Yada, yada, yada, Superhero Origins

I was thinking about The Dark Knight Rises and the next incarnation of Batman. It seems that with every new version of a superhero the powers that be feel the need to re-tell the origin story. As excited as I am for The Amazing Spider-Man, I know the origin story inside out. I would find it more interesting if they had stories from different periods of the hero’s life. For the post-Nolan Batman I hope we join his adventures at a period where he’s established as the Caped Crusader. 

For those few that are not aware of the origin story it can still be included in a credits sequence. I like the Spider-Man 2 technique of flicking images which show the main points from the first film and the mini-movie credit sequences of Watchmen and Wolverine were probably the best part of the films. 

Or, they could use a Seinfeld-esque technique to get the audience up to speed. A few suggestions:

Batman

Young Bruce Wayne goes to the opera with his parents yada, yada, yada, he dresses up like a bat and vows to rid Gotham City of injustice.

Captain Marvel 

The orphan Billy Batson gets lured into a tunnel by an old man yada, yada, yada, he gets the abilities of legend and turns into a man.

Spider-Man

Peter Parker goes to watch a science experiment yada, yada, yada now he swings around New York, his Uncle is dead and most people in the city hate him.

Superman

Kal-El was born on faraway planet Krypton yada, yada, yada now he goes by the name Clark Kent and works at the Daily Planet in Metropolis.

Iron Man 

Tony Stark was hit by shrapnel from a landmine yada, yada, yada he flies around in an armoured suit.

Hulk

Bruce Banner saved a kid who was trespassing on the site of a gamma experiment yada, yada, yada he turns into a green monster.

Doctor Strange

Doctor Stephen Strange suffers nerve damage in his hands yada, yada, yada he becomes the Sorcerer Supreme of this dimension.

 

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When Are We Going to Get a Good Superheroine Movie?

I was talking with a friend last night about our favourite heroes. As a man I’ve always identified with the male heroes – Spider-Man, Superman and so on. However, for girls there aren’t as many iconic female heroes to look up to. Unsurprisingly she didn’t have any favourite superheroines. It made me wonder if we’re ever going to get a good superheroine movie.

Comic books are fairly male-dominated and their movies especially so. So far we’ve only had two solo superheroine films – Catwoman and Elektra. Both were awful. Actually another comes to mind – My Super Ex-Girlfriend but that was horrible as well. In other films there are only a few women who largely serve the purpose of the damsel in distress. In Nolan’s Batman series so far there has only been one significant female character – Rachel Dawes. However, this looks like it’s changing with the additions of Anne Hathaway and Marion Cottilard in The Dark Knight Rises. Comics-Batman actually has a large cast of women, largely because an easy way to show his commitment to his cause is to show him eschewing romantic relationships.

Spider-Man has Mary-Jane and Aunt May, both of whom I’d argue are strong characters but they still get put in danger. I’m assuming the trend is going to continue with Gwen Stacy in this year’s Amazing Spider-Man. Likewise, Superman has Lois and his mother who fulfil similar roles to MJ and Aunt May. Avengers has Black Widow who has important moments (not surprising considering the director) but Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill is a glorified extra.

The Fantastic Four films are possibly the most disappointing because Sue Storm is one of the most important characters in the Marvel universe yet she was largely reduced to eye candy. The X-Men films do the best job of striking a balance, Rogue and Jean Grey are important to the story in their own right. Although I don’t think Storm was done justice as a character at least she wasn’t there just to look pretty.

There are other movies which I’m not going to go into, although Thor is important as we have Sif who is equal with the other members of the Warriors Three.

So I’d argue that apart from the X-Men films women in comic book films are largely short-changed. But why?

Part of the problem is that there just aren’t as many iconic heroines. I’d suggest that the three most well-known women in comics are Lois Lane, Wonder Women and Catwoman. Only one of those is a bona fide superhero (Catwoman straddles the line between heroism and villainy), and Wonder Women hasn’t had any live-action adaptation since the old tv series. It seems like we could be getting a Black Widow movie soon, or at least a S.H.I.E.L.D movie in which she plays a prominent role. Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Ms. Marvel are other characters which could appear in future Marvel movies.

Another reason is because when we look at superheroines we see a sex symbol first and the hero second. They’re drawn with almost genetically-impossible proportions and the costumes are barely there. Furthermore it seems as though it’s hard for a lot of writers to equate strong women with being able to have a romantic relationship. Perhaps the only non-sexualised heroine is Hit Girl. I’m not saying we should completely de-sexualise superheroines, but it shouldn’t be the main focus of their character.

So what’s the solution? At the moment I think it would be best to take the route of the X-Men and Avengers. Show women in functional costumes working side-by-side with male heroes. Eventually spin them off into solo movies and don’t make the big bad a cosmetic company.

Why the Hate for Rocky V?

I watched the much-maligned Rocky V for the second time last night. I was aware of its reputation before the first time I watched it, and I was pleasantly surprised. I decided to test whether I liked it because my expectations were low or because I actually thought it was a good film. Just to set my stall out, my favourite Rocky movies are Rocky and Rocky Balboa.

At the beginning of Rocky V we’ve joined the Italian Stallion just as he’s returning home from punching the Cold War in the face. He gets some bad news from his doctor (a condition which I guess healed itself by the time of Rocky Balboa), Adrian is whining as usual and Paulie has done something stupid…as usual. It’s a depressing start as everything we’ve seen Rocky earn over the past four movies is suddenly ripped from him and he’s sent back to the mean streets of Philadelphia. All the while a boxing promoter sees a walking dollar sign and tries to get Rocky back into the ring. Eventually Tommy Gunn shows up and Rocky starts neglecting his kid.

From the first movie all Rocky wanted to do was get in the ring and box. That’s all he was good at and all he knew. Suddenly that’s taken away and he’s back where he started, sure he’s still popular with the crowd but he lost his purpose in life. In Tommy Gunn he sees a way to vicariously re-live his career, and he tries to do for Tommy what Mickey did for Rocky. But Tommy isn’t Rocky; he doesn’t have the same heart and is easily swayed by the suave Duke.

All the while Robert is feeling justifiably ignored. There’s an interesting comparison between Robert and Tommy – in his first sparring session Tommy doesn’t listen to Rocky’s instructions and just hits and hits and hits, it’s not even a real fight and his eyes are clouded with a red mist. In contrast, after Robert has trained a bit and takes on the bully he knocks him down once and then stops. He even offers a handshake and they become friends.

Rocky finds a way back into boxing and he’s almost in denial about his circumstances. We see him remembering advice Mickey spat at him and it finally starts to sink in. The point of the whole film, as I see it, is to look around us and find reasons to go on even if we feel we’ve lost everything. For most of his life boxing was Rocky’s life, and when that was taken away he felt lost. It took him a bit of time but eventually he realised that he had a new purpose, his family. Fighting wasn’t the only thing he had anymore, and if he couldn’t fight it wasn’t the end of the world or the end of him.

There’s a bigger picture, and neither Tommy Gunn nor Duke could see it.

The final fight scene is brutal, and in its own way perhaps more intense than the others. Instead of the crowd sitting around the ring they’re stood in a circle baying for blood while the Duke is gnashing his teeth, thinking about all the money he could have made if it was properly televised. Tommy Gunn’s youth and pure strength give him the upper hand, but he’s fuelled by jealousy and bitterness and rage. Rocky takes the hits as he always does, and he defeats Tommy because he knows how to fight on the street. He knows how to survive.

This movie (and the Rocky series as a whole) isn’t just about how you fight in the ring; it’s about how you fight out of it.