Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Eternal Debate: Batman vs. Superman

What’s this? Comic book talk? What the hell does that have to do with movies? The name of the blog is, “Film Thoughts,” not “Random Nerdy Thoughts That Wander Into Your Brain and You Feel the Need to Expound On,” Zack. That’s true and I wager I might be alienating my audience with this one. (Whatever audience it is that I have.) Never mind all of that. Today I’m here to ponder on perhaps the biggest debate in all of nerdom! Kirk vs. Picard? No! (By the way: Kirk.) I’m talking Batman vs. Superman! Which one do I prefer?

And who’s to say this debate isn’t film-related? Lots of directors and media types have felt the need to weigh in on this issue. In “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” Tarrantino, through his proxy of Bill, made a wildly out-of-date statement that Superman’s secret identity of Clark Kent and Clark’s buffoonish behavior is some sort of meta-comment on humanity. Not knowing what the hell he was talking about didn’t stop QT from stating his opinion, not that it ever does, so it shouldn’t stop me!

For a fact, a media-type stating his grossly misinformed opinion is what brought me here to today. On one of the message boards I frequent, for whatever reasons, somebody dug up the introduction Stephen King wrote for Batman, issue 400, from back in the eighties. Unsurprisingly, considering the kind of fiction King writes, (The bloated, self-indulgent kind? Thank you.) the horror scribe professes his preference for the Dark Knight over the Man of Steel. Anybody who has found themselves involved in this or a similar debate among other nerdy types have probably heard a lot of the same points that King trots out. He can’t relate to Superman because he’s too alien, too powerful, too over-the-top. Batman is more down-to-earth, more serious, more relatable for a mere human being. Assuming Stephen King is a mere human being. It’s many of the same trite points comic nerds have been listening too since at least the nineteen thirties.

People saying they prefer Batman because they can't relate to Superman, because he's an alien, because he's super-strong, etc., has never made a lot of sense to me. First off, these people have probably never read that many actual comic books. Especially the ones where Batman fights a Rainbow Monster or is reincarnated as a caveman or whatever. Comic books are uniformly ridiculous and any character that’s been around for more then a decade, much less half a century, have probably had some pretty embarrassing shit happen to them.

Besides, saying that Superman’s innate alieness makes him fundamentally unrelatable doesn’t wash. Superman might be an alien but he was raised by humans. He has a human's heart and belief system. Superman is the ultimate humanist. He could totally destroy all of our societies but he doesn't because he believes in humanity's values. A writer who gets the character, like Grant Morrison for example, understand that. He is absurdly powerful but, instead of looking down on humanity, he looks up to it. As for his superpowers, there are no more or less ridiculous then anything else in a comic book. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and has Super Ventriloquism, but Batman has also traveled to Zur-En-Arrh and thrown around Bat-Shark-Repellant. Bat-Mite is canon. You can’t tell me he isn’t.

Saying you can’t relate to Superman because he’s an alien is like saying you can't relate to Batman because he’s a billionaire. Use you’re imagination, people. Do you only watch movies with characters you can relate to on a deeply personal level?

The belief that Batman is more rooted in reality then Superman is also ridiculous. Once you apply even an ounce of critical thinking to the Batman universe, it all falls apart. If Bruce Wayne really wanted to stop crime in Gotham City, instead of investing millions in a personal war on crime he can never win, how about creating factories in low-income neighborhoods in Gotham City so that poor families aren't forced to turn to crime to sustain themselves? Or invest in social reform programs, like better schools or prisons centered around rehabilitation instead of costly, ineffective prolonged imprisonment? Or, at the very least, why not throw some money at Arkham Asylum, so they can improve their security and don't have the Joker breaking out every three months and murdering a shitload of people? Moreover, how come I can count the number of people who have figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman on one hand? How many people in Gotham have the resources and free time necessary to carry on such a hobby? No body but Hugo Strange or Hush can process-of-elimination that shit out? All of this is excluding the fact that a mental case dressed as a bat beating up a clown is inherently more gritty and serious then a man in spandex that can fly. There’s a certain level of suspension of disbelief involved with all of the characters. There has to be. Obviously. Arguing your preference for one character or another based on their nebulous “realism” is, for lack of a better word, dumb.

I actually do love both characters. There have been some incredible Batman stories written over the years. (Whatever Happened to the Cape Crusader? is one of my favorites.) But people saying they prefer Batman over Superman because the former is more relatable or realistic clearly haven't thought it all the way through. And probably haven’t actually read a comic book anytime recently, or at all. They've both existed in the same universe, least we forget. They both hung out with Martian Manhunter and fought a giant starfish. Superhero comics are dumb and that's actually what's fun about them. Anything is possible and the adventure always continues. 

Not that I'm saying comics have to be silly to be fun. Or that comic's should always be fun. These characters are incredibly versatile. You can literally tell any kind of story with them. This might be why sometimes my superhero fandom actually outweighs my horror fandom, since you can tell a serious melodrama about Batman and have it possibly work, why the same logic probably wouldn't apply to Jason Voorhees. (Though I would love to see someone try!) You can say that about Dracula, Frankenstein, or other classic horror characters, who are just as, if not more, versatile. That’s the thing with these characters. They live forever. They all outlive their creators and whatever original intentions those creators might have had. We will still be telling Superman and Batman stories fifty years from now. Don’t tell me we won’t. Future authors and current ones should be able to reinterpret these characters in whatever crazy permutations they want. Even if it means turning Superman into a gun-obsessed Hitler-killer with a Santa Beard. Or Batman into a cop-murdering, Black Canary-banging goddamned sociopath.

It always helps to have a sense of scale, perspective, and, most importantly, humor about this sort of thing. Sometimes the readers, and especially the writers, need to step back and take a deeper look. Realize that, why it's okay to take this goofy stuff seriously sometimes, that it can be a rewarding experience, you've got to level it out some too. Look, I like Geoff Johns, really I do. Even accepting the bad stuff, I do. But surely he had to have a moment when he typed the words: "Zombie Elongated Man eats her heart" and thought to himself just what the hell he's doing. (Or maybe he was too busy thinking, “They are paying me a shitload of money to write glorified fanficiton about the stuff I loved when I was seven!” That’s probably what I would be thinking.)

Anyway, all of that is really besides the point. I really wandered off-topic, didn’t I? I guess my thesis here is that saying you prefer Batman over Superman because he’s more realistic or whatever is an inherently misinformed and flawed argument. And a total copout. Like one because he’s got a cooler costume or a better rogue gallery or supporting cast. If you say Batman is better because his villains are more interesting, you might have a point. If you say Superman is superior because his powers are more dynamic or his supporting cast more varied, I could conceivably agree with you. The realism fallback is an excuse argument for plebs and normals. (Of course, none of the I-feel-totally-reasonable-points raised in this article will stop the plebs and normals from totally using the exact same reasoning I’ve criticized here. Because those people are stupid and they should shut up forever. At the very least, you should ignore them forever.)

I certainly don’t think a preference for one or the other makes some sort of deeper Freudian statement about you. Batman might be Dark most of the time and Superman might be Light most of the time, but not all the time. You certainly can’t say that one is a Goodie-Goodie-Two-Shoes while the other is some Angsty Dark Avenger of the Night. Both have been squarely Lawful Good over and over again throughout their publishing career and both got retarded in the nineties. It really doesn’t reflect anything on you as a human being or a nerd. Let’s not pretend that any of our comic book heroes are more or less inane then the other.

But getting back to the central debate at hand here. Don’t think you’re getting out of here without me answering the question at the heart of the matter here. Who do I prefer on a strictly non-objective, totally personal level: Batman or Superman? That answer is easy, my friend: 


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Recent Watches: Wrath of the Titans

Wrath of the Titans” is a movie I had absolutely no intention of seeing. The first film wasn’t the biggest piece of shit I saw in the theaters that year but was far from the best. It couldn’t stumble up the minimum requirement of energy to top the guilty pleasure low standards set by the original. Even the monster-filled trailer wasn’t enough to fool me into seeing this one. However, it was enough to fool ever-present movie-watching pal and vidcast co-host JD, who will apparently see any movie if it deals with Greek mythology. I agreed to accompany him strictly because he was paying for tickets and buying me dinner afterwards. (This was even more necessary considering the theater we choose was only showing the movie in 3D.) Anyway, “Wrath of the Titans” is about as uninspired as you'd expect a sequel to a crappy remake to be.

In the year between the last film and this, Perseus has fathered a child, lost a wife, and grew a headful of willowy Harry Hamlin hair. The Greek Gods are even further in decline then last time. Serial assholes Hades and Ares screw over their brother and father Zeus in order to release an actual titan, Kronos, who is depicted here as a giant lava monster. The reasoning behind this is flawed and unimportant. The rising of a titan has caused monsters and shit to break out all over the place, forcing Perseus out of retirement for one more job. A wacky rag-tag group of heroes are assembled, monsters are fought, quests are embarked on, mystic items are retrieved. The same typical fantasy clich├ęs that hack writers have been recycling since at least the 1960s are all trotted out.

The writing is incredibly lazy. The way our pre-assembled group of heroes march from one area to a next, fighting a different monster in each, really makes this feel like less of a movie and more of a series of boss battles. There is a blatant deus ex machina at the end there. A series of objects that really weren't all that important suddenly become the key to defeating the villain about halfway through, apropos of nothing. We never find out how our characters discover this information.

Ares is an awful villain. Edgar Ramirez plays him as a heavily-accented, whiny, snot-nosed brat mad at daddy. Just last year, "Immortals" show the real destructive capabilities of the Gods, what with Ares falling out of the sky and exploding everyone's head literally before they knew what was happening. In this movie, Ares and Perseus wrestle. Straight-up wrestle, with body slams and everything. If they had gone all the way with the Greco-Roman wrestling thing and had both actors be naked during their final fight… Well, that really wouldn’t have been much of an improvement, but at least it would have been unexpected. Its weak sauce is what I'm saying.

It’s not like “Immortals” was exactly a great movie either but it’s definitely shaping up to be the best of this current slate of “300”-spawned, Greek-mythology inspired special effects film. Tarsem has more visual ingenuity in his little finger then this douchebag Jonathan Liebesman has in his entire body. The direction is really bland and uninspired. The visual presentation is incredibly flat. There’s a lot of rich colors in the Mediterranean landscape but you’d never know by looking at this movie. In the last act, when a human/monster war breaks out, the movie finally falls into the grimy, shaky-cam aesthetic preferred by Liebesman’s mentor, Michael Bay. It’s the same visual palette the director previously used in his equally loud and boring last film, “Battle: Los Angles.”

The special effects are sporadic. Kronos looks cool, especially the way the lava he throws solidifies in mid-air. There's some decent 3-D moments, of shit rushing at our faces, like a horde of dead bodies or a sliding, shifting labyrinth. However, the Cyclops are portrayed by far more squishy CGI, slightly above what your PS3 can produce. The two headed, four-armed giants that appear near the end aren’t much better. There's a scene of a God jumping around that looks like they couldn't rush fast enough to CGI the wires out. A really shitty minotaur is lobbed into this thing too. It looks like Master Blaster from with a tree growing out of his head. Honestly, that's the best they could do? The minotaur in "Your Highness" was better then that. Overall, the whole maze sequence, while kind of neat on a conceptual level (though sort-of ripped off from "Hellboy") adds nothing to the movie except run time.

In the last twenty minutes, this goes from being incredibly boring to kind of hilarious. Zeus, who has spent most of the movie chained to a wall getting his energy drained, gets a boost from Hades. Sporting brand-new Armored Power-Ups, the two gods march across the battlefield, pimp-slapping monsters. In general, there’s so much talk in this movie about energy draining and swapping and power running low, that the screenplay really does seem to have been influenced more by video games or second-rate anime then actual film or mythology. (I suppose this will only get worst in time, as screenwriters who spend more time playing video games then watching movies or reading books enter Hollywood’s writing pool.) Perseus and the chick are forced together in a romance really clumsily. His relationship with his son is incredibly stilted. There's a moment near the end that I suspect was meant to be touching but comes off as awkwardly funny. ("Take the sword. Come on, take the sword. Jesus, take the fucking sword!")

Sam Worthington, surprisingly, is the least of this movie's problems. Liam Neeson, usually so shameless about appearing in schlock like this, actually does seem embarrassed. At about the time he's kamehameha-ing lightening around the battlefield with some really subpar special effects, if you looks closely at his eyes, you can actually see him thinking, "My God, what the hell am I doing with my life?" Or maybe it's "When is lunch?” Or “They better be paying me a lot for this." Ralph Finnes has no such moment of realization. His soul must have died years ago.

The chimera sequence near the beginning isn't bad. Bill Nighy has a pretty funny small supporting role as a de-godded Hephaestus. The movie has some sub-Russell Brand British comedian playing a comic relief character who is mostly awful but gets off one or two funny lines. The movie isn’t very long either, which helps a lot. They make fun of the robot owl from the original again too, because clearly this is such an improvement.

I actually fell a sleep for a few minutes about a half-an-hour in. That never happens to me and says less about my lack of sleep and more about the quality of the film. “Wrath of the Titans” is thundering and loud but utterly boring. It’s brainless but not due to a lack of brains on the production side, simply due to a lack of interest. It’s depressing too, when you realize millions of dollars were spent to make such subpar shit. Also depressing: The worldwide market seems to eat up this crap in high amounts. A third film isn’t out of the question, though the ending would probably make it difficult from a narrative perspective. (Not like that’ll stop them.)

Dinner was good, by the way. I had apple-glazed pork chops stuffed with homemade dressing. JD had meatloaf in gravy. He totally owes me now too. I think I’m going to force him to see “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” with me. That’s a sequel to an underperforming would-be blockbuster that will probably be just as bad as the first film. I am, in defiance of logic and reason, kind of looking forward to it though and JD couldn’t care less. Revenge truly is a fruitless path.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bangers n' Mash 4: Vampires Don't Sparkle

I don't know if I mention this before but the plan with the Bangers n' Mash Show originally, my podcast/vidcast thingy done with my buddy JD, was to release a show twice a month. A weekly release schedule I knew was beyond my means for a number of reasons, but I figured two episodes in thirty days was not only plausible but reasonable.

I guess I was wrong cause it seems like we've fallen into a groove of one episode a month, which is probably unacceptable. But at least it's sort of consistent. There will probably be another this month though. (And soon, I'm hoping.)

Anyway, this month's(?) episode concerns vampire cinema of the non-sparkly variety. It's a spoiler and profanity heavy episode and the sound is rather inconsistent. (JD mumbles.) There's little music. We'll do better next time, I promise.