad that Warner Bros. did get the reaction those movies deserved.

So, why did I predict this would happen? Well, let’s go back when The Avengers was released and became an instant phenomenon. What happened back then is exactly what happens every time when a movie is financial successful: Executives from all studios tried to pinpoint the reason why this particular movie resonated with audiences. And as it is often the case, their answer was incomplete.

I suspect their line of thought went something like this: The Avengers has a number of popular IP’s in one movie, this movie is connected with other movies featuring those IP’s so we only need to make movies featuring popular IP’s meeting each other and we will make the big money.  Eh….nope.

They weren’t even the only ones who thought that way. There were a couple of comic book fans which were dead-sure that Justice League was an automatic candidate for a billion dollar box office just because it featured the most well-known DC characters. But the executives and all those fans, they forget one important thing: The general audience doesn’t care about those comic books.

Shocking, I know, but nevertheless the truth. Do you really think that many people even knew who Ironman was back in 2008? Hell, one of the reasons it was so difficult to get Ironman off the ground was because a lot of directors, writers and actors feared for their career taking a project like this about a minor comic book character. The Avengers wasn’t so successful because the audience was full of comic book fans who wanted to see their favourite characters on screen. It was so successful because the general audience had already fallen in love with this particular incarnation of Ironman and Captain America and to a lesser degree Thor and wanted to see more of them on. Plus, it was a great movie. I think it is easy to forget that The Avengers beat all box office predictions and showed true staying power. It wasn’t an automatic success because of the IP’s featured, it was a success because it was the perfect conclusion to a four year long project.

Marvel earned its success with The Avengers, by taking financial and narrative risks, but above all by taking its time to carefully cultivate an audience for their brand. And now Warner Bros. and Universal (and whoever else was suddenly announcing some kind of universe) thought that they could just throw some well-known IP’s together and have the same kind of success? Yeah, I don’t think so. But with Warner Bros. there were a number of additional factors which made a success unlikely.

One is the structure of the studio. Warner Bros. follows traditionally a director driven approach, meaning they look for talents and then allow them to go creative with their own projects. That is very different to Disney/Pixar/Marvel Studios habit to focus on producer-driven projects. Walt Disney, John Lassiter, Kevin Feige, it has served the company very well because it turned the names of the studios into brands. They don’t need name recognition based on directors or actors because the audience trust the studio itself to deliver quality no matter what, and they have a pretty good idea what kind of movie they can expect based on the brand. Warner Bros. doesn’t have that. Usually this has the advantage that it can delve into whatever project strikes them fancy without worrying too much about audience expectations. For an overreaching universe though, there was no way that this would work.

The MCU is basically the principle of a TV series adjusted for the big screen. And every series needs a show runner, someone, who has a clear vision concerning the direction in which the story will go. That doesn’t mean that a series has to be planned out from start to finish, but you need a goal and some bullet points along the way. Most show-runners plan their series from season to season (though the best shows are usually those for which someone thought way further ahead), Marvel plans their movies from phase to phase with a pretty good idea what might be good options for the future. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have scripts lying around even for properties they currently don’t own just in case the rights revert back for some reason. But Warner Bros. waited until after the box office disappointment of Batman vs. Superman to create an own division for the DC-based movies. At this point it was too late, because the DCEU had already written itself into a corner.

Another reason why I didn’t think that the DCEU could succeed was Warner Bros. attitude towards Superhero movie. I’ll now say something which will most likely be very controversial: I don’t think that there has been ANY good live-action Superhero movie based on a DC property since the first two Superman movies. And before someone tries to bring up the Batman movies, hear me out: Those are arguably good movies, but they are not good Superhero movies. They are Burton’s take on Batman and Nolan’s take on Batman. And all those takes (and the majority of comic book movies pre-MCU btw) have one thing in common: they are theme driven. None of them are actually about the comics, instead the comics are just the backdrop for whatever theme the director wanted to discuss – or an excuse for nifty set-designs. And don’t get me wrong, a theme driven approach is not necessarily a bad one, but the MCU is entirely character driven. It is way easier to make the audience invested in characters than in themes.

Speaking of audience, I also didn’t think that Warner Bros. had any idea who their audience actually was. That is something I realized when I saw Watchmen. I know I risk even more nerd rage when I say this but: Watchmen will always be a movie with a niche following, because this movie is utterly inaccessible for the general audience. For someone who is not already familiar with comic book lore it is a very uncomfortable movie to watch, partly because Snyder is unable to shot a brutal murder as anything other than a cool event, but above all because there is a constant sense of the movie referencing something without having any idea what this is about. Just the vague feeling of missing something big there.

Nerd culture has taken over the internet and consequently created a bubble in which it seems as if there is a huge community of comic book readers out there. This is not the case, especially not once one bothers to look past the US border. I keep describing myself as a non-comic book reader, but what I am actually mean by that is that I didn’t grew up with specifically Superhero comics. The comics of my childhood were called Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke (well, mostly Asterix), with a lot of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (mostly by Italian or Scandinavian writers) thrown in for good measures. Europe has its own comic culture, as has Asia. And, btw, Mangas are way more accessible for foreigners than Superhero comics are, because they tend to be concluded series instead of a giant construct which makes it practically impossible for an outsider to find a starting point.

Yes, most people in the world has at least an idea who Batman, Superman, Spider-man and to a lesser degree Wonder Woman are. But that has nothing to do with the comics, and everything to do with those characters having been present on TV for decades. Batman fans might hate the Adam West show, but without it, there won’t be any Burton movie, or a ground-breaking animated series. Spiderman had so many cartoon shows, there is one for every generation out there. And thanks to all those adaptations, there is a basic knowledge a studio can expect from the audience, but it is not as extensive than some people might think. How Batman’s parents died, what the deal with Superman is or the fate of Uncle Ben, those are things which are pretty well established by now. But don’t expect the general audience to know about The Killing Joke, the fate of the various Robins or how Gwen Stacy died. Comic book readers know this. People who have just watched a Comic book based TV show once in a while don’t (unless they have observed comic book media related discussions as long as I did). Marvel either understood that or never even thought about it due to using lesser known characters. They build their universe under the assumption that the majority of the audience wouldn’t know anything about their characters, hence making it accessible for everyone.

Marvel understood also that what the nerd soul demands is not necessarily what it needs. It is always important to pay attention to your fans, but that doesn’t mean that you should follow every suggestion they make.

A good studio listens to its fans and then figures out what they actually want.  

To summon this up: I doubted that Warner Bros. would succeed because I thought that the structure of the studio wasn’t suitable for a project like this, because they had already shown that they didn’t really know the audience for Comic book based movies and because their approach to comic books in the past displayed a dismissive attitude towards the source material. And once I saw Man of Steel, I no longer just doubted, I was sure that I was watching a slow moving trainwreck.

Picking Snyder for a Superman movie has to be the most puzzling decision Warner Bros ever made. Oh, I get the thought behind it. Gritty Batman worked, Superman Returns didn’t, so let’s go gritty with Superman. Plus, thanks to 300 and Watchmen, Snyder had a lot of credibility with comic book fans. But, as I pointed out above, comic book fans don’t equal the general audience. Who the hell thought that Snyder’s cynical point of view would be a good fit for Superman, even for a gritty version of him? Though what really turned Man of Steel into a terrible movie – yes, it is terrible, I don’t care that it has its defenders – is not even the tone and the cynicism, though neither help. The main problem with it is that it spends long stretches of the narrative to make clear that this is supposed to be a different Superman, but then throws in scenes and expect them to resonate with the audience based on prior knowledge of those characters. The killing of Zod is the prime example for that. If comic book Superman did that, the “Noooooo” would resonate because Superman usually doesn’t kill. If the Man of Steel does it, it fits perfectly to his actions through the whole movie, leaving the “Nooooo” without any context.

But even though Man of Steel confirmed a lot of my fears, I didn’t expect what followed then. After all, there was still time for Warner Bros. to rethink their strategy, wasn’t it? Instead they doubled down on it!  Why was Snyder kept on the project not just as one director, but as the director who set the tone for the whole universe? Remember what Marvel did? Marvel build on the successful movies which resonated with the audience and quietly shoved The Incredible Hulk into the darkest shadow available.

Marvel also created a baseline for their universe, but it was very careful to not lock the directors too tightly into a specific aesthetic or the writers into a specific storyline. They did the whole setting up the next movie thing exactly once in Phase 1, during the production of Ironman 2, and remember the movie which resulted out of those decisions – a rushed production, an unfocussed script, and a construct in which three Marvel movies were supposed to overlap –  is to this day considered one of the weakest of the MCU. Which is why Warner Bros. approach is so puzzling. Marvel had already demonstrated what worked and what didn’t. Dropping Easter eggs and subtle connections? Works great! Using huge chunks of a movie to advertise the next instalment? Nope, don’t do this! And yet Warner Bros went and created a whole movie which is nothing but set-up with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

But the biggest mistake in all this might have been the stories Warner Bros. picked for adaptation. Look, I get it, The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman are very popular comic books, but there is a reason why Captain America: Civil War is movie 13 of the MCU and not movie 2. Those kind of stories can only work if the audience has already established a relationship to the characters and the world in question, and, as I already pointed out, a studio shouldn’t just assume that such a relationship automatically exist due to earlier adaptations, especially not if the incarnations shown are so distinctively different from prior versions of them.

While we are at it, Flashpoint won’t work as a first Flash Stand-alone story either. This year a lot of people joked that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did Flashpoint better than CW’s The Flash did. And the reason why the take of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was so much better received boils down to one word: patience. The Flash did this particular plot point in its second season, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.waited nearly four years before it confronted its characters with a possible alternate existence and had therefore way more material to build on. There is no way that Warner Bros. can do it in the very first instalment of the Flash.

On top of this, Warner Bros. or Snyder or Goyer or whoever else was involved in the mess which was Batman vs. Superman, none of them seem to understand why those comics were so popular in the first place. Even I know that the most iconic moments of The Death of Superman are not whatever happens with Doomsday, it is the images of Lois holding his broken body and the whole Justice League attending his funeral. It is not the death in itself which is interesting, it is how the world reacts to it after having been protected and inspired by Superman for so long. It is the worst story one could pick as follow up of a movie in which Superman wrecks both Smallville and Metropolis in his first big public outing.

So, to recap: On top of the very basic hurdles Warner Bros. was facing, they also made a number of mistakes from the get go. They didn’t took care to avoid the missteps Marvel already made. They picked the wrong director for the wrong reasons and allowed him to dictate the look of the universe even after his first movie ended up controversial. And they didn’t understand why the comic books they picked as inspiration were totally unsuitable for the start of a new universe.

Here is what they should have done: First of all, they needed to discard Man of Steel and instead go for a proper franchise starter. Naturally not Superman, because they had just tried that, and not Batman, because everyone was still salivating over the Nolan trilogy. Plus, DC needed to show that they have more to offer than Batman. What they needed was a hero with name recognition, preferable one with a rich history and a reputation untarnished by bad adaptations. Mmm…which DC hero fits the bill?

9146e954ae8fb90500bfe4ab1537fb9b-infographic-the-evolution-of-batman-superman-and-wonder-woman

Yeah, you guessed it, they should have started with Wonder Woman, and not just because she is the third part of the Trinity and was decades overdue for a movie of her own. From a marketing point of view, a female lead Superhero movie is something Marvel Studio still hasn’t done, and Warner Bros. had the best known Superheroine in the world at their hands. Wonder Woman might have less outings than her male counterpart, but her TV series raised her to a feminist icon which in turn gave her a staying power even decades of neglect couldn’t destroy. It was crazy not to use this immediately because of the irrational believe that female lead Superhero movies can’t be successful. Obviously they can, even while weighted down by a deeply unpopular cinematic universe. And from a storytelling point of view picking Wonder Woman would have meant starting at the very beginning, laying some groundwork for what will come later on, but without fixing too many aspects to a point of no return due to her origin story being set so far in the past.

For what is worth, I think Warner Bros did a lot of things right with Wonder Woman. I am not as enthusiastic as others about the movie as whole, but I think the basic concept of setting it in WWI instead of WWII and making it a movie about the futility of war was sound. But I won’t go into how this movie could have been improved from “okay” to “outstanding”, the important point is that Warner Bros had a perfectly good option for a strong start and didn’t use it because they stupidly though that the general audience would rather see a second outing of a deeply controversial version of Superman encountering yet another Batman than the first take on Wonder Woman. I think that the box office result for the Wonder Woman movie which they eventually did showed how wrong they were.

Not that I would have kept either Batman or Superman out of the picture, the next step would have been a movie in which Wonder Woman encounters either of them. Because this is the one thing in which the Warner Bros was in principle right: We don’t need another origin movie for Batman – nor did we need one for Superman. One can easily make a movie in which Wonder Woman meets Batman or Superman without the need to explain their whole backstory the same way the MCU can just throw Spider-man into the mix without long explanations. As long as the version on screen follows the core of the various incarnations of the character, the audience will just assume that the basic rules are still intact the same way nobody has to explain “Bond, James Bond” to anyone.

But I keep talking about what Warner Bros. should have done. The more important question is what they should do now that they have burned their most popular characters and stories for a failing franchise. The most popular opinion in the nerd bubble seems to be that Justice League was a step in the right direction and Warner Bros. should double down on those changes in order to eventually win back the audience with better movies. I disagree. Batman vs Superman not only created a confusing mess of a universe, it also blocked practically blocked the writers from a huge chunk of comic book lore by alluding that a number of events already happened at one point in the past. No matter how strong a movie is, if you build it on a foundation that weak, it will always sink at least partly into the mud.

I think it is high time to regroup. They naturally can’t stop Aquaman now, and it might be worth to do a sequel to Wonder Woman, but in the meantime, they should scratch their whole slate, put together a team for some brainstorming and then start anew, but without a big announcement. Just put someone competent in charge (meaning someone who has hands-on experience as producer but a sense for storytelling), hire a team of writers and then create a couple or stand-alone movies with the potential to turn them into a big crossover-event later on – just like Marvel did it.


All this won’t help, though, if Warner Bros. doesn’t make some basic changes – not just in personnel but above all in mind-set. Otherwise they will just run into the same problems. I have therefore decided to put together a couple of ideas how to approach this project. Let’s call it the DCTU . Yep, DCTU. Because DCCU sounds awkward and DCEU just stupid. Extended from what? Therefore DCTU, DC Theatrical Universe.

Step 1: Embrace the Differences

As I pointed out above, Warner Bros. should study Marvel’s approach and learn from their mistakes. But that doesn’t mean that they should just copy the MCU. Marvel and DC are similar in a lot of ways – no wonder, after all even the artists and writers switch from one company to the other once in a while – but there are also some fundamental differences between their respective comic book verses.  Marvel stories are set in the real world, preferable in New York. DC stories are usually set in Gotham, Metropolis or Central City. Marvel stories tend to feature normal humans who suddenly acquire the power to change the world – even the comic book version of Thor spend time as a human, unaware of his godly powers. DC stories on the other hand tend to feature god-like beings who mingle with humanity. Even Batman, maybe the most human of the DC heroes, is still incredible rich and is labelled the “greatest detective”.

As a general rule, it is easier for a writer to make Marvel’s heroes relatable, exactly because they tend to deal with very human struggles. It is way more difficult to make the audience sympathise with someone whose powers are off the charts, though. And no, adding flaws to the character doesn’t help. A flawed human is relatable. But a flawed god is above all terrifying. That doesn’t mean that the characters have to be perfect in every way, but if I had to create the DCTU, I would focus less on flaws and more on the kind of struggles a superpowerful Being faces. For example, how does Superman decide which people he should rescue and which not? Yes, he is faster than a speeding bullet, but even Superman can’t be everywhere at once. So does he decide to block out petty crimes believing that the police can deal with it on its own and only jumps in for the big events? Superman is supposed to be a symbol of hope, and seeing him struggling with this responsibility and how the world reacts to such a paragon of virtue is a way more engaging story than him trying to figuring out what moral actually is.

Wonder Woman is a way more interesting character than most give her credit for. She is a warrior, but the idea is also that she fights for peace. This contradiction alone could deliver material for multiple movies about the battles she picks and the weapon of choice. After all, words are often more effective than a sword to solve a conflict. Especially when the words are forced out by a powerful lasso.

But then, we can’t start the DCTU by focussing on either of them. Or on Batman or any other of the Justice League – if for no other reason than another movie headlining Batman or Superman underperforming might destroy the brand. We need to approach this through the backdoor. So let’s not start with the characters. Or with the themes.

Step 2: Start with the World

The DCEU’s approach to world-building has been confusing to say the least. It tries to start at the beginning with Superman, but in medias res with Batman, various villains and Wonder Woman. It destroys Metropolis only to have it rebuilt one scene later. On top of this it keeps alluding to events which I guess happened in the comics, but mean nothing to general audience. I don’t get the impression that Warner Bros actually knows what “res” actually looks like. It is a very confusing hodgepodge of Superman being a revelation for the world, but somehow Batman was already catching villains for decades and there are other Meta-humans around but somehow in hiding, yet their rogues gallery is in prison – nothing fits together smoothly. It is like Warner Bros just assumes that the audience has read every comic which was ever popular and somehow magical knows which pieces of them are part of the DCEU canon and which aren’t.

The MCU solved the world building problem by basically taking our world and then carefully inserting heroes in our history. And it has found an easy solution how to insert heroes before Ironman into the timeline by just claiming that S.h.i.e.l.d. (and others) covered up a lot, and that, aside from Captain America, heroes or powered beings simply worked secret until the Battle of New York revealed their existence (and the existence of aliens) to the world.

This approach wouldn’t work for the DCTU because, as I pointed out above, most heroes operate in fictional cities. Which sounds like a drawback, but is actually a huge advantage. The DCTU needs something which will distinguish it from the MCU and the Fox movies and whoever else finds or invents a Superhero property to adapt. And the thing which sticks out the most is how the city tends to reflect the hero living in them. Or the hero reflects the city. This is especially true regarding Batman and Superman. Nothing expresses this as well as this image:

worlds-finest-jimlee

The day and the night, the prosperity and the poverty, the art deco and the gothic. One thing which made especially the Burton movies and Batman TAS so appealing was the stylized setting. It is a concept so simple that before the DCEU, it was kind of a given. Even Gotham (the TV show) has a distinctive style and a sense of place. The CW show do the same light vs dark contrast with their take on Central vs Star(ling) City. But in Batman vs Superman there is no obvious difference between Metropolis and Gotham. Most of the time I am not even sure in which part of the city the movie is set.

Focussing on the place has also the advantage that the viewer will actually care if a particular landmark or city block gets destroyed. And it solves a lot of problems, too, because it gives the writers the freedom to write the rules themselves. Who cares if nowadays newspapers are struggling to keep their readership? If the writers decide that the Daily Planet is still the top authority in investigative journalism, than this is the reality of Metropolis. Who cares that the whole concept of Arcum Asylum is kind of silly? In Gotham city it can exist and maybe even function as an exploration of the concept of cities in which the majority of the population is working for the prison system. And that is just Gotham and Metropolis. There is so much a creative mind could do with the various fictional DC locations. Central City for example could be some sort of silicon valley for science, contrasting sharply with the close-bye and distinctively blue collar Keystone city in which what is thought up in Central City is built. Because in the DCTU America still has a strong production base. And Star City could really lean into its status as a port city, where the yachts of the rich are replacing the quaint fisher boats.

But world building is about more than just locations. So the next step which needs to be done for my DCTU to work is:

Step 3: Figure out the timeline

I am not talking about a timeline in the sense of putting definite dates on what is shown on screen. I am talking about the need to actually have an idea at which point in their life your characters are. See, the idea of starting in medias res with Batman was a sound one. Batman has been on screen so many times, nobody needs or wants an origin movie about him. But why starting the universe with him at the very end of his career as a crime fighter while Superman just arrived? That is a puzzling decision, especially when one thinks long-term. It blocks the writers from exploring a number of potential angles regarding Batman and his supporting cast by suggesting that the majority of them are already dead or gone.

I would pick a starting point along the line of: Those heroes have been active for a while already and are established enough that the world has gotten used to their presence. But they haven’t meet each other yet, nor is their support network of allies complete. Basically, no need to do another origin story (most of the DC ones are pretty boring or convoluted anyway), but still enough options to develop a character in one direction or another.

This doesn’t even have to be particularly precise. The MCU went for a tightly knit continuity, but there is no need for the DCTU to copy that method, nor would it make much sense. The cities are fictional anyway, so instead of confusing the audience with the question how this reality fits in our reality, let’s turn the DCTU in the best escapist fantasy possible! There should be a little bit more care put into how the movies relate to each other than Fox bothered to employ with their X-men franchise, but in principle, a looser connection would fit the usual modus operandi in Warner Bros. much better, because this would allow the writers and directors way more freedom. Though there is one important rule they should follow:

Step 4: Start small

It seems like Warner Bros. thinks that a comic book movies needs four things: A hero with some sort of issue to overcome, a flashy villain, an expendable love interest to rescue and a earth-destroying event. It is a template which has been used in countless Superhero movies, and Warner Bros. uses it in every single one of its DCEU movies! But it’s no longer the early 2000s, nowadays the audience expects a little bit more than that. And with more I don’t mean necessarily the flashy elements, I mean moments which draw them in on an emotional level. Ironman didn’t work so well because everyone wanted to see a bunch of metal suits crashing into each other – in fact I think that those kind of fight scenes tend to be the weakest moments in the franchise – it worked because the audience really felt for Tony Stark getting a wake up call and then struggling to make better decisions.

What Warner Bros really needs to understand that a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make a more successful movie. Sometimes it is necessary – for example if you have to pay a number of highly prolific actors so that they will all appear in the big event movie you plan as finale for a ten-year long saga – but the budget should serve the story instead of the other way around. Plus, if you start your universe with a world destroying event, there is no room for escalation. Which brings me to

Step 5: Move slowly and earn your moments

I have alluded to this multiple times already, but one of the biggest problem with the DCEU is that it feels so rushed. And I get it, Warner Bros. has to keep the shareholders happy, so they need their big success immediately. At the same time there is this fear that Superhero movies will go out of fashion soon. God knows that there are more than enough articles about “Superhero fatigue” and Superhero movies going the way of the Western.

But all of this doesn’t change the fact that you need to earn the success Marvel had with their movies. I am well aware that a lot of the more popular and/or well known DC titles are either event comics or Elseworlds stories. Warner Bros. needs to accept that it shouldn’t do either before establishing a proper baseline for its universe.

In addition, while Marvel had great results with reinterpretations of well-known comic book titles and storylines, some of it biggest successes had no direct comic book counterpart. Guardians of the Galaxy for example is basically a complete rewrite of the original comic books (which used to be very obscure), and if there has been ever a Spider-man comic called Homecoming, this is not a title which is particularly well-known. Even Disney had great success with Big Hero 6, not that the movie bore a lot of resemblance to the comics, which next to nobody read anyway.

The truth is that while it is always a good thing to get the actual comic book fans excited for a movie, the general audience doesn’t care one bit if the costume in the trailer looks exactly like something out of a specific comic book. It is also unlikely to recognize specific title or having knowledge what those titles are about. The general audience only cares about two things: Marketing and Word of Mouth. The marketing is needed to create a basic interest in the movie, the word of mouth convinces people to actually spend the money.

And yes, it is possible that the interest in Superhero movies will eventually fade. But it is on the studios to keep the genre fresh, and so far Warner Bros. is the only studio which hasn’t quite grasped the concept yet. Well, them and maybe Sony, but the judgement is still out on that one.

Step 6: Copy Marvel’s genre approach

Honestly, even Fox has caught on by now. The Superhero genre is incredible versatile. Romance, horror, detective story, everything is possible, there is no need to follow the same patterns again and again and again. Just look at the most successful Comic book movies of the last years: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy is a Space Opera, Civil War is a Revenge Play and Fox managed to tap into this formula by turning Logan into a gritty western and Deadpool into a raunchy romantic comedy. No, I am not kidding, Deadpool has a very basic rom-com plot mixed with Superhero elements and a lot of self-awareness. Meanwhile the movies which follow a more basic hero plot, like X-Men: Apocalypse or Suicide Squad, they don’t really resonate with the audience anymore – if they ever did in the first place.

Marvel has raised the standards of what a Superhero movie has to deliver considerably. But Marvel and Fox have also broadened the definition of what such a movie can look like. The opportunities are countless. What Warner Bros. shouldn’t do, though, is chasing the latest trend.

Step 7: Figure out the draw of the property

One of the biggest problem with the recent DC movies is how they tried to force concept which worked elsewhere on properties which aren’t meant for this kind of story. Granted, that Batman vs. Superman hit plot points which were similar to Civil War, that one was mostly incidental considering that both movies were in production around the same time. But, as I already pointed out, Man of Steel basically used the Nolan approach which worked so well with Batman, even though the main draw of Superman is how different he is from Batman. Green Lantern was a thinly veiled attempt to do a version of Ironman, complete with an irresponsible main character and Amanda Waller taking the role of Nick Fury, even though the property lends itself way more to a crazy space adventure. You know, the kind of movie Marvel did successfully a few years later with Guardians of the Galaxy, so successful that Warner Bros. decided to model Suicide Squad after it, even though Suicide Squad should have been a gritty heist movie. Even Wonder Woman is at its weakest whenever elements of Captain America: The First Avenger creep into it. Hold your horses, I am not saying that Wonder Woman is a copy of Captain America: The First Avenger. But Steve Trevor’s multinational team (which is, as far as I know, not from the comics) is suspiciously similar to the Howling Commandos, and Steve Trevor’s sacrifice is way, way too similar to Steve Roger’s sacrifice.

See, this is why Marvel is winning. For all the claims that the “play it safe”, they are not afraid to shake things up and allow comic book properties to be something different. They are not afraid to go out in space (at least not anymore…The Dark World is another movie which was tied back to earth for no reason at all) or the mystical world and they are not afraid to do a smaller story which doesn’t involve the fate of the whole world in the climax. Warner Bros keeps chasing after the latest trend, no matter if it actually fits the property they are dealing with, and more often then not they change the direction of the movie mid-production.

What they should do instead is trying to figure out why a particular comic book property resonated. With some of them, this isn’t really that difficult. Ask a random comic book fan what Superman stands for and the answer will most likely be “Hope”. Ask what Wonder Woman stand for and the answer will be either “Truth” or “Peace”. Ask what Batman stands for and the answer will be “Justice”. And everyone who ever bothered to look up Green Lantern knows that the green stands for will as opposed to fear (yellow), rage (red), greed (orange), death (black), live (white), hope (blue), compassion (purple) and love (pink).

Not every hero is helpfully labelled or colour coded, but one really doesn’t need to be a genius to recognize that a Suicide Squad story should be about a gritty wet work suicide mission, and not about a bunch of villains suddenly becoming anti-heroes and rescuing the world from a beam into the sky. One also doesn’t need to be a genius to recognize that beams into the sky as well as evil clouds should be avoided at all cost unless one has a really, really good idea how to utilize them.

Secret identities on the other hand is something most DC heroes should have. Marvel doing away with them was a great idea because for most of them, they were a useless element anyway. But even Marvel allowed Daredevil and Spider-man to keep on their masks, because in their case the secret identity isn’t optional but an important part of their stories. DC heroes tend to be vigilantes, therefore they need their masks, and they should reveal themselves to pretty much every person they know. In fact, the love triangle between Lois, Superman and Clark is one of the most essential themes in the Comic book.

Speaking of which: Nobody really cares why nobody recognizes Superman once he wears a pair of glasses. Yes, there have been jokes about this since pretty much forever, but Christopher Reeves managed to make the notion believable simply by hunching and adjusting the mannerism of Clark Kent. I am sure about this because nobody but me ever seems to wonder how it can be that in Disney’s Aladdin every character is apparently face-blind, because none of them is able to recognize Aladdin just because he changed his clothes. As long as the story enthrals the audience, it doesn’t really matter that a pair of glasses are a very basic disguise. Likewise nobody cares about Batman’s voice either. If anything, the Batman voice should be naturally threatening while Bruce Wayne should sound different simply by being more mild-mannered and speaking less forceful.

But I digress. The point is that while the group of actual comic book readers within the audience is pretty small, they are still serving as a great test group. A concept which resonated with them will most likely resonate on a larger scale, too. The actual difficulty is to figure out what part of the concept resonated. In the case of Superman, it was certainly not the costume or the quality of his disguise, but the notion of someone standing up for ideals and being powerful enough to enforce them.

Step 8: Focus on the villain

While I do think that Marvel’s so called villain problem is grossly overstated, there is no denying that DC has a huge advantage in this regard. Marvel’s most prolific villains are owned by Sony or Fox, while Warner Bros. has full access to all Batman villains, all Flash villains and all Superman villains.

Plus, on a more practical level, if you have a hero who has only limited room for character development, the most obvious solution for that problem is to create a flashy villain. Disney used to do this all the time and one can’t argue with the results. Consider this: What were the best episodes of Batman TAS actually about? Most of them were about the villains. Why do people like The Dark Knight so much? Certainly not because of Batman’s gravely voice but because of Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.

One of the most frustrating aspects about the DCEU is how shockingly bad the villains have been so far. I am pretty dispassionate when it comes to Lex Luther’s general mannerism or motivations, but there is no excuse whatsoever for him to be stupid enough to follow through with a plan which will result in him ending up either dead or in prison for sure. I admit, I have no idea what Comic book Ares is like, but if there is anything Xena has proven than how engaging the notion of a Being thriving on human unrest can be, plus, everything would have been better than a giant CGI something with a moustache. Suicide Squad has the first depiction of the Joker ever which didn’t resonate with the fans at all, and the less said about Enchantress “hypnotic” dance the better. Zod comes the closest to being a kind of interesting villain except that his motivation for acting the way he does – having been genetically designed that way – isn’t really explained until the very end of the movie, plus, it makes less sense the more you think about the notion.

Granted, a number of the villains in DC’s rogues gallery should be put on the backburner for now. I think the audience really needs a break from the Joker and without him, ushering in a new version of Harley Quinn wouldn’t really work either. There have been already two versions of Two-Face, one of them in the widely acclaimed The Dark Knight, so this is another villain which should be used further down the line. But I do think that the Riddler, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze all deserve redemption for their depiction in the Schumacher movies and while Batman Begins is a more acclaimed movie, I don’t think that anyone would mind a version of the Ra’s a Ghul or Scarcrow which is less grounded. Or of a the Penguin who doesn’t randomly bites off noses.

There are some other Batman villains which might be worth exploring, but have never graced the big screen. Hush for example is especially interesting, because he is not just an enemy of Batman, but also insanely jealous of Bruce Wayne. Warner Bros. would also have free run (pun intended) of the Flash’s rogue gallery. Yes, most of them have turned up in CW’s The Flash, but, to be frank, the main reason why the various Superhero shows on CW are still on air is because CW is satisfied with way lower ratings than the bigger networks like ABC or CBS expect. Meaning the exposure to the general audience is not as high as some might believe. For the same reason Deathstroke and Sinestro are certainly still an option for a fresh take.

The only property where the villain question is kind of problematic is Superman. Oh, there are quite a few Superman villains which never made it to the big screen, like Brainiac, Bizarro or Vandal Savage. But Metropolis without Lex Luther that just feels wrong on so many levels. But then, the last iteration of him was so terrible, I have the feeling that the fans wouldn’t complain to finally see a take which is closer to the animated version of the character, just to get rid of the lingering bad taste.

All this said, step 7 isn’t really a hard rule, while it is certainly worth remembering that Villains are one of DC’s strength, there are storylines in which the villain should be a background element. Which brings me to what might be the most important element.

Step 9: Pick talented writers

As much credit as directors tend to get for their work, I am convinced that the foundation for a good movie is a solid screenplay. It is not a guarantee for success, because a bad director is perfectly able to ruin a great script, but I can’t think of any movie in which a terrible script was somehow turned into a great movie. And no, Ironman doesn’t count, that was a case of shooting with no fixed script at all, which can work out if the people on set are flexible and creative enough.

Anyway, one should keep in mind that one of the reasons why the Captain America franchise feels way more like a coherent story-arc than the other MCU franchises do is that all three movies have been written by the same writing team (and I certainly look forward to what they will come up with in Infinity war). Case to point between all the DCEU movies so far, there is exactly one in which Goyer wasn’t involved in, which wasn’t written in less than a month or penned by two writers with completely opposite styles, and that is Wonder Woman. That screenplay was written by Allan Heinberg, who also happens to be a comic book writer. Gosh, who would have expected that an actual comic book writer would have an understanding for comic book characters?

I am not quite sure how Marvel picks their writers – apparently they are actively developing new talents – but it works. Well, most of the time. I don’t know what they were thinking when they hired the writers for Doctor Strange. Their record wasn’t exactly stellar.

Anyway, even though Warner Bros. is a director driven studio, they should be aware of the importance of writers and allow them the necessary time to develop a solid script.

Step 10: Change the narrative

And this time I am not talking about the actual plot of the movies, but about the bad press which is surrounding them. And the only way to do this is to hold of any announcements as long as possible and to divorce itself from the DCEU as fast as soon as Aquaman had its run (Wonder Woman 2 will draw the audience in even if it is officially the last outing of the character). I know that a lot of people won’t be happy about the notion. But there is no way that Warner Bros. can satisfy both the “grim and gritty” fans who will defend the DCEU to their last breath as well as those, who desperately want a new direction. Even more important, the general audience will shy away from the DCEU, due to its terrible reputation.

At this point, Warner Bros. needs to show that it has learned its lesson. And that will only work by releasing a few high quality movies which can be marketed as stand alone projects in every sense of the word. None of the Snyder style, none of the grey colours, just a fun looking Superhero movie.


Well, so far, so good. But naturally this is just a very basic concept, and I am certainly not so arrogant to think that this the one and only solution for Warner Bros. If for no other reason that even the best concept can fail if it isn’t realized with good scripts, the right directors and the fitting actors. Still, to end this article, here some thoughts about which movie Warner Bros. is already considering would be a good fit for the reboot as well as a couple of very vague ideas which might work for the DCTU.

Of all the movies Warner Bros. has currently in planning stages, Shazam and the Green Lantern Corps are the only ones I would keep on the slate. Granted, I am not so sure about what I have heard about Shazam so far, but as a comic book property, it is in a lot of ways perfect for a restart. The notion of a child being able to turn into an adult hero hasn’t been explored in any movie so far, Black Adam is certainly one of the better DC villains (that doesn’t mean that a movie just about him would be a good idea, though) and Fawcett City might not be the worst place to start some world building.

It might be a little bit early to revisit Green Lantern, but then if they start proper pre-production now it will be almost ten years since the last movie, and just keeping it in Space would allow some colourful trailers. Just, please, remove Goyer from the project! Please! His track record for writing Superhero movies is frankly terrible.

But what then? What is the right approach to re-establish Gotham and Metropolis and to create Central City and Star City for the first time on the big screen?

I would start with Gotham. And yes, I am aware that I complained at length about Warner Bros. relying way too much on Batman, but there is one element which has never been properly explored on the big screen, and which would be a perfect draw for the audience: The Bat Family! After all this years the only movies which even tried were the Schumacher ones, and they had zero understanding for why it is interesting to sadly a loner like Batman with a supporting cast.

So let’s start with Robin. I know that some people think that Robin can’t work on the big screen because Batman would look irresponsible if he would allow a child to fight violent criminals. It is a reasonable argument – as a general rule, animation has an easier time to get away with stuff like this – but I still think that this is just a question of the right approach.

First of all, there is no need to make Robin an outright child, just cast an actor who is around 14 (or can pass as being that age). That is just old enough that he has a certain degree of agency, but young enough that he still needs guidance. And I would make the movie about the events surrounding Dick Grayson loosing his parents.

Yes, I am aware that this story has been done multiple times in animation already and once on the big screen. But I don’t think that any of those adaptations have ever taken proper advantage of the notion. Think about it, a boy who grew up in the circus suddenly trapped with a millionaire he barely knows in some giant mansion. The whole movie could be told from his perspective, meaning that the audience would get to know Bruce Wayne and Gotham through the eyes of Dick (or Rich, if the writers are too worried about the immaturity of the audience). The story could focus on him trying to find the murderer of his parents (it was naturally Zucco, but it turns out that he was working for the Penguin), clashing into Batman during his investigation, eventually figuring out that the kind of closed off millionaire he has just started to trust actually is Batman, and eventually convincing Batman that it is better if he allows him to accompany him than risking him to run into danger on his own. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Robin has to be in the thick of things btw. After all, the main reason why Robin was invented for the Comics was that Batman needed someone to talk to, so Robin can just as easily be on look out for Batman instead of personally hitting criminals. At least not until he is older.

There are a number of storylines and conflicts related to Robin and the Bat Family which could be explored. The audience already knows the brooding Batman. But what about a Batman who initially gets used to having Robin around but then had a wake-up call when Robin nearly gets killed on one mission and he has to realize that the villains he has to deal with have become steadily more and more crazy and dangerous? What about a Batman who is suddenly confronted with a second crime-fighter donning a costume very similar to his? What about the whole Court of Owls story-arc? There is so much which has never been explored on film simply because the various directors weren’t really interesting in Batman’s non-romantic relationships and saw Robin at best as an opportunity to sell more toys. Delving into this part of the lore might bring a number of fans back on board, especially casual fans who know Robin mostly from his Teen Titans career.

The same way the Batman movies have never shown much interest in Batman’s supporting cast or detective skills, the Superman movies have always treated the Daily Planet as some sort of backdrop for Clark to hang around waiting for the next catastrophe to happen. Why not start at a point at which Lois Lane is still relatively new reporter, looking for her big break, who sees Clark Kent initially as an annoying rival for the job she seeks? One could build a whole storyline around Lois going undercover to reveal some big scheme while Clark, being aware of the risk she takes, keeps an ear out on her, but eventually doesn’t have to rescue her (for a change), but the people who are in danger because of the scheme. While he is busy, Lois manages to secure proof for the scheme, but since everyone is more interested in the heroics of Superman, Clark and Jimmy Olson are initially getting all the credit for the story. In order to make up for this injustice, Superman offers to give his first press conference ever during which he reveals that he would have never been there on time if not for Lois Lane making him aware of what was going on. And yes, I know, all this sounds like a very simple story and I am sure that the writers would need to embellish this with excuses for additional action scenes, but this way Lois has a reason to be in love with Superman aside from him being so powerful, and he has a reason to feel resentful towards Clark without her looking like a bully. And it would be a good way to cover a lot of Metropolis without destroying buildings left and right. Later instalments could focus on Superman’s status as alien and last of his kind (at least until Supergirl turns up) and him trying to find something to pin on Lex Luther (once he figures out his true nature).

Central City would naturally be introduced with a Flash story. I freely admit that I have no concrete idea for that one,  but just like I would lean onto Batman’s detective skills and Clark being a reporter, I would use the fact that Barry Allen is a forensic scientist. After all, the Flash doesn’t have superhearing, in order to be at the right place he still needs to figure out where the big crime will go down, no matter how fast he is.

And yes, establishing Star City would require the introduction of the Green Arrow, but why not? Even starting with the whole story about him coming back after having been marooned on an island might be a good idea. Yes, the CW show already did that, but I think another take on the same story with a Green Arrow who is less Batman like and more the modern Robin Hood and liberal crusader might be worth it.  Another option would be a movie exploring the Clock King, whose backstory isn’t just truly tragic, but might resonate with an American audience considering how much of a topic health care currently is, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I even have an idea for a team up movie down the line. Forget the “a world ending danger brings everyone together” storyline. Why not built on the notion of a competition between various powered heroes instead, which serves as a backdrop for a larger plan. See, the whole “who will win in a fight” discussions fans like to have, they are actually not that interesting because the answer to it is obvious: Whoever the writer wants to win. A more interesting question is: Under which circumstances would which hero have an advantage. I can actually imagine a story about a charity event which involves Superman, The Flash and Wonder Woman having to race each other through some sort of obstacle course, with Bruce Wayne and Oliver Queen both being sponsors of the event, which is naturally organized by Lex Luther who wants to figure out the weaknesses of the various heroes and if one of them can challenge Superman. Naturally there is an even larger plan by another villain in play, which leads to the racer having to work together to survive while Batman and Green Arrow figure out and take down the culprit.


But I think it is time to finish this. After all, what started out as some quick thoughts about the predictable downfall of the DCEU ended up in an article with close to 10,000 words. Currently Warner Bros. seems to lean towards blaming Snyder, but, for the record, as much as I dislike the decisions he made for DCEU, it was Warner Bros. who put him in charge, it was Warner Bros. who wanted to rush in the universe and it was Warner Bros. who was overly confident in the draw of the characters they own. Consequently it is Warner Bros. who needs to do better and not Zack Snyder – not that I would want him anywhere near more comic book properties unless they happen to fit his very specific aesthetic. But it is Warner Bros. who needs to rethink its approach, and I really, really hope that this will happen and the executives draw the right conclusion for a change. Because I truly want them to succeed – if they actually put the necessary work in it.

 


Marvel Musings: Ivan Vanko

One thing I have to clarify before discussing Whiplash: I don’t think that Ironman 2 has two villains. Justin Hammer is for me not a villain, he is an antagonist. Sure, a lot of the stuff he does is shady, especially when he frees Ivan Vanko from prison. But I don’t get the sense that he actually knows or cares that people were killed during this process. He isn’t the type who would plan something like this, he is the type who would order someone to fetch Vanko for him without caring how. He certainly lacks morals but overall, he is simply a dumb wannabe. That doesn’t mean that he can’t graduate from antagonist to outright villain in the future, but for now, I don’t think that the title really fits him. Ivan Vanko is another matter though. He certainly is a villain…but is he a good one? Let’s find out.

MV-Ivan-Vanko

 

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Is he actually established at all? His first scene does too little and too much at the same time. It starts out with some guy dying and saying that “This should have been you” regarding Tony to someone else. We don’t get the backstory to this until the second half of the movie. And before we even get a sense for either of the characters we just got introduced to, the movie launches into a montage which has mostly the purpose to cover what Tony has done since Ironman 1. When Vanko has his second great entrance on the track later on we still know next to nothing about his character. It’s so butchered up, I can’t give it more than  1 Point.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Revenge is a motivation which can either be very creative or boring depending on what someone wants revenge for. The idea of wanting revenge for someone else having a better live than yourself because of something which went down between your respective fathers could be very interesting, since it plays into the whole legacy theme of the movie. But the way it is explained is so convoluted, I am still not sure if Howard Stark actually did screw Vanko’s father over or not.  Considering how badly executed the idea is, I can’t give more than 2 Points.

 

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

When it comes to confusing plans, Vanko takes the cake. Let’s take this from the top: He attacks Tony at the racing track. I am not sure how he was able to predict that Tony would drive in the race, but okay, I roll with it, he might have simply waited for an opportunity to catch him, and that was the first one he got. After a fight in which he is keeps wielding his whips when he could have simply shoot Tony with arc reactor energy, he gets arrested. But then he claims that he still won because the world saw Ironman bleed. Wait, does this mean that he wanted Tony to survive, or did he want to kill him? And why going through all this effort when he already knows that Tony is dying? Granted, taking revenge in person is more satisfying, but what is the point of all this when he just ends up in prison? He can’t know that Justin Hammer will free him after all. And then we end up with the apparently on the fly created plan to attack Stark Expo. That makes a little bit more sense, because this way he attacks Tony’s legacy and not just his body – which actually might have been the idea from the get go. But Hammer is the one suggesting it to him, so perhaps not?  All in all his plan is a nonsensical convoluted mess. 1 point.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Well, he does manage to tarnish Ironman’s reputation to a certain degree, but all in all, he is a little bit like a dog behind a giant fence. For most of the movie he is just dicking around with Hammer, and when he finally attacks the Stark Expo, he looses. I can’t give him more than 2 Points in the end.

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

The most frustrating aspect about Vanko is that he could actually be extremely dangerous. He has the plans for the arc reactor, he is smart, he could easily sell his knowledge and attack Tony more indirectly. But no, he storms forward like a bull. Granted, there is still something dangerous about a bull, but in this case the physical presence is undermined by his questionable planning. Without Hammer getting involved, he might have spend the next years in prison. So I guess I’ll stick to 2 points.

 

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

To be honest, I have the feeling that Vanko is only in the movie to provide action scenes. The actual core of the story is about Tony coming to terms with the fact that he is dying, as well as dealing with his complicated feeling towards his dead father. Vanko kind of plays into the latter, in a “sins of the father” context, but based on what we are told about the past, Howard’s actions were self-serving but not necessarily wrong. All in all the time spend on Vanko is more a distraction from Tony’s actual struggles than something which serves the plot. 1 point.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

Urgh, I hate laying into an actor like this, but wtf was that? There is really nothing about this performance I like, especially not the habits the actor added to the character. I know that some people like the “Burd”, but while it is the most memorable thing about the performance, it is also nothing more than a really stupid quirk. I am inclined to give a little bit credit for at least ensuring that people remember the name of the villain, but that’s where I draw the line. I settle at 2 points.

 

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

Let’s be frank here: The costume is stupid. Who the hell would take the arc reactor technology and then turn it into whips? But that is not even what bothers me the most about it, since comics tend to be silly at times. But if you want to smash a character into a wall repeatedly with a car, you better put said character into a protective gear to make it halfway believable that he would be able to walk away with no visible injuries later. I guess he has a second costume towards the end of the movie, but I can’t even remember what it looks like. 1 points

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

The only reason why the scenes with Vanko aren’t boring is because he shares them with either Tony or Hammer, two character who are always entertaining, no matter what they do. Vanko on his own is as interesting as drying paint. It is saying something that his “burd” is more memorable than he is. 1 point.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

Did I mention the “burd” already? Otherwise, he has quite an entrance on the track. Most of the other memorable scenes he is involved in are standing out because of Hammer’s lines, not because of him.  2 points


All in all, Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash is one of the weaker MCU villains. I think part of the problem is that he is acted like a Disney villain, even though this kind of villain doesn’t fit into the thoughtful movie Ironman 2 tries to be. But above all it feels like the writers really wanted to tell the story about Tony’s personal struggles and just threw in Whiplash because they needed some action scenes.

Average: 1,6 Points


Marvel Musings: Obadiah Stane

And it is the time of the year again in which I start to make up for all the months in which I neglected this blog…well, to be honest, I didn’t really neglect it. I prepared this little article series because I felt, I should do something special for Halloween this year. And what is a better topic for Halloween than villains? And in my opinion, the best way to study villains is taking a good look at the MCU villains.

No, that is not just because I really, really love the MCU. That’s part of it, but I also love Disney and animated movies and Harry Potter and a number of TV shows, all of which offer a number of villains to discuss. But what the MCU has but most franchises lack is variety. From the Disneyesque Supervillain which prances around in plain sight to the more grounded villains, from powerful to human, from layered to simple, from extremely well-written to a total failure, there is a little bit of everything. And it is certainly interesting to examine why certain villains work and others don’t even though they are all part of the same universe.

And once I settled on the MCU, something else occurred to me: This would be the perfect series in preparation to Infinity War. So I decided to start with it today, in honour of Halloween, and will then discuss another villain every two weeks until the movie is released. I will sort them roughly by release date of the movie or TV show in which they turned up, but I will for now skip the Hydra villains (because they should be discussed in connection to each other) and villains which are still alive. Then I will cover the Hydra villains and finally to the ones which are still around. I will have to revisit this series at one point anyway, but if I do it this way there might be a chance that I don’t have to rewrite too many of my old articles because of additional information. And don’t worry, since I prepared this series in advance, I might be able to post about something else in-between.

Since I wanted to keep my examination of the characters as fair as possible, I have come up with ten categories to judge them on, as well as a point system. For each category a villain can earn up to five points, but I’ll only give full points if I see no grounds for complain whatsoever. Four points is basically a “well done”, three points stands for “okay”, two points means “needs improvement” and one point “utter garbage”.  There will be no half points, I deliberately designed the scale as simple as possible to keep it comparable, and this way I can give it a proper average.

All this said, let’s take a closer look at Obadiah Stane, the villain from Ironman.MV1-Obadiah-Stane Continue reading