Summer Movie Roundtable

Superheroes, Secret Agents and the Summer of the Geek at the Movies

Megan Purdy

This was supposed to be the summer of the comic book blockbuster, and certainly Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and Amazing Spider-Man performed as expected. But those were just the tentpole flicks. I put together a list of geek-relevant films that came out this season (May-August), and then I cut it down and cut it down again, and still it was staggering. To wit, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, The Avengers, Death of a Superhero, The Dark Knight Rises, Battleship, Men In Black 3, Snow White and the Huntsman, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-Man, Total Recall, The Bourne Legacy, Brave, ParaNorman, and Chicken With Plums. Whew.

This was a genre-heavy season, and one that I honestly couldn’t keep up with. There was a Stan Lee bio? And what was Death of a Superhero? Chicken With Plums finally came out? Goddamn.

I chatted with Claire (WWAC), Maddy (3 Chicks Review Comics), and Skalja (Fuck Yeah Spider-Wife) about the State of Geek Culture at the Cinema (This Summer).

My first question is obvious: did you keep up? How many geek films did you see? Was anyone else overwhelmed by the relentless movie-marketing-machine?

Claire: None. One. I’m going to see Dredd soon, hopefully.

I just didn’t feel like I needed to see any of the ones I was aware of; I’m not an Avengers or Spider-Man fan (I am an MJ fan) and anyway I go on the internet regularly and sometimes on tumblr so I’m going to see practically all of those in gif and meme form anyway. Total Recall is one of my all-time favourites and I really don’t need to see it’s dodgy clone. Brave will be seen eventually because it has a female lead or two and also archery, but what I heard of the story didn’t excite me enough to spend the cash on cinema outings. I don’t really go to the cinema except to buy bus-stop popcorn, to be honest. But I want to want to go (hurray Dredd).

The great tumbling mass of Marvel output was too much for me. Thinking about a Marvel film makes me wince and move my head backwards at this point. Like, stop. I don’t wannaa.

Megan: Do you think there’s anything marketing wise that could have motivated you to actually put bum to chair and watch these movies?

Claire: The last film I actually made a point to see was The Woman (which is AMAZINGLY GOOD SEE IT), and that was down to the Horror Channel having a year-long campaign-type advertising slot that showed the trailer and clips of the director or writer talking about how he considered how sensitive he needed to be depicting domestic violence. So, the creators gabbing about how they were genuinely pushed to progression and compassion, intellectual output, kinda thing? Before that it was Jennifer’s Body (we’re talking dvds), and that was due to having seen a lot of feminist dissection. Creative analysis, basically.

Maddy: I did not keep up. I saw Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman, Amazing Spider-Man, and Dark Knight Rises. I wanted to see Brave, but never managed it. Chicken With Plums was totally off my radar, though I’d like to read the comic first before seeing the movie.

A lot of the other ones, with the possible exception of MiB3, are not really my thing. (I saw one Bourne movie and was incredibly bored!) I still don’t get the motivation to remake Total Recall. The original had Arnold Schwarzenegger’s eyeballs popping out, didn’t it? What could top that?!?

I also didn’t know or hear of Death of a Superhero.

It didn’t really come out in “summer”, but I kinda feel like Hunger Games deserves inclusion.

I feel like a lot of my choices were down to which ones were going to be spoiled for me immediately, so I had better make them a priority. Which is terrible! haha. Though I was excited to see Avengers.

Skalja: Okay, a little context for my movie-watching: I live in a country where movie tickets are ridiculously expensive. I don’t know what prices are like in Canada, but I pay almost double what my brother forks over in New York, and NYC ain’t exactly your cheap entertainment mecca. With all that in mind I… don’t go to films all that often, and when I do I don’t take risks and I prioritize films with cool special effects: blockbusters, animation, stuff like that. Actually the only movie I’ve seen in a theater here in the last couple of years that wasn’t some combination of action/sff/animation was The Artist, and that was because I thought it’d be fun to go see a silent film in the cinema.

Yeah, I’m the type consumer who’s ruining Hollywood for us all by encouraging the studios to make endless remakes and brainless action films. Uh, sorry?

All that in mind I saw more movies than I usually do in a summer season: Men in Black, Avengers, Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, and last weekend Brave. Oh, and Hunger Games, though that was in Spring. I might go see The Bourne Identity with friends next week. The others I haven’t seen for all the standard not-seeing-a-movie reason: no time, not interested, interested but not enough to pay movie ticket prices, didn’t hear about it. I definitely hear Maddy on the pressure to watch movies I was interested in before they got spoiled for me — the only reason I went to see Avengers the first week it came out was that it opened a week earlier here than in the US and I wanted a chance to see it before it was all over Tumblr. And Spider-Man I saw because most of my friends think of me as Ms. Spider-Man Expert and even though I wasn’t particularly enthused it seemed easier to just go than deal with my entire social circle pestering me for my opinion. Funny how fandom can lock you in like that sometime…

Did I feel overwhelmed by the geek marketing machine? Not really, because being in a non-Anglo country let me dodge some of the hype. I definitely got tired of the Avengers/TDK/Spidey hype online, though, and I wish I’d even heard of some of these other films like Death of a Superhero and theStan Lee bio.

Megan
: Movies in Canada run from $7 to $20 depending on what kind of theatre you go to. Yes, people actually paid $20 to see Battleship. Rhianna says, “BOOM.

Skaja: Yeah, I can expect to pay on the upper end of that price range, maybe a little more. I managed to get a special discount for TDKR otherwise I would’ve felt hugely ripped off.

Megan: I saw Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Snow White, and Prometheus. I think the hype was so intense that by the time the movies actually came out, I was burned out beyond recognition. Oh it’s Avengers time? I guess I’d better go see that. We had years of hype for some of these movies, and at least a year of hype for the concept of this summer itself.

If we’re including Hunger Games, it was my favourite of the lot. It had so much heart, and precious Katniss so much grit. Probably Spider-Man would be its closest competition in terms of pushing my buttons, but I haven’t yet had time to see that.

By the time we got to Battleship and MiB3, I’d decided that there was Time Enough For That Later.

Megan: Maddy, do you think spoilers have become another part of the marketing strategy? ie. You have to see it now now NOW!

Maddy: I don’t know if it’s an intentional marketing strategy, but that’s the way things are for some of us. If you’re not heavily into social networking, you might be free of the pressure. I think the pressure is probably on the types of people (like us!) who are on Twitter and Tumblr with lots of friends, acquaintances and strangers who are really into “geek culture” and go see every big franchise movie the day it comes out. But I suppose those who are Facebook addicts face the same danger. Though I feel like people there are sometimes less likely to blurt out the ending or something.

I think the memes/jokes that come about fairly quickly are perhaps more likely to spoil things, or make you want to see it? “Oh, I want to be in on the joke! I have to see this!” Animated gif sets on Tumblr are terrible for spoilers. Actually animated gif sets of all kinds on tumblr are starting to get on my nerves, haha.

I think for me it depends on the movie–if it’s one I’m really looking forward to and actually want to invest in the movie theatre experience, I don’t want to be spoiled. I often end up predicting how a story will go while I’m watching it, and that can be fun, and I don’t like having that spoiled.

Megan: Just from a water cooler perspective, spoilers are increasingly an issue outside of what we’d normally consider to be ‘fandom’ spaces. Everyone at my work saw Avengers, and pretty early in its theatrical run. Everyone was talking about it. We were talking in code and hand gestures to avoid spoiling people. I think it’s just the consequence of of fandom-y things now doing such huge blockbuster. Comic book movies are the new Bond–franchises everyone kind of knows and encounters.

Skalja: Barging in on this: I definitely think entertainment marketers — not just for films, but comics, books, everything — inundate people with more previews, entire long scenes/chapters, etc than they did a few years ago. I remember reading an interview with a Marvel exec a few years back where he said that “spoiling” big stories by putting out press releases was the only way to pull in readers nowadays, and the spoiler-averse were in a minority. (I’m hideously paraphrasing and can’t even remember which exec said it — Tom Brevoort? Maybe? — so I hope that’s not too far off base.)

The social pressure is also a factor, probably more of one when it comes to my own moviegoing choices.

There are geeks who are happy with Hollywood’s increasing reliance on comic book adaptations and genre flicks to prop up the blockbuster season. And then there are geeks who are irritated by this incursion into ‘geek culture’. Where do you fall on the spectrum? Is Hollywood doing it right? Wrong? Are you tired of these motherfaffing comic book movies, on your motherfaffing screen? Or are you hungry for more? Is this state of affairs sustainable?

Claire: I don’t really care, to be honest. And the more I think about it the more side-eye I become at people who think there’s an incursion problem here. I think that there’s not that much of a change? Maybe a bit of a one, but not so much as people make a point of saying. There have always been genre films, especially if you count mythology-horror — that’s where populist cinema started! With the amount of vampire and zombie comics about at the moment I’d have more time for somebody arguing that comics have taken over Hollywood’s territory. Superman’s always been on the screen (is he really so famous only due to comics?), the Queen-soundtracked Flash Gordon’s a classic, I can think of films or cinema shorts from every decade that adapted stuff that comics had either birthed or also adapted. And films from every decade that have since been comic’d. I just did a little google research and you want to know when the first comic was adapted to the silver screen? 1898. Katzenjammer Kids. Captain Marvel (Batson ver.) had cinema shorts in ‘41.

Maddy: I usually tend to be excited at seeing comic book characters I’ve enjoyed on the page get translated to the screen. I don’t necessarily see the harm to geek culture. If anything, it’s just opening it up to a wider audience, isn’t it? Maybe somebody’s a little more likely to start browsing the graphic novel section at their local Indigo or Barnes & Noble, check out digital comics or a local comics shop. But I guess there’s a danger that terrible adaptations or portrayals may prevent people from reading or drive people away, but I’m not sure that’s always the case. The Scott Pilgrim movie (which I really liked, and in my opinion is one of the best comics-to-movie adaptations out there when it comes to visuals) didn’t make much money at the box office but the comics sold pretty well and consistently, as I understand it.

I do wish we could see a bit more variety in the comics adaptations we see. I think comics fans and general audiences alike are going to get “origin story” fatigue pretty soon, if they haven’t already. Having some more superheroes or action flicks that aren’t all about the straight white dudes would be really great. There’s so much diversity to mine in comic books!

Skalja: Yeah, Maddy’s said a lot of what I think about the state of Geek Culture In Cinema Today. Love the films we’ve gotten, would be happy to see more, but do they all need to be about the white dudes? I mean, I understand Sony’s marketing logic for making another Spider-Man (they needed to hold onto the license), and I was actually pretty chuffed when Andrew Garfield was cast because I’d liked the idea of him as Peter for years. But even diehard Spidey fan like I am… a reboot was inevitable but it could’ve waited another five, ten years, easily. I would’ve much rather seen a film about Luke Cage (or the Heroes for Hire, or the Daughters of the Dragon), just to name an example (or three). And where the heck is our Wonder Woman movie?

And then even when a property with important minority characters gets adapted, they cut them out. I was so excited for Guardians of the Galaxy, until I found out that out of the four woman in the lineup only one had made it in… and the three cut included the only PoC and the queer couple. But we still have Groot, who is a giant tree. Thanks, Marvel.

Daughters of the Dragon: make it so, Marvel.

Maddy: I had no idea it was a licensing issue with Spider-Man. While I enjoyed the movie, I kinda walked out of there wondering, “was that really necessary? Too soon!”

I had never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy until news about the movie came out! I would much rather have a movie about Luke Cage or Daughters of the Dragon. (Come on, “Daughters of the Dragon” has such a good ring to it! It practically sells itself on the title alone!)

I stand by my prediction that at this point we’re more likely to see a Booster Gold movie than a Wonder Woman movie. sigh (And I love Booster Gold!)

Skalja: Guardians is awesome, you should read it. And yeah Daughters of the Dragon has “fun movie franchise” written all over the name — so where is it?!

Claire: I would see the heck out of Daughters of the Dragon.

Megan: Same. But come on Skalja, lesbians are totally harder to relate to than talking trees, duh.

Horror is probably my ‘home’ genre. I saw my first horror movie (one of the Friday the 13ths) in first grade, and basically ~discovered my destiny. Anyway, horror movies have always doubled as both geek and mass culture. There’s a dedicated core group who go to conventions, run websites, read trade magazines and so on, and then there’s like, every teenager and young adult in the world, all flocking to the theatre for the latest gorefest. That’s all to say that it’s always been like this for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this mythical, non-mainstream geek culture unicorn. So to me 2012 is kind of samey samey.

With respect to the dominance of superheroes at the box office right now, I think there’s two things going on there. 1) Hollywood finds a thing and then runs that thing into the ground until it’s a shivering, unsalvageable wreck of a once-good concept. If it’s not tornado movies, it’s volcano movies. If it’s not zombies, then it’s superheroes. 2) The other thing is that I think people have been genuinely hungering for primary colours heroic fiction. I don’t think that superhero dominance will necessarily continue, as that itch gets scratched, and as studios get increasingly gunshy, which they will, after a few more high profile flops.

Let’s talk ladies. There were a number of notable performances this year. Charlize Theron had two outings as an icy badass. Anne Hathaway knocked it out of the park as Selina Kyle. All things considered, this was a remarkably good year for girls and women at the cinema–and mainly because this was a season of films with prominent female characters who were treated as characters in their own right, and not as props. So the state of ladies in genre film–go!

Wait, that wasn’t a question… are you satisfied? Did you hate the treatment of particular female characters? Love them? Do you wish we could stop talking about this issue?

Claire: I can’t really answer that, not having seen any of them. Why am I even here?? But I can say that one of my archery ducklings, who is a girl under eleven, told me the story of the whole of the hunger games (with comparisons to the book (and books are just comics with no pictures)) over most of a coaching session. I think that’s a good sign.

So, more of this, on and up.

Maddy: I loved the way they portrayed Selina Kyle. It really felt like the Catwoman I knew from comics finally being shown to the world. I think it’s so important and great that she was really fleshed out, given her own motivations and objectives. It was clear that she had her own life outside of Bruce Wayne/Batman, and didn’t just exist to spice up his life or whatever. We need more of that in a lot of genres with supporting female characters.

I do feel like this Batman series could have done with more female characters who don’t end up evil/dead. Talia’s ending fell so flat. The girl who climbed out of the pit prison, daughter of R’as al Ghul, just kinda falls asleep dead in a truck? What? Why? The villains’ motivations and ultimate goals in the movie were so vague, hers just kind of fell flat. “We have to blow up Gotham because of REASONS, okay?” Her story needed way more meat to it.

I was very pleasantly surprised by Black Widow. She was not a character I was all that familiar with, but I liked that we saw her as a whole person–with strengths and vulnerabilities, both confidence and doubts, and came out on top and as a badass hero. That last part is very important, and is sometimes overlooked, I think. Let the women win one in the end more often!

Also, Gwen Stacey was a nice surprise, another character I’m not that familiar with. I was so scared they were going to kill her off in the first movie! So, that was a relief. Maybe that’s damning with faint praise, though, haha.

Kristen Stewart’s Snow White was alright. I have some nitpicks about the movie, though. I feel like they could have shown more of what was going to make her a good queen/ruler. The ending felt pretty abrupt, as I was expecting some kind of speech. But I love everything about having Snow White wearing armour and leading an army!

I don’t want to stop talking about this issue until it’s not an issue anymore. I do wish we could have more leading female characters, more female superheroes, more female characters whose stories aren’t wrapped up in those of the male characters.

Skaja: I loved Hathaway’s Catwoman and Johansson’s Black Widow. I don’t have anything in particular to say about either of them, just that it was great to see well-rounded female characters who had their own motivations, who are strong but also allowed to be vulnerable — not as an excuse for some titillation or a heroic rescue from their male counterparts, but because they are people who have weaknesses to overcome as well as strengths they can already rely on. One thing I found interesting about Black Widow’s narrative is that Hawkeye is an important part of her story, but I really mean he is part of her story — usually when you have that kind of badass twosome and one gets captured, it’s the woman (if there is a woman).

The real standout performance for me was Brave, because it wasn’t just a performance — the emotional core of the film is the relationship between Princess Merida and her mother. I won’t go into the details since some of you haven’t seen it yet (you really should!), but it was refreshing to see a story about women and their relationships that’s not pigeonholed into either romantic comedy or serious drama. Not that those aren’t perfectly good genres, but having women-centric stories restricted to those is stifling. I was a little worried Pixar’s first film with a female protagonist would be a very generic Feminist Fantasy about a princess bursting free from the confines of gender expectations, but even though Merida’s frustrations with convention were part of the plot that’s not really what the movie was like at all. Well done Pixar and well done Chapman and Andrews.

On the not-so-good side: Emma Thompson was kind of wasted as Agent M in Men in Black 3 — I understand why, since Men in Black as a franchise is about Jay and Kay’s relationship and everything else is secondary, but worth noting.

Emma Stone was a charming Gwen Stacy, even though the character was underwritten and ultimately had a lot less agency than she should have. I was really hoping we’d get an update of Gwen that would keep the personality of the Silver Age character (unlike other adaptations, which change her alot) but flesh her out more and make her less passive — if anything, she was more passive. Like at the end of the film when her dying father wrangles a promise from Peter to stop dating Gwen, and he does. And she’s sad but she accepts it. Then in the last moments of the film Peter changes his mind, and she’s happy and accepts it. Shouldn’t she, not her father, not Peter, be the one who gets a choice in this? She’s the one who’s being put in danger, after all.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so optimistic, considering all the pre-film interviews with Webb and Stone where they talked up Gwen by bashing MJ — it’s never a good sign when someone has to prop up their character at another character’s expense, especially when there’s a lot of not-so-veiled slut-shaming/misogyny involved. And dude, the way Mary Jane was written in Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was far from perfect, but one thing it did very well was give her her own character arc in each film, and allow her to make her own choices — even when that meant calling out Peter for his poor/hurtful decisions.

My least favorite thing about this movie season on the female character front was that… well, they were all white, even when they shouldn’t have been. Jennifer Lawrence did a great job with Katniss in The Hunger Games, but Katniss really should’ve been played by a mixed/non-white actress — or at least, the part shouldn’t have been open to only white actresses. Casting Marion Cotillard as Talia Al Ghul was a travesty. Maria Hill was a missed opportunity to cast a woman of color — I’m not sure what her racial background is in the comics, but in Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes she’s Hispanic. I might not have minded Colbie Smulders’ casting except her Hill turned out to be utterly forgettable and un-Hillish. (The writers’ fault more than hers, in fairness.)

Maddy: Good points about Gwen. I do remember not liking how much her father came into play in the Gwen/Peter relationship. Also, I agree Maria Hill didn’t leave much of an impression, but I will give Avengers credit for having lots of women be background characters on the floating ship thingy. Like, with that kind of setting, it can sometimes be so easy to just have all dudes looking completely uniform, but there were women everywhere. And even though her part was small and not a big deal, at least she was there, and at least they didn’t just make up a male character to fill that spot. (Unlike the Dark Knight Rises. No female cops, and the Blake character could have been completely replaced by, say, Renee Montoya, or another female character from the comics, and it would have worked seamlessly. Except, Nolan likes movies about dudes and their dude-y-ness.)

Skalja: Oh, that is true. Fair point!

Megan: Maddy, I agree with everything you’ve said about Snow White. Fewer fairyland sequences, more character development. One cool thing about the movie is that I think we’ll be able to look back on it as a Meeting of Badasses, because it seems like Theron and Stewart are going to be genre staples for years to come. And how often do we get a Meeting of Lady Badasses?

This summer was especially satisfying to me (even if I didn’t see all that many movies) because so many women had lead, or important supporting roles. Hunger Games, Snow White AND Brave in one season? Come on.

Maddy: Aw, I liked the fairlyland sequences! They were so pretty! I think it was good to have those visual contrasts between this magical idyllic nature and harsh, war-torn countryside.

Megan: But too long! Slowed the movie right down, and then it was just corny dwarf speeches and misty eyes for a good fifteen minutes. You are not The Hobbit! Get back on track!

Maddy: But the pretty!

Megan: Yeah, yeah.

4. A) Best scene/performance/thing/moment of the season? B) Worst moment of the season? C) Moment you didn’t get, but still long for? (ie. the missed opportunity that gets you in the feels still).

Claire: Ummmmm iunno?

OH NO I do. But only for C: Eva Mendes wasn’t in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. February is before the summer, but I need to get this off my chest.

Eva Mendes is great, so cheerful, and I hate the removal of primary female characters from sequels. I also hated the end of Ghost Rider, because there is no damn reason for Johnny to leave his lady even if he does have a big flame skull head! It really bugs me when the sequel(/sequel bait) fucks up the romance of the previous film for no reason beyond “drama”. It has worked once, and that is in Ghostbusters 2.

Maddy: A) Catwoman was pretty amazing, especially her opening scene: she steals Martha Wayne’s pearls, then jumps out a window! I love it. I have a feeling my favourite thing will be Brave once I get around to seeing it, though.

B) It’s still sad/frustrating thing that, however fantastic Jennifer Lawrence is, from what I understand auditioning for the role of Katniss was only open to “Caucasian” actors, so it prevented non-white actors from even being considered for the role… Hollywood’s got a consistent problem with this sort of thing.

Also having Blake from The Dark Knight Rises be actually named “Robin”. Way to hit us over the head with it! I could have also done with a lot less Blake.

C) I might get some hate for this, but why Hawkeye?? I really didn’t find him all that interesting, useful, or important to the Avengers movie. I think they could have easily included a different character, preferably someone who wasn’t a straight white dude. Skalja did make the point above that Hawkeye was a part of Black Widow’s story in the movie, which was neat, but again, I kind of think that could still have been accomplished with a different character.

Skalja: (A) Best story overall: Brave, for reasons stated above, and Avengers, for being an awesome romp of awesomeness. Best scene/moment – Black Widow facing down Loki.

(B) Worst moment: Most of what I can think of is either behind the scenes bullshit on the studios’ part — whitewashed casting, the TASM crew’s MJ-bashing, that kind of thing — or fandom misogyny. For every new Black Widow fan there’s someone hating on her for getting in the way of Clint/Coulson or whatever. Not to mention the virulent “Gwen Stacy vs. Mary Jane Watson” ship wars, the only blessing of which is that the comics-only love interests have been kept out of it. (It’s hard to be a Spider-Man fan and like all the female characters.) Ugh.

(C) Missed opportunity: Non-whitewashed casting. Wasp in Avengers (she named the team, for crying out loud!) Gwen Stacy getting to own her own life.

Look, I kept it short!

Ellen Ripley is judging you.

Megan: Literally everything about Prometheus was a missed opportunity. I mean, speaking of franchises built on (actually) strong female characters! How do we go from Ripley, an everywoman-turned-badass, to a female lead who gets an entire crew killed because she really really wants to see god? Because daddy? The bones of a great movie are there, in amongst the shiny set pieces.

I also consider Avengers to be a bit of a missed opportunity, insofar as it’s not much more than actorly charm and shit blowing up. It could have been better, is what I’m saying. And just– Joss Whedon fundamentally misunderstands Captain America. This was not the same character we met in The First Avenger. Steve is a golden retriever, guys. Not a mouthpiece for the Greatest Generation.

5. Aesthetics–where were they? Looking back, many of these films, as exciting as they were, have incredibly blah visuals. The Avengers is jam packed with explosive set pieces, but the costumes, the camerawork, the backgrounds all seemed to be lacking a certain flare. Things blowed up good, but can you remember finding anything striking? The Dark Knight Rises is built around an explosion, but its visuals were far from explosive. Fight choreography? Blah. Costuming? Blah. Gotham itself? Blah. Ill used. Not enough character. On the other end of the spectrum, Prometheus and Snow White were very, very pretty, but lacked substance.

Did any of these films balance geek satisfaction with vision? Like, are any of them truly good?

Claire: I think this is why I didn’t get sparked by any of the trailers except Dredd. And that bit of Spirit of Vengeance where Ghost Rider pisses fire/talks about pissing fire. I want dark bombast and none of these suggested that.

You’re right, you know. The big big comic films all looked BLAND. Dulled brights, dark and black… notched-down comic book costumes. I had no shits to be given.

Ghost Rider, and Dredd, and Blade, and The Phantom and The Shadow, which are my Approved Action-Adventure Comic Films, all have this air of sleaziness about them. Like healthy sleaziness, but there’s something a bit b-movie and exploitation-flavoured about their visuals and their plots. The Phantom and The Shadow because they’re kind of botched and bad, all corner-cut. And because they’re set in the 30s, which was a delicate time for the economy and right before a big social drop. Blade was about having a shitty life spent in the dark with sexy murderers. Dredd is about… super slum crime, and wielding the ideals which you hold to be your own self. And Ghost Rider is about sold souls and stunt driving – they all have this “straight to the devil, dad” thread running through them (thanks Tori Amos). Spider-Man and the Avengers stable were all just a bit too earnest-looking to me, but they were too high-budget to be that earnest in good faith.

I will assily drop in this quote from the director of The Shadow, who may not have made a blockbuster but did make a thing precious to me – “There are a lot of FX in this film, but it’s not an FX film. It’s a character/story-driven film. The FX are part of the story.”

Maddy: I still haven’t seen the Ghost Rider movies (though I want to eventually–I can enjoy bad movies sometimes), but I will never understand whyyyyy they cast Nicholas Cage for that role. Whyyyyy?

I was really disappointed with The Dark Knight Rises. It just didn’t have the feel of Gotham, the way the previous two movies kinda did. It could have been any city. Give me dark, dirty streets full of gothic and art deco architecture, please! And Batman in daylight?! I hate that. It doesn’t work for me. It strips away what makes Batman really work, in my opinion. A lot of those fight scenes between him and Bane looked really awkward, too. Body armour is bad.

Avengers, I don’t really have much to say. I liked the big floaty Chitauri machine monsters. But truth be told I’m kinda tired of seeing New York City get smashed to bits in so many movies… but perhaps that’s an unfair complaint to make about this particular movie, since so many movies are guilty of this. I will say I did quite like the visuals and sound from when Loki crashes the museum gala thingy in Germany.

But I don’t think either TDKR or Avengers really achieved a good balance. I don’t think either of the movies’ actual plots were all that strong.

Again, squeezing Hunger Games into this, I think they did a good job of contrasting the poor Districts with the high tech, shiny, excessive glamour of the Capitol, which is a really important aspect of the story.

Spider-Man did a pretty good job, I think. It seemed less sunshine-filled than the Toby Maguire trilogy, though I think Spider-Man needs a good balance of light and dark.

Claire: Maddy – Nicolas Cage is actually really charming as Johnny. Honest! I read a 70s editorial on Evil Knievel a while back and it seemed like the same guy. It’s a genuinely considered choice, if not a comics-faithful one (not sure). When he says “my Dad thought it would be cool”, I just, awwwwh!

Maddy: I think I’m partly just annoyed that an older actor gets a part like that—if the role was for a woman, you’d never get away with an older actress. There’s also so much that’s silly about Ghost Rider already, I felt like putting Cage in there made the whole thing even sillier. (I’m fond of Ghost Rider and like a bit of silliness, but balance is good.)

Megan: It needs to be said–bankrupt!Nicholas Cage is a gift to us all.

Skalja: Megan, even if you hadn’t already said I would’ve known you hadn’t seen Brave from the way you phrase this question. Heh, I’m worried I’m seriously overhyping this film — it’s not perfect by any means, being somewhat predictable in places, and I wouldn’t even say it’s my favorite Pixar film. You just keep asking questions about things it does very well! Which are: complex emotional narratives centered on women, and the visuals. Oh, the visuals. It was like a love letter to the Scottish Highlands. Bet you anything the tourism industry there’s going to see an uptick in visitors over the next few years.

Though Spider-Man didn’t have that kind of overarching vision to its cinematography, I was very impressed with the way Spidey himself was choreographed, like he’d stepped right out of the panels of a Ditko or John Romita, Jr. comic. Wiry, skittery, hopping around with limbs flung out — until I saw TASM I thought you couldn’t do a plausible live-action Spider-Man, but I was wrong. The most impressive thing about it was that so little of the action shots were done with CGI! A lot of it was wirework and stuntmen. (Here’s an interview with Ilram Choi, one of the three stunt Spideys).

Definitely agreeing that Avengers and TDKR had explosion fatigue and very bland settings. Remember when Batman Begins put so much effort into making Gotham feel like a place? I’d actually forgotten until I read articles pointing out the contrast with TDKR.

Hunger Games didn’t have enough District vs. Capitol contrast for me — the Tributes and main Seam characters were all just a little too fresh-faced. Now, I’m completely disgusted with the people who suggested that the teenage actors should’ve starved themselves for their roles, but you can do a lot with makeup these days, can’t you? This is really just nitpicking, though.

Megan: If there’s one thing Hunger Games faltered on, it was the sets. The interiors of the Capitol didn’t really have character, and the Seam was every coal mining movie ever.

Claire: I will say that the Hunger Games trailer really impressed me, actually. It looked like the kind of film I’d have on VHS and watch when it rained, which is high praise. Grainy but not gritty, good colours, serious without being unfantastic.

Megan: And Claire, I’m glad you mentioned Blade. It’s the father of this era of comic book movies, and it does so many things SO RIGHT, that the current crop is letting fall by the wayside. Think back to Deacon Frost–his costumes, apartment, heck, even his hair! There was real thought put into the look of the film, which is important because the visuals do so much of the heavy lifting in action-oriented genre films. Think too, of The Fifth Element. The look of people, places and things did so much to make what was a pretty thin plot real and affecting.

Claire: Megan – OH MY GOSH I forgot The Fifth Element was a comics film! Complete and rounded world-building is so important. I saw Blade at a sleepover when I was ten or so and hid behind a big box of apple juice the whole way through – I completely believed everything, because it was so not-real-everyday; I knew it was set “IRL” but there was such a complete fabrication of “daywalker lifestyle”. I had no idea it was a Marvel film for like six years. Another thing I like about Blade is that Deacon’s girlfriend has such presence despite having basically no part. I remember all my ten year old pals and I doing our utmost to slutshame her because she was so THERE and, you know, fucked up patriarchy bullshit.

Megan: The worldbuilding in Blade is fantastic, and so quick. We get it in very broad strokes. There’s the club and Deacon’s apartment, the council massacre, and Deacon working in the library. That’s really all that we’re told about vampire society, but it’s so easy to pick up on the visual cues. And yes, Mercury (Deacon’s girlfriend) is fantastic. Hardly any lines but she’s this ever-badass presence.

Skalja: You folks make me want to see Blade even though vampires bore me silly… also, now I want to rewatch The Fifth Element.

Maddy: Skalja, same with me. Hate vampires, am interested in seeing Blade! I’ve only seen The Fifth Element once, and was very unimpressed, but that was years ago and I was sick while watching it, so, perhaps it deserves a second chance.

Megan: Well guys, Blade also has awesome sword fighting, if that helps?

Claire: And a zombie. The kids like zombies these days.

Megan: More like a ghoul, really.

Claire: A dead dude walking.

Megan: And trying to literally EAT the female lead, who has to take him out with extreme prejudice.

Skalja: Ew.

Claire: Where was SHE in the sequels?

Megan: Good question! I’d take Karen over Blade’s loser sidekick from the second film any day! And how great would Karen have played off of Girl Whistler and Hannibal? Super great.

Everyone still reading needs to go watch Blade and The Fifth Element, right now.

Avengers blew up the box office and everyone else kind of limped through the rubble (I’m looking at you MiB3!). But what movies are we going to still be talking about in the coming years? Is there a cult hit in the making in this crop?

Claire: Snow White and the Hunstman, I hope. I am way pro-KStew in armour.

Skalja: I think most of these films that we’ve been discussing will stay on people’s minds for a while, less on their own merits than because they’re franchises. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to have at least a couple films come out every year for the near future; Spider-Man and Hunger Games will be trilogies (unless THG is four films now? I can’t remember). TDKR and MiB:3 are both franchise-enders, but I think TDKR will be talked about more simply because Nolan’s Bat-trilogy is overall more recent and has more critical acclaim than MiB. And Brave, though not part of a series (hopefully!), is under the Disney/Pixar umbrella and has been a huge hit with the kids, so I think it’ll permeate the younger end of pop culture for a few years at least.

Cult hits? None of the films I got to see this summer were cult, although The Avengers was waaay more successful than I was expecting it to be.

Maddy: If the stars ever align and someone makes the perfect Wonder Woman movie, maybe? It could be so very wonderful, and so different from what we’ve seen so far. But I’m not holding my breath.

Personally, I think I’d be happy to see more team-based movies. I think there’s potential for a cult hit with that kind of movie. For that, though, I think my measuring stick is still the Justice League/JLU cartoon. I somehow doubt movie-makers are up to that standard, though, with a relatively diverse cast and no character particularly underserved. A movie with a balance between visuals and story/character development. Stronger stories overall are needed. I’m getting tired of movie-makers assuming lots of cool CGI action and some pretty faces equal a good movie. My standard for good action movies is probably Terminator 2. Action, story, and character, all pretty balanced. I don’t think we’ve got any superhero/comic book movies with anything nearing the kind of good balance that has the potential to become a cult hit. It’s all just “1) Blockbuster formula, go! 2) Milk franchise for years! 3) Reboot!” Lather, rinse, repeat.

I think movies that are 1.5 to 2 hour-long are also potentially more likely to be cult classics. These 2.5 to 3 hour-long movies are exhausting, and often they’re really unnecessary. Edit! Figure out what’s important, make everything in there important, and cut the rest. Lord of the Rings has meandering scenery and backstory in its bones, superhero comics best when they’re economic and use the page-time they’ve got wisely. Superhero films shouldn’t be extra long just because.

I have such low expectations for whenever DC gets around to doing a Justice League movie. I really don’t think they know how to approach anything that isn’t a Batman or Superman origin-style movie. Green Lantern was terrible and I think it exemplifies a lack of self-awareness at DC/WB that’s not good when it comes to big budget movies.

Skalja: Yeah, I can’t imagine any of the live-action genre/action films I’ve seen this year having a self-propagating audience in twenty years the way Terminator 2 does, or Back to the Future. Spider-Man 2 had a good chance of getting there, but now that Spidey’s been rebooted so quickly I think the Raimi trilogy will fade a lot faster from institutional memory, which is a shame.

Maybe I’m underselling the MCU, though — it’s hard to say with that one because I don’t think that kind of multiple-series, interlinked film franchise has been done, at least not within my memory.

Megan: I think Justice League will be so terrible that it will stop hearts.

For my money, Iron Man is still the only movie in the MCU that’s become a cultural touchstone–so far. Avengers was fun, but it hasn’t had the same cultural impact. Iron Man actually impacted the discourse outside of comics fandom. It raised questions about terrorism, war profiteering and American jingoism. And it’s absolutely going to have a self-sustaining audience. Avengers gave us some good gifs, though, so we’ll see.

Skalja: Oh yeah, Iron Man! You know, I’m wondering if that won’t be one of the downsides of the blockbuster sequel/reboot machine — that the blockbusters which do have staying power will lose it because they’ll be flooded right out of communal memory.

Megan: That’s a good–and scary!–point. It’s like movies are becoming the internet, with all of the good content washed from our memories in a handful of weeks, because hey, new stuff. Not enough time to savour things. (Grump grump, off my lawn).

Claire: That is a scary thought. But so plausible!

Maddy: I agree Iron Man has potential staying power. The first movie was such a refreshing take on superhero origins–”I AM Iron Man!” And the sequel, while not perfect, is also pretty watchable. It was on Netflix Canada and I watched it several times over.

I do think you guys are right, though, that there’s the potential that these movies won’t get the chance to be cult classics even if they’re good enough, because there’s so much coming out. I think it’s kinda the same issue that we sometimes see in comics, actually, where we’re always focused on what’s new this Wednesday, and don’t always get enough time to re-read, re-visit, and re-evaluate. There’s no chance to form old favourites, because you’re always looking out for what’s new, what’s next, what do I have to read so I don’t get spoiled?

My favourite books/comics/movies are ones I take the time to go back and re-read and find new things to enjoy in. With a lot of the superhero/comics movies in recent years, when I go back to them, I find new problems, not new layers to enjoy. But then, I am excessively nit-picky. (And yet, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home remains flawless and more awesome every time I watch it, so go figure.)

Megan: This is why I’m a trade waiter. If you skip out on the Wednesday comics game entirely, you give yourself room to be more selective in what you read, and to seek out things that you’ll truly enjoy. Also, I can’t justify spending money on crappy comics.

Claire: Ditto. I get almost all of my pop media late, and then no-one wants to gush about it with me. But it means I only watch/read what I really, really like. I just read Persepolis last week. One day, I’ll see the film.

So one last question: What is, at this point, your dream adaptation? The one that will be the Comic Book Movie To End All Comic Book Movies, All Shall Love It And Despair.

Claire: Lobo’s Back. The part where he’s a lady, mostly.

According to Megan, O’Brien should be cast in all the things.

Megan: A Y: The Last Man feature with Dylan O’Brien from Teen Wolf as Yorrick. YES REALLY. And maybe an Archie movie, for shits and giggles. Archie Comics are incredibly fabulous right now, and sometimes a little saucy.

Skalja: Is it cheating to say Rurouni Kenshin when that’s already a thing that is happening? Rurouni Kenshin: Now With Kaoru Getting to Do Things, maybe.

Okay, but seriously … I know I’m repeating myself, but I would really like to see some more (any) superhero flicks with minority leads. Meanwhile, if we’re going to keep getting reboots of the Big Three (meaning Batman, Spidey and Supes), it’d be nice to see the different iterations distinguished (stylistically, narratively) in ways that are intentional rather than reactionary. By which I mean, these characters have stuck around for decades because there are so many different ways to tell stories about them and different types of stories to tell. Get away from the origin stories we all know already, that’s a no-brainer, but make a deliberate effort to draw on specific eras or aesthetics of the characters’ histories, instead of doing the bare minimum of tweaks to convince casual viewers back into movie seats. Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy had a clear campy-melodrama style throughout the entire series; it’s a Silver Age love letter despite being only loosely attached to Silver Age continuity. TASM is darker and grittier around the edges but also feels a lot less cohesive because it’s not drawing on a specific Spider-Man aesthetic (despite nods here and there to the Ultimate comics) so much as trying really hard not to be Raimi’s Spider-Man. Batman Begins gave the fictional Gotham an almost tangible sense of place that was entirely lost by the time Dark Knight Rises came around. It’s a little early to call for Superman: Man of Steel, but everything I’ve seen about it suggests that it’s trying really hard not to be Reeve/Routh Superman, which doesn’t bode well.

But seriously — Wonder Woman movie, please?

Maddy: A Wonder Woman movie, one that doesn’t apologize for its feminist roots, but embraces them and kicks ass with them. Give me a princess made from clay, give me Amazons and Themyscira, and bringing peace, love, and justice to man’s world! And also ass-kicking. Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, strong as Hercules, swift as Hermes, all of that good stuff, and inspiring to women and girls (and men and boys!).

But I think what I’d really, really, really love–like hearts in my eyes kind of love–would be an adaptation of Batman: No Man’s Land, with a lot of guidance from Greg Rucka’s novelization of it. Preferably feature-length animated, because I think Batman stuff tends to look silly (in a bad way) in live action. Give me Bat-ladies! Give me Gotham at its worst and craziest-looking, make it the big massive main character of the story! Such a thing might have to be done in a trilogy, though, but Hollywood likes trilogies!

Alternatively, I think you could easily do a movie about Cassandra Cain without the rest of the bat-family if you really wanted. Although I love her various relationships with the rest of the bat-family, she’s such a strong character in her own right, and there’s such great potential in the action and visuals, as well as a character development.

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One response to “Summer Movie Roundtable

  1. Pingback: Top 10: Comic Book Movies | women write about comics·

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