What’s The Deal With?…Cinematic Universes

Cinematic universes, or shared universes, are not a new thing when it comes to the film world.

Dating back to 1931, the Universal Monster Universe featuring characters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Wolf Man have all shown up in each other’s films to create a cohesive world that saw familiar characters interact with each other. Having these characters being portrayed by the same actor or actress adds that extra bit of connective tissue that can make “standalone” films blend together in a much bigger way.

While universes like the Universal Monsters, Planet of the Apes, or James Bond (to a certain degree), have been around for decades, the modern version of this trend is one that has some fans voicing their displeasure. There seems to be a line being drawn in the sand when it comes to incorporating multiple characters and films under one roof in terms of how fans are reacting, but why?

As a kid, I loved seeing my favorite superheroes working together in comics and TV shows. Spider-Man got to hang out with the X-Men, Batman and Superman had their own cartoon, and even the Power Rangers got to meet up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Though the bulk of these crossovers I enjoyed came in the form of cartoons and TV shows, I always longed to see them together on the silver screen.

The late 90s/early 2000s ushered in a new age of comic book movies with films like X-Men, Blade, Spider-Man and the Dark Knight series, but something was missing. How come our heroes couldn’t meet up with each other? How come Batman didn’t have any help from the rest of the Justice League? Where are the other Avengers in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films?

One of the largest obstacles to overcome when crafting these cinematic universes has been the issue of film rights. When Marvel had to sell off a huge portion of their character film rights just to stay afloat, the prospect of ever seeing their champions together onscreen became nearly impossible. As Marvel had eventually been bought by Disney and gained financial stability, Kevin Feige had begun crafting what we now know and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At the time, he only had a small roster of lesser characters to choose from, though subsequent deals to re-acquire characters like Blade, Ghost Rider and Daredevil would be made. After the Sony hacks back in 2015, word began spreading about their uncertain financial future and an agreement to allow Marvel include Spider-Man in their universe was eventually made, as Spider-Man: Homecoming was released earlier this year and he appeared in Captain America: Civil War.

2008 saw Iron Man make his debut with then-shamed actor Robert Downey Jr donning the iron suit. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury would meet with Stark, where he referenced the Avengers Initiative in a post-credits scene for the film. The Incredible Hulk would follow just a month later after a post-credit scene saw Tony Stark conversing with Thunderbolt Ross, who would also appear later in Captain America: Civil War. Since that time, we’ve seen characters like Captain America, Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and Doctor Strange get their own standalone films, sequels, and teamups in this shared universe. Though these heroes have had their own origin stories and adventures, Feige & Co. have carefully developed (for the most part) an all-encompassing world that sees these characters, plots and storylines woven together in a way that tells an overall story across the current 16-film epic with no end in sight. In the coming years we’re getting new characters added in with Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and the huge number of characters set to appear in next year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Moving on to the DC front, the Joel Schumacher Batman films had all but killed the World’s Greatest Detective until Christopher Nolan resurrected him with 2005’s Batman Begins. Gone were the days of neon lights, bat nipples and “cool” puns, as Christian Bale portrayed Batman in a grounded, gritty way. Though completing his trilogy, Nolan had no inclusion of any of the other heroes in the DC pantheon, nor did we see any connection from Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns in 2006. It wasn’t until 2013’s Man of Steel did we see seeds being planted for a cinematic universe consisting of the DC gods.

Three years would go by until we finally got the crossover we’d all been waiting for when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theatres and showed us glimpses of the upcoming Justice League. We finally got to see The Flash, Aquaman, Batman, Superman and Cyborg share screen time, though many fans didn’t quite get what they expected. We also got a Suicide Squad film that was not well-received at all, consisting of DC‘s villains in a weird teamup. Wonder Woman made her solo debut earlier this year and Aquaman is coming next year after Justice League hits this November.

Though DC is developing their own cinematic universe, it had been riddled in turmoil nearly from the start. They began having numerous issues with directors leaving projects, script rewrites, and speculation of Ben Affleck leaving his role of Batman. Most recently, director Matt Reeves made waves when he said that Batman would be a complete standalone film outside of the DCEU, only to recant his statements a day later. DC has also had an issue, in this writer’s opinion, of announcing too many upcoming projects before really having any concrete plan laid out. This week alone we had two different Joker films announced, with one reportedly recasting Jared Leto as the Clown Prince of Crime.

The state of disarray that seems to be taking place in the DCEU has led to rampant rumors and speculation of problems throughout the entire universe. It’s disheartening to have things announced only to have things being shifted, changed or scrapped. Why can’t DC just relax a bit and focus on making a few good films before going crazy and announcing so many other projects? The majority of their currently released films have been divisive at best and we really haven’t seen anything spectacular, in my opinion, though Wonder Woman was probably the best-received film to-date. Hopefully DC can figure out their issues and build something great, something that the fans can fully love and embrace. We’ve waited long enough to see these heroes be portrayed in a way that is both faithful and entertaining.

The debate over which of these two studios is doing a better job is not the topic of discussion here. Though I thoroughly enjoy most of the MCU, I have plenty of issues with some of their films that I won’t get into here. Feel free to spout out your “fanboy favoritism” in the comments, but know that I want all of these properties to be good and do well.

With all of these examples being laid out, let’s finally get into the topic at hand. What’s the deal with these cinematic universes? How is it that fans have gotten exactly what they’ve wanted for so long, only to start complaining about it? We’re getting huge tent pole teamup films, yet people complain that “not everything has to be connected” or “why can’t we just have standalone films? or “why didn’t this guy show up to help the other guy in that movie?”

Honestly, I’m not sure what people want. When we get Matt Reeves‘ standalone Batman, according to him now, it will be purely a Batman film with no inclusion of the other DC heroes. That’s fine, I have no problem with that. There’s nothing wrong with doing standalone films within a larger universe. Not every hero has to cameo in each other’s films. As long as there is connective tissue bringing them together in subtle ways without beating audiences over the head, I don’t see an issue.

In my opinion, I’m a fan of these cinematic universes and crossovers. I feel it adds gravitas and flavor to these films in a way that keeps me coming back for more. It’s certainly a challenge for these directors and bigwigs to paint such a large picture years in advance, which ultimately leads to plot holes and inconsistencies, which is understandable. I believe a level of caution needs to be exercised before announcing a slate of film years in advance, as there are so many moving parts.

Now I want to hear from you. Where do you stand on cinematic universes? Are they a good thing? What are some of your favorite ones? What films or characters would you like to see be crossed over into something new? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

 

 

 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition Review

If you read my original review of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’,  you’ll know that while I overall enjoyed the film, its glaring problems were enough to take me out of the movie at times.

Even after a second viewing, the issues with pacing, story-swapping, and logic were still enough to leave me a bit disappointed in what the film could have been.

Without getting too much into the theatrical cut, I’m writing to discuss the blu-ray release of the “Ultimate Edition”, featuring a rated-R rating and 30 minutes of deleted scenes added into the film. While the added footage didn’t reveal anything too shocking (though the Steppenwolf scene added a lot). While the new individual scenes themselves aren’t anything special, they add depth to a film that had theatrically failed to tie story lines together in a logical way.

These new scenes make the film, now sporting a 3-hour run time, flow much more smoothly and fills in a lot of “plot holes” from the original cut. It was great seeing Bruce Wayne/Batman be more of a detective in investigating both Clark/Superman and Lex Luthor.

We also got to see much more of Clark and his personal relationships. Adding scenes to gain a sense of depth for Clark’s character made him much more relate-able. Building more background on all of the characters made them more believable this time around, and I even liked Lex Luthor much more in this version.

I still believe that the other Justice League characters in Aquaman and Cyborg could have played more of a role in the film. The first half of the movie is still a bit slow, and in adding the other Justice League characters in, the film could’ve created much more buzz for the upcoming slate of films over at Warner Bros/DC.

If you didn’t enjoy the original cut but really wanted to, do yourself a favor and check this version out. You just may enjoy it a bit more than you liked the first cut.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Suicide Squad Review

Since the first trailer was shown last summer at San Diego Comic Con, ‘Suicide Squad’ has been one of the most buzzed about super hero films in recent memory. This past year, we were inundated with trailers, clips, TV spots, set photos and tons of other marketing materials. Finally, the film has hit theaters, so let’s get into it.

Centering around a team of super villains that are forced into a mission to save the world, ‘Suicide Squad’ was, for me, an incredibly disappointing film. As I’m thinking about it more, this film was pretty bad.

At no point did I feel connected to any of the characters, story lines, or action scenes. The whole thing felt awkward and out of place, tonally. The gross misuse of music and flashbacks really took me out of the film multiple times. The overall story just didn’t really resonate with me and seemed pretty pointless once the mid-credit scene was shown.

I disliked the exaggerated dramatic moments that some of the characters, namely Will Smith’s “Deadshot”, had. The dark nature of the characters mixed with unfunny comedic moments and the aforementioned dramatic moments really threw off the tone of the film, making it feel like a schizophrenic version of something that had the potential to be really awesome.

There were times where I was flat-out bored. Not caring for the characters was one thing, but the ridiculous villain(s) were so bad and cartoony that I just couldn’t take this film seriously. The CGI in the film was atrocious and left me begging to see “Doomsday” from ‘Batman v Superman’ again instead.

Without getting too into detail about “Enchantress”, I will say her character, played by Cara Delevingne, was hands down the worst in the movie. She was so bad and ridiculous that I truly just didn’t care about the entire third act.

With all of the controversy surrounding Jared Leto’s version of “The Joker”, I was cautiously optimistic about his portrayal, but after seeing him, I didn’t like him at all. This version of “The Joker” does NOT fit within the current tone of the DCEU film franchise. He was too close to the classic Cesar Romero version from the 60’s TV series. His strange laughs came at times where it made no sense to be used. If he weren’t in this film at all, it wouldn’t really have made a difference.

Margot Robbie’s “Harley Quinn” was nothing more than eye candy. Her comedic moments were flat and ill-timed. Her relationship with “The Joker” really handcuffs her ability to be a stronger character and I just didn’t care for their relationship.

The rest of the “squad” were nothing to write home about. With “Diablo” being the only real exception (as I already mentioned “Deadshot”), they really didn’t get much character development. I thought “Killer Croc” looked bad and was a dumb character and the rest were forgettable.

The logic and pacing also took me out of the film at times. The reasoning for assembling the team and the way it was edited confused me. The goal was to create a team of meta humans to fight “bad” meta humans would have made more sense if the team HAD MORE META HUMANS. “Killer Croc” and “Diablo” were the only two, with the rest being regular humans.

Batman’s appearances in the film are nothing really special and wouldn’t have made much of a difference if he weren’t there, save for the mid-credit scene.

To be honest, at one point I felt myself starting to doze off. My fiance did fall asleep, as well as a friend of mine. Both were snoring, and I don’t blame them.

I feel like a film like this would have been a much better idea down the line, once the DCEU is more established and has more characters fleshed out. Seeing these villains in other films first and then bringing them together later would have been more impactful. It should not have been the third film in the new cinematic universe.

Currently riddled with controversy, film rating aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes currently shows a 28% critic rating for the film.

All in all a bad film. I was very disappointed, as I had higher expectations going in. I wanted to like this movie way more than I actually wound up. It does make me wonder if the re-shoots did drastically change the direction and tone of the film. It will be interesting to see if there is a special edition released, like ‘BvS’.

Critically, this is the third out of three DC films to be largely negative. The DC/WB execs will really have to do something special with ‘Wonder Woman’ and ‘Justice League’ if they want to be able to continue their film universe.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

The movie began slowly, introducing the backstory of Bruce Wayne and quickly jumping back and forth to scenes of other characters. The theme of pacing and editing, to me, was a major pitfall of this movie. It spent so much time playing catch up by introducing so many new characters all at once that it hindered the story.

Logic would also play into my cons. There were more than a few times I was taken out of the movie  because I had to stop and think about what was happening and I was left confused by a bunch of things. The constant story shifting played into the logistical issues because of how the story was unfolding that it didn’t portray the characters in a very positive light. The action scenes are pretty fantastic. I don’t mind the over-the-top action sequences as long as they’re done in a way that is engaging and meaningful.

Batman, played perfectly by Ben Affleck, has never been so violent and brutal. Gone are the Val Kilmer/George Clooney Batmen. Affleck plays the quintessential Batman, paying homage to George Miller’s “The Dark Knight” comics from the ‘80s. Well played, sir.

Henry Cavill plays a solid Superman, and as a fan of Man of Steel, I had some issues with his character. Logic again, but I won’t get into spoilers in this post. Gal Gadot, after much controversy leading up to the release about her portrayal as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, was solid as well. The fans in my theatre gave a nice applause when she showed up in her armor, which was nice. This is a very important role for female fans and the future marketing of female-lead super hero films, and Gal did a fine job.

Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor was…strange. His quirks and eccentricities were bordering Batman Forever-like style but saved by his intensity. Ever-faithful butler, Alfred, played by the amazing Jeremy Irons, was a perfect casting. I don’t care too much for Amy Adams as Lois. I find her’s and Clark’s relationship annoying, personally. 

The addition of the “big bad” of the movie, Doomsday, didn’t look all that great and was shoehorned in and didn’t make a lot of sense. The fight scenes were pretty cool, though.

There were a bunch of scenes that were clearly meant to foreshadow the future DC movie universe, but they felt wholly out of place and unexplained. The quick introductions of the future Justice League members in Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman felt forced and out of place. 

The movie spent too much time planting seeds, as it has to quickly establish their cinematic universe and catch up to Marvel/Disney. Although I mostly enjoyed the film, the problems I’ve gone over and others not mentioned lowered my score. I had my expectations lowered early in the week as critic reviews from online sources I follow didn’t give overly-positive reviews. My score would be a 6 out of 10. Keep in mind that’s a pretty decent score, it means there were more things I liked about it than things I didn’t. Would I recommend anyone seeing it? Yes, absolutely. If You’re a fan of the super hero genre, go see it.

Wonder Woman Review

75 years ago, Wonder Woman first hit the comic page in All-Star Comics #8. Since that time, she has gone on to fight Nazis, tackle women’s rights, and even had a hugely popular TV series starring Lynda Carter. As popular and iconic as Wonder Woman has remained throughout the decades, she had never appeared on the big screen until 2016’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, where the super heroine was portrayed by actress Gal Gadot. Fans generally seemed to love Gadot’s portrayal of the Amazonian princess, which led to her first feature film, finally.

As a man, it’s going to be difficult for me to differentiate and articulate my feelings on this film from the overall meaning and message that the movie portrayed. I want to be as fair as I can in terms of my review of the film itself, but also want to take time to explain my feelings on just what this movie means to the general film-going audience. As a man, I cannot accurately depict a female’s perspective on what this film meant to them and nothing that I write can ever come close to it. I also don’t want to give a play-by-play of the film, but will talk about some of the bigger plot points.

When we last saw Diana in BvS, she had just helped Batman and Superman defeat Doomsday. However, this new film is a bit of a prequel. We see a quick glimpse of Diana in the present, where she is looking at a photograph of her and a crew of men, the same photo showed in BvS. This photo is the actual original copy, which was sent to Diana by Bruce Wayne. Diana begins to recall the events that led up to the taking of the photo which sends us back to her childhood on the mystical island of Themyscira. The majority of the film takes place during World War I. With some of the background of the plot and setting out of the way, I’ll talk about my likes and dislikes before giving my overall score of the film.

Likes

Knowing that Gal Gadot hasn’t really been acting all that long and hasn’t been in too many films, I was hesitant expecting her to be great. The short amount of screen time she got in BvS didn’t do much for me in terms of my expectations for her leading her own film. However, I think she did a really nice job in the film. Diana in ‘Wonder Woman’ is a very naïve character, as she’s never experienced the outside world. She has such a big heart and wants to fulfill her duty as a guardian of Earth against the forces of evil, and this aspect is very prominent in the film. Her selfless acts and love for mankind really shine, as she repeatedly puts the needs of others ahead of everything else.

Diana’s character is fleshed out very well and her motivations really struck home for me. The action scenes that we do get to see are very well done and made for fun scenes, as we get to see her powers evolve throughout the story. She really comes into her own by the end of the film and it’s easy to make the jump to BvS. I also really enjoyed the Amazon mythology, as I am a fan of ancient Greek stories. The inclusion of the pantheon of Greek gods into the DCEU is quite an undertaking and I think director Patty Jenkins fit it in very nicely.

I’m also a sucker for period pieces, and with the setting of World War I, a time period that doesn’t get a lot of attention in modern storytelling, the feel of the film with its costumes and mannerisms were really cool. I’m glad that the story didn’t put a giant emphasis on gender inequality, though it is a present theme. I feel like constantly harping on the subject would have taken too much attention off of the main plot. The inequality theme also comes up racially with other characters, which were also enlightening, especially in today’s world. (Side note: it’s disheartening to see that issues that were prevalent in the 1940s are still rearing its ugly head today, but I digress). I enjoyed some of the side characters, but I’ll talk more about them when I get into my dislikes. Overall, Gal Gadot did a really great job in her first leading film and I look forward to seeing more of her in the upcoming DCEU films. The main villain turned out to be formidable and looked really cool.

Dislikes

As I mentioned above, I liked some of the side character, but also had a lot of issues with them as well. Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor was a really nice addition to the film, but I feel like his role took a lot away from Wonder Woman. For a film that has such an iconic female super hero leading her FIRST film, Steve Trevor’s role was too large, in my opinion. There were a lot of moments that could lead audience members to believe that the film was actually about him and not Diana, and to me, this was a mistake. I wanted to see Diana not having to rely too much on Steve’s leadership, but I understand the thinking behind it, as I previously mentioned her naivety. With a film like this, I would have preferred to see more female characters in larger roles outside of the events on Themyscira.

One of the worst characters in the film was Dr. Poison. The trailers depicted her as a large villain in the film and she largely does next to nothing. She really took me out of the film when she appeared on-screen, as the actress portraying her was bad and her facial expressions were ridiculous. She looked like she was constantly surprised at everything going on whenever she appeared. I also didn’t care for Steve’s group of friends. They ultimately had no real skill and didn’t actually do much of anything.

I have one gripe, which may seem trivial and silly, but annoyed me. In the beginning of the film, a quick glimpse of an armadillo scattering across the landscape is shown. Armadillo are indigenous to the Americas, so I’m not sure how one would appear on an island near Greece. If armadillo do appear on other places around the world, feel free to rip me in the comment section of this post.

My final dislike regards pretty much the entire second act of the film. We saw a really cool battle scene of Themyscira at the end of the first act, but after that, the film got very boring with lengthy dialogue and pacing issues that started to take me out of the film. Too much time was spent on things like shopping, planning and talking and I feel like 20 minutes could have been removed to make the film flow more smoothly.

Final Thoughts

Despite some of the issues I had with this film, it was still really awesome to get Wonder Woman her own solo film. Gal’s performance as the most iconic female super hero outweighs some of my issues and I can’t help but be excited for her future in the DCEU. DC/WB still has a long way to go, as BvS was a letdown and Suicide Squad was horrendous. Here’s hoping that Justice League will finally be the film to reel me in completely.

My Rating: 7/10