Comic Con 2016 Debrief /Digest/Diatribe/Devotion/Delete at will..
That time of year again. The one where you are reminded of where the real power base now lies in motion pictures. Sure, we all love a blockbuster. Even the most ardent purist and cinephile wants to see things blow up as they munch on popcorn once in a while. It’s like a balanced diet.
Five sensitive art movies and one arse numbing earnest, self righteous, revisionist history biopic earn you at least three blockbusters, right? Wrong. Because, the way things are going..we won’t have anything except blockbusters. Big fat ones with bells attached. And I don’t mean the old 1980s ones that simply paid tribute to an old comic book image. No. I mean literal stamping comic book adaptations.
If your property is not based on a super-hero, then be prepared to sweat harder to get your pet project made. Even if you do have the studio backing / big names etc, you will still have to mould the tone to the old comic book hero beats ‘ a hero will rise in ORIGIN STORY’ etc.
In short, where Comic Con used to be just one sector of artistic interest, it is now the cradle of cinematic endeavour for the year ahead. If you are not at Comic Con, there is a good chance you are not a blockbuster (unless you are Star Wars).
It is a further reminder that the ‘geek’ / ‘nerd’ is now the power-base in film. Upset one at your peril. They know their shit. Even if said ‘shit’ has already been round the Internet block seventeen times and they are simply spouting second hand rumour as some divine exclusive from the comic book / movie burning bush. Even if it is..an ‘opinion’..shock horror. They’re right. You’re wrong. Get used to it. They probably know where you live, too. Seriously though..do not bait the trolls. You have been warned.
So, it is indeed a dark time for a movie buff that does not think the craft begins and ends with Marvel, DC and the like. But think positively. One day, this bubble will burst. Saturation point must be somewhere out there in the not too distant future? Before we have all become plants /apes or something? And comics will be replaced by another trusted source of stories. Something more dense and literate and mature..like cave paintings?
Better still: lap it up. Go on. Deep down, you are the biggest geek / kid / addict of them all. You ruddy LOVE it. You want more not less. You cannot get enough of these samey, templated, emotionally stunted super-hero flicks. If you cannot beat them: JOIN them! In which case? Sit back, relax and enjoy more of the same. All from the Comic Con at San Diego which means (ask Ron Burgundy).
Here are some highlights. In no particular order..
DOCTOR STRANGE / SKULL ISLAND /SHERLOCK
Trailers were unveiled for two films in which two English boys role play for the day at being proper grown up action men types with own franchises and newly ‘toight’ bodies to match. Bless. I think they might like to be James Bond? Bless again.
If he cannot be Bond, then Benedict Cumberbatch can settle for being one of the world’s finest actors. Inexplicably, the Doctor Strange trailer insists on showing his new ‘pecs’ (perhaps the mind power of a sorcerer enables one to skip the Gym?).
Seems a shame to use what seems to be a New York in peril motif for the inevitable big bad climax, close in release date to what will be the 15th anniversary of 9/11? Also unfortunate to have the black actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as sidekick, making a joke like ‘we’re not savages’. Why not have him as the main baddie now (i know..sequel bait..but even so; shame to see him on second fiddle duties). But..it’s ultimately a fun film from looks of things; daring yet familiar; scary yet not too horrific and visually stunning and innovative, despite its quite clearly formulaic story structure. And it has Tilda Swinton. Looking hot. Even when bald.
Benedict Cumberbatch obviously does harbor some action hero notions. Fair enough. He’s been working out? He is modelling new bigger gun arms of late. But that’s not why he grew such a large fan following of women, especially. They love his mind /cheekbones. They love his Sherlock.
Speaking of which: double Cumber-treat..we are getting a Sherlock, series 4. Quite why is beyond me. Aside from its unprecedented success, of course in previous series. Note the formula remains intact. Awkward sort of going there with the drugs thing and yet..not? Almost using Moriarty or perhaps..not? Kind of being posh and cozy and all things the British media luvvy establishment hate yet secretly love and use happily so long as there is still some ‘grit': yep. A bit of overlap with every other British hero / icon from Dr Who to James Bond: totally. So if you really do like all that..no doubt you will settle for..I mean..love Sherlock, series 4.
Rumour has it that an actor called Tom Hiddleston (you may have heard of him; he dates Taylor Swift and acts in films and stuff) might even turn up in Sherlock series 4 as one of the supporting cast? Don’t shoot the ‘maybe’ messenger. It’s possibly bollox. Tom is busy on SKULL ISLAND. It does look quite good, even if Samuel L Jackson’s shouting is far scarier than any inevitable tease of the Kong v Godzilla showdown?
JUSTICE LEAGUE / WONDER WOMAN /SOLO BATFLECK FILM
JUSTICE LEAGUE is looking happier and more upbeat than BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Which is a bit like saying that foot cramp is easier to deal with than a stomach stitch. I welcome the lighter, more humorous tone.
Ben Affleck yet again nails the character of batman and manages to do the funnier lines whilst retaining underlying grit. So it was GREAT to FINALLY hear the official announcement that Ben will direct a solo Batman film. It is thought said film takes place in Arkham Asylum (cue a cameo list of old villains with stars to match). Think Maltese Falcon meets Raiders of the Lost Ark via The Town, with added BATMAN! ‘Can’t wait. Sorry..back to Justice League. Oh yeah..Aquaman. Aquaman..
..Much is made of Aquaman. That remains awkward because as badass as he looks c/o Jason Momoa, the character is an unknown quantity and the potential for camp remains a problem. The Flash is also there and seems nice and all but redundant, surely, given how great his television counterpart has been? No Green Lantern yet or Martian Manhunter. Superman missing at present. Still seem to be rushing through a Marvel style universe that just isn’t there yet. They are trying with WONDER WOMAN but even that feels a tad out of sequence.
Wonder Woman movie = Warners /DC panic = Like ‘oh no..we’d better throw in some solo movies just so viewers get the jokes in Justice League!’. There is a bizarre world war 1 setting (seriously..stick to ww2; they have clear goodies / baddies and ww1 = trench warfare = NOT for comic book triviality!); a strange verisimilitude problem (Zeus is suddenly in this?) and Chris Pine is deployed in such a way that is not so much about emancipation as all out emasculation.
Gal Gadot looks amazing as ever and convinces in all the action (Israeli army veteran in real life: beat that, wally wannabe action heroes down the gym). But her line delivery is lacking a spark, as is that of the usually more animated Connie Nielsen as her mom (maybe it’s because they are all like ancient Greek myth people or somefink or nuffink i dunno).
KING ARTHUR / FANTASTIC BEASTS
Interesting thing about Harry Potter and King Arthur: plenty in common. Both have stories stitched together from old bits of myth. Both are nauseating wallies who cause more trouble than they are worth and must therefore be saved by far more compelling characters. Arthur has Lancelot (Guenevere also benefits; it’s an open marriage). Harry? I cannot even remember. But then, those books /films are for kids of about 6-12, right?
Thankfully, the Harry Potter adventures are over, save a stage play / script. There are threats of a return at some point to the screen. Daniel Radcliffe (bless) is genuinely working hard to become a proper ‘actor’ and is also joining Cumberbatch and Hiddleston in the ‘English actors who are getting bigger muscles so we can do proper grown up action hero stuff’ club. Emma Watson is busy saving the universe somewhere top secret while curing diseases and planning NASA missions in her lunch break and modelling / acting when mere mortals are having tea.
And so, we have a very promising new cast and premise for a truly magical spin off. Harry Potter without the annoying bits. Think all the magic / nostalgia; on a bigger scale that justifies its cinematic franchise scope (as opposed to the old series that could /should have been a BBC Pre Christmas tea time drama?).
This is epic stuff. No screaming kids. No faux snobbery wannabe boarding school nonsense. And what looks to be a great hero in the Dr Who mould (Eddie Redmayne) and a proper baddie (Colin Farrell). Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Genuinely impressed.
King Arthur, meantime, has had, well..a face-lift for new film Legend of the Sword. Gone is the old Holy Grain hunting, sermonising, round table assembling dull drip of legends. Instead: he’s a geezer. A Bruiser. Still a King. But ‘street’. And the baddies (led by Jude Law) ‘av been takin’ fakkkin liberties my san’.
It is of course, the Guy Ritchie take on the old legend. Will it work? Who knows. Arthur has an erratic track record at best on film, but then so does Robin Hood, to be fair.
The action looks great. Charlie Hunnam is definitely a star in waiting and if nothing else, it’s a fine rehearsal for Sherlock Holmes 3 as Guy Ritchie’s next film (the cool, cinematic one; the Robert Downey Jr version).
KILLING JOKES / HOMECOMINGS/ SNOWDEN /GHOST RIDERS BLACK PANTHERS AND DEFENDERS
When I said it was all comic book stuff? I lied. But how was I to know we’d be ambushed by a Snowden revelation! Even in film, that guy has to do it all cloak and dagger.
So it was that the much anticipated and delayed release of Oliver Stone’s Snowden movie got a plug at the Convention. The film has become the very thing that Stone felt it was in danger of being upstaged by initially: a quasi comic book brand. Snowden the man, of course appeals to many an online warrior and is a hero to some. To some. Let’s not get political. Moving swiftly on..
We got some artistic glimpses of SPIDER MAN HOMECOMING and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 as well as a hint of THOR RAGNAROK (expect some serious HULK SMASH action) and a new Marvel fanfare / logo. The old logo / fanfare (with music by Brian Tyler) was just fine, I thought? But hey..everything changes, I suppose. It’s all good (as Gwyneth ‘Pepper Potts’ Paltrow might say).
We now know that Kurt Russell will be playing Ego, the living planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 and that he will also function as the Dad to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). So that’s another move made in Chris Pratt’s Indiana Jones audition (can he spar with his Daddy in an action -adventure-comedy mode?). Sylvester ‘Sly’ Stallone (Belated Happy 70th, btw) also features in cameo and it looks like his old Cliffhanger colleague (Michael Rooker) gets more to do as Yondu. Great. The humor, action and feel good fun that defined part 1 all present and correct, whilst advancing the mythology /story a bit.
The SPIDER MAN HOMECOMING artwork looks superb, with a confirmation that the villain will indeed be Vulture (presumably with tech adapted from the Chitari, given the new shared universe with Marvel movies?). Some footage was shown. The tone is upbeat, energetic and funny without being camp or pastiche.
Michael Keaton will play Vulture, it seems. And the general ethos of the movie will be a John Hughes comedy meets Marvel super-hero spectacular. Tom Holland, of course, has already been revealed as a great Spider-Man, c/o CIVIL WAR. Of course, that film also gave us BLACK PANTHER. And he is getting his own movie. Chadwick Boseman will play the eponymous Panther and Michael B Jordan is the surprise revelation as the baddie.
Also in Marvel-land, DAREDEVIL will team with Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage to form DEFENDERS on Netflix. Think a cut-price Avengers. Should be great fun. But if that’s not enough for you?
Try AGENTS OF SHIELD: SERIES 4. They are going to include the GHOST RIDER (no, not the Nic Cage version). Hang on..does this now mean that pacts with Satan exist in the Marvel Universe, both cinematic and televisual? Once again..verisimilitude, no? At least it’s not boring.
Batman Again..he gets an animated movie that’s very serious and dark (THE KILLING JOKE) and then a warmer, funnier take (LEGO BATMAN MOVIE).
There was a screening of KILLING JOKE. Mark Hamill is of course, amazing as the voice of Joker and Kevin Conroy equally good as a definitive Batman voice.
But this is NOT one for the kids! Equally, comic book purists might be a tad upset by the expansion of some plotlines and characters though that was necessary to justify a motion picture running time. Batman and Bat-Girl? No! Wrong. On many levels! I’ll just ignore that part, so.
Meanwhile, The Lego Batman film looks hilarious but in its way, also true to the Batman character and mythology.
So: all in all, 2016 gave us a fun and revelatory and yet somehow unsurprising and predictable Comic Con. See you next year for more of the same? And meantime, for reviews / features connected to the various productions covered in this piece…be sure to keep coming back to Movie-Viral!
See also the new and excellent Comic-Con HQ Channel. They offer a stash of movies, shows and above all – a commentary and news show featuring the amazingly talented and lovely Whitney Moore (think the J-Law of movie journalism: a name to watch and a star in the making).
Here endeth the lesson..go in peace to read comics and watch movies based upon said source material