Thursday, August 07, 2014

Meanwhile.../Some Guardians of the Galaxy links and thoughts

I'd still like to see a cartoon in this exact style (Turtles Forever doesn't count).
I wrote two pieces about comic books that were published places that were not Every Day Is Like Wednesday this week. One was a short remembrance/review of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's 1984 comic book, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Las Vegas Weekly. And the other was a review of the collected edition of Dean Haspiel, Mark Waid and company's The Fox: Freak Magnet at Robot 6.

As I mentioned a bit on Twitter, that first issue of TMNT seems even stranger, more potent and more subversive now then it did the last time I read it, and the time before that, and the time before that. I never read it without having some pre-conceived notions of what the characters were like (based on the original cartoon show and the toy line), and it's probably impossible to do so now, as you'd have to be someone familiar with comic books, but completely unfamiliar with any iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

When I read it in, I don't know, 199X, it was a shock at how different those characters were. Since then, I've seen many more seasons of the cartoon, watched new versions of the cartoon, watched the first two live-action movies, read the later Mirage and Archie Comics, played some video games, ate the breakfast cereal and read the daily newspaper comic strip. Then, it seemed more shocking still.

Now Turtle-Mania has come and gone again, with a new series of the cartoon, an computer-animated movie, a rebooted comic strip...the concept and characters keep acquiring familiarity, picking up conceptions like a cartoon snowball rolling down hill, and the bigger that snowball gets, the stranger and more shocking that first issue is going to read.

The revisitation of the comic was, of course, prompted by the fact that the fifth feature film to feature the characters opens this week. But let's spends some time talking about last weekend's big based-on-comics movie, shall we...?


Super-comics are for objectifying women, movies based on super-comics are for objectifying men.
I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I liked it an awful lot, and left the theater thinking it was both my favorite and the best of the Marvel Studios movies I've seen (which tends to happen every time I see one of those movies that doesn't have the word "Thor" in the title). The friend I saw it with declared it her favorite immediately.

I had pretty high expectations, so I was a little worried. These expectations were entirely related to that first trailer, which was a really, really good trailer, and one I watched over and over again over the course of several months just because I liked the trailer itself as a bit of filmmaking (I think it's my second favorite trailer of the 21st century, following Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. Or maybe my third favorite; The Life Aquatic really had a hell of a trailer too, didn't it...?)

I was a little surprised that some of what was in the trailer wasn't in the movie, unless that stuff happened during one of the two or three times I went to the bathroom.

Like this image, for example:
For some reason, that's one from the trailer that really stayed with me. I didn't remember the guy hanging out with Space John C. Reilly calling them a bunch of A-holes. Or Glenn Close saying "Are you telling me the fate of 12 billion people is in the hands of these criminals?" Or Reilly saying "This might not be the best idea." Or Rocket saying "We're the frickin' Guardians of the Galaxy." Drax definitely wasn't in the line-up scene like he was in that first trailer, and Chris Pratt flicking-off Reilly and Other Guy didn't seem as funny without the computer analyzing the gesture.

The trailers might have been a little too thorough, though, as there was almost nothing in the movie that surprised me, between the trailer, the predictability of almost everything and the story beats and characterizations borrowed from the comics (Groot's Golden Retriever-like, eager-to-please expressions aside).

Good movie, though. High-fives all-around. My only concerns were nit-picky ones, for the most part, and I'll mention them in a few more paragraphs.

I only read a handful of reviews of the movie by professional film critics, but it seems to have been a very well-received one.

The only negative one I read was from The Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek, and while I ultimately enjoyed and liked the movie a lot more thanher, that's an extremely well-written, well-reasoned, well-argued review. I thinks she's right about everything she writes...I just liked it more than her (By the way, that's the review that got some weirdos up in arms enough to call the critic a "harlot"...? I'm not surprised that there are a bunch of anonymous assholes among comic book and superhero fandom online, of course, I'm just kinda surprised that was all stoked by such a review. But whatever, haters gonna hate, and crazies gonna crazy, I guess; I am kind of impressed someone called Zacharek a "harlot," just because all of the online sexism I run across, I rarely hear such quaint, old-timey insults. I hope to see more use of the word "harlot," and maybe "harridan," "trollop" and "slattern" in the future, and less "bitch," "slut" and "C-word." Oh, I like "virago" too).

I thought Keith Phipps' review at The Dissolve maybe over-praised the film, while Sean O'Neal's at The AV Club was the one that probably best reflected my own assessment of the film.

As for comics people writing about it, I really enjoyed Abhay Khosla's take, although I didn't really agree with much of it. His second paragraph was pretty hilarious, though. Because as exaggerated as it might sound, it is actually 100% true. It's kind of strange how big a deal the soundtrack was to the movie, as that's pretty basic, non-superhero filmmaking. It's pretty Quentin Tarantino, and where did he get it? Martin Scorcese? I don't know; I'm not a film guy anymore.

Joe McCulloch's may actually be the best all-around review I read, from comics person or professional film critic. It's smart, well-written, funny, incisive and to the point.

I would also highly recommend this Comics Alliance post by Andrew Wheeler, about Marvel Studios' movies in general. And not just because it put the delightful thought of a Taken/Planet of the Apes crossover in my head.

Wheeler asserts that a large part of the reason Marvel succeeds as well as it does at the superhero movies is because that is all Marvel Studios does; it's their entire raison d' etre, whereas Warner Bros and the other studios make all sorts of different kinds of movies, and notes that the fact that Spider-Man and The X-Men were already spoken for meant Marvel Studios had to get pretty creative with which characters they could make movies out their benefit and, I think, to the benefit of the film-going experience in general. (Additionally, I think Marvel Studios approached their "Cinematic Universe" with a long-term, world-building plan, whereas obviously the guys making, say, Green Lantern and Dark Knight Rises weren't really worrying what Superman and Aquaman were up to while Ryan Reynolds was in space or Batman was screaming unintelligibly about detonators).

He also asserts that Marvel is ironically doomed by its own successes, as they've kept a strict two movies-per-year schedule for a while. I honestly didn't notice or know that, but it explains why they didn't make another Hulk movie after the character proved so popular after Avengers; a Hulk movie seemed like a slam-dunk to me at that point, but Marvel just plain didn't have room, as more Captain America, Iron Man and even Thor proved sure-er things, and were hogging the available slots in their schedule.

This also, I think, helps explain the lack of a Black Widow movie. Me, I always thought the major problem with a Black Widow movie is that as a superhero, she's not really all that super; she's just a James Bond-style cinematic super-spy, and unless they put her up against some really Marvel-out villains (M.O.D.O.K. and AIM, for example), there didn't seem like there would be enough to differentiate Black Widow from, I don't know, Salt, to bother with. When you factor in the choice between doing Black Widow and, say, Ant-Man or Dr. Strange well, yeah, why bother with Black Widow...? She worked pretty well in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Regarding the lack of a female superhero movie, I've got to say, I never had much hope for Marvel in that respect. They simply don't have any really great female characters who aren't also X-Men (and thus at another studio), and pretty much all of the Marvel heroines I can think of who could conceivably headline their own comic book are derivative of male heroes: She-Hulk (if they won't make a Hulk movie...and, anyway, She-Hulk seems like a better TV show than a movie), Spider-Woman (Sony, but still), Valkyrie, Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers, etc. I don't think we'll see another attempt at an Elektra movie any time soon. The Wasp is tightly tied to Ant-Man/Hank Pym. I guess Scarlet Witch is in the next movie, but...I don't know, so much of her comics story has been tied to her father, brother and husbandroid, I can't really imagine a Scarlet Witch movie. Tigra seems too weird. Hellcat too much like Catwoman.

So I don't know, yo. If you asked me which Marvel superheroine should get her own movie, I would come up blank. Maybe the ensemble Sif and The Warriors Three, in which Thor's four buddies and Kat Dennings team up to take on Loki wihtout the boring Thor and Natalie Portman to get in the way, the movie I wish was on Marvel's schedule...? Or Elsa Bloodstone. That would work.

Really though, I think Marvel Studios's next step toward diversity needs to be to give a black superhero his own film, and that means Black Panther, whose film or films can dovetail in and out of any future Avengers movies easily.

Now, let's talk Guardians of The Galaxy, shall we?

So when I was putting together this who-created-who post about the characters appearing in the film, I noticed that while the movie was more an adaptation of the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning and company conception of the team and characters (are they the guys who came up with the "I am Groot" gag, or was that Keith Giffen, or who...?), the characters themselves were mostly plucked from the late 1960s and 1970s, after that initial, furious storm of character creation that defined Marvel at the outset. I was therefore amused to see so many Kirby contributions—Groot, The Celestials, Ronan. Kirby is so fundamental to the Marvel Universe that even when you set out to make a film inspired by a 21st century remix of various, Starlin-era creations, you can't help but get a bunch of Kirby in there.

I was quite dismayed when I realized this was going to be another Marvel movie about some abstract, barely-defined magical maguffin, like the Thor movies, the last of which was a spectacularly incoherent film, plot-wise. I'm assuming that because this one was specifically referred to as an "Infinity Stone" (not gem, but stone; gems are for girls), then the reason for all these maguffins is that each is actually one of the six Infinity Gems Stones...?

So in a few more years maybe we'll get a big, huge Infinity Gauntlet story teaming up The Avengers and The Guardians and whoever else they introduce by then...? (Hopefully The Defenders and The Champions).

So here's my question. I missed all the Infinity business, not really reading any Marvel Comics until the '00s (and enjoying the 1970s material in the Essentials). Each gem is supposed to have a particular power, right? So which gem was the one in Guardians, the purple gem? Was it the explodey gem...?

And, finally, can we talk about that surprise cameo? My reaction was along the lines of, "What? It's Howard the Duck. Wait, why?!" I guess I was expecting something to tease the next Avengers movie or Ant-Man and, in that respect, I suppose it's cool they deflated expectations with this one, which didn't lead into the next film like the others in the past have, but was rather a gag use of the end-credits stinger.

I wish the scene lasted at least a few seconds longer, because by the time it registered what I was seeing, it was over, and I didn't notice if he was wearing pants or not. Was he? Now that Disney owns Marvel, I would hope they would let Howard The Duck go pants-less.

I liked that the movie had a sense of humor, and was actually even more of a comedy than Avengers was (Avengers being another movie I was relieved to see was a comedy, because if they played most of that shit straight, it would have been a real slog). The Footloose bit was good. I liked the fact that Rocket didn't seem to have any idea what a raccoon was (and was it just me, or was this the best performance of Bradley Cooper's career?). Dave Bautista was surprisingly funny, too. I especially dug the bit about no metaphor being able to go over his head.

Oh, and I liked that the climactic space battle took place in broad daylight in the sky above a planet. Star Wars is the go-to space movie to compare all others against, and setting the spaceship fights somewhere other than the star-fields of outer space really helped differentiate the climax from those other movies (The dimly lit interior of Ronan's ship, on the other hand, was pretty generic, as were his army of guys, of whom I can't remember any visual details. They were black in color and had guns. Not very interesting visuals; <i>Star Wars</i> wins for interesting-looking bad guy laser beam fodder).

I was a little bummed when it ended, because now there isn't a fun movie I'm looking forward to on the horizon.


Eric Lee said...

I hate to say it, but you are right about the Black Widow being a little too generic to have her own film. But I still feel that a Ms.Marvel movie can easily stand on its own, especially since they set the Kree up in the "Guardians of the Galaxy".

Jer said...

They simply don't have any really great female characters who aren't also X-Men (and thus at another studio), and pretty much all of the Marvel heroines I can think of who could conceivably headline their own comic book are derivative of male heroes

Marvel actually doesn't need to have a female hero who could headline her own comic book to drive a movie. They just need a good idea.

And you say that Carol Danvers is derivative of Mar-vell - to which I say "only in the comics". No reason not to just have Danvers be Captain Marvel to start with. They've been perfectly comfortable changing the origins of characters nobody outside the small circle of about 200K comics fans would even know about (witness how Peter Quill's origin moved from "sociopathic asshole half-alien whose mother was murdered in front of him" to "prolonged adolescent man-child half-alien whose mother died of cancer in front of him" - Quill is almost an entirely different character from the one Englehart created, and nearly a different character from the one Abnett and Lanning morphed him into. (Captain Marvel is my pick for Marvel's first female superhero movie after Black Widow, if you can't tell.)

Each gem is supposed to have a particular power, right? So which gem was the one in Guardians, the purple gem? Was it the explodey gem...?

(I'd assume they're stones now instead of gems because of the Tesseract - it's pretty clearly not a gem. When they decided on that retcon they needed a new name. And yeah - I'm pretty sure that's a retcon and that the original movie was just using the Cosmic Cube its model.)

If they stick with it for the movies - and they may not - the gems are supposed to be Space, Time, Mind, Reality, Soul, and Power. I'd assume that the Tesseract was Space (obviously), the stone from Guardians was either Power or Reality, and the Aether from Thor was probably the other one (Power or Reality).

I also wouldn't be surprised at all if they changed up the attributes of the stones from what the gems had. I'll still go on record with the Tesseract as Space though because it's kind of obvious. (I always thought that a "Reality" gem was a bit weird, given that you bring all 6 together and it gives you control of Reality. In retrospect I'm surprised that there wasn't an Energy and a Matter gem, but that's probably just a flashback to the old Mage the Ascension RPG...)

doron said...

Kevin Feige confirmed that the Tesseract is the space gem. The Aether (Thor 2) is the reality gem, and the Orb is the power gem. The colors don't match up with the comics but who cares.

Also there is speculation that Loki's staff (Avengers) is the mind gem but that doesn't make sense to me.

Caleb said...

Regarding Carol Danvers' superheroic identity being derivative of Captain Marvel's, Jer's right--there's no reason to just skip the original and swap Carol in for him, or rejigger her origins.

I think part of her derivative and/or problematic nature though is that she's derivative conceptually. Just the NAME "Captain Marvel" has all sorts of other connotations, from all the OTHER Captain Marvels in Marvel Comics, to the Marvel Family.

I don't know how prevalent the Carol Danvers Cap is vs. the Billy Batson one in the popular imagination (I know DC's Cap was in their various cartoons; not sure to what extent Carol was in the recent Marvel cartoons or what her name was, and how to rate the two in terms of familiarity with audience), but there's that too. I assume DC will cede that fight in the films, if they ever make one, calling their Captain Marvel "Shazam."

Also, I think it's gonna seem kinda weird to have a Marvel Studios movie starring a Captain Marvel or a Ms. Marvel, as she'll sound like a strangely-named corporate mascot (Imagine a Captain Warner Bros, or Ms. Sony, for example).

I'm not saying she won't appear in or get her own movie, or that she shouldn't, just that I sure wouldn't want to be the one in charge of writing a treatment for it or directing that marketing campaign, you know?

Eyz said...

I just want a (great) Captain Marvel movie! With the Kree finally introduced through Guardians of the Galaxy, I believe now is as good a time as any to introduce her!