Category Archives: Other

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:

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Nor a reason to be all:

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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?

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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:

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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


Marvel Musings: The Ten Most Emotional Scenes of Phase 2

Yeah, the it took some time, but here is finally the ranking for Phase 2. Same rules as the last time: The scenes have to be emotional, but not necessarily tearjerkers. And I consider December 2015 as the end of Phase 2, so Agents of Shield fans, don’t be angry if a certain infamous scene from season 3 isn’t listed here, it aired more or less right after the cut-off date and will certainly get its due when Phase 3 is finished and I do lists for that one. Also, while this should be self-evident, there will be spoilers. Especially if you haven’t watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I will mention some very pivotal information here.

10. Age of Ultron: Quicksilver dies

Quicksilver didn’t have enough screen-time to be really broken up about his passing, but he was around just enough to feel his loss. Less for him, but on Wanda’s behalf. Her taking revenge on Ultron by literally ripping out his heart is a very gripping scene (pun totally intended). And then there is Clint’s guilt. When he puts Quicksilver’s body on the helicarrier and breaks down beside him, it just summons up all the exhaustion and the emptiness which one might feel after a fight like this, one in which you can only try to do damage control and rescue as many lives as possible but aren’t really able to stop a catastrophe from happening, into one single image.

9. Ant-Man: Anthony dies

This one mostly made the list because it is so unexpected. Making the audience care about the death of an ant of all things requires a lot of skill. I guess we can thank the CGI department for making the ants look cute and realistic at the same time, but also kudos to Paul Rudd’s acting abilities. The thing he is broke up about isn’t even there, and while there is too much going on to linger too long on Anthony’s fate, he puts all into the moment.

8. Jessica Jones, Season 1: Jessica shoots Luke

For some reason the interaction between Jessica and Luke often packs a more emotional punch than her interacting with Killgrave. I think because Killgrave is mostly creepy. Really creepy. The scenes with him make me shudder, but not exactly emotional. In addition Jessica keeps fighting against Killgrave in every single one of those scenes. But whenever she is with Luke, you can feel her emotional turmoil, her self-hatred and her guilt. The only other person which makes her open up that much is Trish and yes, Trish nearly dying and her being under the control of Killgrave were both choices I considered for this list, too. But the fact that in this case Jessica is forced to damage a loved one herself gives this scene an additional level of hurt.

7. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1: Ward drops Jemma and Fitz into the ocean up to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2: Ward shots Kara while Bobbi springs Ward’s trap

Yeah, I am cheating a little bit here, but I think the whole arc Ward had between those two episodes is an emotional rollercoaster. When Ward suddenly turned out to be Hydra, I think a lot people in the audience expected that there would either be some explanation or that he would become at least a sometimes ally eventually. It’s what most (arguably lesser) TV shows would have done. But not here. In season 1, Ward’s past was explored very thoroughly, showing what Garrett did to him, and yes, it was enough to make me feel for Ward. Until he dropped Fitzsimmons into the ocean, nearly killing them both and damaging Fitz permanently. But even then there was always the possibility that Ward would get a redemption arc or become some sort of frenemy. But him killing Kara believing her to be May closed this particular door once and for all. And I honestly don’t mind. Redemption arcs are so overdone and kind of predicable. Getting invested in a character and then realizing that the whole character was just an illusion is a way better source of drama. More or less every scene Ward and the team share in season 2 are pure emotional gold, especially whenever Fitz is confronted with Ward’s presence.

6. Daredevil, Season 1: Jack Murdock wins his fight

The second episode of Daredevil was easily my favourite of season one, less because of the famous hallway fight and more because of the backstory which was told in it. I really liked Jack Murdock, and when he has his one moment of success, my heart arched for him knowing what would most likely happen next. I don’t know if what he did was really worth it, if that was really the right way to secure Matt’s future. I am pretty sure that Matt would have preferred to grow up with his father still being around. But there is still something powerful about some sacrificing his live for someone else. And in a way it is the ambiguous nature of the sacrifice which made his victory such a bittersweet moment.

5. Thor, The Dark World: Loki’s reaction to Freya’s death

There isn’t really much I like about this movie, but the parts which I do like are so strong that they make up for a lot. Most of those parts are related to Loki, and what happens to him represents his self-destructive streak more than anything else. There he is in prison, hating the world (and himself), but there is one person left who is still ready to reach out to him and that is his mother. And then he inadvertently causes her death by pointing the Kursed the way out to the throne room out of petty revenge. The way he first pretends that he doesn’t care and then explodes in rage, destroying the cell and hurting himself while still trying to keep out the illusion is a perfect representation of Loki’s complicated character. And in a way truly heart-breaking.

4. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 3: Fitz rescues Jemma  from the Monolith

No matter what TV show or movie I watch, there is always the question of the stakes. I usually don’t expect any main characters to die (and yes that includes Game of Thrones, no matter what anyone says, some characters are safer than others), so I am the most invested when the characters are about to make decisions which I know will have far reaching consequences. When Fitz jumped after Jemma, I honestly wasn’t sure if he would manage to pull her back, and the show runners really milked this scene for all its worth. It’s an emotional nail-biter which still works on multiple watches.

3. Captain America, The Winter Soldier: Cap stops fighting against Bucky

One of the criticisms levelled again the MCU is the fact that the big action set-pieces often lack an emotional centre. This is certainly true for some of them, but not for The Winter Soldier. Between all the fireworks, there is so much going on. Fury confronting Pierce, Natasha deciding to step into the light and then electrocuting herself, but above all, there is the emotional dilemma Steve has to face. He doesn’t really want to fight Bucky, but he knows that he has to do so in order to protect million of innocent lives. Once he successfully inserted the chip, though, he is finally free of his obligation. I always wondered what was going on in Bucky’s head in this scene. To me it looks like he didn’t hit quite as hard as he could have because he was confused that his “mission” didn’t act the way the it was supposed to. In any case, though, I can’t watch this scene without my heart breaking for those two all over again.

2. Agent Carter, Season 1: Peggy talking the fall for Jarvis

This might be an odd choice, especially since there are various scenes centred around Peggy’s grief over Cap which really tug on my heart-strings. But this moment is emotionally so draining that I have actually trouble to watch it. For those who don’t watch the show, here is the set-up: Peggy has just managed to show herself as competent in the field when she is forced to deliberately make a stupid mistake to get Jarvis off the hook. The moment is crushing. Not only is she forced to apologize to the guy who keeps talking down to her, he humiliates her on top of it. And knowing that she is actually not as stupid as she pretends to be, but just tricked her co-workers again for the bigger goal, doesn’t make this better. It makes it worse, because she truly doesn’t deserve the scorn which is thrown her way.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy: We are Groot

There was not doubt for me from the get go that this scene would be the winner of the list. In a movie which already has a number of emotional scenes which would fill half of the list if not for the rules I set myself, this is the one which encompasses everything this movie is in three memorable words. The fact alone that I tear up over a racoon pleading with a tree is a testament how well constructed this scene is. And it is doubly sad now that it seems that the current Groot isn’t quite the same character as this past version of Groot. Which would make Groot the first main character who died for real in the MCU.


Marvel Musings: Do you know the score?

A couple of months ago Every Frame a Painting uploaded a vid about the Marvel scores. To be specific, it offered a theory why the Marvel themes are not memorable. I usually feel that the videos on this particularly channel are highly educating and interesting, but this one made me pause. I had a number of issues with the argumentation used. And I wasn’t the only one. This video followed a string of other ones, which examined the issue and the arguments. The end result was exactly the kind of discussion I would love to see more often on the internet, on topic, with a number of well articulated point of views which in turn made me consider some aspects I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. And I naturally have my own opinion about the matter. But before I get to it, I’ll try to summarize the core points made in the various vids – I nevertheless encourage you to also watch them yourself. The first one, The Marvel Symphonic Universe, was uploaded on the 12.09.2016.

The arguments brought up here are:

  1. Marvel themes don’t cause an emotional response
  2. The music is too predictable and doesn’t challenge the expectations of the audience
  3. The dialogue distracts from the music.
  4. There is a trend in the industry believing that music in movies shouldn’t be notices.
  5. Producers encourage composers to imitate the temp music.

The arguments boils down to the Marvel scores being too safe – which is a common complain about different aspects of those movies in general, but let’s stick to the music for now.

Just three days later, on the 15.09.2016, the first rebuttal, A Theory of Film Music was uploaded by Dan Golding.

Golding agrees to the basic idea that the Marvel scores are forgettable, but disagrees partly when it comes to the reasons. This video points out that:

  1. The Star Wars Theme was actually created based on temp music.
  2. Temp tracks are not a modern phenomenon, but are as old as film music itself.
  3. Unoriginality is normal for film music.

and brings up the following points:

  1. The tracks used nowadays tend to be more recent.
  2. Hans Zimmer pioneered the use of digital music, which changed the process of creation.
  3. And lead to a tendency to use rhythms instead of melodies in movies

Dan Golding concludes that Marvel movies have a musical landscape but are different not in melody but through texture.

Just one day later Marvel Movies: The Thematic Continuity Issue added another thought to the discussion.

This video points out that

  1. the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to change composers, which often use different scores in the different movies, thus not creating a thematic continuity in the music.
  2. The Avengers theme, which might be the most memorable of all of them, might have this status because Danny Elfman used Silvestri’s score in Age of Ultron, thus preserving the theme.

It concludes that the points made in the previous video essays are correct, but sees the lack of a thematic continuity within the scores of the MCU as the main reason for the inability of people to remember the scores.

Similar thoughts are voice in Why You (Actually) Don’t Remember Marvel Music, uploaded roughly one month later on the 19.10.2016.

This one is also a response to the first two videos, stating that both of them describe symptoms, but miss the point. In an argument similar but not quite identical to the one above, it points out that:

  1.  The theme music of Pirates of the Caribbean is an example for a very popular and well known score which is both temp music and made by Hans Zimmer (for the record, he was the producer, not the actual composer).
  2. Star Wars, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean are all franchises which have been around for way longer than the MCU, and which have used the same theme music not just in all of their respective movies, but also for connected media, theme park rides and above all the general marketing.

This video concludes that the key to a score being remembered is above all repetition, not quality, and adds that the Marvel movies actually have a number of great tunes, pointing to the Thor score and the Avengers theme.

The latter is also in the centre of the last, but perhaps best rebuttal, The Avengers Theme – a video response to “The Marvel Symphonic Universe”, which was uploaded by HelloLillyTV on the 15.11.2016.

HelloLillyTV points to the comment section of the first video essay and how many said that that they, unlike the people in the video, immediately remembered the Avengers theme. This rebuttal argues further that this particular theme neither plays in the background of the movie, nor is it devoid of emotion. Based on the concept of repetition with association, it points out that:

  1. The theme consists of two distinctive parts.
  2. It is used multiple times through the movie in very specific key moments.
  3. It is shown in association which large scale shots, connecting the music with the notion of “greatness” early on.
  4. And is then played during the most iconic moment of the whole MCU, when the Avengers unite for the first time.
  5. It is also part of Age of Ultron and therefore part of a thematic continuity

This video then draws attention to the fact that while certain themes are actually used multiple times and very effectively in the MCU, they are next to never used in the marketing. There is even a supplementary video to make this point.

So, where do I stand in this battle of sometimes conflicting and sometimes overlapping arguments? Let’s start with my thoughts concerning the first video.

I am a big admirer of Every Frame a Painting. I especially love the videos in which the staging and the camera work in movies are taken apart, since they really opened my eyes and made me realize what is possible to convey just on a visual level, what a difference something as simply as a movement in the background can make. Those videos made me more critical towards modern movie creation, including some issues with the MCU I didn’t notice beforehand. But this particular video essay is, in my honest opinion, one of the weaker ones, because it is very manipulative and bases the conclusion on the connection of two barely related issues.

From the very beginning this argument stands on very shaky grounds. A collection of random people being asked any question is always a little bit problematic when it comes to formulating a thesis. For starters, the group of people presented is way too small to be in any way representative, and as a viewer I am unable to judge if really every person who was asked actually made it into the video. I am giving Every Frame a Painting the benefit of the doubt here and assume that there wasn’t a person who did remember the theme but was cut out of the video to preserve the intended impression. But even then this is far from a remotely scientific group. In addition, I think it would have been interesting to play the Avengers theme to a number of people to test if they would have recognized it, or confused it with other themes.

Another aspect I noted about the essay are the scenes which were picked to make the argument. Instead of identifying the main themes of the movies and discuss how they are used, most of the scenes discussed are fairly random moments. I have to admit that I think the argumentation here is a little bit odd. Yes, playing a “funny” music for a funny scene is an expected choice, as is the high note for suspense. But that is kind of the point. Film music is to a certain degree codified, meaning we connect a certain kind of music to certain situations or feelings. The last rebuttal I linked, the one by HelloLillyTV, even gives a great example for this when it points out that the trailer for Age of Ultron feels more like the advertising for a horror movie. And this impression is nearly entirely based on the music alone. Age of Ultron does have a number of moments which are reminiscent of horror movies sprinkled through the more jokey and action-packed  scenes, but none of the more obvious ones made it into the trailer.

There is one “main score” which is briefly touched upon in the video essay by Every Frame a Painting, and that is Silvestri’s Triumphant Return. The complain here is that the useless narration hides the movie, followed by a demonstration how the scene would work without it. And yes, it works beautifully, thus proving that the score elevates the scene in question considerably. But the narration is actually not useless at all, it is needed to bring the whole audience on the same page. Let’s pretend that someone in the audience hasn’t seen The First Avenger, or doesn’t remember the movie all that well and is also not particularly informed about the comic book lore. Without the narration he would be able to gather that Steve is remembering his past in the military, but he had no idea what Bucky actually means to Steve. So when Bucky looses his mask later in the movie, said audience member would not gasp in surprise, he would ask “Who?”, confused about Steve’s strange reaction. But independent from the question if the narration is needed in this particular scene or not, the same score is used earlier in the movie, during the jogging scene, with no narration at all (unless you count “on your left”).

My point is that the MCU is too large to make a sweeping statement about it based on a few randomly picked scenes. You would at the very least need to look at the way one movie as a whole is scored, or how a specific score is used in different movies within the MCU to make at least some sort of judgement about it – and yes, that is my roundabout way of saying that I really like the argumentation of HelloLillyTV, which does the former with The Avengers and then the latter with the main theme of the respective movie. But more about that one later. Let’s examine first the statement that the Marvel scores don’t take risks, as well as the more general claims concerning the current trends in film music.

For starters, I don’t think that any of those trends are actually that current. As Dan Golding rightly points out, using temp music has been common since the very beginning of film making. What also has been around since the start is the need to find a balance between the different elements of a scene. Meaning, what the audience is supposed to notice in any given scene is not necessarily the music. Unless you watch a musical or something along the line of Fantasia, the most important element of a movie is usually the plot, and the music is, along with the visuals and the dialogue, only there to serve the story. Consequently it shouldn’t be the main feature in any given scene unless the director wants it to be.

Thus said, if music is used, it should enhance the scene in question. If you just can take out the music, like Every Frame a Painting did in the Ironman scene, and it doesn’t really make difference, than it might have been better to not use a score in the first place, since the focus should be on the dialogue anyway. The example from the Thor movie on the other hand is simply a matter of taste. Yes, you could have used a more attention seeking score to replace the more conventional one, but I actually wouldn’t have, because I feel that something too grand for the setting would have overwhelmed the scene. This feeling might, btw., be related to the fact that the score Every Frame a Painting added instead is, just like the Avengers theme, used for big fighting scenes and large spaces through the movie. So, yes, I am sure if I go through the whole MCU I will find a number of music choices which do nothing to enhance the scene, as well as a few I would personally disagree with. But I’ll skip the rant about the lack of Heavy Metal in Ironman 3 for now, and focus on the idea that the music choices in the MCU are too generic.

I mentioned before that Every Frame a Painting mixes two different issues. One is the question if the MCU has a theme people can hum on the spot, the other is the question if the themes of the MCU are particularly memorable. Those two questions aren’t necessarily related to each other, though, since a score doesn’t have to be hummable in order to be memorable. If someone would ask me what soundtrack I consider particularly remarkable, one of the ones I would point to is this one:

 

But I wouldn’t be able to hum this one if my life depended on it. And, to address the notion in Dan Golding’s response that the use of digital music is the reason why certain themes aren’t remembered that well, the theme doesn’t become more hummable if it is played by a full orchestra either.

What it nevertheless is, though, is unusual, remarkable and perfect in every way for the movie it which it is used.

This in mind, I am inclined to dismiss Dan Golding’s complain about the Hans Zimmer style of scoring movies. Yes, using rhythms instead of melodies is a bit of a trend in Hollywood, a trend which was born out of an unusual choice which then became mainstream. I am currently (mostly) sick of it, too, but I don’t think that either approach to movie scoring is in any way superior. And the MCU itself is a great example for it. Or, to be specific, the Captain America Franchise.

This piece is easily my favourite score in the whole MCU. It is a very compelling – and melodious – tune, and it is used to perfectly in The First Avenger. The moment I hear it I have immediately a bunch of associations, most of which originate from the scene above: Steve Rogers, practically back from the dead, having managed the impossible, finally accepted by his peers and superiors alike, the hero of the day. This is truly a triumphant return and it is no accident that this piece is used very briefly in The Avengers when Cap turns up in full costume, back in Germany and again standing up to yet another tyrant in yet another triumphant return. It is also no accident that it turns up again at the very beginning of The Winter Soldier.

Nothing about this scene is accidental, but especially not the way the theme rouses in connection with buildings and monuments which do stand for the American Ideal more than even the Lady Liberty. And Cap fits perfectly into this picture as yet another symbol of said ideals, but also of a time long gone by. It is a poignant choice that the theme plays again in the museum, in connection with a view on the past, which focusses more on the heroics of Captain America than the experiences of Steve Rogers. It is also quite deliberate, that the actual main theme of the movie is this one:

Take a Stand is more or less everything what Triumphant Return isn’t. It’s not a rousing, slowly swelling melody, but a fast staccato of rhythm building up to climax, which sounds as if someone just hit the table with his fist to make everyone present listen to him. And I love it. It is perfect for this movie exactly because it is so different. The contrast between the sepia-tinted world of pure heroism seen through a lens of nostalgia to our way more complicated, hectic and cynic reality is reflected in the way those two score pieces are used in the movie.

Which brings me to the idea that the MCU has an issue with thematic continuity in its scores. Well, this is kind of correct if one looks at the MCU as a whole, especially within the Ironman franchise, in which not only every movie has a different composer, but the third one doesn’t even fit remotely into what came beforehand. With the two Thor movies, it is kind of a shame that those soundtracks are different, but at least they are tonally in the same ballpark. Ironman 3 just switches to a different tone, bit without the narrative connection which make the change in The Winter Soldier so brilliant.

I admit, I would love it if each Superhero in the MCU had his or her own theme. The Captain America franchise does this to a certain degree. Aside from Triumphant Return and Take a Stand, the Winter Soldier theme is another one which sticks out, and carries over from The Winter Soldier to Civil War. But what Civil War lacks in my opinion is a clear theme for Ironman, which can play in contrast to Cap’s theme. But that is not the fault of Henry Jackman, he couldn’t use a theme like this because there was never one established for Ironman beforehand.

On the other hand, though, a rule like this might limit the composers too much. There are narrative but also stylistic reasons why Henry Jackman switched from Triumphant Return to Take a Stand. This choice doesn’t just reflect the change in the character, but is also a way better fit for a movie, which is not a wartime adventure put a political thriller. It would have been difficult to have the more patriotic tunes of The First Avengers present through the whole movie without undermining its themes. For similar reasons Jackman went for a less rhythmic and instead more epic score for Civil War, to reflect the tragic aspect of a larger than life conflict.

And no, it is not at all hypocritical of me to complain about the musical changes made for Ironman 3, while praising the ones in The Winter Soldier. I truly dislike the soundtrack for Ironman 3, and not because I think that the music chosen or the scores are in any way bad, but because I consider them a change which is not carried by the narrative. I feel that it is jarring.

At the end of the day, I don’t think that there is a thumb rule for the right way to score a whole universe. While a consistent musical line has a lot of merit, the decision what works and what doesn’t has to be made on a movie to movie base to a certain degree. Thus said, I am very pleased that Silvestri will score Infinity War, since switching composers isn’t exactly helpful in keeping a consistent tone.

But consistency or not, I don’t think that the use of specific themes within the movies is the deciding factor for it become ubiquitous. I agree with HelloLillyTV that marketing and advertising has a way bigger influence on which music pieces we connect to which movies – to a certain degree. While everything which is said in the video is correct, there simply are scores and songs which click with the audience better than others.

See, the trick with playing the score from Gladiator, which one of the videos used? Didn’t work on me. It didn’t work even though I have never even watched Gladiator, nor did I pay any attention to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after movies two and three were such a giant let-down. I still like the first one and consider it the best pirate movie ever made, but overall, there wasn’t a lot of marketing which could push me into remembering that particular score more than other scores I listened to in the last years. I nevertheless noticed immediately that the score which was played to me was not quite the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, because I love that score. I have loved it from the moment I first listened to it. It was an instant ear worm for me. You could play other music pieces a hundred times to me or connect them to a very emotional moment, and they wouldn’t stick with me that way.

Another score I love even though it is not part of a particularly popular or successful franchise, but was used in exactly one critically not particularly respected movie is the one from The Man in the Iron Mask. And I am obviously not the only one who felt that way about this melody considering that Yagudin used this this score for the ice dancing performance which won him the Gold medal. A lot of people love this score and might even be able to hum it.

I don’t think that it is really possible to explain completely why some melodies connect with the majority of people while others doesn’t. The marketing is certainly not the only aspect one has to consider. For example there are a number of animated TV shows with themes which are repeated again and again and due to the repetition, people watching those shows will most likely at least recognize them. But I just need to do this:

“Duck Tales…wohooo….”

and a number of my readers will have this damned song stuck in their head yet again (and no, I am not sorry, I spend the last week trying to get the title song of Moana out of my head and I am really in the mood to share some of my suffering. Just be glad that I didn’t mention It’s a small world…ooops). There is really no obvious reasons why this particularly theme song has such an effect. It is not like Duck Tales had a longer run than other TV shows, or that the opening is particularly well animated. Some unique word combinations in the text certainly helped to create trigger words for the theme song, but otherwise, there simply is something about the tune which makes it memorable.

All this said, the marketing is certainly the best explanation why people don’t connect the MCU immediately with a particular theme. But it is also an observation which doesn’t really address the quality of the actual MCU soundtracks (though all videos which went for the repetition argument as explanation did praise specific scores in the MCU). Let’s disconnect the whole argument from the question why the MCU scores aren’t hummed on cue, and go back to the question if the MCU soundtracks are generic or not.

There is an underlying complain in those first two videos essays which does have some merit: That there might be a systemic problem with the way movies are scored. But I don’t think that the points brought up in those videos are new at all. As Golding rightly points out, temp music has always been used. Likewise, there have also been trends in film music. In any given time period it is possible to point to a number of movies which followed a specific trend, and to a number of movies which ignored said trend or set a new one. The main reason why film music is codified in the first place, why we associate certain tunes with certain emotions, is because we connect said tunes to certain kind of scenarios. And this connection is older than movies themselves, you’ll find the same kind musical cues in the opera or the ballet.

It is true, though, that digital music has changed the way movies are scored. But again – is that really a bad thing? Since the scores now can be changed more easily, the composers can bring in their ideas way earlier, instead of having to score the movie after it already has been finished. Every approach has, at the end of the day, its upside and downside.

But there is one thing one always has to consider when it comes to film music: Every movie is a collaborative effort. A musician who works on his next hit single or creates something for the stage has, at least theoretically, all the freedom in the world to realize whatever idea occurs to him. A musician who works for the movie industry is limited from the get go by the movie he is working for and might get limited even further when directors already have been influenced by temp music, want music in the background and not in the forefront, or aren’t really open to any new ideas from the get go, because they want to follow a trend instead of doing something experimental.

But those are all aspects and concerns for the movie industry in general, not just for the MCU. So, how much freedom do the composers in the MCU actually have? The fact that music themes often don’t carry over to the next movie actually points in the direction that they have a lot creative freedom. Seen as a whole, the MCU offers a rich collection of very different music pieces. Just listen to this collection (once you have an hour of free time):

 

Naturally not every soundtrack is necessarily on the same level, but overall, there is a lot of quality in the MCU. In addition, if there is a recently released movie which really shines when it comes to the use of music, it is Guardians of the Galaxy.

The most obvious counterargument to this statement is that Guardians of the Galaxy sticks out, because it uses songs which already were popular, and nobody remembers the score. Well, first of all, a lot of movies use already established songs and music pieces, but that doesn’t automatically make it a good use of said songs. In fact, using even good scores and songs can end up annoying and distracting for the audience, if they are used too on the nose (*cough* Suicide Squad *cough*). The songs in Guardians of the Galaxy work so well not because they were already popular beforehand, but because they have an important function in the story. They provide an emotional connection to the protagonist, serve as a constant reminder of his traumatic past, while simultaneously spreading a sense of fun and a little bit of nostalgia – meaning they deliberately trigger a sad memory and a happy emotion. But they are also only one half of the soundtrack and only take centre stage whenever there is a narrative opportunity to play a song in-universe. Otherwise the movie does rely on a score, which, yes, gets overshadowed, just like most of the songs which are used in the movie ore overshadowed by Hooked on a Feeling, which was used in the marketing. But it is nevertheless a score which takes the centre stage in the scenes more than ones. For example here:

And naturally here:

And let’s not forget this scene:

Did you notice how the movie switches from the song, which is played in-universe, to the score? I could write a whole essay about the way Guardians of the Galaxy is scored and take apart every single scene just to point out how much the music enhances the experience and often adds a second layer to a moment.

To summon up my thoughts:

  1. I don’t agree that there is necessarily a problem with the MCU scores in general, or that Marvel limits the creativity of their composers too much.
  2. I do think that more coherence and some sort of symphonic connection in the MCU movies (not the TV shows) would be a neat idea, especially if it leads to each hero having a specific theme. But I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary, it is just a personal preference.
  3. I nevertheless prefer it if Marvel sticks to the same composer within a franchise as much as possible, unless there are good reasons for a change.
  4. Using the scores, especially the Avengers theme more often in the marketing is a good idea, but this is an aspect which would improve the marketing of the MCU as a whole, not the quality of the movies themselves.

 

At the end of the day, the movies in the MCU are like every other movie: They do some things right, and some things which don’t quite work. Some of the scores are remarkable, some are forgettable and generic. Sometimes a scene is scored perfectly, and sometimes you wonder what exactly the composer was thinking or why there even is a score at all. If you ask me, the movies which have the best scores are The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. The one movie which has a score which annoys me is Ironman 3 (and again, more in relation to the previous scores, on its own it is perfectly fine). Btw, the TV show with the best title sequence is in my opinion Jessica Jones, even though I don’t even like the melody (if you can call it melody) used, but it is one which really sticks out. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves a lot of love for its scores, too (and a lot of hate for having the most annoyingly to write title), one which especially stuck out to me was the tune used in the Parting Shot scene (fans of the show will know immediately what I am talking about). And then there is naturally the exceptionally use of songs in Luke Cage.

I for my part look forward to what the MCU will deliver in the future, weather people are able to hum the Avengers theme or not.


Puh, I never thought that this would end up being such a beast of an article. But then, this seems to happen to me quite often when it comes to this particular blog. Anyway, I hope a few of you made it to the end. Feel free to share your own thoughts about this topic, I would be quite happy to continue the discussion or little bit. Or list your own favourite scores and/or soundtracks in the MCU.

 

 

 


Nine Properties I would love to see as Animated Series

So, Disney has apparently decided that they should do animated TV-Shows based on their properties again. And why not? DreamWorks already does it, and it worked just fine back in the 1990s. And to be honest, the properties they picked this time around have a lot of more potential than the ones they did back then. I really look forward to the Tangled TV-Series because I really wanted to know how Rapunzel learns to adjust to the life out of the tower (though I do fear that Disney might end up going for something more shallow in an attempt to appeal to the perceived target demographic), and Big Hero 6 is practically made for being a TV -Series.

This got me thinking, though. Are there any other properties I would actually like to see as animated TV series? And what would they look like? So I considered and came up with a small list, not just of Disney movies which would work particularly well as a TV show, but also some untapped book properties as well as some franchises which I think could do really well with a shift to animated TV. I ended up with nine, because I didn’t feel the need to force this into being a proper top ten, especially since this isn’t a ranking at all, I sorted them based on the year of creation. After all, every adaptation can potentially be good – there are just some properties which are more suited for a TV shows than others.


The Letter for the King (1962)

What is it about?

It’s a book by Tonke Dragt, set in a kind of medieval setting. It tells the story about Tuiri, a young man who is about to become a knight. His last test is spending a night thinking about the path he is about to take in a chapel, when suddenly he is confronted with the decision to either fulfil this last test or listen to a request for help, thus abandoning his knighthood. He naturally does the latter (or it would be a really short book), and starts a very dangerous journey, trying to deliver an important letter to another kingdom, while being followed by a number of different enemies.

Why do I want it?

The book has been adapted into a movie once, but that went as well as you can expect when you cram a story about travelling to a number of different places into a relatively short running time. The character moments kind of got lot along the way, which was a shame, since the story is actually not that much to write home about unless you are really invested in the struggle of the character, and a number of different scenarios, which simply can’t be rushed but need room to breath. In addition, the story is a little bit episodic from the get go, meaning Tiuri reaches a place, deals with some sort of hurdle to overcome, and then goes to the next place. It could easily fill 20 to 30 episodes if handled right. And if the first season is successful, well, there is a second book about the adventures of Tiuri, which is just as good if not better.

How should the series look like?

I’ll be honest here: There is no particular reason for this to be an animated series, it could work in live action TV just as well – with a proper budget. And that is kind of the problem, because I doubt that any network would spend that much money on some strange European property, no matter how well-known it is in a number of countries. American networks and studios are a little bit snobby in this regard. But if they do an animated series, I would prefer classical animation in a style reminiscent of medieval art and paintings. It needs to look kind of romantic but also colourful.


Voyagers! (1982-1983)

What is it about?

It’s a mostly forgotten but still beloved by those who know it TV-series about time-travelling. You have a time-traveller, a child who accidentally becomes his partner and one of the greatest time travelling device ever created in the Omni. The episodes are about fixing history – meaning something went wrong at one point and the protagonists have to ensure that history goes the way it was supposed to.

Why do I want it?

While the show had a lot of flaws, mainly due to its very American perspective on history, it was also very educational. It is one of the main reasons I ever developed an interest in history and how it affects us today. I think we need another show like this, which teaches children something in a fun way. I am usually not into time travel at all, but the fact that the Voyagers worked outside of time sidestepped a number of possible paradoxes. I guess you could also simply reboot the show for Live-Action TV, but I am hopeful for it catching on better the second time around. If you go for multiple seasons, you have the problem that the child actor will age out of the role pretty fast (the original one had only three season which run in a less than two years, and the child-actor had already hit a grown spurt by the end of it, which put him pretty firmly in the teen category). So, animated it is.

How should the series look like?

The original show had a few steampunk elements to it, and I would like a remake doubling down on this, at least when it comes to the design of the Voyager Headquarter. I also think that it would be important to portray the historic figures in it as adequate as possible. I am not sure if CGI is able to do that, and Stop-Motion has always a weird feeling to it. So (surprise, surprise), traditional animation is it. I actually think I would like the Disney style, along the lines of what they did in the short “Ben and I”.


The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

What is it about?

Well, animation fans should know this hidden gem from the Disney canon. In short, it is the story about a Mouse-version of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson.

Why do I want it?

It is kind of a no-brainer, really. During the 1990s, Disney made direct-to-video sequels and TV-shows about more or less everything, but somehow they mostly managed to miss out the properties, which were perfect for some kind of sequel. The Great Mouse Detective could be a wonderful detective series for children and young adults, and between the book series the movie was based on and the actual Sherlock Holmes stories, there is a lot of material to draw from. They could even introduce an early version of the Rescue Aid Society at one point, thus suggesting that Basil belongs in the same universe as The Rescuers, just in a different time period.

How should the series look like?

Like the movie, naturally. The style is perfect for TV anyway.


Harry Potter (1997-2007)

What is it about?

Do I really have to explain? It’s Harry Potter, you need to have lived under a rock to not at the very least know the basics.

Why do I want it?

Mostly because I always felt that the movies were really dissatisfying. I loved the sets, the costumes (mostly), and they were an okay watch overall, but there was so much lost in the adaptation that I really, really want a better one. But I don’t think that the audience would accept another one anytime soon, plus, even if you would redo the movies already knowing which details would become important later on and which not, it would still be nearly impossible to cram all the information into movie lengths. So why not a TV series? An animated one, to ensure that the actors don’t grow out of their roles, and to allow some creativity when it comes to spell-casting. Though it would be important that the creators take the book series serious and don’t dumb down the themes in it.

How should the series look like?

Ever seen Harry Potter Fanart? Yeah, something along the line of the most popular artists would be great. I also want to add that while I want a version which allows the different story-arcs some room to breath, it doesn’t have to be a slavish one-to-one adaptation of the books. There is certainly a little bit room for improvement, some details which could and should be added in order to avoid some of the plot holes.


Operation Nautilus (2001-2001)

What is it about?

It’s a book series by Wolfgang Hohlbein, also called Captain Nemo’s Children. It is set around the time of the first World War, and describes how a group of teens end up commandeering the Nautilus (yes, THAT Nautilus), finding traces of the Atlantian Civilisation at the bottom of the ocean while evading the war ships.

Why do I want it?

Well, for starters, the teens in the series all have different nationalities, meaning they are working together while their respective nations are at war with each other. I have the feeling that this is a message which will be desperately needed in the upcoming years. But it is also one of the book series which had a number of great ideas, but doesn’t really work that well as a whole. Really, don’t get me started on how much it went of the rails, and how terrible and contrived the finale was. I would love to see someone take another stab at the concept, using the best ideas of the book and building on them, step by step. Basically I want a more or less original series based on the concept and the characters of the book series.

How should the series look like?

In this case, I can see every form of animation working just fine, as long as the result doesn’t look too cartoony. The story might be fantasy, but it is set in a realistic setting, and the animation should reflect that.


Treasure Planet (2002)

What is it about?

Another of Disney’s overlooked gem. The movie is basically Treasure Island in Space steampunk style. Disney actually did plan a series based on the movie, but after it bombed spectacularly, the series was scrapped.

Why do I want it?

The world of Treasure Island just look infinitely interesting. I own the DVD, and it fascinating how much thought the animators put in the working of the ships. There are a number of details which never made it into the movie. I would love to see a series exploring more of this world. Jim could go on even more travels and crazy adventures.

How should the series look like?

Well, like the movie, naturally. (I have a deja vu….).


Firefly (2002)

What is it about?

Well, Firefly is the Whedon show which infamously run for only one season but still managed to spawn a cult following and eventually a movie. It was a quite interesting concept in that it took the concept of Wild West in space a little bit more literal than even Star Trek did (and that franchse has “Trek” in its name!) going for a very dusty look during a time, in which most Science Fiction shows created a very pristine future. It also frequently experiemented with story-telling, creating some very memorable episodes in its short run.

Why do I want it?

It only run one season. Do I really have to say more? It deserves to get a proper continuation, but with the various actors having aged out of their roles by now, an animated series is the only way to make it possible without it being too grating. It could pick up where the original show left off (ignoring Serenity) and just continue the story.

How should the series look like?

I lean towards traditional animation in this case, because I think it would be easier to capture the feel of the original show in this style. Not that CGI can’t do dusty and dirty – see Rango – it’s the character animation which worries me. That can end up fast in uncanny valley territory.


Supernatural (2005-now)

What is it about?

Supernatural is the longest running Sci-Fi Series in the USA, which is frankly downright impressive. Impressive enough that I recently decided to figure out what the big deal is, proceeding to binge watch the whole show. And I actually liked it quite a lot after I discovered that it is about so much more than just two to three attractive leads experiencing a lot of man-pain (what? We all have our prejudices). There are actually a number of really creative ideas in the show which I adore. I would recommend the first five season of it to everyone – what follows is a little bit more wonky, but still has its moments.

And yes, I am aware that there is already an anime based on the show…I’ll address it later.

Why do I want it?

Unlike Firefly Supernatural is an ongoing show which still utilized the same actors. But I nevertheless would love to see a complete reboot of it. While I do like a number of ideas in the show (careful, I will now go full-on spoiler) especially the concept of not so fluffy angels or a Supernatural series becoming the Winchester Gospel and their take on the apocalypse, there are also a lot of elements which I feel prevent the show from reaching its full potential. Partly it is the format. The writers have to fill a lot of episodes, so they often drag plot-lines out or throw in detours, and since the writers change, there are sometimes elements which are just left hanging in the air, contradictions in the lore and quality shifts. Partly it is the budget. They did a fairly good job with depicting angles (love the shadow wings) and heaven, but hell has been an ongoing disappointment so far. Partly it is simply the writing. I can’t be the only one who actually wanted to see at least half a season with Godstiel being the big problem Dean and Sam have to deal with it, instead of getting one episode and then having to deal the whole season with boring black goo.

I just feel that it would be great to rewrite the whole thing, using the best story-arcs, streamlining some aspects (like the whole “the police looks for the Winchesters” thing), making some elements bigger and dropping a few more questionable decisions. I want the best of the world of Supernatural combined with visuals which aren’t possible to do on a TV budget. I want a more careful world-building, with clearer rules. And doing this in an animated show would allow for doing it without it feeling like a cheap knock-off from the get go.

To achieve that, it would be necessary that it becomes more than just a retelling. It should have its own set of twists.Which is what the Anime kind of tried to do, but more in the single episodes than in the actual myth arc. But that is exactly the place where they should start. Why not actually go for the notion of Sam being part of an army of people with tainted blood this time around instead of doing the whole “one surviver” solution, which, imho, was mostly picked because of budgets restrains? Why not changing around some stuff? Like, the whole idea of Castiel being under mind control from heaven would have actually fit was better into season 6, when there was still one archangel left. This storyline can lead into Castiel being freed of said mind control which would then make his pact with Crowley way more understandable.

Then there is Adam, who is still one big black mark on the series because he is apparently still in the cage and nobody seems to care. His character could be handled better from the get go. For example instead of repeating the whole “Adam is already death” shock (which lead to some problems down the line – death really hasn’t much meaning in the show when characters are constantly brought back as soon as it is convenient), it would be interesting of Adam is actually younger when Dean and Sam meet him, and they make the decision to leave him with a relative of his mother, hiding the Supernatural from him, because they want him to have a normal live. That would naturally cause resentment in Adam, which would be hashed out further down the line when the angels start to use him. Similar elements, different story, and the opportunity to explore some ideas which never got the attention they deserved, that’s what I want to see. In case someone is curious: I also would love to see the fight for the seals in greater detail, a more creative take on the cage, the pagan gods as a third party and more of the fight between the various angels. I also felt that the show really should have explored the relationship between Castiel and Jimmy Novak instead of forgetting about the latter for multiple season just to explain then that he has been in heaven for quite a while. And without the budget restrains, it could create a more complete world, in which the Winchester adventures actually have a large impact. What happens when there is suddenly an increase of paranormal activities which can’t be ignored, when there are people declaring themselves to be god and others who leave their families because they agreed to be a vessel or have been hijacked by a demon? There are numerous options for a rewrite, which honours the original while still being its own thing.

How should the series look like?

I discovered that I actually don’t like the Anime style at all, though my issues are more with the Anime style of storytelling than the actual drawings. See, Anime storytelling is extremely melodramatic, with a lot of telling instead of showing. But that is more or less the opposide of what makes the show work. Yeah, it is sometimes corny, but what makes it so great is the underlying realism, the constant demystificing of our beliefs. Angels are just dicks. Demons exist, but they can be defeated. Yes, it has its dramatic moments, but it can also be funny or just really horrofying. So what the show would need is a drawing style, which allows it a lot of freedom to design certain elements of it really freaky and go all creative with it. Supernatural is also a series which likes to play around a little bit on a meta-level. Therefore I like the idea of mixing different kind of animation. Normally stop motion would clash horrible with traditional animation, but it could be used here for a deliberate “off-feel”. The important part is that they pick a style which allows the characters to show a lot of emotions in their faces, as well as some really creepy imagenary. So perhaps traditional animation with a realistic touch to it is in order, but with an emphasis on the character animation.


Inside Out (2015)

What is it about?

It’s a view into the mind a girl, showing how her emotions struggle with some big changes in her life.

Why do I want it?

Of all the properties I put on this list, this is actually the one I want the least. Inside Out works just fine as stand-alone movie. But Pixar currently has a bad case of sequilities, so they will revisit one of their most successful properties sooner or later. And if they do, I just can’t see them figuring out a story which doesn’t feel like a repetition of the first movie. So, why not go smaller? Focus on small events in Riley’s everyday life, and let the emotions comment on it. And yes, that is more or less like Herman’s Head, but doing the same concept with the perspective of a teen as centre could yield a nice little show for this demographic. Just keep it small, and simple.

How should the series look like?

CGI. That’s the style of the movie and they should stick to it. I can actually see the emotions working if they based them on the concept drawings, but I somehow can’t see Riley in this style, so it would be better to stick to what works.


So, that is my list. There are other adaptations and/or sequels I would like to see at one point, but those are the ones I would love to see specifically as animated TV show. What do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Or do you have some ideas on your own? I would love to hear about them.

 

 

 


Captain America Civil War and the Future of the MCU

I’ll hold this article back until the movie is out in the US, but I wanted to write down my thoughts while they are fairly fresh. I won’t do a review of the movie just yet, because, let’s face it, more or less everyone else is currently doing it. Instead I will talk about the repercussions of Civil War, what it means for Phase 3 and how I think Marvel should proceed in Phase 4. (In case this wasn’t clear, there will be spoilers from here onwards).

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Marvel Musings: The Five Most Emotional Scenes of Phase 1

To clarify this titles, this is not necessarily about the saddest moments, but about those scenes to which I have the greatest emotional response. The moments which made me sit up in my seat, bite my nails or, yes, break out in tears. The more of a roller coaster, the better. As usual, I tried to stick with one scene per movie though.

5. Iron Man 2: Tony watches the recordings of his father

It was surprisingly difficult to find a moment which really touched me on an emotional level in either The Incredible Hulk or Iron Man 2. The former movie does have a number of moments which should work for me, but don’t because I never managed to connect with the characters. And the latter movie is just not focussed enough to built up a scene properly and then linger on it as long as it should. This scene is the exception, though. I am usually not into daddy issues at all, because the trope is just used way too often. But I really liked how this movie portrayed the problems without spelling them out. There is Tony, who believes that his father never cared for him, and this old recording which reveals that Howard Stark was an alcoholic who struggled expressing his feelings and was pretty much a broken personality. In a way Howard is what Tony might become if he isn’t careful. I always wonder what else happened to turn the carefree Howard Stark we know from the Agent Carter era into this self-hating man. But seeing him loosing his control on camera just makes me so unbelievable sad, for him and for Tony, who never got to know Howard Stark before he was weighted down by regrets.

4. Thor: Loki confronts Odin

Thor is pretty much packed with dramatic scene. There is Thor trying to lift the hammer, Thor dying, Loki falling into the void, and yet, I ended up picking this scene, mostly because it is the most relevant of them all. Neither Thor nor Loki actually die and Thor gets his power back. But the knowledge that he is an ice giant and the self-loathing which comes with it, that will always be part of Loki’s character. And I can’t stop wishing that the revelation had been less traumatic.

3. The Avengers: Tony flies through the wormhole

 Again, there were a lot of moments to choose. I came close to picking the old man making his speech or Coulson’s death, but in the end, there was so much to love about this moment. There is the movie subverting an old trope by not allowing Tony to connect with Pepper in his “last moment”, there is Cap having to made the decision to close the worm hole and Black Widow having to follow the order and finally Hulk coming to an unexpected rescue. It is a rollercoaster of excitement.

2. Iron Man: Tony is found in the Desert

I always felt that Marvel could have ended Iron Man with Tony escaping from the cave and I would have been totally satisfied. I realize that the general audience would have been angry for not seeing Iron Man in action, but what makes the movie so good is in my eyes the first part, which shows Tony surviving against all odds. This passage turned a millionaire into an underdog the audience can root for. When he stumbles through the desert and suddenly Rhodey turns up, I feel the elation of the characters, and when Tony then breaks down crying, I want to reach through the screen and hug him, too.

1. Captain America, The First Avenger: Steve and Peggy’s Goodbye

This one won by a mile. The only question was if I should pick that one or the moment when Steve wakes up in the present. But then, those moments kind of belong together. Steve waking up in the future would be only half as effective, if we didn’t know what he left behind. His last interaction with Peggy, hinting at everything which could have been and got cut short by his sacrifice, that is what makes this moment. And I feel that heart-break all over again when his first reaction to the realisation that he is in the future is “I had a date.” I am not a fan of time travel, but if it means that Steve and Peggy at least get that dance, I would get behind it in a heartbeat, even though I intellectually know that Marvel should never go back on what they did to Steve and Peggy. It would cheapen the scene.

 

So, hopefully I’ll manage to cover Phase 2 over the weekend. If not, well, next Wednesday I’ll watch Civil war. I expect me to be all obsessed with it, judging by the reviews. Either that or I will be shattered because my expectations were too high.  In any case, it will delay me writing about anything else for a while.