Justice at last?

zsjl1Zack Snyder’s Justice League has arrived and its, well, long and its loud. Both are likely big pluses for fans of his films – I’m rather conflicted to be honest. I loved his Watchmen adaptation; its not without its faults but its a far better and authentic adaptation of the Moore/Gibbons masterwork than I had ever hoped for. Snyder is clearly a gifted director at bringing comicbook heroes to cinema- he has a  visual sense that is ideally suited to bringing comicbook panels to vivid life, with a particular talent for action sequences and using slo-mo to mimic the effect of comicbook splash pages. 

But it can also be his weakness, his Kryptonite. ZSJL is four hours long but it could probably have been brought in at 3.5 hours with the slo-mo shots played at normal speed. The ‘posing’ is one thing (I can accept some of the posing that the characters do -Marvel does it too in its films- because that’s just mirroring the comicbook style of having key panels that readers/fans dwell on when reading the comicbooks, transferring that to the cinematic form) but the slo-mo thing… used sparingly it can be highly effective and is one of the visual devices Snyder is so very uniquely good at (it looks easy but isn’t) but he does go to the well too often sometimes, especially here. Often the film seems to have been primarily shot at a high frame rate and played back at normal rate, the slo-mo almost becoming something of a self-reverence bordering on parody: “This is SO important!” it seems to scream at us. Over and over.

But it really isn’t that important, at least unless you’re a DC uber-fan who is fixated on all the comicbook mythology. The story of ZSJL isn’t up to the task of being a four-hour epic, it just isn’t. Its handicapped with origin stories and character introductions that should be unnecessary, having been handled in solo movies in the way the MCU did things, but since those solo movies never happened (come on, not even Affleck’s Batman got his own solo outing, incredibly) this film has to spend an inordinate amount of time going over material that simply shouldn’t be there. In this respect, I have every sympathy with Snyder and what he was doing (remember this film was shot back in 2016, if not earlier, before Wonder Woman, Aquaman etc ever happened)- its a huge juggling act, positioning pieces, characters and motivations in order to move the plot forwards.

This might have been my biggest issue with the film. Somehow (sideward glance at the MCU) these comicbook films have become so very serialised now they hardly function as individual films anymore. ZSJL directly references events that happened in the prior film to this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and since its been a few years now since I watched that film, many of them were lost on me (I didn’t realise it was Required Viewing prior to this film, silly me). It also doesn’t help that the film stars a Batman who’s since been rebooted (Ben Affleck’s excellent Batman replaced by Robert Pattinson in next year’s Matt Reeves imaginatively-titled film The Batman) and a Superman that’s being rebooted right now as I type this (poor Henry Cavill being ditched by that Jar Jar Abrams maniac). And it REALLY doesn’t help that ZSJL spends considerable time laying out plotlines -particularly continuing the BvS geektease of the Knightmare sequence, hinting for a SECOND TIME a better film- and threads/arcs that will never get played out, save some kind of miracle, but obviously intended for a JSL2 or JSL3. Best-case scenario, HBO hires Snyder to make his planned JSL2/JSL3 into one last film, but the most likely scenario is we never see it and it becomes another ‘what-if’ for the fans.

Ultimately ZSJL is an oddity, and no doubt while a boon for his fans and devotees of what they are calling the DC Snyderverse films, other than the miracle of it finally being finished and released (I refuse to refer to the 2017 Joss Whedon abomination, preferring to think that film simply never existed) I have to question the fandom hysterics of it being some kind of Second Coming. No film with a story as simple and predictable/formulaic as this one should run four hours long, it just shouldn’t. There are scenes that are redundant and those teases which are wholly pointless: the film could have been a leaner, better 3.5 hours, possibly even 3 hours long.

I also don’t think the aspect ratio of 4:3 justifies itself. It seems Snyder has his eye on Imax screenings but considering this thing is being launched on televisions across the world I would have thought the usual widescreen format would have been preferable now and the 4:3 something saved for those Imax screens later. I really can’t see why 4:3 was the preferable option, it seems to box everything in and loses the cinematic qualities benefitted by widescreen, as if the last twenty-odd years of widescreen CRT tubes and flat screen technologies never happened. I’m almost surprised it wasn’t released in mono for added Old School sensibilities (although I hear rumours of a b&w version that has me thinking the whole thing is an elaborate piss-take). Its such a curio, this whole thing. 

batsBut I will just say this- its further proof that Ben Affleck, incredibly (and God knows I was his biggest doubter when the casting news first broke, years ago), is absolutely the best Batman we’ve yet seen. The fact that the guy didn’t get his own movie is a bigger shame than anything else that went wrong with the DC movies or the Justice League project. I thought he’d be terrible but I was totally wrong- he even nails both the Bat and Bruce Wayne, something I don’t think any actor before him really managed: whenever I have reservations regards any casting news I think back to Affleck’s Batman and give anything the benefit of the doubt now. I’d like to see a ZSJL2 if only to see Affleck playing Batman again- his older, wiser (?), more bitter caped crusader is a total joy, up there with Christopher Reeves’ Superman to me. If I ever buy BvS and ZSJL on 4K disc someday, its wholly because of him.

Kingdom of Heaven and the Shelf of Shame

kohWatched the Roadshow Directors Cut of Kingdom of Heaven last night; what a bloody brilliant movie that is. I think Kingdom of Heaven is possibly the best example of the transformative power of the Directors Cut- sure, the DCs of Watchmen and The Abyss are much better than their original cuts, too, but they remain flawed films in many ways, but the DC of Kingdom of Heaven is just, well, to put not too fine a point on it, a bloody brilliant movie, and is one of Ridley Scotts best films. His last truly great film, too, I suspect (I guess its only competition would be The Martian, but, well, I like The Martian but clearly Kingdom of Heaven is the better movie). This is the same guy who brought us Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? I find it so hard to believe; incredible. I make no apologies for stating that this film is one of my favourite all-time movies, which makes it a little odd to confess that I gave not seen it in several years….

Of course, I’ve watched the DC of Kingdom of Heaven several times before- first on a sumptuous R1 DVD edition many years back, and later when it arrived on a lacklustre Blu-ray edition (here in the UK, anyway). The reason why this post features in my Shelf of Shame series is that this copy is the Ultimate Edition steelbook, that contains the three cuts of the film via seamless branching (theatrical, DC and Roadshow cuts) with a second disc containing the exhaustive special features from that old DVD edition. To my frank disbelief I bought this edition back in 2015 and its been sitting on the shelf ever since, which is some kind of madness considering that, as I have mentioned, this is one of my favourite movies. Maybe its the length of the film. The Roadshow version, which features an Overture and an Intermission, runs well over three hours (as I adore the score for this film, I find that Roadshow version by some margin the best version to watch), and like Once Upon a Time in America, the longest films may be the greatest, but they do demand more time and consideration when scheduling.

Oh well, this lockdown and isolation we’re living during Covid19 has to be good for something, right? We have the time, I guess, to enjoy some of these longer films now.  And, er, I really need to rewatch Once Upon a Time in America, too, now that I think about it…

I hate double and triple-dipping but I’ll say here and now, this film desperately needs a 4K UHD edition. Please, someone, by all that’s Picard, make it so. This is one of Ridley’s greatest movies- they put that damned Robin Hood flick of his on 4K UHD, and those Alien prequels, but not this? Kingdom of Heaven looks fine in HD, but there is noticeable banding and blocking in some sections of this film, particularly during fade ins and fade outs, which I suspect is down to the sampling rate limited by the length of the film and the multiple branching over the single disc. Its hard to believe I’m berating a Blu-ray disc when it used to be the pinnacle of home viewing (I wonder how bad the DVD looks like?) but its clear to me that a 4K UHD would handle a lot of such sections, as well as the dark interior scenes, much better than a Blu-ray encode can manage.

I was really buzzing, though, after watching this. As its been a few years since last watching it, some of it surprised me, regards what I had actually forgotten, such as the layers of the storytelling, the different character arcs and moments, particularly in this extended version. Its quite complex and nuanced and features a great cast in great form, with brilliant direction and some really fine editing. Naturally its a beautiful-looking film, but some of the pacing and composition work… really, its the director at the absolute peak of his game, here. I can’t really understand why people talk about Ridley and mention Gladiator etc but not this, but I can only assume that’s because they saw the original version and not the DC. I recall watching that theatrical release back in, crikey, 2005, and being disappointed by it; sure it looked beautiful (as one would expect of Ridley, especially with period pieces) but the whole thing felt simplistic and formulaic. Which is why I rate this edition so highly as an example of just how good extended or directors cuts of some films can really be.

Watching Watchmen: Episode Three

watch3“Hello. Hello? I can’t hear you, but I know you’re there. I have a joke for you. I know what you’re thinking, but this is a funny one. Damon Lindelof, you remember him? The guy who ruined Prometheus and co-wrote that horrible Star Trek Into Darkness, and was show runner of Lost who dragged that thing out to THAT ending. Well, he’s making a new show now, based on Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic book/graphic novel… the damn thing’s almost an actual sacred thing to comic book fans. You may have seen the movie. I KNOW you’ve seen the movie. You’re keeping quiet but I know you’re a big fan of that Snyder fella, well anyway, this show is kind of like that film but its not. Its really more to do with the Moore book, but it feels like the film and borrows its title font and how it throws episode titles up on the screen and it visually owes something to it…

“Well a lot of the third episode, it centres on a phone booth, and Laurie Blake is on the phone to Dr Manhattan, who’s on Mars ignoring everybody. Or he’s SUPPOSED to be on Mars but who knows for sure, Dr Manhattan is like God, he could be Everywhere. So Laurie -yes, she’s the Silk Spectre in the original book, but she’s 30-odd years older now and spandex costumes aren’t her thing anymore- well, she’s sold out to The Man, and she’s working for the Feds like her dad the Comedian did, or was that the CIA? Anyway, she’s hunting costumed heroes now, instead of being one. Set a thief to catch a thief, something like that. 

“Well, where was I? No, the question was rhetorical, I don’t expect you to say anything, but I know you’re listening. So Laurie is cracking a joke to her ex-lover, ex-costumed team-mate who’s maybe on Mars on the other end of the phone. Yeah, people can phone God in this show. I guess it cuts out the Middle-man, all that clergy nonsense. God is listening, they say, but they say it as ‘Dr Manhattan is listening’ but of course its all a matter of faith, the phone call just like prayer- maybe prayer for the 21st Century. I wonder if they charge Laurie’s credit card? Is it free, like reverse-charges or something? I guess God/Dr Manhattan would be good for it. Anyway, I reckon Dr Manhattan IS listening ‘cos he damn near drops a car on Laurie’s head at the end of the episode. No, that’s not the joke. Not this joke.

“No, this joke… hasn’t exactly got its punchline yet. Well, you see, this series so far, and this episode especially… its got all sorts of Easter Eggs for fans. There’s Laurie of course, and there’s mention of her boyfriend -her other boyfriend, this gal got around in her day- who was the Nite Owl II, who’s in prison now, apparently, and if Laurie does this job for this Presidential hopeful who hires her, well, he may be able to get her old beau Dan out of jail. So off she goes to Tulsa, where eps 1 & 2 took place. 

“I know, you’re waiting for the joke. I’ll get to it, honestly. Did I say it was funny? Well, maybe its more ‘funny peculiar’ you know how it is. See, the weird thing is, this show is deliberately arch and off-centre but in the Real World we got Trump with his thumb on the Nuclear Button and Boris over here in charge of Old Blighty, and Putin flexing his fishing muscles over in Russia, its kinda hard for film-makers and show-runners to trump reality, pardon the pun. We’re living in a Strange World so a show has to be VERY strange to seem strange, you know? Jeremy Irons, he actually gets into his Ozymandias costume in this episode, yeah, like in the comic, not the film version, and it kinda comes off like that 1960s Batman show, you know?I think that may have been deliberate, but yeah, Jeremy Irons in a superhero costume, how strange is that? As strange as Laurie carrying a giant Dr Manhattan dildo in her briefcase? I know, what kind of show is this?

watch4“So the episode returns to the main storyline with the Seventh Cavalry possibly being responsible for the death of the chief of the Tulsa Police and Laurie is investigating it and attends the funeral, and yeah, it continues the ‘Chief Judd Crawford shadowing the Comedian’s murder mystery’ thing by the funeral being very like the Comedians, except there’s a suicide bomber and it all gets messy. And Laurie knows something was in Judd’s closet but it seems Angela took it away. The two ladies don’t get along its like an Alpha Males thing, sorry, Alpha Females thing, very 21st Century. 

“Is this going somewhere I hear you ask? Well, no, I don’t hear you really, obviously, as you’re not talking and no, I’m not sure. You see, while this is a very (surprisingly) good show, it has our boy Lindelof behind it and he doesn’t end things well. Frankly he’s a bloody joke at endings. Oh no, did I drop the punchline already? Well you see the jokes still possibly on us. This is episode three and there is still six left and I’m fairly certain Jeremy Irons is being held captive on Mars or somewhere in space and fairly certain Dr Manhattan is behind it, and if Jeremy -sorry Adrian Veidt- gets out then humanity could be in trouble, but really there’s six episodes left and we’re all searching for clues and hints and wondering What It Means and Whats Going On and the irony is, when we get to the end we might have custard on our faces, this is Lindelof we’re talking about here. The joke might be on us, as we get carried away actually enjoying this thing until he pulls the rug from under us.

“I mean maybe the punchline is that there is no punchline and its all a big tease with a cliffhanger ending to leave us gagging for a second season. That would be cruel, almost as cruel as how GOT ended, but its a cruel world, you know? Disney owns Fox so the Mouse owns the Alien, I don’t know what Walt would have thought of THAT. But there’s something wrong about that, and yeah just how twisted do you think HBO could be, after what they pulled with GOT? 

“Goodness I’m babbling now and this call must be costing a fortune. Did I mention I’ve done this on reverse charge? No? Ha, well, maybe that’s a good enough joke. Possibly not really but maybe its good enough for now. We’ll see how funny things are after episode nine. I’m really enjoying this show right now though, so maybe I’ll give you another call next week…. 

 

Watching Watchmen: Episode Two

watch2.jpgHey, now. Hang on a minute. This was great. I mean, really, I thought the first episode was good but “Martial Feats of Comanche Horsemanship” , despite its absurdly extravagant title (originating from the painting hanging on Crawford’s wall that the camera finally lingers over), was a much better episode, cementing this series as a must-watch. I’m really excited by this series now and can I admit to being keen on an eventual 4K set on disc someday next year? The danger remains that the series will alienate and bore mainstream viewers unfamiliar with the comic or film, but for fans such as me, this is an early Christmas present, much better than I had expected.

Some of the parallels to the original comic are clearer to see- it would seem the narrative arc of the series will be the central mystery of who killed Police Chief Judd Crawford, mirroring the ‘who killed the Comedian?’ arc of the comic, the mystery no doubt unravelling into a much bigger conspiracy than one murder, just as what happened in the comic. I enjoyed the nods to the comic during Angela Abar’s search of Crawford’s home, with the secret compartment in the closet holding the Ku Klux Klan uniform (revealing Crawfords ‘true’ secret identity in just the same way Rorschach discovered the Comedian uniform hidden behind Edward Blake’s closet). Its clear the teasing hints at Adrian Veidt’s new scheme to ‘save the world’ parallel the slow reveal of that of the comic, and I’m pretty sure this will prove to be as deadly and horrible as his original effort that killed three million.

The glimpses of the American Hero Story television programme will function in a similar way to Tales of the Black Freighter in the comic and Watchmen movie, it seems (the background disclaimers and warnings from the ultra-liberal network airing the show were hilarious).

Indeed, its clear that Damon Lindelof has created a show that is really a Watchmen Remix. A labour of love, evidently but I suppose if it does leave the show open to criticism, in regards originality and perhaps at worst of being a disguised reboot. I suppose we need to see more episodes (possibly all nine if it builds to some great reveal) to see the ‘big picture’, so to speak, in just the same way as the Watchmen comic really works best when considered over its twelve chapters. Definitely looking very good so far though.

I’m not surprised, I’m actually shocked how good this is. Hope it keeps it up, but with Lindelof involved, a note of caution is required, even in the wake of The Leftovers.

Watching Watchmen: Episode One

watch1Casting aside my misgivings regards yet another IP being rebooted, HBO’s Watchmen series certainly seems promising on the evidence of its first episode (“It’s Summer and We’re Running Out of Ice”). Set 34 years after the climactic events of the original comic (and the movie adaptation, to a degree) the world of Watchmen 2019 is quite different from what we might have been expecting, but also uncomfortably familiar.

Watchmen in all its guises takes place in an alternative reality- in a similar way to the ‘future’ of Blade Runner, or the 1960s America of The Man in the High Castle, the depicted reality is one altered by alternate historic events. The comic’s 1985 is an America that won the Vietnam War and in which Watergate never happened so still has Nixon as President . HBO’s 2019 has Robert Redford as President since 1992, pushing racial reforms at odds with white supremacists who are running amok (in the form of a terrorist group who call themselves the Seventh Cavalry and model themselves after the masked vigilante Rorschach, who died in 1985). A few years prior, masked members of the Seventh Cavalry attacked off-duty police officers and their families, so now the police keep their identities secret too, wearing masks whilst on duty. The law has adopted the manners of the once-outlawed masked vigilantes of old. Masked heroes. Masked villains.

watch2One of the biggest doubts about this new Watchmen is the fact that the show-runner is Damon Lindelof of Prometheus and Lost infamy. I’m prepared to cut him some slack mostly due to his earlier HBO show, The Leftovers, which was quite brilliant and a critical darling even if it failed to connect with a sizeable audience. The Leftovers was a poetic slow-burn and on the evidence of this first episode, Watchmen may follow suit. While it sets the mythology up of this alternate 2019 it does so slowly and doesn’t hand-hold the audience at all, which may intimidate some. It also seems to require some familiarity with either the 2009 Watchmen film (can’t believe its ten years already) or perhaps even more so, the original comic/graphic novel, which in particular may be a stretch. Jeremy Irons, for instance, turns up towards the end of the first episode and is clearly an aged Adrian Veidt, the man who masterminded a fake alien invasion that averted World War Three in the original Watchmen comic, but Joe Public unfamiliar with comic or film will be quite in the dark. Likewise lots of Watchmen Easter eggs are spread about for fans to note and feel clever about, but which will possibly leave many viewers bemused by some of the visuals.

Hopefully the mythology and premise will entice viewers to remain and stick with it. It seems very confident in being its own thing which does remind me of the sheer bloody-mindedness of the classic series The Prisoner. Its either a brave move or a reckless one, we’ll have to wait and see. Season One lasts nine episodes, and all being well I’ll be writing weekly reviews of each one.

 

Watch This

watchAh dammit looks like they got me again. I know the reviews for the American release a year or more ago were mixed, but 4K Watchmen… I don’t know how many times I have this film (in its various incarnations) on disc already, it must be heading towards Blade Runner levels of indulgence/stupidity. This disc is out in just a month or so, too (no doubt on the back of HBOs new spin-off series) so not only a surprise but an imminent one too.  Mind, that Ugliest Cover Art Ever nominee really isn’t helping.

Funny thing is, I was only musing this morning about how nostalgia can be a really negative thing, a trap that for film fans in particular keeps us going back to old films, old favourites (I’d watched the 4K disc of Angel Heart the night before which was probably why such thoughts were on my mind) over and over, as if trying to recapture the original thrill/experience, or the old times we originally saw the films. So several hours later I see this come up for pre-order, completely out of the blue. It looks like my musings have been answered: Nostalgia is a virus.

Maybe ugly cover art is the cure.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

hit1During the end credits of this movie, when I saw the names Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich come up on screen, I had such a strange sensation of nostalgia, of seeing old familiar friends after a long, long time. Which it has been, really- I don’t think I’ve seen both their names on a film’s credits since Brainstorm back in 1984. But it was such a surprise, as I had no idea either of them were connected with this film, especially as the film is such a low-key, odd little film that it seems the unlikeliest thing. But hey, life is full of surprises, and this was one of them. As far as film geeks go, it was like seeing the names of heroes onscreen, gave me something of a buzz. But hey, life is strange and film geeks stranger.

Its perhaps just as well that I really, really liked this film. I have since seen some really negative reviews and commentary about the film, but the hell with all that. We just like certain movies, and certain films click with certain people I guess. The title The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot may be its own problem, because I think that title suggests a certain kind of film; something trendy, funny, from left-field, like a Tarantino movie maybe, and this film is nothing at all like that. Instead The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot is a rather sad, melancholy fable, a story of an old man near the end of his life reflecting on his life, and his regrets.

It is also, oddly enough, something of a superhero film. Maybe an alternative superhero film, if there is such a thing. Because certainly the main character of this film, Calvin Barr (Sam Elliott) is a  man with superpowers. Its a film that approaches superheroes in a similar way that Watchmen did, asking ‘what would it be like if Superman existed in the Real World?’, and posits that he’d decide to live a quiet life away from any action, perhaps even regretting the heroic deeds he’d once done.Hmm, a Tarantino film it isn’t.

hit2So anyway, that’s pretty much what the film is about. Calvin is an old man, a recluse who unknown to anyone in his town was once a legendary assassin who killed Hitler, a success which failed to really change the course of WWII (turned out Germany used ‘fake’ Hitlers to continue a pretence that Hitler was alive in an attempt to maintain its war effort). So in the present-day, some MIB-type agents pull Calvin out of retirement for one final secret mission – to track down and kill a Bigfoot that is infected with a deadly disease that will likely infect and wipe out humanity if the creature remains on the loose much longer.

Its during these present-day sequences that Calvin reminisces about his past before the war, and his mission to kill Hitler during the war that changed everything for him. These flashbacks are intended to inform the present and why Calvin is the way he is- basically a bitter old man tired of living.  There is a bittersweet but doomed romance that suggests a life of happiness denied him- his price, perhaps, of his powers. Regards these powers, they are fairly mundane- he can’t fly or anything- instead he is very strong, deadly in combat, adept at any languages (hence a useful talent undercover during the war in occupied territory) and immune to any disease (its likely, for instance, he’s never had a cold in all his life). Likely he has other talents/powers the film doesn’t show. During flashbacks to the war, we see him witness Jews being put on trains to the concentration camps, and I think his powerlessness to stop it -and his later assassination of Hitler failing to really alter anything- makes him feel a failure, as if he wasted his talents.

Its as if being born a comparative Superman, but then failing to really achieve anything, made him feel he has had a wasted life. Perhaps his life of anonymity was the price for maintaining some normality, avoiding the circus of notoriety in the public eye. I guess you either buy into that or not, but its an interesting premise.

hit4Sam Elliott as the grizzled, weary old Calvin is perfect for the role- its like it was written for him, and Aidan Turner (yeah that Poldark fella) does pretty fine as the young Calvin. I thought it was a really interesting, and quite affecting film, graced with a notable score from Joe Kraemer that evokes all kinds of John Williams textures. Indeed in many ways it feels a film from some other time- a film very of the 1970s, with its slow pace and gentle feel. Even the Bigfoot sequences (man in a suit! man in a suit!) brings to mind guilty pleasures like Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Okay, Bigfoot is really a little more sophisticated than that really sounds, but you know, its certainly no modern CGI extravaganza, and that’s part of the films charm.

So anyway, I really enjoyed it and was quite surprised by the negative reviews I’ve since read. Then again, its just one of those films that perhaps defy ordinary expectations, especially with the hook that the title suggests. Its really something of a gentle fable of what a life with superpowers might be like. The fact its not a life with capes and masks and super-villains likely confounds some. I thought it refreshing. And hey, its a film with the names Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich on the end credits. I’m still getting a kick out of that.

Last Week: Battlestar’s coming back

bsgThe relentless shift towards streaming and the rush for new content has seen providers looking at their IP portfolios. News broke last week that NBC Universal, launching a streaming service (titled Peacock) in April 2020, has decided to reboot Battlestar Galactica for what will be a second time. Glen Larson’s original was a pretty blatant Star Wars knock-off in 1978, that is most interesting today for indicating what was the wall of what television could manage back then, and Moore’s 2003 – 2008 reboot was an indication of how sophisticated tv sci-fi had become. Maybe a 2020 reboot will indicate how creatively bereft everything has become, or how general quality has to be diluted by so much content being made now for so many networks/streams- how is anybody in Hollywood out of work anymore?

I must confess I was pretty horrified at the news- I love Ron Moore’s incarnation of BSG, its possibly my favourite sci-fi show. The idea of someone (apparently the guy behind the new show is Mr Robot‘s creator Sam Esmail) going back  to Battlestar and relaunching it in some way is depressing but not surprising. Everyone seems averse to new properties and sees obvious advantages to going back to old stuff, either for nostalgia’s sake or ease of marketing something already familiar or established. I can’t really highlight the creative apathy in this because Moore’s BSG was itself a reboot, and it was great, so I’m sort of championing the very thing I find so disheartening.

But why BSG? Alas, its simply because its something that NBC Universal owns, simple as that. A property that would probably actually benefit from a modern reboot would be something like Babylon 5, but as that is a Warner property, that is only likely to come if the WarnerMedia streaming platform (itself launching next year) deems it a IP worthy of a second try. The caveat I have about B5 is replacing any of its cast, most of whom were pretty amazing- it’s akin to trying to find someone to fill Leonard Nimoy’s shoes casting Spock, which has been troublesome indeed for Paramount and CBS in various later Treks- and of course that’s also a sticking point for any ‘new’ BSG.  Sam Esmail has actually tweeted to disgruntled fans that his project is not a reboot of the Moore series and possibly sounds like something in the BSG ‘universe’ in a similar way to HBO’s upcoming Watchmen series is a spin-off from both graphic novel and movie.

Its really not so much creatively cannibalising an old property but using its IP, and its mythology, as a shortcut- and of course being able to use its title as a recognisable marketing tool. Its still a fairly lousy way of making ostensibly ‘new’ content, but its something we are pretty used to, as Hollywood has been doing it for years, decades, in all manner of movies.  I would much prefer something genuinely new, something none of us have ever seen before, but as the streaming giants bring us ‘new’ shows like Westworld, Watchmen, Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Lord of the Rings etc, I guess I should just appreciate shows like The Expanse, Altered Carbon, The Man in the High Castle, Outlander, Carnival Row, The Boys, Umbrella Academy etc all the more. It clearly isn’t all about reboots and remakes and sequels.

God knows there is such a lot of content out there. Time is the one thing these streaming channels seem to be ignoring- just how much time do they think Joe Public has to actually watch all this stuff? I cannot keep up with it as it is, and the idea that I’m somehow expected to subscribe to more in order to watch more… well, surely everyone has a limit. Especially for those of us who would appreciate the time just to rewatch some of our old faves; I tried a few years ago to rewatch Moore’s BSG throughout and gave up somewhere in season two, and have other Blu-ray box-sets (Chuck, Fringe etc) that I would love to go back to but haven’t even tried.

It will be interesting to see how the various television platforms, new and old, fair in the coming years. I’m sure some will be lost along the way, and its pretty hard to see Disney+ floundering so I suppose it may be a case of the old networks and satellite/cable platforms going the way of the dodo. Along the way we will be getting so much to watch, including a new Battlestar Galactica, as long, I assume, that we will be willing to pay extra for it, and that’s the big question. Its not enough to read that new shows are coming- alongside the news of everything coming I have to keep an eye out for where its coming from, to know if I will even be able to watch it. I’ve ‘missed’ so many shows not because I’m not interested or haven’t the time- rather just because I either haven’t access to it or am not willing to pay for it. The cynic in me assumes that the various torrents will all be busy next year. Maybe the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

The Boys: Season One

boys1This was great. An eight-part series based on a comic book that I’d never even heard of written by Garth Ennis, the same guy behind Preacher (a comic book which I read several years ago via the graphic novel reprints, and which was also turned into a tv series on Amazon). The Boys comic book was published between 20o6 and 2012, so as far as comic geeks are concerned, its ancient history already, but it’s interesting to note its ‘age’ because it possibly informs its approach. Basically it’s a superhero book that is consciously the opposite of all the standard comic book tropes of traditional Marvel/DC superheroes. It takes the premise of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, in postulating that superheroes are real and living in our real world, and what they and the world would be like- basically, what would the world be like if Superman was real? In Watchmen, Superman is Dr Manhattan, a scientist of the Cold War transformed into a being with Godlike powers, who grows increasingly withdrawn and distant from human affairs that unravel in his wake during the cold-war 1980s. In The Boys, Superman is Highlander, a complete and utter self-centered dangerous asshole who feels he is above the law- possibly above any authority in the world. Indeed, the superheroes here are as unaccountable as real-life celebrities appear to be in our world, using their power and wealth to manipulate the media in their favour (no, I don’t like celebrity culture).

Basically, in The Boys all the superheroes have gone Corporate, they are celebrities whose brands are used to sell anything from beers to cereals, and whose popularity and powers have generally corrupted them so that they become reckless and self-centered and endanger the safety of the public and the world at large. The title of both comic and tv show refers to “The Boys”, a clandestine group of ordinary people who are at odds with the superheroes, intent on breaking through the lies and abuse of their powers, uncovering the truth about them, revealing their wrongs and hunting them down… and blowing them up if necessary (or putting a power drill to the test).

boys3Even for someone like me who loves the Watchmen graphic novel and movie (and hopefully the HBO spin-off series incoming this Autumn), The Boys is like a breath of fresh air. It deliberately sets out to undermine the traditions of the genre, full of gratuitous violence, sex and swearing and sending up most every standard trope that is celebrated in most any Marvel or DC superhero movie. We like to imagine that most anyone given superpowers would be like Captain America or Spider Man or Ant Man, you know, basically good and decent and set on ‘doing the right thing’ but the truth is, people aren’t inherently noble, are not generally incorruptible- people are usually greedy and selfish and self-centered, and most people given super powers would as likely be jerks abusing those powers as they would becoming noble, selfless heroes.

These guys lie and kill with wild abandon, and with no supervillains to keep them in check or validate their existence they run amok abusing their powers/position and manipulate public opinion through corporate videos and events. We can recognise the manipulation of social media and celebrity culture and it all looks pretty realistic.

The Boys benefits from coming out of nowhere, I think, as it constantly surprises. I gather many things are changed from the original comic book (some characters have changed sex and race, for instance) but part of the fun remains spotting the representations of familiar superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Aquaman, and how The Boys variants are shown as horrible jerks and twisted shadows of the DC counterparts. It can run fast and loose and isn’t at all weighed down by, say, seventy years of comics mythology that weighs down the traditional superhero characters- and as it deliberately intends to shock and surprise it just gets wilder and funnier and, yes, quite disturbing at times. The wanton gory human collateral of the superheroics is a brutal reminder of what the traditional genre movies rather forget- you cannot destroy skyscrapers or cities etc without killing dozens or hundreds of regular innocents, and watching HIghlander gorily cut apart dozens of ‘terrorists’ because they are not American, or leave a plane of civilians to die because he messed up the rescue, can be very sobering indeed. He could be a hero like Superman, but instead he’s an asshole, because he’s only human, afterall. And the Boys need to take him down.

Yeah, great stuff, and very well done. Its gory and violent and funny and quite a surreal commentary on the celebrity-obsessed, social media culture we are living in. The cast and the production design and scripts are terrific and I really can’t fault it at all. I look forward to season two next year.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

verse1Some have described this as the best Spider-Man film yet. I’m not so sure about that- I suppose that really depends upon your own history with the character, which has been in print now for over fifty years. For myself, well I read the run from 1963 through to the late ‘seventies, from the Ditko years through to the Romita and Andru years and all had their own pros and cons. For myself, the definitive Spider-Man would be one set during the 1960s, like an episode of Mad Men sprinkled with Ditko’s noir-ish sensibilities, full of period songs and stylish fashion and design. Something like the Batman tv show but done all adult and serious. Clearly, thats never likely to happen, and Spider-Man films are made for today’s readers carrying all the baggage of the 1980s run to the present, which I’m utterly ignorant of (hence my rather clueless bemusement of the Venom film and a strange distance from much of what goes on in recent Spider-Man films- a young ‘hot’ Aunt May? Wtf?).

But you never know- if there’s one thing that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse demonstrates, anything can happen.  Quite a few times while watching the film I had to ask myself if this thing was real, where it had possibly come from. Its an exciting, exhilarating, breathlessly entertaining and imaginative slice of comic-book joy. Its an absolute blast. Back when the film was announced, I wondered what the hell they were thinking of (maybe my thoughts were shadowed by memories of that awful cheesy Spider-Man animated show of the 1960s) but this thing… well, it’s quite gorgeous, and it has a witty script… its great, a real treat. Its a slice of genius really, how it manages to press some kind of ‘reset’ button on everything that’s come before it, and make everything seem so new again- it does make me wonder, infact, where the live-action Spidey movies go without seeming old-fashioned and almost redundant. I’m quite ignorant of the character of Miles Morales having his own comic-book series but I gather he does, no doubt part of all the mythology in the comic I’ve missed since I stopped reading it decades ago. I have the feeling that I had the Spider-Man of my generation, that we deserved back then, and it’s somebody else’s now. I’m fine with that, and while I’d not really be interested in reading the current comics, it’s fun to watch something like this and get a glimpse.

I’d also love to read a Spider-Man Noir book (at last Nicolas Cage is brilliant again, who’d have guessed his true destiny was self-deprecating voice casting? His career could be revitalised for years). This guy deserves a spin-off movie… but then so does Spider-Gwen; it’s part of the genius of this film, how it can appeal to so many different groups of people not naturally ‘into’ the usual Spider-Man.

Did I say it was gorgeous? Its like one of those old Motion Comics (remember them? I tried watching the Watchmen one and retired to the original book in confusion), but on steroids. Its breathtaking really, riddled with all sorts of clever touches, whether it be squiggles or comic panels and lettering, different styles, as if somehow a comic-book drawn by different artists was brought to animated life by some kind of Frankenstein cine-sorcery. I’m sure having only seen it once there’s all sorts of touches/details/geek easter-eggs (I spotted a few) that I’ll pick up on repeated viewings. Its wild and nuts and beautiful.

Its funny, DC could have done something like this with its Batman series- have the old matinee-serial b&w Batman meet up with the Adam West Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman etc. Its a funny thing how even the movie mythologies of these comic-book characters are as convoluted as the original comic ones are. I guess it’s all those years, decades going by.

Into the Spider-Verse almost makes all those reboots and remakes make sense. Maybe it’s making some kind of commentary on the industry and how all these franchises twist and turn in an effort to keep themselves relevant and topical, and, er, make lots of money. I suppose a sequel would be almost an afront, like selling-out almost..