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Comic-Con@Home 2020 Recap

People go to conventions for many reasons; one of the biggest reasons is to meet like-minded people and industry peers. They can bring together people from all different geographical areas who share a similar passion for whatever the convention is about. San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) International is a non-profit, multi-genre entertainment and comic book convention held annually in San Diego, California. It has become essentially the quintessential celebration of all things nerdy. Each year, fans of TV, movies, comic books, and pop culture head to the city (that was not “discovered by the Germans in 1904”) where networks, studios, and publishers release information on their most exciting upcoming properties. Over 100,000 people pile into a big convention hall—dressed in costume, meeting celebrities, taking pictures, and/or buying products. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the first year since 1970 that the convention did not happen in-person.

Comic-Con@Home (2020) was certainly a risk; it had to come together really quickly under unprecedented circumstances. Would this stop people from coming to San Diego all together in the future if they continue to offer the “@Home” experience? It may have been far easier to postpone or cancel the entire convention. However, as with a lot of planned events, a lot of money prior to the pandemic was invested in putting this convention together. They had to contact people to record panels via Zoom or Skype; they then released the videos on YouTube without allowing people to comment. This makes the content not as “exclusive,” as people don’t have to be somewhere specific to see the videos at a specific time and date; you have the option to watch the videos later at your own convenience. As such, this can be somewhat of a loss for both the fans as well as the studios and networks. However, for someone who always wanted to go to San Diego for this convention but never had the time or money to do it, this was a dream come true.

Even though Comic-Con@Home was entirely virtual, it was still the source of some major announcements in the entertainment world and, if viewed, had the power to inspire and connect with fans even without direct contact. “Inspiration” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions”; without a doubt there were numerous events over the course of the weekend that not only could help fans and future industry workers be inspired, but also touched on the creators’ inspiration. The many panels showed how a lot of these people (who fans view as “A-list celebrities”) are very similar to a lot of the fans sitting at home watching these videos; to be sure, there are obvious differences, but the similarities in interests and likes still exist.

Anyone who has attended a convention knows that people want the backstory of their favorite creator, to see if there is a similar line that can push them to do what they want. This theme of inspiration was embedded in the entire weekend starting on Thursday, July 22, 2020 continuing into the evening of Sunday, July 26, 2020. As there were many events to participate in, this recap will be covering specifically the events that are applied to films.

Thursday, July 23

The New Mutants Panel

The New Mutants has been the target of constant jokes, memes, and sarcasm for how many times the release date has been pushed back. Hilariously, the film’s producers knew this would be a topic as the panel opened with a series of dates flashed across the screen. They showed “in theaters April 13th, 2018,” and then that date was crossed out. It is then replaced by “in theaters February 22nd, 2019,” which is again crossed out and replaced by “in theaters August 2nd, 2019,” “February 22nd, 2019,” “August 2nd, 2019,” and “April 3rd, 2020.” It was really great to see that the studio is embracing this self-depreciation. They are not trying to hide the fact that this happened, which I think could be a good thing. They know the issue is the release date-—if the film was bad, they probably would not have kept on pushing it back. It probably would have already been released on streaming services. For better or for worse, the studio thinks that this film is worth the wait.

Fans have been anticipating this movie for a while now because of how it would present horror elements in the superhero genre, based on the Marvel Comics team of the same name. It was directed by Josh Boone and stars Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, and Henry Zaga. The panel included all of these people plus the designer of the original material. The panel touched on some of the auditions of the cast members, and newly released emojis for each of the mutant characters. Due to the pandemic there is still no confirmed date on when the film will arrive in cinemas but it was confirmed it will still be released at some point. They even presented a glimpse of the opening sequence and a new trailer. This film has pushed through a lot of resistance, whether from the studio, the pandemic, or something else unknown, and that in and of itself is inspiring. The film still does look intriguing and we’ll see how it turns out when the film is finally released in theatres.

Directors on Directors Panel

Robert Rodriguez (director of Spy Kids, El Mariachi, Sin City), Colin Trevorrow (director of Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Dominion), and Joseph Kosinski (director of Tron: Legacy, Oblivion, and Top Gun: Maverick) provided a great discussion about the craft of directing and projects past, present, and future. They discussed how in some ways the pandemic has been a blessing to them; it has allowed for them to stop and reflect on what they have done already, which is something they normally do not get to do. They normally get a certain amount of days to film and that’s it. Now, if they do not like something, they can possibly reshoot it or change it when they get back to production (which Jurassic World: Dominion is officially doing now).

Talking about technology in film, Trevorrow indicated that Jurassic World: Dominion would have the most animatronic dinosaurs ever used in the franchise:

We’ve actually gone more practical with every Jurassic movie we’ve made since the first one, and we’ve made more animatronics in this one than we have in the previous two. And the thing that I’ve found, especially in working in the past couple months, is that we finally reached a point where it’s possible to… Digital extensions on animatronics will be able to match the texture and the level of fidelity that, on film, an animatronic is going to be able to bring.

Colin Trevorrow, Director of Jurassic World: Dominion

Also touching on the technology, Trevorrow stated that he used virtual reality to help him film scenes in fantasy spaces, and Kosinski stated that for his Top Gun film he used new cameras. These cameras were similar to GoPro in function but produced IMAX-quality footage.

The best moment of the panel was when Rodriguez was responding to a question of pushing back when needed and described his experience when he pitched Spy Kids. Rodriguez described how the film was based on his own family; Rodriguez is the son of two Mexican parents, and his uncle was a spy who brought down two of the top ten criminals in history. He grew up with ten brothers and sisters, so when the studios asked why he wanted to make a film with a “Latin family” it seemed pretty obvious to him. The studio thought that because it had never been done before that it may decrease the audience to only other Latin families. He pushed back with the argument, “You don’t have to be British to enjoy James Bond. By being so specific, it becomes more universal.” He “set [his] flag” and stood his ground. He is now making a film called We Can Be Heroes which is about the children of Earth’s superheroes teaming up to save their parents and the world. The film is going to be a sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3D. It will star Priyanka Chopra, Christian Slater, Pedro Pascal, Sung Kang, and eleven kids from different backgrounds. However, one of his most successful films to this day remains to be Spy Kids.  The film went on to make $147.9 million on a $35 million budget and spawned three sequels. Whatever your opinion might be of the sequels, Spy Kids had a huge impact on diversity before it was really a push to make diversity important. This all came from the director believing in his idea and sticking to it.

Friday, July 24

Charlize Theron: Evolution of a Badass – An Action Hero Career Retrospective

In recent years, Charlize Theron has become a huge action star, starring in films like Æon Flux, The Old Guard, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Atomic Blonde; even establishing herself as a top-notch villain in The Fate of the Furious (2017), Cipher. On top of being an action star, she has had critically-acclaimed performances in the comedy-drama Tully (2018), the romantic comedy Long Shot (2019), and the biographical drama Bombshell (2019). The latter earned her a third Academy Award nomination. Her prior two were for Monster (2003) and North Country (2005), and her performance in Monster won her an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Female Role. As of 2019, she was paid $23 million and was the 9th highest paid female actor and about the 18th highest paid actor in the world, taking into account the top 10 from both categories. In 2016, Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. They stated that “she is deeply involved with her foundation, the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project helping young South Africans protect themselves from HIV.” But also, “she’s incredibly results-oriented and knows her programs really well.” They also said that “she’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind,” and this panel was no different, particularly when asked, “What draws you to these roles?”

Theron said growing up in South Africa played a part as her mother loved Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson and her father loved the original Mad Max movies. But her biggest reason was this:

I’m intrigued by the messiness of being human, especially a woman. We talk about representation, not just racial or cultural representation but female representation. I remember vividly just feeling such a lack of watching conflicted women in cinema. There was a part of me as an actor that felt so unbelievably jealous of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro who got to play all of these really f****d up people, and women very rarely got to explore that. There was almost this inert fear of putting a woman in circumstances where she might not shine. I do believe society has us somewhat in his Madonna whore complex box. We can be really good hookers or really good mothers but anything in-between, people are sometimes not brave enough to want to go and explore…It’s so sad to me because the richness of those stories are not only great entertaining stories to tell and great movies to make but it is a disservice to women in general. We are more complicated than those two things and we can be many things. Our strengths can come from our faults, from our mistakes, from our petty, from our vulnerabilities, and our madness. Those are the things that make us interesting… [All of my characters] are all survivors and they are trying to survive… That, as a woman, I can relate to.

Charlize Theron

She said her main inspiration was Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley in the ALIEN movies, “[Ripley] was real and she was living in this world. The amount of intelligence she brought to that role, she was completely in demand of it; she owned that role. But it wasn’t forced, and it wasn’t written, and it wasn’t acted, it was just lived. She was just living in that world in such an authentic way. And Furiosa was the first time I felt like… she just felt so real to me.”

This realness is shown in Theron’s personal character as well. She is a hard worker as she is one that “was raised to get up and do work.” This gives off a fearless quality that many in Hollywood often compliment her for, and it even happened in this interview. She said she was thankful for this but she is scared a lot of the time and is only “really good at covering it up.” She stated she is afraid because she does not know how long she’ll have roles in movies. She almost feels that each role may be her last. This anxiety-like feeling leads her to work harder at her job, be more creative, and be able to stay awake long into the night to get her work done. Theron may state that she’s not a hero but she is in a way; she speaks her mind, no matter the consequences, and takes roles to not only show complex female characters, but also represent women in the best way, as real people. She admits her flaws and perhaps hides them at times, but when asked about them she is true to herself. That is an admirable quality in a person, and Theron establishes herself as a true role model and an inspiration to people everywhere.

Saturday, July 25

The Art of Adapting Comics to the Screen: David S. Goyer Q&A

David Goyer’s most famous screenwriting credits include the Blade trilogy, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Dark City, Man of Steel and its sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. This interview had Goyer discussing his writing process and how he brought these comic book characters to the big screen. While his most successful work is obviously the Nolan trilogy, one of his most controversial adaptations is in Man of Steel (2013). When he worked with Nolan they approached the Batman character in a more serious and grounded way that hadn’t been done in previous live-action versions of the character, though they did keep some comic book aspects out like the Lazarus Pit.

Many fans have thought when Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson) closes his eyes toward the end of Batman Begins (2005) (when Batman beats him on the train) that it was Nolan and Goyer’s attempt to imply that al Ghul knew that he could come back after the crash like he does a lot in the comics to which Goyer replied:

…there was never any discussion that Chris or I had about that, but if you think about it, it was a fairly realistic approach. I think if you introduce something like the Lazarus Pit into that (I’m not saying you couldn’t tell a cool story with the Lazarus Pit; I think you could), I just don’t think that the Lazarus Pit would’ve gelled with that approach.

David S. Goyer

They attempted to apply the same realistic formula to Superman in Man of Steel, which to some worked well, and to others it did not. Their interpretation of Superman’s origin story brought about the arrival of the alien militant Zod, similar to that of The Dark Knight (2008) pushing Joker to come out in response to Batman revealing himself. In Man of Steel Superman kills Zod in order to save planet Earth. This decision rightfully upset a lot of fans of the character. Goyer said that the reason for them having Superman kill Zod was two fold: one, because they wanted to do something drastic, similar to the risks that he and Nolan took with Batman; and two, because they felt that Superman had no other choice but to kill Zod.

At times, he seemed unsure in the interview that everything they did was the right call for the film; however, Goyer, sticking to his guns regarding the controversial decision, shows how even a writer can be inspirational even if you do not agree with the final product.

Constantine: 15th Anniversary Reunion

This panel included starring actor, Keanu Reeves, director Francis Lawrence, and producer Akiva Goldsman who reunited to reflect on the making of Constantine (2005). This film marked Lawrence’s first film and also starred Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Djimon Hounsou, Gavin Rossdale, and Peter Stormare. For those who are not familiar with the film or the character, John Constantine is a cynic who can communicate with half-angels and half-demons in their true form. He tried to commit suicide as a child so he is trying to redeem himself to avoid eternal damnation in Hell. The film holds an approval rating of 46% on Rotten Tomatoes based on the reviews of 224 critics and an average rating of 5.4/10. The critics’ consensus states: “Despite solid production values and an intriguing premise, Constantine lacks the focus of another spiritual shoot-em-up, The Matrix.” On Metacritic (which assigns a weighted average), the film holds a score of 50 out of 100 based on the reviews of 41 critics, indicating “mixed or average reviews.”

This film is very different from a lot of comic book movies as it deals with the occult, magic, Heaven and Hell, etc. When asked about his inspiration for this film, Lawrence stated that he looked to noir films such as Blade Runner (1982) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) instead of other comic book movies. Lawrence felt that Warner Bros. didn’t give much respect to this film mostly because Batman Begins was being filmed next door. Even though this movie is rated R, the movie was filmed to be PG-13. He states that there was a checklist they followed to the letter but then was given an R rating “based on tone.” As such, he felt that they didn’t push the boundaries as much as they could have if they had known they were going to get an R rating. The film does touch some really interesting concepts of how Heaven and Hell are actually parallel to the current world but respectively are nice and awful.

Constantine, as a character, has gotten a following in recent years after having an NBC television show starring Matt Ryan. Ryan continued this role on the CW’s Arrowverse, mostly showing up in Legends of Tomorrow. He also has voiced the character in three DC animated movies, Justice League Dark, Constantine: City of Demons – The Movie, and Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Unlike Ryan, Reeves is not a blonde British man like the source material but he connected with John Constantine’s cynicism. “He’s tired of all the rules and morals and ethics, and angels and demons, but is still a part of it,” Reeves said, and he “loved his sense of humor.” Though they wanted to do a sequel, the film’s oddness and only moderate box office success prevented them from following up with a sequel even though, “we always talked about a sequel more than the studio.”

They fought for the movie to be filmed in Los Angeles because of the city’s grittiness. The film has been slowly gaining a cult status and it has a 72% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Lawrence has also had a very successful career after this film directing the zombie apocalyptic I Am Legend, the romantic drama Water for Elephants, three of the four films in the Hunger Games film series, and the spy thriller Red Sparrow. You add Reeves’ resurgence as an action star and there might be a market for a sequel that has “[John] wakes up in a cell. He has to identify the prisoner… And it was Jesus.” This sequel would be “a Hard-R sequel, I think we could probably make it tomorrow.” Fans of this movie, and the people making the film, could be enough for Warner Brother’s to be inspired to make another film.

Guillermo del Toro and Scott Cooper on Antlers and Filmmaking

Both of these directors have had big impacts on cinema. Del Toro is one of the biggest names when it comes to Mexican filmmakers and he is also good friends with the other members of “The Amigos of Cinema,” Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu. This designation was due to their friendship being comparable to Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Brian De Palma. The world has not always been keen on bringing Mexican films to the front, but all three have changed Hollywood for the better. They all have their own type of film and del Toro’s usually is connected to fairy tales and horror. He tries to combine the idea of beauty and the beast, giving things that society has viewed as “grotesque.” He also usually ties this in with Catholic themes and is known for using practical special effects for his films. His most famous work is Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water, the latter of which won him an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture. He also has produced and/or wrote on The Orphanage, The Hobbit film series, Mama, and Pacific Rim: Uprising. Cooper has not had as long of a career as del Toro but he has had a lot of success as well. His first film, Crazy Heart (2009), won Jeff Bridges a Best Actor award of which he also was a writer on. He has directed Out of the Furnace (2013), Black Mass (2015), and Hostiles (2017). Where these two men come together is in Cooper’s next film, Antlers starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, and Amy Madigan. The film was previously scheduled to be released on April 17, 2020 but, because of the pandemic, it will be released on February 19, 2021.

The movie is about a schoolteacher and her police officer brother in a small Oregon town, where they become convinced one of her students is concealing a supernatural creature. It is based on the Wendigo, a mythical creature in the folklore of First Nations Algonquin tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this, First Nations consultants were hired to work on the film. According to del Toro:

The Wendigo has very specific cues you have to follow. The antlers, for example, are a must… We’re not creating a monster, we’re creating a God. So the design needs to have elements that are completely unnatural, that are almost surreal or abstract.

Guillermo del Toro

This will allow for another great practical effects creation from del Toro, and will most definitely benefit Cooper, as he has never worked with creature effects. Cooper was excited to work with del Toro because they “created something that’s wholly unique.” The film will be touching on ideas of being an individual in a time dealing with climate change, how Native Americans are treated, and the Opioid drug epidemic. Cooper went on to say that one of the best things he has gotten out of making this film is del Toro. He stated that because del Toro was a young director, he knows a lot of the ins and outs of the filmmaking process. He provided insight that a producer could not which helped him make a better film. On the other side of it, del Toro stated that he produces “to learn from the filmmakers.” It was quite a pairing for these two to work together as their needs matched up perfectly.

Outside of their own work inspiring each other, Cooper and del Toro jointly said that the Coen Brothers were the directors that truly inspired them, describing The Coen Brothers’ work as “poetry” and “utterly mysterious.” Del Toro continued to say that watching films is what inspires him to make more movies. For all those out there that collect hard copies of movies, del Toro can relate as he has a collection of about 7,000 discs that he can pull from to watch. Now that is something to gravitate towards even if one does not like his films.

Bill & Ted Face the Music Panel

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure was released in 1989 and its first sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was released in 1991. Now, almost thirty years later, the second sequel, Bill & Ted Face the Music is about to be released. This panel was a little different from the rest of them as it did not have the actors Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill) reminiscing and/or answering questions about their time on the older films. It wasn’t about giving some sort of big news, trailer, or giving something exclusive—it was about the love shared between the filmmakers, the actors, and the fans. The panel included actors, Samara Weaving, Brigette Lundy-Paine, William Sadler, director Dean Parisot, and writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson.

Whether you like these movies or not, the love when making them is there as well as the fanbase. Weaving, who plays Bill’s daughter in the newest sequel said, “Watching those three have that very special [time], it felt almost intimate, that was really touching and incredible… I felt so lucky to actually be there and watch that.” This love was shared by Reeves: “I can’t feel or laugh or do anything like the way that [I do] working on Bill & Ted and working with Alex… That doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world for me.”

Even Kevin Smith (who moderated this panel) couldn’t hold back his love for the original film and stated that “there would be no Jay and Silent Bob if there was not a Bill and Ted.” He has even seen this new movie and said that it is hilarious. The best word he could use to describe it was “adorable,” but not in a bad way. He wanted to show that this film was very emotional for him to see. Smith is an acclaimed director in his own right, and also technically canon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, one of the things that he never stops being is a fan (more on that below in the next panel). Smith moderating this panel allowed for this love to come through from both the fans and the actors on set. This love between these people has extended over thirty years and will hopefully continue on with old fans and new fans when the next film is released.

An Evening with Kevin Smith

The final event of Day 3 was concluded with a video from director, Kevin Smith. As mentioned above, Smith is an acclaimed director who is mostly known for Clerks (1994) which he wrote, directed, co-produced, and acted in as the character Silent Bob. He also created Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Dogma (1999), Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001), Clerks II (2006), and Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (2019). All of these films are primarily in his home state of New Jersey and are part of a shared universe known as the “View Askewniverse.” Interestingly, this universe is technically part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Stan Lee’s cameo in Captain Marvel had him reading the script to Mallrats of which he was acting in.

One thing that Smith never stops being is a fan and a self-proclaimed nerd. He never shies away from it. If he cries during a season finale of The Flash television show, he will post up on YouTube for everyone to see. He owns a New Jersey comic book store called Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. He also has a movie-review TV show and multiple podcasts. The title of this video is an obvious allude to sessions Smith held with fans at various American colleges in 2001/2002. During the sessions, Smith answers questions regarding his movies, as well as his life. While there was not so much a questions portion to this video, Smith provided his fans with an update on what’s been going on with him. While most of the video had Smith discussing his tour for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot and what he is doing in the podcast world, his best moment came when he told his story of how he became immortalized in Hollywood:

When I was a kid, before there was internet and before there was cable tv, I loved Hollywood…I didn’t do sports. I just loved movies and tv…When I was about nine years old in 1979, my father said to my mom, ‘The fat one loves Hollywood. Let’s take the fat one to Hollywood.’ So [my family] got on a train to California… First stop was Grauman’s Chinese Theatre… My father says to me, ‘Maybe you’ll be here one day.’ Forty years later, my father was right. The morning of the premiere of Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, me and Jay, two Jersey kids, got to stand in the forecourt and put our feet in the cement and write our names into Hollywood history.

Kevin Smith

Even if you do not care much about his films, Kevin Smith is one of those people who always feels grounded, not only in his work but also in his personality. To see someone come from a town of about 12,000 people, son of a homemaker and postal worker get to where he’s gotten in his lifetime is inspiring. He is also an inspiration to a lot of people especially after his 2018 heart attack caused by a total blockage of the left anterior descending artery known as “the widowmaker.” Following the episode, he lost a doctor mandated 58 lbs., going from 256 lbs. to 198 lbs. He has maintained that via a vegan diet and now is a paid spokesperson for Weight Watchers. Going through something like that can really change a person and even that hasn’t really changed Smith. He is still doing who he wants to except now with a healthier lifestyle which is what many of us want as well.

Sunday, July 26

First TMNT Film 30th Anniversary

On March 30, 1990, a film about crime-fighting mutant ninjas was released. Oh, they also happened to be upright talking turtles. The film was based on a comic book, created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a somewhat homage to Marvel’s Daredevil in 1984. The comic was dark in tone and content, but the 80s animated series brought a more lightheartedness to the tone and the turtles–the animated series became very popular. The 1990 film kept more of the DNA of the comic while also adding in things that the animated series had popularized.

The panel was made up of producers, Kim Dawson and Bobby Herbeck; they gave viewers a history behind the making of this iconic movie and showed how much impact their film had. The film saw ultimate success by getting $202 million worldwide which spawned two sequels,Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993). The turtles then saw success on the small screen in 2003, 2012, and 2018,. There was also a new animated film released in 2007 and then the live action films were rebooted by Michael Bay in 2014 and in 2016…for better or worse. The Ninja Turtles franchise has remained popular in the pop culture landscape, spawning a number of different animated shows, comic books, toys and video games. This franchise will continue for many years and impact a new generation of fans as Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are set to produce a new animated movie for Paramount Pictures. There is also a rumored new live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series currently in development for the CBS All Access streaming service. It is rumored that the series is set to adapt The Last Ronin, which is the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles five-issue miniseries from IDW Publishing.

The TMNT franchise has been around for over 35 years thanks to Eastman, Laird and this film.

Wakanda Forever! The Psychology of Black Panther

This panel included Scott Jordan (Psychology Professor at Illinois State University), Alex Simmons (Blackjack), Victor Dandridge, Jr. (Vantage Inhouse Productions), Daniel Jun Kim, Dr. Vanessa Hintz, PsyD, Eric Wesselmann (Psychology professor at Illinois State University), and Dr. Stanford Carpenter, PhD (Institute of Comic Scholars) as they discuss the psychological issues addressed in the Black Panther movie and comics, including topics such as micro-aggressions, cultural representation in media, and the power of love and empathetic leadership.

On February 16 2018, the newest Marvel film was released about a character that had debuted in another Marvel movie two years prior (Captain America: Civil War). Ryan Coogler, the director, had only made two prior films, one of which was a minor success (Fruitvale Station) and the other was a huge success (Creed). Chadwick Boseman, the starring actor, had only two big starring roles at the time. Would this film succeed? Most likely because it was a Marvel film. However, no one thought it would have been as successful as it was. Dandrige even pointed out that most likely not even Marvel nor Disney knew. An example that Dandrige points out is the quick time it took for society to get a Baby Groot doll versus how slow it was to get children friendly Black Panther items. He stated that the only iteration of the character little kids had to read after the release of the film was the stories by T-Nehisi Coates, which were geared towards adults. He stated:

On a multi-cultural level, everyone appreciated what Black Panther was. You had young white kids running around in Black Panther costumes. This should have been capitalized on the onset after Civil War but it wasn’t. You can really get the sense that they didn’t know what they had. If you actually take Black Panther out of the equation on the road to Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the story doesn’t miss a beat. The only thing is that [we know] Bucky is in Wakanda.

He then goes on to point out that Black Panther (2018), by design, was a standalone movie. He states that Bucky should have been involved with the fight with Killmonger as the ruler of Wakanda clearly affects Bucky’s life. If in Infinity War, it’s easy for him to get involved, he should have been in Black Panther more. Shuri even says “Another white box to fix.” With their advanced technology, he should have been fixed by the events of this film. They fix bullet wounds within 24 hours and essentially do neuro surgery within a few hours, at most. Black Panther takes place one week after Civil War, they could easily fix Bucky within that time frame. It doesn’t make sense, aside from trying to keep Bucky and other Avengers outside of the Black Panther film. Again, it was made to be a film that was connected, sure, but not in a way that would affect the overall story, aka a standalone movie.

This panel was one of the most detailed and analytical panel I attended during Comic-Con@Home. I will be writing up a thorough analysis of their discussion in a future editorial, so be sure to check back with Backseat Directors regularly to catch that article. I also encourage you to take to time to watch this panel, as I believe you will learn a great deal, even if you’re not a fan of the Black Panther film.

Finale

San Diego Comic-Con@Home was a very unique experience, but it was also a great pleasure to be able to attend. No one knows what the future holds for comic book conventions and other large gathering events, but it is nice to know that we have the technology and infrastructure to be able to share and participate in the things we love with other people who enjoy the same.

REVIEW: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Warner Home Video
Rated: R
Run Time: 90 minutes
Directors: Matt Peters & Christina Sotta

It’s extremely rare when you watch an animated movie and forget that you’re watching…an animated movie. It’s extremely rare that an animated movie has a production, story and overall quality that takes you out of a normal animated experience and gives you (to a certain extent) the feel of a live-action film. Thus was my experience while watching Justice League Dark: Apokolips War.

Apokolips War‘ is the fifteenth and final film in the current DC Animated Movie Universe (DCAMU), and the direct sequel to Justice League Dark (2017). It debuted on May 5, 2020 as a direct-to-video release by Warner Bros. Animation. The movie was co-directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta, and is loosely based on the graphic novel, “The Darkseid War” by Geoff Johns. ‘Apokolips War‘ tells the story of our DC heroes taking on their arch nemesis, Darkseid, on his home planet of Apokolips in an all-out final battle. Unlike many happy-go-lucky superhero movies of today, ‘Apokolips War‘ does not shy away from showing real world consequences to having these god-like beings duke it out, and the inevitable casualties and collateral damage that ensue.

Apokolips War‘ is going to have wide appeal to any DC fan. Whether you’re a fan of DC Comics, DC movies, or both, you’ll find a lot to like about this movie. Superhero team-ups are abundant; you’ll see most of your favorite DC characters ranging from the Justice League, to the Teen Titans and the Suicide Squad. With so many characters to juggle in one movie, it can be very challenging finding enough screen time to give to each character, while also not feeling overcrowded and bogged down with too much at once. ‘Apokolips War‘ does well in finding enough screen time for the DC superhero favorites to shine, while also allowing the less popular characters to have their own moments and appeal to their own subset of fans.

As first time directors in the DCAMU, Peters and Sotta do well in guiding the movie along a fairly complex storyline, and doing it in just under 90 minutes. Peters and Sotta deliver a dark, bloody, and sometimes shocking film with this animated feature. With the critical and audience reception being very successful, don’t at all be surprised when Peters and Sotta ultimately find themselves back in the director’s chair for future animated movies.

The Justice League listens intently to Superman’s plan on how to defeat Darkseid in a scene of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War | Warner Home Video.

As much as I enjoyed this movie, there are a couple of things that really bothered me on initial watch—something that Superman said that felt…well, just felt very “un-Superman”-like. Here is the quote:

“I want to make this perfectly clear—we are facing an existential threat to the planet. We can’t wait for Darkseid to make the first move. That could mean the end of us. We have to attack!”

Superman in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020).

The notion that Superman is willing and ready to make an offensive attack on his enemy without his enemy attacking first seems to go against everything that Superman stands for. It’s a statement and sentiment that feels hopeless, and one based on fear. Even after Superman presents this plan to the Justice League and the Teen Titans, neither Batman nor Wonder Woman make any objections. The only voices of reason come from Flash, Cyborg and Lex Luthor—yes, THE Lex Luthor—who offered the only other alternative plan opposed to Superman’s. This plot point felt all too convenient, and just too sloppy for my liking. With an extra 10 minutes of movie time, a backstory sufficient enough could have helped to build up to this point.

Lastly (and not to give any major spoilers away) I’ll be very vague with this critique. Time travel has become an oft used plot convenience for many superhero movies today. I would like to see some writers let go of that crutch and really dig deep in giving audiences something more…permanent.

If you’re an animation fan; if you’re a DC fan; if you’re just a fan of superhero movies in general, I definitely think you should give Justice League Dark: Apokolips War a shot. You might find yourself wanting to go back and start at the beginning of the DCAMU. For those of you who are interested in where to start, the following is the DCAMU in order from beginning to end:

  1. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)
  2. Justice League: War (2014)
  3. Son of Batman (2014)
  4. Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)
  5. Batman vs. Robin (2015)
  6. Batman: Bad Blood (2016)
  7. Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)
  8. Justice League Dark (2017)
  9. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)
  10. Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)
  11. The Death of Superman (2018)
  12. Reign of the Supermen (2019)
  13. Batman: Hush (2019)
  14. Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (2019)
  15. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)

Recommendation: STREAM IT

The Importance of Superheroes

Artwork from the DC Extended Universe | DC Comics & Warner Bros. Pictures

During this ongoing pandemic, yours truly was participating in the social media trend of a “30 Day Film Challenge” where participants refer to one film each day under a specific category, such as “the first film that you remember watching.” When I arrived on Day 10, the category was “Your Favorite Superhero Film“—and I hit a wall. Each day was pretty easy, or I did not take it as seriously. The Superhero film genre has hit an all-time high, with one (Avengers: Endgame) even setting the box office record for any movie ever made. We, as a film community, have started to think Superhero films matter more now than ever. I oddly thought this question was more serious than it probably needed to be.

This decision was difficult—there have been numerous films that could fall under this category, and I also started to think about what makes viewers enjoy themselves so much during these films. No matter your gender, sex, race, or ethnicity, there is a superhero film that you attach yourself to. Before early Thursday night screenings became a thing, many viewers would attend the midnight screenings dressed up for the newest movie in a connected superhero universe or as billionaire vigilantes. After leaving the theater, we spent months on end debating who or which is the best! “Who is the best Batman?” or the “MCU vs DCEU” debate. These conversations transcend the fandoms and even reach those who are not connected to social media and pop culture. Everyone has their favorite representation of a character or their favorite superhero—but why?

Superheroes are meant to inspire. They represent someone we are not, or someone that can do things that we can’t. They can provide an escape into a world where someone is there for us even when our protectors or our medical and social institutions have let us down. Anger and sadness are commonplace emotions felt throughout our society because of the regular injustices we see or even experience ourselves: unjust murders because of racial tensions and prejudices; governments’ inability or flat out refusal to act; betrayal by those we loved or considered friends; our world is full of struggles that seem to find you no matter your background or social status.

Christopher Reeve and Helen Slater pose as Superman and Supergirl respectively. | Warner Bros. Pictures

People want to believe in the existence of fictional figures like Superman or Supergirl—someone they could depend on to save them when the humans who are supposed to either can’t or won’t. We want a person like Steve Rogers (Captain America) to do what the rest of us aren’t courageous enough to do and take a stand when it’s not convenient to do so. We want someone that brave enough to say, “I can do this all day.” Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are told that real life superheroes exist in our healthcare facilities, in our schools, and at other times, in the military and police. We are constantly shown and told how “not all superheroes wear capes.” But what happens when that’s not enough? Numerous times in history people who are in a position to help choose not to act. People who are recognized as “ordinary” heroes might let down those looking up to them and expecting them to be there or to be there for them. Superheroes serve a purpose in filling this void.

Clinical psychologist, Robin Rosenberg wrote, “[superhero stories help us in] finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for a good purpose.” She stated that “superheroes undergo three types of life-altering experiences that we can relate to:”

  1. Trauma
  2. Destiny
  3. Choice
From Batman: Year One | Art by David Mazzucchelli

Trauma; such as the one that young Bruce Wayne goes through. He makes a promise to his murdered parents to fight against the crime in Gotham City. Rosenburg states that this is directly applicable to a lot of real life scenarios. Her past research has shown that many people experience growth “after a trauma and resolve to help others, even becoming social activists.”

Destiny; similar to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She’s a normal teenager who discovers she’s the “Chosen One” to fight demons. She has to be the one who does not have a normal life and will take on this burden. Sometimes we are thrown into scenarios that we may not have predicted but we have to adapt and push through anyway.

A snippet from Amazing Fantasy #15, Vol. 1 | Marvel Comics 1962

Rosenberg’s last type of experience is similar to what Spider-Man goes through. When he initially gets his powers, he uses it for selfish reasons until his beloved Uncle Ben is killed. This type of experience is similar to the first, but instead of the trauma defining the hero, it’s the choice that matters. No matter whether ‘your’ Spider-Man is Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or Peter Porker, this choice exists. They could stay wrestling for money to pay rent; they could stay home and be a normal kid instead of saving the multiverse. The choice to do what is right versus what is easy is a choice that we, as humans, make every day. Rosenberg states that, “[superheroes] inspire us and provide models of coping with adversity, finding meaning in loss and trauma, discovering our strengths and using them for good purpose” (link). We want to attach ourselves to these characters; we want to see them in ourselves; we want to see those with fantastical abilities are still imperfect and relatable, and we are comforted by seeing them struggle with ordinary problems and still do the right thing in the end.

Recent research from Kyoto University in Japan shows that this “choice” can happen even before we learn how to speak. Their study had preverbal infants shown short animations in which one character purposely bumps into another. They then showed the infants a third character who could either prevent it from happening or not do anything at all. The infants consistently wanted the third character to help and prevent the pain. This study showed that even though they could not speak they recognized what heroism was and wanted it to happen.

“Six-month-old infants are still in an early developmental stage, and most will not yet be able to talk. Nevertheless they can already understand the power dynamics between these different characters, suggesting that recognizing heroism is perhaps an innate ability.”

David Bulter – “Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors” (link to article)

This idea is then touched on again in the television show What Would You Do? People are shown how ordinary people behave when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to stand by and mind their own business. Each scenario has the viewer hoping for the regular people to step in and stop whatever the situation is. We all want to be that person who does what’s right even when it’s not easy. Data suggests that feelings are one of the stronger reasons why audience members connect to certain heroes (link). Personally, I attach myself to stories of people and characters who have gone through trauma and stand up to those who are wrong. As Batman, Daredevil and the X-Men deal with their respective issues, I cope with what I have gone through and deal with my own conflicts.

In the past, and still now today, society often sees comics and comic book movies as only enjoyed by children or “nerds.” With Black Panther becoming the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time, Avengers: Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, and a multitude of films winning Academy Awards for both their performances and their technical aspects, this is clearly not true. More people enjoy these characters outside of children and “nerds” than ever before. There are films that are clearly made more for children than older crowds, but there are just as many that are for adults and have many more important themes. Superheroes have become the modern-day mythology that tackles issues, from the struggles of high school to mental illnesses. No matter which superhero you attach yourself to, or when you attach yourself to them, there is no denying the effect that they have on our lives.

Which superhero do you identify with the most? Or which superhero has inspired you the most? Let me know down in the comments section below!

Zack Snyder Announces His Long Desired Cut of ‘Justice League’ and the World Reacts

Justice League (2017) | Warner Bros. Pictures

Wednesday, May 20 will be a day long remembered by fans of Zack Snyder and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). For over two years now, fans of Zack Snyder and his vision of the DCEU have been advocating for the release of Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League, and they finally got their answer this morning. In a live stream watch party of Man of Steel (2013) on VERO, director Zack Snyder gave the announcement himself. We will walk you through the days leading up to this event, the announcement, and then the reactions from fans everywhere.

Let’s back it up a bit and start at the beginning. For some of you readers who might be unfamiliar with the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement online, it all began with this single tweet from user @MovieBuff100 only 4 days after the worldwide release of the theatrical cut of Justice League in 2017:

Ever since this tweet, #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has become a rallying cry for supporters of Zack Snyder and his original vision of the Justice League movie. When leaks began to surface online regarding the troublesome production and reshoots of Justice League (director Zack Snyder being replaced by Joss Whedon), and that much of the actual film seen in theaters was not what Snyder and Co. had filmed, fans of Snyder began to organize, using this hashtag as their rallying cry. Unelected leaders took the reigns and created the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut Twitter account, all dedicated to the promotion of Snyder’s Cut of Justice League, and the education of those unfamiliar with the movement:

As the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement grew, the online support began to transcend the social media arena, and fans really put their money where their mouths were. Billboards, bus stop posters, and banners flown from planes during the 2019 San Diego Comic Con were all organized by Snyder fans to show their support of the filmmaker, dubbed #ProjectComicCon, and to make a public statement to Warner Bros. that there were indeed many fans who wanted to see the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League:

https://twitter.com/willrowactor/status/1152725215937519618?s=20

Money from fans all over the world was donated to make these banners and billboards come to life, but the fans didn’t stop there. Half of that same money raised for these signs was donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in honor of Zack Snyder’s daughter, Autumn, who died by suicide during the post-production of Justice League back in 2017:

https://twitter.com/willrowactor/status/1154508985384370176?s=20

After the success of #ProjectComicCon, fans moved their attention to creating awareness of their cause at the 2019 New York Comic Con. Once again, thousands of dollars were donated from fans all around the world, and organizers were able to purchase screen time on a billboard in Time Square:

At this point a lot of steam was building behind the movement, and people were beginning to take notice. Bloggers, big media outlets, and even Zack Snyder himself gave their attention to what these fans were doing. The stage was now set for the second anniversary of the theatrical release of Justice League; the time was ripe to make a huge statement to Warner Bros. that the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement was to be taken seriously, and that they were here to stay. On Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019—a day that will be long remembered as a key turning point in the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement—hundreds of thousands of fans and supporters across the globe rallied to make the hashtag “trend” on Twitter—and trend it did. The real turning point was when Wonder Woman, Batman and Snyder all joined in to tweet their support of the ‘Snyder Cut’:

On March 28, 2020 Snyder announced on VERO that he was going to host a live streaming watch party of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on Sunday, March 29 and would include director’s commentary on the movie.

At the end of the live stream, Snyder teased his audience with a cliffhanger message shrouded in mystery. Check it out below:

Now we’ve arrived at Monday, May 18, 2020. Snyder announces another live streaming watch party of his 2013 film, Man of Steel, on VERO. It is now the morning of Wednesday, May 20, and rumors all over the internet are swirling about what could come out of this watch party hosted by Snyder:

If you are interested in reading a recap of the entire director’s commentary, and want to save some time without watching the three-hour VERO stream, check out the Twitter thread posted by the Backseat Directors‘ Twitter account:

Both Zack and Debbie Snyder were in attendance on the VERO stream, providing commentary on the making and production of Man of Steel. As the movie began wrapping up, fans online began to get anxious, wondering if Snyder would actually reveal any news regarding his ‘Snyder Cut’…

Until Superman himself showed up:

Henry Cavill (who has been noticeably quiet about the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement) dropped in on the VERO stream to everyone’s surprise:

As Cavill and the Snyders continued their conversation, more people began to pop up on the VERO stream. Fans and supporters of #ReleaseTheSnyderCut were invited to participate in a chat and ask the Snyders questions. The very last question was asked by Twitter user @CaresDaniella regarding the ‘Snyder Cut’ and when we would all be able to see it:

The moment the entire internet had been waiting for had finally come. No more beating around the bush; no more sugar coating; Zack was asked clearly and directly, and here was his response:

Yes! It finally happened. Zack Snyder officially confirmed the release of his cut of Justice League, set to debut on HBO Max in 2021, with the official title being, Zack Snyder’s Justice League (very appropriate, in my opinion):

Years of hard work, dedication, and a love of the Snyders came pouring out all at once in a flood of tweets for so many that had a hand in this movement. Here are just a few:

The journey of the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement has been full of ups and downs, hard fought battles, hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to both the cause and to AFSP, and years of hoping and waiting. These fans will see their dreams become a reality in 2021 when Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuts on the shiny, new Warner Bros. streaming platform, HBO Max. And for the Snyders, a sense of joy and vindication has to be swelling within them. Debbie and Zack suffered an unthinkable tragedy during the making of Justice League, and in many ways this is sure to feel like the ending to a chapter left unfinished.

RELATED

How I Changed My Mind About ‘Batman v Superman’

If this entire experience (which is sure to be made into a documentary at some point) can be summed up in a single word, I think the most appropriate would be ‘hope.’

“What’s the ‘S’ stand for?”

“It’s not an ‘S’. In my world it means HOPE.”

If you’d like to watch the entire VERO live stream of Man of Steel, with director Zack Snyder, the link has been posted below.

ACTOR SPOTLIGHT: Gal Gadot

Israeli actress Gal Gadot (2019)

Recently, I found myself watching Date Night (2010), a couple comedy starring Steve Carell and Tina Fey. At one point, they show up to a shirtless Mark Wahlberg’s house to ask for his help and expertise in evading the powerful mob boss they’ve accidentally provoked. In the course of their conversation, his girlfriend came down the stairs and I found myself exclaiming, “It’s Wonder Woman!” Sure enough, the girlfriend was played by Gal Gadot, six years before she became a superhero and before anybody knew she could have single-handedly taken down the mob the couple was fleeing. Looking back, it seems ridiculous to me that she could ever have been destined for anything but stardom. 

Gal Gadot grew up in a small city in Israel, where she loved to dance and play basketball. To earn money, she babysat and even worked at Burger King for a short time. What’s interesting is that she had turned down various offers for modeling gigs because she didn’t think she could live that life. (Just in case that didn’t register, she rejected modeling gigs and chose instead to work at Burger King. I worked at Burger King, too, but that’s about the only thing we have in common.) Eventually, Gadot’s mother entered her in the Miss Israel competition, which Gadot was surprised to have gotten into. Imagine how she felt when she won, and at 18 was invited to compete at the Miss Universe pageant. At age 20, she enlisted in the Israeli Defense Force as a combat instructor. Following her two-year service requirement, she enrolled at a university and married Yaron Varsano, with whom she now has two daughters.

Gal Gadot at the Red Carpet event just before the 92nd Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, CA.

Her first movie audition was to play the Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, all the while she was studying law and trying to build a “serious” future for herself. Despite losing the role to Olga Kurylanko, she fell in love with the profession. She left school and found work in Israeli television and film before getting her first Hollywood film credit in Fast and Furious (2009), where she plays Gisele Yashar. The role suited her well, as her previous military experience and love of motorcycles aided her in the stunt work. She went on to appear in the next three installments of the franchise, as well as taking smaller roles in comedies like Knight and Day (2010) and the previously mentioned Date Night.

But the success was costly. The repeated commute from Tel Aviv to Los Angeles just to audition and often be rejected was taking a toll, and Gadot was considering giving up on her acting aspirations. That is, until she got a call from Zack Snyder to audition for a “mystery role.” She packed up once again and made her way to Los Angeles, said some vague lines into the camera and made her way home. The trip proved successful because she landed the role of Wonder Woman in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), winning the part over Olga Kurylenko. Zack Snyder cited her “combination of being fierce but kind at the same time” as the reason she was chosen, and although her casting was met with some criticism of her physique, she was widely considered one of the best parts of the critically-panned film.

And then there was Wonder Woman (2017). Any doubts about Gadot’s abilities or appearance drowned in the waves of success that ensued. The film brought in $821 million worldwide and $412 million domestically, making it the highest-earning film with a solo female director. It holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, where the critical consensus reads, “Thrilling, earnest, and buoyed by Gal Gadot’s charismatic performance, Wonder Woman succeeds in spectacular fashion.” For me, she has become Wonder Woman, so much so that whenever I see her on screen I call her Wonder Woman, even if it’s in Date Night. Barring further delays, we’ll see her reprise her role in the much-anticipated Wonder Woman 1984 in August of this year. Future projects include Death on the Nile and Netflix’s Red Notice, which also features Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but was forced to halt production due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman (2017) | Warner Bros. Pictures

In a world where the beautiful and famous seem to represent the unattainable, the word I would use to describe Gadot is “inviting.” Whatever she achieves, she gracefully shares the credit without putting herself down or deflecting. Even when hailed as an advocate of women’s rights and empowerment, her statements seem to elevate and encourage everyone, rather than asking some to step aside. When exclusivity seems a prerequisite to popularity, she seems comfortable in treating any and all with respect and even warmth. Though her pageant days are in the past, Gadot remains Miss Congeniality.

How I Changed My Mind About ‘Batman v Superman’

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill face off in a scene of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Today marks the four-year anniversary of one of the most debated and controversial comic book films ever made—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS). Even four years later you needn’t go further than the screen of your phone to see how widely discussed this movie is among fans and detractors alike. And “discuss” might be an inaccurate description of the types of conversations happening on social media platforms and other chat forums alike. Fans of Batman v Superman show a passion and loyalty to the film and its director, Zack Snyder, that is only matched by the fervor of Star Wars fans. Detractors and critics of Batman v Superman find it difficult to understand the logic of this fandom, and pick out easy targets to demoralize those that enjoy it. Reminiscent of party politics that dominate our county, chances of having a respectful, non-combative discussion of BvS continue to prove to be slim. I’d like to change that narrative. If this article is able to do anything at all, I hope it fosters people’s willingness to listen and have their minds changed. Two people on opposite sides of an argument cannot both be right, and neither rarely are. Truth is often found in the middle—in the divide. You must be willing to meet in the middle in order to discover that truth.

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill face off in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Utter Disappointment

I walked out of the packed theater and into the lobby of the Century 16 theater in Salt Lake City just having seen the newly released Batman v Superman on March 25, 2016. I waited for my brother and some other friends as we all congregated outside to recap our experience of seeing this monumental movie for the very first time. Much like today, it was a rainy evening, and the smell of wet roads permeated the inside of the theater. It’s as if the rain from Gotham City carried over into the real-world, and kept that somber mood lasting even when the movie had already ended. It’s hard to remember the exact words shared among our group regarding our initial experience of seeing BvS, but the overwhelming feeling I had was total and utter disappointment. Almost a sickening feeling—a feeling of disbelief or denial that what you saw was actually real. I’ve only ever experienced that feeling one other time after seeing a movie for the first time (The Last Jedi left me in despair, but that’s another conversation for another day). As I walked out of the theater with my brother, we looked at each other and knew with a certainty that our feelings about the movie were mutual. Most of the car ride home was spent trying to make sense of what we just had seen. How could the same studio that produced The Dark Knight (TDK) trilogy be the same studio that produced Batman v Superman? My mind was spinning.

To add some context, let’s back it up a couple of decades. Like many children of the 80s, I grew up a passionate fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, NES (Nintendo), Back to the Future, Superman, and Batman. Some of my earliest memories of Halloween featured me, dressed up in my Superman costume: velcro red cape, and cotton-stuffed sleeves to improve the muscular tone of my four-year-old arms (I still need cotton stuffed shirts to enhance my muscular physique). Christopher Reeve was my Superman. John Williams’ theme was THE one and only Superman theme. I watched those VHS tapes regularly, and made sure that my mom gave me the definitive Superman styled hair with the curl. My dad took me to see Tim Burton’s Batman (1989)—the first movie I actually remember seeing in theaters. I wasn’t just a Superman fan anymore: Michael Keaton’s Batman was now my Batman. I had made a place in my heart for these two Superheroes. These were my superheroes. But perhaps unlike many closet nerds of the 80s and 90s, I never got into comic books. Even though I was fanatically obsessed with the Last Son of Krypton and the Dark Knight of Gotham, my exposure to these iconic characters was based primarily on the movies, and both DC animated series. My nerdiness and love for these characters waned somewhat through me teenage years, as the rise of the nerds and nerd culture had not yet swept through our society— that is, until June of 2005.

Christian Bale appears as Batman in The Dark Knight (2008) | Warner Bros.

Christopher Nolan Changed the Game

Arguably the greatest comic book movies (CBM) ever made, the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy is well-regarded and esteemed by fans and critics alike. Nolan gave audiences everywhere a reason to believe that comic book movies aren’t as far-fetched or unrealistic as we had all been made to believe—a precedence set by every other comic book film ever made before. Nolan’s Batman was grounded, dark, authentic, and just felt REAL. Christian Bale as Batman introduced a more nuanced portrayal of the Caped-Crusader. You identified with Bruce Wayne, and almost sympathized with his character in that you didn’t envy him for being Batman. There was a real toll and cost to donning the cowl, and these movies showed audiences everywhere that being a superhero comes at a price: it’s not all sunshine and roses, as many comic book movies before had led us to believe. The Dark Knight trilogy was not the first CBM, but Nolan’s trilogy changed the game forever. The comic book movie genre was to be taken seriously now. Dark and gritty was now very much in fashion. Campy was out. Realism is what moved this genre forward.

Man of Steel debuted in 2013, and under the supervising eye of Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder took the wheel and launched both DC and Warner Bros. (WB) on a new course. Man of Steel continues to age well, and every time I go back and revisit that movie, there are new things I learn and appreciate more and more. Man of Steel gave me confidence heading into the sequel. It gave me confidence in Zack Snyder and his vision for more DC movies to come. However, I felt some apprehension with WB introducing a new Batman in the middle of Superman’s own story. When Batman v Superman was announced, my initial reaction was surprise; it felt as though we had skipped a movie in between Man of Steel and BvS. Even though Batman had already graced the silver screen in eight solo films, this was a new DC universe with new stories and a new vision. Batman and other characters needed time to be reintroduced to the world. Come to find out, Snyder had made the case to introduce more characters in solo movies before BvS, only for his ideas to be shut down by execs at Warner Bros. In a quote from Heroic Hollywood, industry insider, Neil Daly confirmed these conversations:

Daly claims that Snyder hadn’t wanted to rush straight into Justice League after Man of Steel. He thought there should have been solo films for each of the heroes that were introduced in Batman v Superman, but Warner Bros. spurred on by the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wanted to accelerate things. Snyder, according to Daly had a six-film plan, and wouldn’t have directed all of these solo films. Rather he would have let other directors flesh out the characters in sync with his vision, while he worked on finishing the main arc of the DCEU, which would have consisted of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, Man of Steel 2, Justice League 2, and Justice League 3.

DC Insider Reveals Zack Snyder Wanted Solo Movies Before ‘Justice League’. By Cole Albinder, Jan. 19, 2019

Without the context of a new Batman movie, the audience was jumping into a story that felt like we opened a book and started reading from page 100. What ensued after the release of Batman v Superman was only an inevitability. We looked for context in the most recent parts of our memory, and all we found there was Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan.

Zack Snyder stands in front of the Batmobile in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice | Warner Bros.

Open to Being Wrong

So here I am, driving home with my brother just having seen Batman v Superman, and the dominant part of our conversation was how different this movie was from Christopher Nolan’s iconic trilogy. We discussed how different Ben Affleck’s Batman was to Christian Bale’s. We ended up talking more about Nolan’s Batman movies and how much we wished this new one was more in line with Nolan’s. And for the better part of a year, this was my stance: Zack Snyder’s Batman is not as good as Christopher Nolan’s.

This was my impression of a film that I saw once in theaters and didn’t revist for almost an entire year. That is, until I met some friends who challenged my opinion on BvS (here’s looking at you, Ry, Formal and Mikey). Friends who hold the Nolan trilogy in such high regard, and yet were able to distinguish between that trilogy and this new iteration of Batman, and still enjoy it. It was confusing to me how these new friends could see and experience the same quality of TDK Trilogy and still find value in Zack Snyder’s new movie. It honestly did not make sense to me. Some number of conversations later I was determined to give Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice another try. But not the theatrical cut. Not the cut that WB interfered with, but the cut that Zack Snyder had intended the world to see. An additional 31 minutes of footage not shown in theaters, known as the “Ultimate Edition.” I bought my Blu-ray and popped in the disc, and began to experience a movie I had written off completely in a whole new light. Going into the “Ultimate Edition” with an open mind, I began to notice things I never did in theaters: the powerful, haunting score by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL, the emotional and poetic opening scene of the Wayne’s tragic murder, how far Bruce Wayne had fallen, and how true Alfred’s words rung. But more than anything, I discovered my new-found appreciation for Batman v Superman. More so, my new appreciation for Zack Snyder and his vision was found in the bonus features of the Blu-ray. Within these bonus features I discovered how much Zack Snyder genuinely loves DC Comics and these iconic characters, and how much he cherished this opportunity to bring them to life on the big screen. Anyone who thinks that Zack doesn’t understand the true nature of Superman and Batman, go watch the special features of Man of Steel and BvS and then tell me you haven’t changed your mind. And if that’s not enough for you, take some time and read the incredible work put together by this Twitter user in comparing Zack Snyder’s DC movies to the actual DC comics.

Over these last few years as more behind-the-scenes information spills out regarding the tumultuous relationship between Zack Snyder and Warner Bros., and Snyder’s unceremonious departure from the DCEU, the more appreciation I have for Snyder’s vision and the story he was trying to tell. Like a table with only three legs, Snyder was trying to create something wholly unique and distinct from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but without the real support and backing from the studio that seemed to have never been fully behind him in the first place. Snyder is often criticized for his storytelling ability (or lack thereof), or for his use of violence and mayhem, but one thing about Snyder that is undeniable is his keen eye for aesthetic and cinematography. Snyder is one of the most gifted visual artists in the business and his movies speak for themselves. Warner Bros. incessant meddling in Snyder’s DCEU, and their fears of falling behind Marvel Studios in the race for Superhero movie supremacy, cost us fans what could have been some of the most epic Batman and Superman stories ever told. I am grateful though, that we did get the highly ambitious and controversial, Batman v Superman, a movie that has challenged the comic book movie industry, and continues to spark debate even four years later. And I will forever be grateful for friends who were good enough to challenge my opinion, which opened the way for me to change my mind.

#ReleaseTheSnyderCut

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: Sonic Zooms Past the Competition

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) in Sonic the Hedgehog | Paramount Pictures

Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog just set the record for best opening weekend for a video game adapted movie, earning a whopping $58 million domestically, and $101 million total worldwide.  Our little blue speedster earned the number one spot for a video game adapted movie, supplanting last year’s Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which opened to a $54 million domestic box office over its initial three day weekend.  Including Monday’s totals, it is estimated that Sonic the Hedgehog will earn upwards of $70 million in the U.S. alone.  For a genre known for its massive flops, box office bombs, and low critical reception, Sonic’s achievements truly stand out.  The movie, based on the iconic SEGA video game character, has also earned an “A” from CinemaScore, and the highest audience score for any video game adapted movie at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 8,052 respondents as of right now). This is an incredible achievement for Sonic the Hedgehog, and for its filmmakers. Considering the fan backlash for the original Sonic design which resulted in a three month delay so director Jeff Fowler and co. could go back and retool Sonic’s look, a successful opening weekend was not guaranteed. Hats off to the filmmakers and everyone who worked on this movie. You’ve earned this success.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Birds of Prey came in second, falling -48% in its second weekend in theaters, bringing in approximately $17 million over the three day weekend.  This brings the movie’s box office total to $59.4 million domestically, and $143 million total world wide  Without a doubt Birds of Prey continues to disappoint not meeting the studio’s expectations, becoming the lowest performing “DCEU” film to date.  Before Birds of Prey, last year’s Shazam! had the lowest opening three day weekend for a “DCEU” film, bringing in $53.5 million domestically.  Even with a B+ CinemaScore, and a favorable “FRESH” 79% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, the Margot Robbie led Birds of Prey continues to struggle to find its footing with audiences worldwide.

Third and fourth place was a virtual tie, with Sony’s Fantasy Island bringing in an estimated $12.3 million, and Universal’s The Photograph earning $12.1 million domestically over their opening three day weekend.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys for Life | Sony Pictures

Coming in fifth place was Sony Pictures Bad Boys for Life.  Now in its fifth weekend, the Will Smith starred film only dropped -6% from its fourth weekend, bringing in $11.3 million. For a sequel movie that’s 17 years removed from its predecessor, Bad Boys for Life is undoubtedly a smash hit for Sony Pictures.  The movie has earned $181 million at the domestic box office, with a total of $368 million world wide, and continues to attract audiences everywhere. 

Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:

Downhill$4.6 million in its opening weekend.

Gretel & Hansel$13.3 million domestically, $16.5 million worldwide total.

The Gentlemen$31.2 million domestically, $74.6 million worldwide total.

The Turning$15 million domestically, $18 million worldwide total.

Dolittle$70.3 million domestically, $180.9 million worldwide total.

Just Mercy$34.9 million domestically, $42.1 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

REVIEW: Birds of Prey

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Run Time: 109 minutes
Director: Cathy Yan

Ok so full disclosure, as I’ve gotten further invested into cinema, I think I’ve developed a certain degree of snobbiness when it comes to superhero movies. I think it’s gotten better though. As I used to think that a majority of these movies – DC, Marvel, or otherwise – were simply meant to entertain (which is debatably the sole and most important purpose of movies anyway), I can now see valuable elements in most of these films. Whether it’s gaining a poignant and emotional perspective of the insatiable need for justice that Bruce Wayne feels in Batman vs. Superman, or simply identifying the 2-week-long residual sorrow I felt after the biggest casualty in Avengers: Endgame, there are some epic and complex stories to be told, and who says we can’t have a lot of fun and see some crazy intergalactic battles while we’re at it? There’s also a lot to be said of the realism that translates through these films i.e. The Dark Knight trilogy, and most recently, Joker. Then there’s the timely social topics that are portrayed on this stage and have a considerable impact of their own. Wonder Woman stood as one of the most popular movies of 2017 in large part because of how great it was to see a female lead independently, and organically become a timeless icon all over again. All I’m trying to say is that there’s absolutely potential for great cinema here.

With that preface, I can adequately contrast that from how I felt about Birds of Prey. I’d just simply say that I think this was a step backwards for DC and superhero movies. The movie wanted so badly to be Harley Quinn focussed, which may have been a good idea but they get distracted by subplots of uninteresting characters that seem to drag out, and a villain that indirectly tests Harley’s codependency issues but whose motives are blurred and actions bizarre… and he is in no way the Joker (which I believe would’ve made for a far better movie). 

Margo Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Humor and deeper topics alike are overshadowed by awkward CGI violence, weird egg sandwich obsessions, and slap-induced hallucinogenic dance scenes, not to mention choppy story telling. Much of their goal to make this movie zany and unique just comes off as fluff and a lack of direction. 

Realism is often tossed out the window to grant more and more indestructible power to the lead characters, but then this power isn’t followed up with any sincere message, and instead is left with bland dialogue and sometimes subpar acting. So, I’d pass this up for perhaps an awards season movie that you missed or some upcoming premieres. For DC fans – who cares what I say! I know you need to eventually see this. Just maybe wait for a matinee. 

Recommendation: MAYBE A MATINEE

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