Saturday, February 9, 2013

Platypus Thoughts: Millar Time

Apparently long-time Marvel Comics writer and 20th Century Fox superhero “guru,” Mark Millar says that a Justice League film is a good way to lose $200 million. Can someone in the audience tell me what is wrong with this picture? It is not that Mr. Millar is wrong. A Justice League film has the potential to be a nine-figure atom bomb like 2011’s Green Lantern but his reasoning for why such an endeavor would fail bothers me.

“I actually think the big problem for them is the characters are just too out of date. The characters were created 75 years ago, even the newest major character was created 68 years ago, so they’re in a really weird time...The actual logistics of each member of the Justice League is disastrous, and you put them all together and I think you get an excellent way of losing $200 million.”

Mr. Millar has always entertained the notion that Superman and his cohorts were too “outdated and irrelevant” to the point where it borders on obsession. When I peel away his reasoning, that most of the Justice League members should be collecting old age pensions, it falls apart when I take the longevity of Marvel’s stable into account. Captain America is pushing seventy-five himself, the Hulk and Thor are now fifty, and Iron Man will be turning fifty this year. I fail to see how DC’s characters are irrelevant because of their age when Marvel’s characters are not exactly a breath of fresh air themselves. Never mind the fact that the current incarnations of the Flash and Green Lantern predate Marvel by a few years (1956 and 1959, respectively.) That would be akin to a seventy-five year-old telling me he is not a senior citizen because his neighbor is ninety-five.

Logistics, on the other hand, is where Mr. Millar may bring up a valid argument. Let us hear what he has to say:

“Now the stuff I grew up with… I adored the DC stuff growing up but really, how do you do a movie about Green Lantern,” asks Millar, “his power is that he manifests green plasma from his imagination and uses them as weapons against someone? Even that in itself if you just imagine then watching a fight scene with a guy who’s like a hundred feet away making plasma manifestations fight someone – it’s not exactly raucous, getting up close and personal.”

This statement demonstrates how Mr. Millar knows very little of why the Green Lantern film was a failure. There was and is nothing wrong with the concept behind it: a dying member of an extraterrestrial police force gives test pilot the most powerful weapon. It was the horrible writing abysmal execution that torpedoed it with its rushed plot that was thin on characterization, packed with needless exposition, and overuse of computer-generated imagery to name a few. Furthermore, I fail to see how Green Lantern’s ability to generate plasma constructs through his ring would make fight scenes any less exciting because it is not “exactly raucous” or “up close and personal.” Especially when many of the Marvel films to not heavily depend on close-quarters combat.

Take Matthew Vaughn’s (who also directed the film adaptation of Millar’s Kick-Ass) X-Men: First Class where neither Charles Xavier nor Magneto possessed powers that required them to get up close and personal with Sebastian Shaw and his associates. Likewise for Banshee, Havok, and Emma Frost. Similarly, neither Iron Man nor Thor needed to get into a physical confrontation because of the nature of their abilities in the Avengers. Iron Man could dispatch enemy combatants from a hundred feet or more with his armor’s repulsor rays and Thor could just as easily summon lightning and hurricane-force winds with Mjolnir and that did not make the film any less enjoyable. Conversely, Green Lantern can produce swords, axes, and other close combat weapons with his ring to physically engage with his adversaries (like Sinestro) similar to how Thor uses Mjolnir as a blunt weapon against the frost giants. Also, given Hal Jordan’s brashness, it would make more sense for him to engage in close-quarters combat because of his ego.

Millar, quite frankly, is grievously mistaken in his assumptions over Green Lantern’s failings. The Green Lantern franchise has the potential to become DC/Warner Brothers’ answers to Lucasarts (and now Disney’s) Star Wars. However, the management was too eager to jump on the superhero bandwagon 2008’s Iron Man started and they paid for it in disappointing box office returns. Perhaps DC Comics and Warner Brothers should watch the original, unedited Star Wars trilogy and read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Methinks they would learn more from those sources than from Mr. Millar’s ill advice.

Moving on…

“The Flash has door handles on the side of his mask and if he doesn’t wear that mask, I’ll be pissed off, you know what I mean? They’re in a weird, weird situation – if you’ve got a guy who moves at the speed of light up against the Weather Wizard and Captain Cold or whatever, then your movie’s over in two seconds.”

I see it as bad omen when Mr. Millar begins with a criticism of the Flash’s costume. Partly because the wingtips on his “ears” not only invoke the mythological imagery of Hermes/Mercury, but also speaks to the characters streamlined design that hails from the jet age. Perhaps, Mr. Millar is correct in that the Flash’s speed makes it difficult to give the character dramatic tension when he could theoretically solve any problem in a matter of nanoseconds but it is not impossible. A potential film could easily borrow from Barry Allen’s post-New 52 origin and adapt the “Move Forward” storyline with Mob Rule. While some Rogues like the aforementioned Weather Wizard and Captain Cold may not be conductive for a film format due to the nature of the characters but Gorilla Grodd could still give the Flash trouble with his telepathic powers and raw savagery. Talking gorillas from a hidden city may stretch the suspension of disbelief, but would it be more of a stretch than let us say, a city of technologically advanced space Vikings in a distant galaxy?

Then we have Mirror Master, who can conceivably keep the Flash on his toes with the light motif, or the potential for a Reverse-Flash down the line. Plus, with the Flash’s history of traveling through time or to parallel worlds, there is a wellspring of potential.

I am beginning to wonder if Mr. Millar simply lacks imagination.

“You can get away with stuff in comics that in live action’s just a bit sucky – the best one is definitely Aquaman. Aquaman can’t even talk under water. If you think about it in comics it’s fine, you just have a speech balloon, but how do you have Atlantis and people talking under water? Are they gonna talking telepathically? Is it going to be body forms?”

Okay, this is beginning to get more ridiculous. Out of all the reasons not to produce an Aquaman film, Mr. Millar is worried about how the people of Atlantis are going to speak underwater? Given the possibly Shakespearean drama from a plot where Aquaman is locked in a struggle for the Atlantean throne with his brother, Orm (AKA Ocean Master), I would believe that any such concerns regarding how they will speak underwater is secondary. I could cite examples of how Wonder Woman, and even Firestorm, could have the potential to be great concepts but the problem here is that I believe Mr. Millar, in his capacity as a creative consultant for the pending Fantastic Four film reboot, is simply trash talking the competition. I also detect some lingering acrimony from the controversy over censorship of his run on The Authority might factor into his criticisms as well. Personally, I do not know why a website such as SciFi Now would consider Mr. Millar a “superhero guru” when is a decent, if not good, writer at best. Why not ask Kevin Feige, how has overseen the Marvel Cinematic universe? How about more acclaimed writers like Millar’s former partner, Grant Morrison, or academics like Ben Saunders? Millar’s criticisms strike me as shallow, unimaginative, and I fail to see why I should take them seriously.

However, does he have a point? I suppose. As a friend of mine said in response to the original draft of my commentary, one of the major obstacles to a Justice League movie is that it would appear to be a desperate attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Avengers and the ill-conceived Green Lantern film does not do much to allay those fears. But Mr. Millar is especially off base in his claims that Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and so forth are irrelevant due to their age and the nature of their abilities. I will also put my friends assertions that Iron Man and Thor’s abilities are “more accessible” into dispute. Jane Foster herself paraphrased Arthur C. Clarke in Thor when she said, “Magic is science we do not understand yet.” So if Mjolnir and the Bifrost are products of technology that is far more advanced than anything found on Earth, then why Green Lantern’s ring, a piece of alien technology, is less believable than anything found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The same applies to lightsabers and hyperdrive from Star Wars, which movie going audiences had little difficulty in suspending their disbelief for, but I digress. Maybe it is simply the wrong time for DC and Warner Brothers to try to shoot for the Moon in a cardboard box when Marvel already won that race, which Mr. Millar is attempting to convey but lacks the eloquence to do so.

Yet Marvel may have shot itself in the foot with the Avengers because how can they top what many believe was nirvana for comic book geekdom? Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and perhaps the Hulk are all viable franchises but what else does Marvel have to use? 20th Century Fox owns the film rights to the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises and Columbia holds the rights to Spider-Man to which both companies will keep producing films for to hold said rights. That leaves Marvel with Daredevil? Luke Cage? Black Panther? Captain (formerly Ms.) Marvel? I seriously doubt that any of those characters, aside from Daredevil, are capable of carrying a film by themselves. I enjoy Edgar Wright’s work but I do not have any reason to believe that he can rescue ­Ant-Man from obscurity than he could with Scott Pilgrim. Nor do I believe that Guardians of the Galaxy will be a roaring success because those characters are on an even lower tier than Daredevil and Ant-Man. When I give it more thought, perhaps it is a better idea for DC to shelve their plans for further Green Lantern or Flash films and carefully watch what their competition is doing. After all, despite their terrible luck with non-Batman or Superman films, they have done a respectable job with their properties on television with Arrow as their latest example. Perhaps they can learn a few lessons if Marvel’s cinematic universe implodes under the weight of its own success.

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