Let’s Not Learn the Wrong Lesson from Deadpool

This weekend Deadpool made giant chimichanga money.

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In fact, Deadpool is now not only the highest opening weekend grossing X-Men film in the franchise, but the highest of any Fox superhero film, and it even performed better this past weekend than Man of Steel did when it debuted.

I really need to stop talking about Man of Steel for a while.

This success can be attributed to many things but I want to lay special praise out for the marketing department. This movie has been sold better than any superhero movie I have seen. Los Angeles in particular is plastered with Mr. Pool but none of it has felt particularly grating.

For those of you who stayed through the credits, which should be everyone by now ( I actually refuse to associate with people who don’t wait for the credits tags now), you know a sequel is on the way. Now that Deadpool as proved itself profitable, Fox executives are going to be looking for ways to use it as a lesson to improve their other superhero movies. I just hope they learn the right ones.

First, to get a quick review out of the way, Deadpool is simply fine. It wasn’t any kind of genre breaker and the plot was very by the numbers. In fact, I probably would have thought much higher of the film if it were made back when the script was written six years ago. Since then, Marvel Phase Two arrived and made the best superhero movies the genre has ever seen. I have read that older script and it is largely identical to what we got. I did truly enjoy the movie though. The action was well choregraphed, I laughed at enough of the jokes, and anything I didn’t love was candy for the thirteen year olds behind me. R-rating be damned they found their way in, right behind me, and kicked my seat throughout.

And that’s the first lesson I want to argue against. No, we do not need more R-rated superhero movies. I will say it, Deadpool did not have to be R. Yes, it allowed it to stand out more in our superhero saturated media landscape, but the basic story could have been told just as well in PG-13. I have been hearing rumblings online from fanboys hoping all of the different superhero movies start going darker. My response is simple and I will only say it once:

FANBOYS ARE IDIOTS

Superheroes and their movies are still ostensibly for a younger audience. Hell, even Deadpool was for that younger audience as evident by the noisy kids sitting behind me at my screening. The R-rating is not what made Deadpool a better movie, it was what the creators got from having the R-rating.

A real lesson here is that cheaper can be better. A friend recently told me that Batman v Superman needs to make a billion dollars to be profitable.

What is wrong with me? It all keeps coming back to Superman!

Meanwhile Deadpool made back its production cost and then some over the weekend, mainly because it costs so much less than those movies. Instead of going for bombast, the movie found humor in its low stakes and made for a more emotional final confrontation than what we get most of the time when the planet is in danger. On top of that, Fox remained fairly hands off for this one. Because it was R-rated and an obscure character in a movie they only really greenlighted because some test footage was leaked, they didn’t really mess around with it. Director Tim Miller got to make the exact movie he wanted and audiences loved it.

Here’s a question. If you’re a producer in Fox and you see how well Deadpool did, would you want to be involved in Deadpool 2? The answer is yes, and I worry all of this new attention will have a detrimental effect on this burgeoning series. The lesson they should take away is to be more hands off. If Fox had been more hands off with last year’s Fant4stic, maybe it could have really been something special. Fox meddled the least with X-Men: First Class and it is probably the best of the entire franchise. Just, let the creators do their thing. Let the series live and die on them.

That’s not even the most important lesson here! The thing that makes Deadpool better is how much it embraces being a comic book property. It’s not grounded or gritty in any way, it bounces off the walls with joy. The movie feels more in line with the products of Marvel Studios, and it is better for it. Take those feelings all the way. Let the X-Men got to space and pick up Lockheed and fight the Brood or whatever. You know what Wolverine can stab in a PG-13 movie? ALIENS.

The X-Men have gone on some next level crazy adventures. Colossus has a sister who is indentured to the devil. They time travel all the damn time (and props to Days of Future Past for leading the way here). The island of genosis was founded as a haven for X-Men and then wiped off the planet in a mass genocide.

GO ALL THE WAY.

And then, when you are really good at putting these lessons into action, come back to Fantastic Four and do it right. I’m talking big man Galactus in a purple suit with a G on his belt. I’m talking the Super Skrull. I’m talking Ben Grimm dies and the team goes to heaven to get him back only to discover that God is Jack Kirby. The Fantastic Four could still be amazing, but they can’t be grounded. They need to be the opposite of grounded. What’s the word? Oh yeah, liberated.

-JP

PS, the new Wolverine will apparently be rated R. That’s fine, just don’t get lost in it.

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Announcing: PANTHEON

To be honest, one of the hardest thing about being a writer without any real cache is that I can’t just post my scripts online for everyone to read. Those stories are meant to be consumed as finished products, filmed and edited, but to manage that I have to fund a production that I simply can’t afford. But I want to make something that people can enjoy immediately!

It’s about here that I remember that I can write stories that aren’t scripts, and I have a platform, this one, to share those stories with people.

So I am announcing my first prose blog narrative! It’s called Pantheon, and it is the story of how a group of people who survive the death of the universe become the gods of the next one. Expect the first chapter later this week, and I will attempt to update with a new chapter every other week.

I would like to issue a disclaimer though. I have not spent a great deal of time writing in prose. Hopefully I will surprise myself and discover I am actually good at this kind of thing, but nevertheless curb your enthusiasm.

Stay… well, I don’t want to say tuned since this is a blog and not TV. Although the idiom has merit. Stay… attentive? Aware! Stay aware.

-JP

PS, The fun part about writing in prose is that there’s no such thing as budgetary restrictions.

Marketing of Steel

Watch this trailer for Man of Steel.

I’m not going to lie. Watching this just now made me want to drop everything and watch the whole movie again. It’s a damn good trailer, and you can go back and watch all of the early marketing material for Man of Steel and find they are exceptional. These trailers filled me with hope for the ultimate Superman movie. Did we get that movie? Well, it’s debatable but I stand in the no category.

Actually I stand in the should have continued on with a sequel to Superman Returns category, but that is a very small one.

I find the dichotomy between the Man of Steel trailers and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice* fascinating. None of them can seem to agree on what the tone of the movie will be. The first trailer came out with a very mean persona.

Everyone hates Superman and Superman hates everyone else. We’re all angry so let’s fight. It decidedly going in a different direction than Man of Steel, which…

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It certainly worked for Captain America’s sequel. The movie appeared content to inhabit its very dark and jokeless world, and show what is probably a very realistic fallout of having aliens rain death on the most major metropolitan city in the world. Although the part where people are in love with Superman is a bit harder to swallow, simply because of how little time he spent in Man of Steel actually saving people.

Still, it was followed up by a much looser and stranger trailer.

Suddenly, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the most comic book movie on the market. We’ve got Kryptonite, Wonder Woman, Doomsday, and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor by way of Max Landis. Plus, at the end, a real live joke! This trailer’s tone really leaned into being fun, not epic or mean. None of these trailers have reached the soaring heights of that Man of Steel trailer, which is unfortunate since I would assume the same marketing department is releasing them and the footage to make something emotionally epic and sweeping is still there, but at least the final trailer made me want to go see the movie.

The opening feels ripped directly from a Batman comic, with the heightened fight choreography that Nolan’s films really downplayed. The line about “if there’s a 1% chance” regarding Superman completely sells me on Batman’s motivations. Finally, for the love of god, Wonder Woman gets a line! It’s big and action packed, but looks like it will be a fun ride here. A far cry from the first trailer for the film.

I wonder if each trailer they release is a reaction to the one before. They clearly arrived with a marketing plan in mind. One similar to Man of Steel but darker. However, when fan reaction wasn’t positive enough they pivoted into a more kinetic direction. It is fascinating, since Marvel is releasing a very similar movie about two months later, how Warner Brothers is spinning this marketing into a more comic book style, while also working their asses off to make the voice here distinct from that Marvel one.

Although let’s be honest, we were all sold on Captain America: Civil War from the first trailer.

*Inside joke from Birth.Movies.Death

-JP

PS, My father has long held a torch for Superman’s red underwear on the outside. He’s right. The red underwear doesn’t inform the character in any way so why bother taking it away from him. But if I may draw the line on another issue…

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They took the globe off the Daily Planet! What the hell!? It’s iconic you mad men, put it back!

Why I’m Not Watching Supergirl

Supergirl is a show I really want to like. It’s from Greg Berlanti, the producer behind the always improving shared DC universe on the CW, and plants its flag as the bright and optimistic alternative to Man of Steel. It has a budget high enough to accurately portray a kryptonian’s powers on television, for the first time in history. Melissa Benoist is a perfect fit for Supergirl and the series is very progressive in race and gender.

And yet, I stopped watching three weeks ago and haven’t looked back. I know what has happened since, a Bizarro Supergirl and an adaptation of Alan Moore’s perfect “For the Man who has Everything” Superman story. Both of those should have me crawling back, but they aren’t. As a superhero show, the superhero parts always left me cold while the workplace plots have always been more interesting. It’s probably because the season arc is exceptionally boring. I don’t know if that’s because it’s too similar to what The Flash is doing better, or if Calista Flockhart is just so good as Cat Grant that everything else is overshadowed. What I can say is that my issue with the show began way back in the pilot. In the opening five minutes.

The moment that irks me is when Kara decides to never use her powers ever after the only family she has in the galaxy drops her off at Dean Cain’s house and leaves.

Sorry. Run on sentence.

In her first incarnation, yes, Supergirl arrived on Earth after Superman had grown up. In that story she was never older than him, but the gist of it is the same. Superman finds her when she arrives, but in that story brought her to live in a girl’s orphanage. However that story also had Superman keep Supergirl a secret so she could be a secret weapon in a time of need.

Now imagine if the series we got kept that part of the story. If we were following a Supergirl who only recently arrived on Earth and had to keep her existence a secret in case of emergency. If the series had a bit more of Smallville in it.

The thing I keep thinking about is that Supergirl feels like a reskinned Superman series, but it shouldn’t. Supergirl is a character that can tell vastly different stories than Superman. Hers is an immigrant story, not his. English is her second language and she remembers the family and planet she lost when she was young. In recent comics, this has made Supergirl angry and tough. Kara is a survivor who doesn’t always have a ton of trust in the human race. She would never be content to sit back and let her younger cousin take on everything alone. It just feels wrong.

What I keep coming back to is how Supergirl has the personality of Superman, while Man of Steel had the personality of Supergirl. All of those feelings of fear toward the human race and deep dives into Krytonian mythology in Man of Steel would have made for a great Supergirl story. Balancing work life with superheroing and inspiring hope in the common man are the basic elements of a Superman story. A lot of people say that Superman is boring, and yes he can be, which is why its so frustrating that it’s the boring aspects of Superman that have been grafted onto Supergirl for the sake of her network TV series.

Ironically, in another life I would have been more than willing to look past all this. Back when Arrow first premiered, it was a massive disservice to the character and all around not that great. However, it was also the only superhero show around. I didn’t have options, so I kept watching. Low and behold Arrow evolved into a great show that spawned at least two others. Now the TV landscape is plastered with Superheroes, and I have options. So, when I find that Supergirl isn’t telling the best Supergirl stories, I can go elsewhere.

If I hear of any A+ episodes, I will tune in. When the Flash crosses over with Supergirl, I will tune in. If the season two story line is actually engaging, I will be there.

But in the mean time, I am no longer watching Supergirl.

-JP

PS – If anyone disagrees with me, I would love to have a well reasoned conversation on the merits of Supergirl

The Flash Delivered a Perfect Storytelling Moment Last Night

Last night’s episode of the Flash was pretty basic and mostly existed to set up the next story arc, where our characters will travel to the alternate reality of Earth-2. They fought a low level villain of the week, Tar Pit, and a member of the West family was highly emotional. Pretty standard stuff for this series. Except for one sequence that I can only describe as perfect.

Thanks to the power of the internet, here is the sequence in question:

Now to explain why this sequence is, to me, perfect requires breaking down some constructs of episodic storytelling.

In a typical episode of television, there are three plots at play. The A plot is the one that most of the episode is focused on. It’s the case of the week in a police procedural or new situation in a sitcom. The B plot takes up the second most focus. These are usually a more emotional plot that exist to propel character dynamics in future episodes. Finally the C plot takes up the least space and is the hardest to pin down. Sometimes a C plot is frivolous and played for comedy but other times it is a major dramatic push for the season, but one the main characters haven’t registered yet. Whatever the case, the C plot is always in the background, the A plot is in the forefront, and the B plot is somewhere in between.

Last night’s episode of the Flash, Fast Lane (which is an excellent title for a Flash episode, but maybe not this one), had an A plot that focused on Tar Pit as a villain of the week. Tar Pit is a metahuman who’s body is made of tar that he can heat up and swing around and attack people with. Eventually he’s a giant hulking tar monster.

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Yeah that’s the one

Tar Pit wants revenge on the guys who dumped him into a Tar Pit on the night of the particle accelerator explosion that created all of the metahumans in Central City.

I’m sorry. I need a moment to process that sentence. This show is on TV. And massively popular. What a time to be alive.

Anyway, the B plot is the continuing adventures of Joe and Iris West struggling to reach out to Wally. The son and brother that the Wests didn’t know they had has turned out to be a speed street racer by night. Joe has decided to stand by and allow this so that he doesn’t create further friction with his son. Iris, on the other hand, is tired of seeing people she loves get hurt. She stops by a race and discovers the identity of the guy running it all. She confronts him and threatens to write an expose if he doesn’t shut down the races. He threatens her right back and keeps doing his thing.

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The face of someone tired of this disrespect

Which brings us to the C plot. Which involves the overall plot of the season and multiple versions of the same character. There’s a lot to unpack here so I am going to adhere to some great words of wisdom…

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Harrison Wells, a genius from Earth-2, was fighting Zoom, an evil Flash from Earth-2, since before that world and ours, Earth-1, were connected by breaches. His daughter was kidnapped by Zoom, and he has been threatened into stealing The Flash’s speed to give to Zoom to save his daughter. Got it? Good.

In the C plot, Harrison develops a device that can siphon of speed force energy when Barry runs and store it into a battery. He hates doing it, but believes he only has two choices and decides to save his daughter. Early in the episode people notice that Barry has slowed down but not enough to recognize that Harrison has done something.

This brings us back around to that perfect scene. One where all three plots come together to create something truly special. It turns out that the jerk who runs the street races is one of the guys who accidentally create Tar Pit. So, when we think we’re watching a B plot scene about Iris and Joe coming to stop Wally from racing once and for all, the A plot comes barging in and causes Wally to get into a massive car crash. Iris calls Barry, who’s been hanging out with Harrison over in the C plot, and he runs in to save the day.

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*swoons* My hero!

Barry grabs Wally out of the falling car, but the show knows to depict this as a particularly gnarly crash (more on this later). The car falls toward the jerk, and Barry manages to run over and save him too, but the car still isn’t finished. Glass and metal fly off, and Iris is standing closer than anyone else. Normally, Barry would be fast enough to catch all of this debris before it hits Iris, but thanks to Harrison in the C plot, he’s been sapped of just enough speed to fail to save Iris from a flying shard of glass.

The writers essentially tied a noose around Barry’s neck, or Iris’s really, that you couldn’t see until that exact moment. Iris was too close to the action, literally, and on this one occasion Barry was too slow. But the best part is how this sequence affects all of the plots moving forward in the episode.

In the A plot they discover the connection between Tar Pit’s victims and use that to predict his next attack and defeat him.

In the B plot Wally survives a traumatic crash, coming to terms with the danger of street racing. He also comes to terms with his responsibility for his family, since Iris being there was his fault. And on top of all that, he has his first encounter with the Flash! It’s important that their first meeting is with the Flash as a heroic savior. Wally loves speed, and he’s probably about to become a major Flash fanboy.

In the C plot Harrison quickly reveals he was the cause of Barry’s speed loss. Joe punches him, everyone condemns him, but then Barry decides to forgive him. They have all chosen family in a similar way, and they are only hard on him because he shares a face with their season one enemy.

Instead, the C plot leads into the A plot of the next episode. A trip to Earth-2 to rescue Harrison’s daughter.

This kind of scene, where the different plots come together, isn’t necessarily rare. It happens all the time in fact. I just think this one excels because of the dynamic visual effects and how, as an audience, we are shown all of this but not told. It leaves you to connect the dots on your own. There’s real dramatic irony when Barry can’t save Iris. We know why, but he doesn’t, and that makes it hurt all the more.

The Flash airs Tuesdays on the CW at 8. You can catch up on Hulu or the CW website.

-JP

PS – Apparently the Flash will be crossing over with Supergirl in March. I’ve got something to say about that, but I think I will save it for Monday.