Here’s how Marvel lost its mojo–and why DC never had it

Unless you live alone in an ice cave, you have seen these things we call “movies” along with shorter, lower budget shebangs we call “shows.”

And doesn’t it feel like half of all movies and shows are about superheroes? The other half are Disney+ series about random Star Wars characters, like the new show THAT STORMTROOPER WHO HIT HIS HEAD ON THE DOORWAY OF THE DEATH STAR.

Yet I remember a day, not long ago, when an actor holding a hammer and saying two words absolutely blew us away.

So let’s talk about the rise and fall of Marvel movies, and why DC is like bread dough without yeast: never rose, so it never had the chance to fall.

Here’s how Marvel climbed Mount Mojo and ruled all that it surveyed

1) The climbing crew absolutely rocked

Part of the story is who they picked to climb this mountain: a great crew of actors and directors. Sure, there are some big names like Robert Downey, Jr., and these days every bigshot actor is getting recruited to join the MCU.

But back when they started this climb, their core group was unknowns, who all happened to be named Chris, maybe because the Marvel casting people had a thing for somebody named Chris, maybe the One Who Got Away–who knows. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pratt were all risky choices that paid off. Even Robert Downey, Jr. was a risk, a big name with a history of addiction and rehab.

Whatever criticism you might level against Marvel movies of the past or today, they pick good actors.

I mean, everybody says Sebastian Stan is a nice guy, but after watching this, I thought he was the baddest man on the planet.

2) The writers and studio built up suspense, movie by movie

From the first time we saw an Infinity stone (and they kept popping up in every movie) to that last scene of INFINITY WARS: ENDGAME, WE REALLY MEAN IT, THANOS GONNA DIE FOR REAL THIS TIME, you knew that these movies were building up to a climax. There was a peak to Mount Mojo, and a ginormous purple villain sat on a throne on top of that peak, and shit was gonna happen when the heroes and audience finally clawed their way all the way up there.

You wanted to see what happened.

3) Each new movie added real pieces to the puzzle

You can fire up IRON MAN and microwave a vat of popcorn to binge the first round of movies, and every movie brings you new clues and characters. Even if you knew basically what was going to eventually happen–THANOS GONE WILD–all the little things mattered.

Why DC never got its mojo at all

DC came to this bazillion-dollar poker game with the far-stronger hand: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Joker, and Aquaman.

Before these movies, the Marvel characters (except for Spiderman) were pretty obscure. Thor, Ant-Man, a talking tree and his pet raccoon? Come on. DC should have eaten Marvel’s lunch.

And they mangled it.

Instead of introducing each superhero with their own movie, they did it backwards, and gave us a movie with Batman and Wonder Woman before sending us back in time for a solo Wonder Woman movie and Aquaman flick, and never giving us a solo Batman with Batfleck at all.

You can’t build up to something big when you go back in time with prequels like that.

Instead of having one big bad guy, we got Villains of the Week who were vanquished, buh-bye, we will not see you around.

Marvel keeps stopping and starting with new actors, new directors, and new tactics to rival what Marvel did, and it’s like they don’t know what direction they’re driving.

THE BATMAN was a good movie, and a nice start to a new trilogy. If they’re smart, they’ll use that as a starting point to build fresh. That’s just incredibly hard to do when you have an established Wonder Woman and Aquaman who do a great job and don’t need to be recast.

This opening scene is golden.

Don’t get me started with Flash and that actor.

So it’s a hot mess, which is really too bad.

How Marvel lost its way

1) Over-saturation

I’m not a comics nerd, and neither am I a snob who only watched black-and-white French existentialist films. I’m probably a lot like your average movie fan who sees all the big movies, and the Daredevil/Punisher/Jessica Jones stuff. But now I’m starting to skip a lot of these shows, along with some of the movies.

Because you need to clone yourself to have time to watch it all. There is too much content.

They started out strong. WANDAVISION was amazing, and LOKI rocked. Started watching MOON KNIGHT, love Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke–did not finish.

Haven’t watched any of MS. MARVEL or SHE HULK, and all the other movies and shows in the works just don’t excite me.

THOR: RAGNORAK is one of my fav movies of the whole bunch, yet I have zero desire to watch THOR 4: THOR AND LADY THOR VS PALE BATMAN. I’ll probably check it out on the televisions later. No guarantee.

There’s so much content coming out so fast. Instead of a couple of giant blockbusters every year that you definitely circled on the calendar, it’s a flood that you can’t track.

We’re basically to the point where this SNL skit has become our reality.

2) The multiverse means no character is ever dead, so the stakes don’t mean anything

Yes, the multiverse is a cool concept, and introducing it with Miles Morales was brilliant. A great movie.

After INFINITY WARS and LOKI, though, we know that no character is really dead. I mean, we watched Loki die, and here he is. And yeah, Iron Man died, though if he gets bored in a few years, I bet you every quarter in my swear jar that Marvel could wave $50 million under his nose to show up on set for three days.

Now when a character dies, we don’t really feel it. Because they can just pop into the multiverse and get another version of Thor or Iron Man or anybody else.

3) There is no clear mountain we’re climbing where the One True Bad Guy is waiting

Yes, the writers at Marvel may have a secret plan involving secret wars with the green shapeshifting aliens or Kang the Conquerer or whatever, and all of this will make sense seven movies and thirty shows from now.

Whatever phase they say we are on, and I will not keep track, it is too confusing,

HOWEVER: it’s not clear to us, as an audience, why we need to watch everything to see what happens. These movies and shows used to be all part of one body, with all the parts working together. Now they are loosely connected, and you have to contort your brain to see why it matters, and why you should care.

If your audience has to wonder why it should care, they won’t.

Leaked script for JUSTICE LEAGUE

ACT 1, opening scene: BRUCE WAYNE drives up in a classic black car to a black tie event. He opens the passenger door for a leggy model in Little Black Dresses and Zack Snyder makes sure the sky is an appropriately grim shade of black. In the middle of the charity ball, as Bruce is giving a speech, he notices a flash in the sky and makes an excuse to leave.

BATMAN rolls up to an industrial part of Gotham where all is not right. An alien war machine nearly kills him.

Over at Arkham Asylum, LEX LUTHOR won’t tell COMMISSIONER GORDON or BATMAN what he knows about the alien war machines. He simply gloats and says they aren’t ready for the invincible army that’s coming, though he will make popcorn and watch from his prison cell. LUTHOR does reveal the invasion of alien war machines is not being sent by the Purple Man Who Does Not Like To Stand, because that villain only attacks Earths populated by Marvel superheroes.

On the rooftop, WONDER WOMAN arrives to tell BATMAN they can’t fight this war alone, and without SUPERMAN, they won’t last ten minutes, and this movie has another 105 minutes to go, so that won’t do at all. This is war. They need an army.

In a montage, a series of would-be heroes are approached by BRUCE WAYNE and reject his suicide mission.

One exception is a pebble-faced man in a hoodie, who says if they both snagged their other costume, they’d bring a total of four superheroes to this fight. BRUCE WAYNE tells the man, “This is D.C.–we don’t do irony.”

Meanwhile, the alien robot army pauses to consolidate its grip on North Dakota for some reason, instead of taking over the world already.

 

ACT 2

BRUCE WAYNE wears steampunk goggles to brave the cold of GREENLAND, which is not green at all, to get his butt kicked by AQUAMAN in a bar.

AQUAMAN refuses the call to adventure and says this isn’t the proper way of doing things. He’ll wait for his own solo movie before joining any ensemble as a sidekick.

FLASH eagerly joins up because he’s this movie’s dorky version of Peter Parker, nerding out about being allowed to hang with a billionaire playboy with a cave full of armor and technology.

The growing crew finds CYBORG fighting off a gang of alien robot warriors. CYBORG interfaces with a dying alien robot to uncover the truth: they’re scouts for DARKSEID, a villain whose superpower is that you’ve never heard of him.

Alien robot warriors grow bored in North Dakota and descend upon the village bar where AQUAMAN is scowling while he drinks his mead, which spurs him into wearing a costume that, sadly, looks better than the Batsuit we’ve been looking at for three different movies.

 

ACT 3

Wave after wave of CGI alien robots flit through the sky and swarm the ground.

AQUAMAN leaves the fight for some made-up reason so he can sulk before coming back again. CYBORG seems to get taken down by a horde of alien robots and BATMAN gets trapped in a cave, which is as close to ironic as D.C. dares.

Meanwhile, WONDER WOMAN looks amazing in slow-mo as she destroys legions of glowing alien robots, because slow-mo is her motif, if you haven’t seen the trailers for her movie yet. But it’s a losing battle. No daughter of Zeus can single-handedly win this kind of war.

It takes a son of Krypton to help out, so SUPERMAN rises from his real grave, not the fake one in D.C., to fly around in a black suit which also looks better than the weird, short-eared Batsuit we’ve been looking at for three movies.

BATMAN finally escapes the cave and CYBORG reveals that he interfaced with another alien robot to learn the location of their secret server farm, and that they’re not using https yet.

WONDER WOMAN, BATMAN, AQUAMAN, FLASH and CYBORG pile into the Batplane to do battle, but only after BATMAN finally puts on an armored Batsuit that actually looks like it was designed for, I don’t know, fighting. SUPERMAN flies solo, because he’s still getting over being dead.

Even more endless waves of alien robots fly into battle to get smashed into glowing bits until we get a glimpse of DARKSEID, a special giant clump of dark, glowing CGI with an impossibly deep, gravelly voice based on Christian Bale’s growl in THE DARK KNIGHT, and yes, this is daringly ironic for D.C.

DARKSEID throws around the heroes until he gets bored. Nothing they do hurts him.

Finally, SUPERMAN gets tired of puny punches. He picks up DARKSEID and flies him into space, past our sun, past another sun and finally into a black hole, though when he flies back CYBORG reports that this alone won’t kill the villain. DARKSEID is still communicating with his network with a 2400 baud moden. He’ll return, stronger than before.

A bloody BATMAN picks himself off the floor to say, “We’ll be ready.”

You’ll stay to watch the credits. They will be long. At the end, there will be no post-credit scene, making you remember this isn’t a Marvel movie, though the plot of AVENGERS: INFINITY CRISIS I and II will be roughly the same thing–big bad guy leads alien invastion–with the exception that IRON MAN, THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA and the Hulk only beat the villain by sacrificing themselves and becoming trapped in another dimension or timeline at the end of the second movie, because their contracts are all up.

 

Video

What you need to know before seeing AVENGERS 2: AGE OF ULTRON

Unless you live in an ice cave, you know that AVENGERS 2 opens on May 1.

When it does open, all your friends will go see it, then ask what you thought about it, and What This Movie Means for the next 10 Marvel movies. Those films will feature Thor, Iron Man, Loki, and 16 other characters, and they will make $18 billion dollars.

Let’s get you educated on the whole Marvel shebang, then talk about why Marvel, against all odds, has taken over movie theaters for the next century.

Before you spend $42 on Imax tickets, 5800 calories worth of popcorn with fake butter drizzled on it and 72 ounces of Diet Coke, watch this video to refresh your knowledge of all things Marvel:

And now I’ll get serious for a moment.

Why have the Marvel movies rocked the box office so hard? Continue reading

Why ARCHER’s arrows are hit and miss

Cast of ARROW tv show

Cast of ARROW tv show

ARCHER — the TV show about a dude with arrows, not the cartoon spoofing James Bond — isn’t horrifically good or amazingly bad, which are the two types of things that are worth discussing and dissecting.

Yet this middling show about a middling superhero is worth taking apart to see the good, the bad and the ugly.

It’s also a good test case, a chance to learn a few lessons from where ARROW works and when it doesn’t. Useful less for anyone who ever wants to write stories, novels, TV shows and movies — or become a masked avenger who lives with his mom.

On the mark: Constant action
There’s no lack of fights, chases and conflict. The opening scenes are often quite good, sometimes starting in the middle of a battle without any boring exposition at all, making you wonder, “Who are those guys Archer is ventilating with green arrows?”

Off the mark: Constant special talks
The fights aren’t bad. The dialogue, though, can kill you.

Every conversation is a special talk that ends in zingers. It’s like the showrunners hired some guy who helped choreograph fights on Jason Statham’s last movie to handle all the fights, then kidnapped the entire writing room of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS to provide the dialogue.

On the mark: A big bad guy
At least in Season 1, the show avoids the Villain of the Week problem, even when it usually has a different villain of the week, by overlaying the entire thing with a conspiracy headed by a Big Bad Guy who tends to sneak into the bedroom of Arrow’s mom to talk smack about their evil plans.

The big villain also happens to be the billionaire father of Arrow’s best friend, who happens to be sleeping with Arrow’s ex-girlfriend. Also, Arrow’s underaged sister has a thing for the best friend. It’s all rather complicated and weird.

Off the mark: A sea of sidekicks
Read that last paragraph again, because it’s the tip of the iceberg. Arrow does live with his mom in a version of Wayne Manor, and his mom (a) ordered Arrow kidnapped earlier to find out what he knew about (b) having Arrow’s dad killed in the same boat sinking that (c) killed the sister of Arrow’s ex-girlfriend and (d) stranded Arrow on an island for years.

It’s weird enough for any adult character to live with their mom. The show gets even weirder with Arrow’s new step-dad also living there and running his dad’s old company, plus the detective who keeps trying to catch Arrow is his ex-girlfriend’s dad.

So yeah, it’s a hot mess of a soap opera, and when Arrow isn’t fighting, he’s having special talks with EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE CHARACTERS.

On the mark: Island flashbacks
I hate flashbacks. They’re usually lazy, useless bags of exposition. Info dumps.

The scenes on this show about the island are fun, because there’s all kinds of conflict, suffering and growth as a spoiled rich kid tries to survive and eventually learns the skills to become a superhero.

Off the mark: All dialogue is on the nose
This was the second reason I thought the showrunners kidnapped the entire writing room of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.

There’s no subtlety to the dialogue, which beats you over the head like a sledgehammer. Everybody says exactly what they mean and they do it in the meanest possible way.

It’s a cornucopia of melodramatic zingers and overwrought angsty nonsense.

The melodramatic dialogue makes the plot veer off all over the place. Characters will throw epic hissy fits, then reverse course in the next episode — or next scene. Archer goes all Bruce Wayne by pretending to be a drunken playboy and telling his ex-girlfriend to stay far, far away from him. Then he shows up at her apartment with a pint of ice cream for them to share while curled up on the couch.

If you fire up Netflix and binge-watch three episodes, Arrow will have a major falling out with his mom, ex-girlfriend, best friend, sidekick, sister and five other people, then make up with all of those people only to piss them off again by the third episode.

Final verdict
Though this is not high art, and middling superhero trash, I like my trash to be as watchable as possible. It’s fun, but could be far better, not by increasing the budget for costumes and sets, but by simply ditching the melodrama and killing off most of the sidekicks.

Special note to showrunners: “More villains! Fewer special talks! Also, don’t have Arrow live with his mom, because that’s creepy for somebody who’s gotta be closer to 30 than 15! Kthxbai.”