Kingsman: The Golden Circle

kings2I quite enjoyed Kingsman: The Secret Service, a confident, zany twist on the James Bond spy genre based on a popular comic/graphic novel from Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons. It enjoyed considerable success and a sequel was quickly greenlit, which I’m a little late finally getting to (I think they are currently filming a prequel).

In the tradition of sequels, this one is bigger, louder and zanier, and while on those terms its enjoyable enough it simply isn’t better– indeed, it’s quite inferior to the original film. Something is missing. I suspect it’s just too bigger, louder, zanier, going far over the line into the ludicrous – sort of dafter, sillier, madder. I’m pretty sure it has its fans and in some ways those fans that loved the first are just as likely to love the second for exactly the same reasons that I found it lacking.

But any film that can waste Jeff Bridges has a bad mark against it in my book. It could be anyone playing his part in this and that’s a crying shame, and it’s somewhat curious to see Halle Berry in a largely wasted role too – with talent like this involved, the film really should have been better. Which is to say nothing of the waste of Julianne Moore as the villainous drug dealer Poppy Adams, a daft pantomime performance that Moore likely thought was fun but leaves the film lacking the balance and drama of what I would consider a proper villain/bad guy. She’s crazy in the grand tradition of many of Bonds’ daftest megalomaniacs but she’s surprisingly bereft of any threat. Sure, she promises the death of millions of people but these are reduced to blatantly animated CGI characters (there’s actually far too much CGI in this, distancing us from any real dramatic tension either in the OTT fights or the grand establishing shots that look false and cartoony- only accentuating the strange distance I felt from the action). Indeed, it slipped uncomfortably close to the kitsch camp of the Adam West Batman show of the 1960s, and that may have been intentional, but it didn’t help the film at all in my view. Afterall, when a bullet to the brain doesn’t mean death, how seriously can you take anything that happens, or much less even care? I half-expected to see Mark Strong limping around in a post-credits sequence…

 

Superhero movies ain’t easy

supGood superhero movies don’t come easy, it’s hard, really hard, no matter how effortless Marvel makes it look sometimes- in any case, not every Marvel film has been great (although they are always at least ‘good’). But making a superhero movie, and making it good, is supremely difficult. Just look at Justice league. To be fair to DC, there’s all sorts of superhero capers over the decades that have been pretty terrible. Superhero movies ain’t easy.

Inherently, one has to consider that the idea of superhero movies is ridiculous. They are children’s comics that we should all grow out of, wishful power fantasies in universes that are moral playgrounds of plain good and evil, hardly any shades of grey in the four-colour worlds they depict. I am certain that most adults who love superhero films would never dream of ever reading comics, thinking them silly and beneath them.

The fundamental issue for any film is showing a grown adult dressed as a bat without it looking as silly as the Adam West show, a series which at least nailed the absurdity of superhero comics. Someone comes at you dressed as Batman to accost you for littering? You’d either run a mile or call the police. Superheroes transferred to the real-world inherently look like clowns.

spidrBeyond the silly costumes, the superpowers themselves are crazy. When you really think about them, they are plain nuts, no matter how realistically the films portray them. How does someone fly? How does that work? How does someone cling to walls? How does someone shrink to the size of an ant and yet maintain his original mass without falling through the floor? The Flash whizzes around grabbing people stationary and pulls them to safety- if you were standing still and were hit/picked up by someone travelling 1,000 mph, it’d hurt- if he took took you instantly from stationary to 1,000 mph to move you to safety, your brain would be mush, your bones smashed. So some superpowers are more realistic than others, some superheroes easier to translate and suspend disbelief in than others.

I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s Watchmen. I think it was impressively faithful to the original, and most issues with the film are simply that- issues with the original. It’s a dark film with superheroes in the real-world (or at least, a real-world alternate 1980s America), because that’s what the original was- a critique of superhero comics about people who dress up as a bat and asking the question what would it be like to have a superman in the real world? Unfortunately Snyder missed the point regards Watchmen‘s uniqueness and has been asking that same question in all his subsequent movies.

I don’t blame Snyder entirely. Christopher Nolan, coming of his Batman trilogy, was a producer on Man of Steel and his real-world angle from his trilogy constantly impresses on Man of Steel. I’ve no idea how much of this was the studio trying to catch the zeitgeist of Nolan’s trilogy, or Nolan trying to lend the approach to our fave Kryptonian, or if it was just Snyder continuing his approach from Watchmen. But real-world costumed heroes doesn’t always translate across the medium- Marvel may lend some real-world angles to their movies but it’s all superficial, it’s clear their films are not in our world, they are comics brought vividly to life but it’s not Watchmen-style agonising about fitting Captain America in our world or how he impacts on America. It’s a world close to ours, but it isn’t ours. It’s Marvel-world.

Whereas Snyder always seems focused on the DC heroes being in our world, a sense of gritty reality that is constantly at odds with the subject-matter. DC films lose the joy of the Marvel films. It’s fine if you are making Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (although I’d argue the third film was a crushing disappointment that imploded the trilogy, unable to sustain that real-world/comic mythology balance) but if you’re making a Superman movie like a variant of Watchmen you are entirely missing the point. Worse still, this approach infects every subsequent outing. BvS has some kind of God-complex towards Superman, a grimly semi-religious tone that its Batman bristles at and questions/refutes. Our real-world doubts regards the role of America in the modern world, its values and ethics, our doubts and distrust in our leaders, it all infects the modern Superman, who in 1978 represented “truth, justice, the American Way,” an ideal that no longer seems valid. It’s quite daring really as an intellectual exercise, but it’s also very Watchmen.  In anycase, devoid of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ source pages, Snyder seems lost trying to pull it off. It’s also telling that for all its real-world agonising, Watchmen doesn’t take place in our real world, it’s that 1980s alternate-reality.  Snyder’s trying to manage something even Alan Moore wouldn’t dare, a rabbit-hole even he wouldn’t risk plunging into.

A rabbit-hole, unfortunately, that DC has jumped into and are trying desperately to climb out of.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (2014)

future-shock-pat-mills

2016.30: Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD (TV, Film Four)

Now this is brilliant. It’s a documentary about the creation and history of the great British sci-fi anthology comic 2000AD. Basically a talking heads piece in which the comics editors and the creators of the strips reminisce about the making of the comic and its ensuing history, full of entertaining commentary and sometimes acidic rants (God bless you, Pat Mills, I owe you my childhood). With a punk-rock, anti-establishment attitude fostered in the dark dismal mid-seventies and Thatcher’s Britain,  the comic was an incredible culture shock for impressionable young kids like me and incredibly exciting. It certainly lived up to its reputation as The Galaxy’s Greatest Comic.

I read the comic from its very first issue up to, oh, the late-eighties, so it was a real joy to see the heroes of my childhood- and yes, these guys were my heroes. Not the strips themselves, it was the  guys in the little credit-box that were my heroes. Guys like Pat Mills and John Wagner and Kevin O’Neill and Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons and Carlos Ezquerra (bless him, I cannot understand a word of what Carlos says in his segments). To see them all now as middle-aged men looking back at those heady days of being young firebrands ripping apart the rulebook of British comics is fantastic. There’s a few notable absentees, like Ian Gibson, and yes I guess no-one would expect Alan Moore to show his face, and sadly he doesn’t. That man Moore is a genius who really should give his fans the Halo Jones saga we’ve been waiting for, but I’m afraid he’s not interested, so Neil Gaiman’s tease about Moore once telling him all the untold Halo Jones stories he had planned was almost painful to watch. Its just one of the many fascinating highlights.

Running nearly two hours, this thing could have been three hours long and it wouldn’t have bored me at all (indeed, film-makers, I want the three-hour director’s cut!). Its almost like a chat in the pub with the coolest dudes ever. These guys lit up my childhood and later saved Marvel and DC comics when the Americans pulled them across the pond to make Watchmen and so many other strips. That exodus of talent is related in the doc, and the resultant problems on the comic that nearly sank it (it’s no coincidence that I stopped reading the comic during this troubling period). There’s the inevitable discussion of creator rights and some horror stories of what happened to some of the gorgeous original artwork. There’s also a look at the two Judge Dredd movies and the influence of 2000AD strips on films and culture in general. The doc brings things up to the present day with the comic on a surer footing.

Still, it’s those early days that live loud and bright in my memory. Me and my mate Andy to this day can sit together and chat about the old strips we used to love- Robo Hunter, Dredd’s Apocalypse War, Nemesis the Warlock, so many others. Reading that comic back then was like a rite of passage. Sometimes I pick up a current copy in a newsagent and flick through it- it looks interesting but I haven’t bought 2000AD in awhile. I had a spell buying it again a few years ago, but I mostly buy collected editions these days. It doesn’t feel like my old 2000AD to be honest, the early stuff was fairly brutal and raw and yes, mostly black and white on cheap paper. The current comic is on better paper, mostly colour, the strips look slick but it feels… well, I’ll no doubt buy it again in future but it isn’t really the 2000AD of my childhood. That was a long time ago, after all.

But this documentary is fantastic stuff. I honestly think it’d be rewarding even for those unfamiliar with the original comic. There’s really a very human story behind the comic and the times that created it, the sensibilities behind it. 2000AD could only have come out of Britain, and its cultural impact would surprise many who aren’t at all familiar with it. For those of us on whom it had such an impact, hell, this doc is brilliant. These guys are heroes.