Sunday, March 28, 2021

Superman & Lois - Haywire

A late post because I decided to let "Justice League" live in my head for a week. Spoilers ahead!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

B4JL

I'm writing this paragraph at T minus two and a half hours until I watch Zack Snyder's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: The Snyder Cut." I don't really know what to expect, but I do know what I'll be looking for, so I figured I'd mention that at the top.

First, I'm looking for differences between this version and Joss Whedon's Zack Snyder's "Justice League." I imagine it'll be easier to look for similarities, to be honest, but I'm interested to know what made the final theatrical cut, and what didn't. I'm also interested to know who did the score. Was it still Danny Elfman? Did they have a partial score in place before Whedon came on-board? Did some of the tens of millions of dollars Warner Brothers pumped into this project go to hiring a totally new composer? Will there still be a Leonard Cohen cover song? I guess I'll find out. 

Second, I'm looking for any sign of levity at all. There was some in "Man of Steel," but "Batman v. Superman" was notably devoid of humor, and the humor in Joss Whedon's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: Age of Steppenwolf" was often forced and rarely worked. I don't expect much from a movie that is apparently best viewed like an episode of "The Honeymooners," but it would be nice if a movie about colorful children's characters who first assembled to fight a giant telepathic starfish alongside a teenager with a snapping fetish had a tone slightly lighter than "Hereditary." 

Third, I'm looking for the hallmarks I've come to see in Snyder's previous superhero movies: emotional moments that aren't earned, clearly-stated themes that are rejected by the characters' actions, a wild inconsistency between the way the characters behave and the way the audience is meant to perceive them, and a tendency to make every moment seem like it's pregnant with symbolic meaning when there's nothing of substance behind it. 

Finally, I'm going to apply what I'm calling the Middle Batman Movie Test. "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever" are not good movies. They have a combined runtime of 247 minutes, five minutes longer than Zack Snyder's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: The Snyder Cut." "Batman Returns" is a slapped-together mess of color-sapped movies with characters who change personalities and motivations on a whim and a plot that doesn't hang together even on cursory examination. "Batman Forever" is a colorful mess that is tonally torn between wanting to be a dark and brooding meditation on psychology and wanting to be a neon-lit cartoon where people scream about "bOoIiLiInG aAaCiD!" About half the actors think they're in one of those movies, half think they're in the other, no one's clear about how old 25-year-old Chris O'Donnell is supposed to be, and Jim Carrey is godawful. 

The Middle Batman Movie Test will be applied at the end of Zack Snyder's Zack Snyder's "Justice League: The Snyder Cut," where I will ask myself: would I have been better off watching "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever"? They're two movies that I don't really like and are kind of objectively giant messes, in ways that specifically irk me about the characters involved, so it should be a pretty easy bar to clear. I would rather watch nearly any MCU movie over "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever," even possibly Joss Whedon's Joss Whedon's "Avengers: Age of Ultron: Justice League Episode Zero." I would watch "Green Lantern" again over a marathon of two bad Batman movies. I'd probably rewatch Ang Lee's "Hulk" and "WW84" over two Batman movies back-to-back—movies that, individually, I would happily watch on their own. I might even watch "Man of Steel" over a "Batman Returns" and "Batman Forever" double-feature; if nothing else, it would let me put together notes on how the flashbacks could be rearranged to make a better movie. I've got video editing software now, I could maybe do it. 

So, in theory, it should be a low bar to clear. But, also, given the choice between the Middle Batman Movies and the previous installment in Zack Snyder's DC Comics oeuvre, I'd play those stinkin' Middle Batman Movies like a harp from Hell.

One last thing before the line break: the last times I've gone into Snyder's DC movies, I've done so with an honest attempt to find things to enjoy, to be positive, to figure out what it is that inspires some people to love these films and this version of Superman with such fanatical fervor (something I think David Mann has articulated better than I ever could). I'm clearly not doing that this time. I plan to give this movie the fairest shake I can, but I don't expect to like it. A lot of that is because I understand now that what I want out of superhero movies—and particularly superhero movies with these characters—is not what Snyder is offering and not what his fans want, and this movie exists for and because of those fans. 

And some of those fans are why I'm not likely to enjoy this movie. "Batman v. Superman" came out five extremely long years ago; "Man of Steel" longer still, and I've certainly said my share about both of them. But there are people—including people I like and follow on social media—who are relentless to the point of belligerence about those movies. If you don't like them, it's because you're an unsophisticated rube, a child who cannot handle anything but cartoons, a conservative who wants Superman to be a boring father stand-in, a disingenuous sheep who has to make up things to criticize, a supporter of the abuses done by big corporations and toxic directors, misogynists, and so forth. I have seen Snyder fans accuse critics of supporting the military industrial complex as though "Man of Steel" doesn't have a soldier saving the city and "Batman v. Superman" doesn't start with Superman unilaterally executing a Middle Eastern warlord. I have seen Snyder fans accuse critics of preferring the bloodless, consequence-free violence of Marvel movies as though "Man of Steel" doesn't end with Clark Kent biking to work in a city we just saw largely demolished. I have seen Snyder fans bend over backwards to ignore the director's flippant remarks about prison rape and disliking comics where people aren't having sex or killing each other, to argue that he's totally unproblematic and the frequent use of rape in his movies is fine, actually, even empowering. I have seen Snyder fans bend over backwards to excuse his love of The Fountainhead and the fact that he named his production studio after Atlas Shrugged to argue that there's nothing Objectivist at all in how he characterizes Rorschach as the clear hero of "Watchmen" and has a Superman who repeatedly questions whether altruism is a good thing. 

Snyder himself seems like a complicated guy. It's hard to read interviews like this recent one with The New York Times, and not find the guy affable and charming. It's also hard to read his comments about wanting a "Watchmen"-style Batman who drinks and pops pills and is "sleeping with some anonymous girl" and think that he wants anything like what I want out of superhero stories. 

But his fans? I do not care for the behavior of his fans. And his fans have made it hard for me to think I might enjoy his movies any more than I already do. 

Déjà Blog

I deliberately avoided reading my original review of Joss Whedon's Zack Snyder's "Justice League" before I rewatched the movie over the last couple of evenings, because I wanted to go in as fresh as you can with a movie you've seen before. 

Having re-read the post...well, it's good to know that despite all the things that have changed in the last four years, my writing style hasn't. I noticed a lot of the same details, made a lot of the same references and jokes, and generally the biggest difference was that I was a lot less forgiving of the movie's flaws and faults the second time around. 

I suppose it's comforting, in a way, but I apologize if anyone read both posts and thought "why the hell are there two of these here?"

Friday, March 19, 2021

Prelude to a Bad Decision

I decided, apropos of nothing, to put on Joss Whedon's Zack Snyder's "Justice League" while doing some work today. I discussed the movie when it came out eleventy billion years ago, and thought it was fine. It's not good, but grading on the curve of every DCEU movie up to that point, it was a solid B-. Sitting in 2021, I remember bits and pieces of it—Steppenwolf looking like he stepped out of an XBox 360 cutscene, the decent cell phone video of Superman that was marred by the terrible attempt to CGI out Cavill's moustache, all the characters sounding like their rough counterparts in "The Avengers"—but not a lot of details.

Obviously the intervening years have altered my perspective on the film, both through the revelations about the behind-the-scenes racism and abuse and through the fanatical and also frequently abusive behavior of the fans clamoring for this version of the film, which absolutely definitely existed and was finished years ago and also needed an additional $70 million dollars and reshoots to complete. 

That perspective has not been altered for the better. 

Against my better judgment, I'm going to watch the Snyder Cut sometime, probably this weekend, so I figured it'd be good to see how it deviates from the theatrical release, like I did for the Lester and Donner cuts of "Superman II" so very long ago. I don't expect to enjoy either one; my feelings on the superhero movies of Zack Snyder are well-documented, and even under the best circumstances, four hours is too @#%*$! long for a superhero movie. But four hours of nihilistic spite dressed up in cinematic deepities and CGI with a sepia-toned overlay is unlikely to be the best of circumstances. 

Will it be better than two hours of the extremely generic re-skinned "Avengers: Age of Ultron" that got released to theaters? There's only one way to find out!

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Superman & Lois - The Perks of Not Being a Wallflower

I was almost ready to comment on how this series is using single-word episode titles, just like "Smallville" did, but now we've got this mouthful playing on a book that was roughly contemporary with that show. It's pretty clunky, but whatever. 

It's nice that this episode gave us a break from the Luthor story, choosing instead to focus on Lois's investigation and some good character moments for the Kents and Lana's family. The mantra that "life is simpler in Smallville" gets an explicit repudiation, some fences are mended, and some new mysterious antagonists are introduced.

Spoilers ahoy! 

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Superman & Lois - Heritage

I think I've figured it out. If "Lois & Clark" was "Moonlighting" with super-powers, "Smallville" was "Dawson's Creek" with superpowers, and "Supergirl" started as "The Devil Wears Prada" with superpowers, then "Superman & Lois" is "This Is Us" with superpowers. 

Spoilers ahead!

Saturday, March 06, 2021

An older tradition than I thought

If you've been in comic circles for some time, chances are pretty good that you're familiar with "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex," the essay Larry Niven wrote in 1969 on the subject of Superman's potentially lethal sex life. If you haven't read it, then you might have gotten the jist of it from that scene in "Mallrats." 

It makes sense to me that such an essay, crass and silly though it is, would be written in 1969. That's the tail-end of the Silver Age, where Superman's power-creep had reached such levels that his hair was indestructible, he could break the time barrier under his own power, and he could juggle planets like helium balloons. 

So it was a little surprising to learn this week that Vladimir Nabokov wrote a poem with a similar sentiment way back in 1942. Nineteen forty-two! Six years before Kirk Alyn would bring the character to life, submitted in between the release of the seventh and eighth Fleischer cartoons, back when Superman wasn't consistently flying in the comics, the guy who would go on to write Lolita was speculating about the impossibility of relations between humans and Kryptonians. 

The letter he wrote when he submitted the poem to The New Yorker has big "uwu pwease pay me if it's not too much twouble" energy. 

I am sending you a poem on the troubles of Superman of the Funnies (with, if necessary, apologies to his, or rather its, makers). I should like to repeat that I experience most horrible difficulties and distress in wielding a language new to me – after 25 years of good old Russian. If, however, the poem is acceptable – not too ungrammatical as a whole and not too risqué about the middle of its favours – might I perhaps humble [sic] request a honorarium as adequate as possible to my Russian past and my present agonies?

The story of how Nabokov's poem, "The Man of To-Morrow's Lament," came to be rediscovered after all these years, and how it ties into his son's love of the character at the time, is a pretty interesting one, which you can read about at the link (if you have a subscription). But the poem itself, well...read on.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Two Girls, a Guy, and a Pastoral Place

Whoopsie, went a whole year without posting.

I very much enjoy the Arrowverse shows, even though the only episodes of Arrow I've seen are the crossover tie-ins. Legends of Tomorrow is a constant delight, Black Lightning is incredible, The Flash is good superhero melodrama, and Supergirl is fine. It's fine. It's generally mostly fine. 

Look, Supergirl started out strong on CBS, but since it moved to CW, it's been plagued by recurring problems. The cast is stellar. I love every actor and character on that show. Dreamer is a revelation, and I want to see her ongoing comic series (where maybe her powers will be slightly more clearly developed). 

But the politics? The recent episode dealing with violence against trans women (and trans women of color in particular) was a welcome and refreshing shift in the show's usual tone of Peak Liberal White Feminism. For a show that has its heart so clearly in the right place, tackling real-world issues like internment camps for immigrants and the radicalization of cishet white men into fascist paramilitary organizations, it has also featured a hero who, up until last season, was consistently working with a government organization and adopting center-left approaches that openly demonized actual leftists and ignored intersectionality in favor of a lily-white worldview. 

Buckle in, comrades. This is an anarchist blog now. 

There are other problems as well. The way they derailed the Kara-Jimmy relationship to pair her with Mon-El for a season, then fumbled around to find something to do with his character until he left the show, feels more than a little casually racist. I think there are legitimate queerbaiting complaints to be had about how they've handled the Kara/Lena relationship. Alex's shifting desires and priorities have felt less like character development and more like trying to figure out where she fits in the show now.

There's a lot of good, too, especially with some of this most recent season's course corrections. Killing Dean Cain's character offscreen was a hilarious solution to that unfortunate problem. I appreciated Brainiac-5's evolution that gave him a more comics-accurate Coluan appearance and removed some of the played-out "smart guy doesn't understand emotions" character type. I like that every time Lena says "Non Nocere" it makes me think of standing in a Buffalo Stance.

And I've liked Tyler Hoechlin and Bitsie Tulloch as Superman and Lois Lane, on the occasions where they've appeared. Tulloch isn't my favorite Lois, and I wish Hoechlin's costume had the trunks, but they've been quite good when they've shown up. And, you know, this is the first live-action Superman show with tights and flights and the word "Superman" in the title since 1997. I am, unexepctedly, excited for that. 

Besides that, it's a different take on the characters. Lois gets second billing, but rather than being a will-they/won't-they romantic dramedy, it's centered on Clark and Lois as an established couple and experienced parents of teenagers. Personally, I'd prefer the kids to be younger—Crisis changed their single infant into two teenage boys—but I suppose there are some story and tone reasons to prefer teenage kids. Overall, I think a lot of the choices are really savvy: setting the story in Smallville immediately sets this show apart from urban Supergirl, and the teens who cut their sci-fi melodrama teeth on Clark and Lois and Lex in Smallville are now in their thirties, settling down and having kids of their own. This show has the potential of tapping into that 20-year nostalgia cycle for the mid-2000s.


But...well, my excitement has been dampened somewhat in the lead-up to the premiere. Naturally, there's the stories Nadria Tucker has told about experiences in the writers' room, how they dismissed concerns about racism and sexism, about "#metoo jokes" and the like. There's also the optics; Supergirl is coming to an end next season, and it's hard not to feel weird about the diverse, female-dominated show about found family being more-or-less replaced with the nuclear family show whose principal cast is four white people, three of them dudes. I never really watched the trailer, but the response to it on my social media feed was largely negative (though for whatever reason, my social media feed is heavy on people who apparently aren't happy if Superman's not snapping necks in a rubber suit). On the other hand, I've seen really positive responses from two of the Superman fans I respect the most, Charlotte Finn and David Mann. And that clip of Hoechlin in the Fleischer suit and the Action #1 pose? Yeah, that's pretty cool. 

So I'm not sure what to expect as I finally hit up the ol' TiVo and watch the two-hour Pilot. But I'm about to find out.