Squad Goals?

Well the results are in and Suicide Squad is not a crowd critic pleaser. It’s adding more fuel on the fire to certain fanboys’ belief that critics are in the pocket of Big Marvel, that they’r enemies of fun, that they’ll do anything to keep DC down. But I think if we’re all being honest with ourselves the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in DC.

dc-comics-logo-legends-of-tomorrowThere was a time when DC movies were the clear victor: The original Superman movies are iconic, and the 1990s Batman movies at least had a home amongst audiences.During that time Marvel was going through a near bankruptcy, selling off most of its properties in order to stay afloat, and on paper struggling against DC’s might.

Then came Batman & Robin. Then Catwoman, seven years later. During this time Marvel was planting the seeds for a supergroup, a radical idea that there was a way to translate their heroes to screen in a massive cinematic universe. DC seems to have spent that time recapturing the glory.

And that glory was always a bit hokey: I mean, it’s not like Tim Burton directed Batman and people were expecting gritty, Alan Moore-esque. In fact these movies were in stark contrast with the comics of the time. Which is why Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy came out of nowhere.

It was four years before Marvel would strike gold with Iron Man, and Batman Begins seemed to do a lot of things well. Any bad aspects of it could be forgiven because it was so enthralling, tough, and true to Batman. Then The Dark Knight came out in 2008 and suddenly DC seemed to be owning the game again—this time with a brand new tone. The problem is, it was never really DC’s tone for their cinematic universe. It was Nolan’s.The Dark Knight

As an auteur and a postmodern filmmaker, Nolan makes movies that are meticulous, that hold up on rewatches, that dip into modern themes just enough to interrogate them a bit but not enough to be off-putting or admonishing. On creating The Dark Knight trilogy he said: “You try and get the audience to invest in cinematic reality. When I talk about reality in these films, it’s often misconstrued as a direct reality, but it’s really about a cinematic reality.”

Which is perhaps something DC is still struggling with. They believe that they’ve found their niche—more nihilistic, gritty, and grimey films to Marvel’s sun and fun approach—but they’re playing with someone else’s viewpoint. They can’t capture the magic because it isn’t theirs. In the years since Nolan left DC (and arguably somewhat while he was there) the doom and gloom of DC has become monotonous, with attempts to ape it popping up seemingly everywhere.

For whatever depth an audience can read into a Marvel movie, they understand their strengths, their point-of-view, and their heroes. They know what the audience wants to see and they know how to surprise them when they’re seeing it (even if it’s the 18th time they’ve trotted out the same formula). It’s allowed them to be more ambitious, turning the modern superhero film out to different genres. They are controlling the conversation and minting money doing so.

DC’s approach seems entirely in response: Response to what audiences seem to react to, response to the MCU, response to Nolan’s tonal shift for the comic company. They rushed into Batman v. Superman because they wanted to compete with Marvel’s Avengers, already on their second adventure together, and growing stronger and bigger every time. They pushed out Suicide Squad as their own version of a demented Avengers, a team of Deadpools, who might lighten the hearts and level the playing field. But as the reviews roll in, it seems that it’s just one more example of DC’s universe being an answer, not a statement.

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Dead-Pansexual

deadpool-costume.jpg

Let’s kick this off with the truth: No, Deadpool is not overtly pansexual in the new “Deadpool” movie. And no, that may not matter as much as you think.

For starters, this movie got made by the skin of its teeth. There’s a chance it got made using illegal creative means to get made, and there’s about a 70 percent chance that it wasn’t Ryan Reynolds. The movie has been in creative development for a decade (seriously) and hasn’t changed much since 2010.

It’s somewhat remarkable, given all that, the movie works as well and seems as timely as it is. Though I had a great time in the theater, the movie isn’t too much more than a wink and sarcastic comment about superhero tropes while still doing those exact same things. It’s fun and creative, but it’s not revolutionary—particularly not in the way the comic character can be. 

Our titular hero protagonist spends a lot of the film shrugging off the label of “hero” (even before he throws on the tights), and making snide comments about superhero movies and studios (about the X-mansion: “Such a big house. Weird that I only ever see you two. It’s almost like…the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.”). But as distinct and clever as this commentary comes off, it’s not exactly in service of any revolutionary goals: He’s still trying to kick the bad guy’s ass and restore himself back to who he was, primarily so he can go back to life with his girl the hooker with a heart of gold Vanessa. As Deadpool himself says at the beginning, this isn’t a comic book movie so much as it is a love story. And basically every comic origin story involves lost, heteronormative love.

It’s hard to say if the film even makes any overt or intentional references to Deadpool’s shifting sexuality at all. Arguably almost any mentions can be played off as immature, “but no homo” jokes, and get about as far as Agent Coulson did when he first introduced himself to Pepper Potts: It’s a hat tip to those in the know, but it’s not integral to understanding the film.

And yeah, that sucks. Deadpool is such a unique and interesting character that seeing him flattened into the traditional superhero mold even as he actively decries himself against it is hard to shoulder, even if it ends up being pretty fun to watch.

But for now it’s important to note that the creators and people integral to the production of future Deadpool movies (director Tim Miller, or “an overpaid tool” as the opening credits refer to him and star Ryan “God’s perfect idiot” Reynolds) believe him to be pansexual—and have stated so publicly.  That elevates this beyond just “queer-baiting” where writers like to flirt with fandom pairings without ever publicly acknowledging them. Deadpool’s ever-shifting sexuality (itself still debated in the comics) is not merely a subtextual bastard. It’s an influence running in the back of the minds of the creators.

For now it’s purely subtextual. And yeah, that is annoying, or at least disappointing. “Deadpool” is not progressive in that way, aside from some homoerotic subtext and winking jokes—aka, not progressive. But the film’s success so far can’t be ignored, and while it’s sure to impact what X-Men and superhero films look like in the future, there’s probably hopefully nothing but good vibes and green lights on the horizon for the Merc with the Mouth. And the people making it seem to be itching to bring in some LGBTQ-love.

We’ve already seen what they can do with some test footage.

Why Marvel is optimism prime

In the name of Pulp Diction, friendship, and love of films, I have had many a heated argument over opinions on movies with my best friend and writing partner. Though perhaps none as heated as the time we started to review “The Dark Knight Rises.”

We had gone to see it with a large group of people, shelled out for the gaggle of us to see it in eye-popping IMAX, and built up the potential in our minds for eons. Walking out of it though, I seemed to be the only one who seemed skeptical of how the end of the great Nolan/Batman trilogy had turned out. Surprising, since my bestie and I are normally so far on the same page it’s scary.

We debated, back and forth, for a couple hours when it came time to write the review. The argument came to a head when I asked him if he really liked “The Dark Knight Rises” over, say, “The Avengers,” or if he just felt like he did because it had a more somber tone. Though I would say in the end we found a common ground in the voice of our review, the debate struck a chord with me that I haven’t been able to shake.

Though my sisters and I have often scampered around the comic realm, we’ve always been slightly more partial to Marvel over DC. I’ve heard it said that “DC comics are about superheroes who happen to be humans, Marvel comics are about humans who happen to be superheroes,” and I think that’s reflective of the tone picked up in most comic book movies that I didn’t full realize until my debate around “Rises.”

Where DC seems to be reveling in their shade and gloominess, Marvel is celebrating in the sheer absurdity of its comic universe. It’s a tonal reflection that often happens in pop culture, believing that a serious setting is worth more than a comical, or more palatable framing (see also: almost any Oscar ballot).

But it’s a little exhausting, that universal bleakness. I could probably tell you a handful of points I enjoyed around last year’s “Man of Steel,” but it is tiring, following Superman–who has a symbol for hope on his chest–fly around such a dreary mis-en-scene.

What’s refreshing, as both an independent viewer and a reader of comic books, is how Marvel doesn’t seem to be ashamed of its zany elements or its outlandish schemes, costumes, or acronyms. Sure it might tone them down a bit–change the time frame, make the costumes a bit more realistic (or at least VFX friendly)–but at no point in its production does it seem to be doing anything but going balls-to-the-wall when building their universe up, with enthusiasm fully engaged.

So while there’s cases to be made for each side’s television, movie, and minority representation, you’ll have to drag me away from Marvel kicking and screaming. And, likely, from a line of Marvel fans all doing the same.