Saturday, March 21, 2015

We have moved!

I have a new space for the blog now, over on Wordpress.  You can find it here.  This one will stay up for archival reasons, but everything new will be there. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Worst finish ever

With WrestleMania just a few weeks away, there are pieces being written about past shows and which ones were great (as well as not so great).  There's also nonstop speculation about how this year's main event is going to end.  Now with a less than enthusiastic reception for the match itself (Roman Reigns challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE title for those who haven't been tuning in lately) and for the man poised to win the title that night (Reigns), there's little chance that it's going to be remembered as one for the ages.  The only thing that could change that is if the finish delivers something more palatable to the crowd than Roman Reigns walking out as champion.  But whether some twist like Seth Rollins crashing the party with his Money in the Bank briefcase happens or we get a straightforward Reigns victory, I can guarantee you that the end result won't be as bad as the way the match I'm about to talk about went down.  This match was the biggest squandering of fan interest ever, and started a once proud company on it's road to ruin.  The match I'm talking about is:

Starrcade 97 - Sting vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan


This was supposed to be the big blowoff to what had been the hottest angle in wrestling since Hulkamania was running wild.  For over a year Hulk Hogan and the NWO had run roughshod over the entire WCW roster while Sting stayed away from it all, disgusted by his WCW mates losing trust in him.  Then in the fall of 1997 Sting returned with a new look and began doing run-ins to bail his former friends out of the group beatdowns that had become a weekly occurrence.  Everyone knew where it was headed, of course: a showdown between Sting and Hogan.  And for anyone who watched wrestling for more than five minutes knew, the finish was going to be obvious: Sting taking it to Hogan and ultimately beating him in the middle of the ring to win the championship and set the dismantling of the NWO.  But whether it was because Hogan's legendary refusal to job or just some bad work by the creative team what should have been a layup became a turnover.  Hogan hit his big move and then instead of Sting kicking out and demolishing Hogan we got a botched supposed to be fast count that wasn't very fast at all, and sloppily executed submission finish that would be invalidated the next night on Nitro and a rematch two months later that didn't end clean either.  This was the beginning of the end for WCW as they never got on track again.

The lesson here is that sometimes you have to do a clean, decisive finish.  Yes you have to start moving towards the next big event immediately afterward.  And yes, this was long after the day of loser leaves town matches where Hogan would have left the company or just been taken off of TV for six months.  Hogan would have had to come out the next night on TV a loser and done something to stay relevant going forward. But that's wrestling; the competition had done that very thing multiple times before so there's no reason they should have deviated from the tried and path here.  Sometimes the fans really do just want the straightforward storyline, and not some twist and turn laden enigma.  The ending to this match was the bastard child of Hogan's unwillingness to do a straight job to Sting (and again I'm assuming here - Hogan had creative control over his matches in WCW and had already used it in the past so it's not crazy to believe he employed it here) and the infamous Dusty finish - a finish employed by Dusty Rhodes where run-ins and rulebreaking would lead to a false finish where the good guy appears to win a title only to see it overturned shortly after.  I remember watching the show with a group of friends and when it was over we were all like 'really?'

And like I said earlier they never recovered.  At the time of the show they were regularly doubling up Monday Night RAW in the ratings, but the WWE was starting to right it's ship as they fully embraced the Attitude Era.  A strong effort was needed in order to keep from losing any major ground and they totally screwed the pooch here.  The end result was a show that came off looking really lame next to what the WWE was doing and made it clear that Eric Bischoff was not in Vince McMahon's league.  From there the downward spiral started and never ended.  The NWO as a faction and a storyline was kept going and going when it should have been wound down over the next year.  Invasion angles aren't hard to transition from, really.  Once the outside group has been vanquished you simply come up with an avenue to transfer them over to the main roster and keep it moving.  But their inability or unwillingness to do that led to the same people dominating the main event scene long after they after some new people should have been cycled in and the product looking very stale next to the WWE's new stars in Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock.  Within a year the war was for all intents and purposes over.  So a finish can erase tons o f goodwill in one fell swoop, or restore it just as quickly.  It'll be interesting to see if the WWE takes that kind of gamble this year and sends Rollins in with the briefcase to change the end result of WrestleMania 31.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Another Tron movie?


So the news dropped earlier this week that Disney is going to start filming a third Tron movie, which is cool I guess.  I don't know that anyone was really clamoring for it but the concept is cool and the last one, Tron: Legacy did good worldwide business to the tune of $400 million.  Both movies were great ideas that fell a little short in execution.  Neither movie was bad by any stretch but in both cases I found myself thinking 'is that all?' when they concluded.  Tron was the matrix before The Matrix, if you will.  Like the 1999 Keanu Reeves classic it took place inside a computer generated world contained all the networks and pathways that our systems operate on.  The similarities don't end there.  The character of Sark is a powerful strongman similar to Matrix's Agent Smith, who is ultimately serving a more powerful master (Tron's Master Control Program as opposed to The Matrix's sentient machines).  And on the good side you have the tag team of Tron and Flynn, a heroic insider and super powered newcomer respectively, similar to Morpheus and Neo.  Where the two departed was in depicting the state of the flesh and blood outside world.  In The Matrix that world had already fallen to the machines that once served us while in the Tron movies things hadn't taken that tragic turn yet.  And that's where The Matrix succeeds and the Tron films don't; in the latter the stakes for the outside world are explained but not shown in a way that gives the movie any gravity.  What goes on in the computer world often seems more like an adventure of choice for Flynn and his son (in the sequel) rather than a mission to save the world from itself.  The Tron films are both ultimately a two hour video game instead of a movie; it's hard to develop any real sense of care towards the characters even while you're mesmerized by the special effects.  When Tron: Legacy ended I wasn't left with any sense of wanting to see what lay ahead for Sam Flynn going forward. 


So why do more if you're Disney?  Well, money talks and Tron: Legacy made a decent profit once you include the overseas gross.  Despite everything I just said I would go see a third film if there weren't any other movies to see that weekend, and would definitely watch it On Demand later if I missed it in the theater.  It's interesting enough to attract your attention but like the Transformers movies you're better off going in with realistic expectations and not holding out hope for it to reach it's potential.  The one good thing about the lightweight execution is that they didn't try to do too much like the Matrix sequels and turn everyone off in the process.  The Matrix Reloaded was like going into the fourth quarter of a football game with a 20 point lead, calling nothing but passing plays that result in interceptions that set up easy scores for the other team that cost you the lead and the game.  By the time it's over you're dazed, confused and disgusted at what just transpired.

OK, I got off on a tangent.  That's just how upset the Matrix sequels made me.  But anyway, my final verdict for now on the third Tron film is that it will likely do as well and be as good as the second one.  If they release it at a time of year when little else is out there it should make good money at the box office.  And while the potential is there for it to be everything the Matrix trilogy failed to be, I don't expect it.  There comes a point with all of these serialzed movies that you have to accept what they are if you're going to keep watching and going to them.  You do that and you won't be disappointed.  But if you go in there like we are wont to do with the Transformers movies thinking that this next one may be the one where they finally get it right.........don't be surprised when you feel like Charlie Brown after Lucy pulled the football away again.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Agents of Shield/Agent Carter - what to do next?


So the eight week experiment has come to a successful close, and Agent Carter is in the books.  There's talk of doing a volume two next season, which would be a good thing, and a lot of people prefer it to the show it filled in for, Agents of SHIELD.  This is understandable and correct, in my opinion, although one has to take into account that Agent Carter was an eight episode miniseries and not a full 22 episode season.  And that the storyline wasn't as constrained by an upcoming movie as every season of Agents will be.  The only real constraints for Agent Carter are not killing off anyone who's still alive in the present day MCU or contradicting something that's already been laid out in an already completed film.  And lastly, with no burden from fans to include Marvel characters that we want to see they can introduce and dispose of new characters who aren't in the comics as they wish.  In short they have much more creative freedom and it shows.  They also benefited from having a better actress in the lead role, and having a more compelling character for her to play.  The only parts of the miniseries that didn't work for me were some of the scenes at SSR (the precursor to SHIELD), that dragged at times.  But beyond, the entire run was excellent and like everybody else I hope they give us more next season.

As for the show it filled in for, I'll say that it's much better than it was when it started.  Now I did defend the show last season when a lot of people were trashing it (mainly because too many were complaining about the lack of MCU characters even though we were told from the jump that wasn't happeneing), but now looking back I'll admit that it did have some issues.  The direct tie-in to Captain America - The  Winter Soldier hamstrung the storytelling, and there was some very wooden acting among the main cast.  Brett Dalton was often downright painful as Agent Ward, and for most of season one he was the lead agent so that made for really stretches to watch.  Chloe Bennett wasn't much better as Skye, and her importance to the team's activities throughout meant a lot of screen time for her, too.  It took Bill Paxton's run through the final stretch as the main villain The Clairvoyant (which coincided with Agent Ward's heel turn to be his subordinate) to make things better at the end.  This season has been a huge improvement.  For the longtime Marvel fans there was an appearance from the Absorbing Man and the addition to the team of Bobbie Morse (Mockingbird).  And the introduction of the Terrigen Mist and the reveal of Inhumans are major bones being thrown to Marrvel fans.  Henry Simmons and Nick Blood have joined the cast as members of the SHIELD team as well, and Ward has been largely disappeared save a few scenes here or there.  I'm guessing lots of this was in the plan from day one but some of it had to be in reaction to the negative press the show was getting.

So what's next for both?  Agent Carter is off until next year, assuming it comes back, and we'll get more of the days leading up to the formal creation of SHIELD.  More Peggy in the field, more Howling Commandos, and more Howard Stark would make it perfect for me.  There are probably two good seasons worth of stories to tell here, maybe more.  As for Agents of SHIELD, I have no idea.  We'll get some lead in to Avengers - Age of Ultron for sure but this season is much less connected directly to the MCU so it likely won't be as direct.  Next season there will be some dealing with the fallout from Ultron and some buildup toward next year's Civil War.  The elephant in the room will be the Inhuman story. The Inhumans movie isn't coming for four more years.  How they'll deal with a four year build up to that is beyond me.  There's only so much slow burning you can do, especially without including any of the Inhuman royal family until the movie itself.  I'm guessing though that the show won't have four more seasons after this one so that may not really be that much of a problem.  That's not a dis; it's just that I don't see the current cast making it through six season without some turnover, especially if no one besides Agent Coulson makes it to the MCU (The TV team showing up in a future Marvel film won't exactly be a stand up and cheer moment).  What would really be cool is if there's some overlap with Agents and the Netflix shows; those are crossovers that are more feasible and would be a good way to include some well known comic characters without begging Robert Downey, Jr. or Scarlett Johannson to come through.

Whatever happens, interesting times lie ahead for both shows.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Back to the Race Question


It seems that no matter how many times it comes up, we just cannot reach a final conclusion when it comes to race and comic books (and comic book movies, of course).  Almost without fail, a casting or rumored casting for a role hits the internet and the comments come flying fast and furious.  And when it involves taking a character that's always been white and casting a black actor or actress to fill the role, the reactions are always spirited on both sides.  And the two sides can reliably be counted on to be:

  1. Hey, why not?
  2. This is an outrage!  Why must they change something that's been one way for decades?
The past couple of weeks have seen a few things kick this debate back up.  There has been some wishful speculation on the part of some fans that when they choose the new Spider-Man it will be Miles Morales from the Ultimate Universe.  There was a pretty heated Twitter debate between current Spider-Man comic writer Dan Slott and several people over whether or not it would be ok for Marvel and Sony to keep Peter Parker but racebend the role by casting a black actor.  Slott pretty deftly fended off every justification given for why it was essential to keep Parker white (all of which were variations of option 2 above), but of course no one changed their minds because they were already locked into their opinion.  The lastly there were the comments from actress Michelle Rodriguez that black actors need to stop stealing roles that were meant for white actors in superhero films.  Uhh......yeahhh.......ok, Michelle, whatever you say.  She apologized later but that was more stupid than racist.  That being said, the more vocal viewpoint is that white characters should white regardless of the circumstances under which they were created and that most of them do not have particular traits that lock them in to being white (the obvious examples being Jewish characters like Magneto who was a boy during the Holocaust or Bruce Wayne with his old money blood lineage back to colonial times).

I'm ambivalent on it.  There have been times where I've felt it was no big deal (Laurence Fishburne  playing Perry White in Man of Steel) or even the right choice (Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin in Daredevil, because skin color aside he was closer to the size and body type to play the role than anyone else working at the time).  And there are also some instances where it has reeked of stunt casting (Idris Elba playing Heimdall in the Thor movies and Michael B. Jordan in the upcoming Fantastic Four film).  The need for some to change the race of some characters is almost entirely a result of the time period in which most of them were created. As you can see here, the vast majority of the most well known characters were created before 1970; given the way things were in our society during those decades you it doesn't take a PhD to figure out how we ended up with such a monochromatic slate of characters.  It's also not a coincidence that with the 70s and more integration in society that nonwhite characters began to appear in comics.  And in recent years there have been a handful of new characters of color created as well.  None of these characters save Storm of the X-Men have really gained the traction and popularity to become true comic icons, distinguishable from other characters by laypeople.  So when it's time to make movies in 2015 and you have a more diverse audience than you did in 1965 but your major characters were made for a 1965 audience you have a problem. 

Now I've been down this road in earlier posts here.  Other than changing the race when you go to movies or even in the source material itself you have two choices: try to elevate existing characters to a higher level or recognition or create new ones for a new time.  Both have their drawbacks, of course.  The universes in both major companies are pretty crowded to start with and creating more just means less space for ones that exist.  And elevating existing ones can be met with indifference by people who've already decided who they want to pay attention to.  In the case of Spider-Man, you have a legacy character in Peter Parker and a new one in half black, half Hispanic Miles Morales who has developed a decent sized following of his own. The debate over which one to use is sparked both by Miles' popularity, a loathing by most of us to have to endure yet another Peter Parker origin story on film, and the desire by a lot of people to get a Peter Parker Spidey film under the Marvel/Sony banner now that the two companies are working together. I personally wish they would have stuck with the existing continuity and Andrew Garfield instead of starting over again, then brought in Miles later.  But that ship has sailed.  Miles showing up is inevitably on the table, but we're probably going to get Peter first.  And I think you stick to the Peter we're used to.  As a Bat-fanboy I can say that DC would not get any cool points from me if they decided to up and make Bruce Wayne black in some effort to make inroads with black readers so I can see why Spidey fans wouldn't want that either.