Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Why Superman vs. Batman is Going to Suck

First off, I know the movie's actual title is Batman vs. Superman. The reversal was intentional.
Second, this article isn't really about Batman vs. Superman--nay, cannot be about that film, for reasons soon to be revealed.

Over the Christmas break, I found myself, as many North Americans do, sitting in a theatre, watching the shitty pre-show, waiting for the lights to dim and the main attraction to begin. While I can usually tune the pedestrian trivia of the pre-show out, somehow an interviewer's inquiry punched through my Will Save against Ennui: "Which do you think is better? The Old Robocop, or the New Robocop?"
I hadn't been paying attention to the release date for this unnecessary remake of Verhoeven's ultra-violent satire from the '80s, but I didn't recall seeing the poster in the lobby, designating it as a film currently showing.

If the interviewer's question had been "Are you looking forward to seeing the New Robocop?", I couldn't have faulted her. But she asked a question her interviewees really aren't qualified to answer. Hell, short of the people who made the New Robocop, there wasn't a person on the planet qualified to answer that question. She was asking her interviewees to compare a film that hadn't been released to a film that is over 20 years old. So when she asked young people who can't be bothered to watch anything that wasn't made fourteen minutes ago, they answered that the New Robocop was obviously better, because it has better special effects. When she asked people my age and older, they clung to the belief that the original is always better, despite good odds that they haven't watched the original Robocop in a few years, or possibly can't remember which Robocop they watched.

This is why I will never be in the pre-show. I would have replied, "How can I know? It's nearly baseless speculation to conjecture an answer to that question. On the one hand, I love the original Robocop, but that's a feeling based more in nostalgia than any rigourous estimation of its cinematic value. I watched one of the trailers for the New Robocop once, and mostly thought it looked like the plot had been updated, but the satire left behind. But based on a trailer, who could know? Based on a trailer, 47 Ronin looked like it would be fun."  Based on a trailer, Burton's Sweeney Todd wasn't a musical.

If they hadn't turned the camera away from me, I'd have gone on to decry the question as typical of where movie media and criticism seem to have gone. We're not talking about a film's worth based on the film itself anymore. Instead, we assess a film's worth based on a single criterion: our expectations. This is exacerbated by anywhere from a month to a year of anticipating the film by speculating on how good or bad it will be. When we see the film, it is our expectations which drive our enjoyment. The film is as doomed as every first date with a person with impossibly high expectations in a partner. The criteria we should be setting for a film have been abandoned for utter subjectivity. Everything either sucks, or it's the BEST EVAR. And our assessment is almost always based in whether the film lived up to our expectations, not whether the work succeeded on its own terms.

Cursory surfing of fan sites or twitter-feeds has resulted in me seeing multiple posts on "Why Batman vs. Superman is going to suck." From Affleck's ostensible lack of talent (this, despite Argo and a number of other successes to the contrary) to Snyder's ruining of Superman in Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve killed Zod in Superman II back in the '80s, and was decidedly less shook-up about it - get over it), to Gal Gadot not being Amazonian enough to play Wonder Woman (really? if someone had shown you a photo of Hugh Jackman pre-X-men, what would we have predicted?), everyone has an opinion about why this film is going to blow.

And at this point, it's largely baseless speculation, just like asking which Robocop is better before anyone has seen the new one. I know, it's the thing the Internet does. But it's not what the Internet needs to do. There are countless classic SF works we could be looking at in anticipation of these films. But for every website helping neophytes to the DC universe by recommending they check out the Superman/Batman showdown in something like Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, there are countless more regurgitating what Seth Green said, when Seth Green isn't an expert, just a fanboy with a bigger platform.
Consider Godzilla, one of the movies I'm most anticipating this year: when the ComicCon version of the first trailer was leaked, most sites just asked the question, "Do you think it's going to be any good?" while only a handful dug into Oppenheimer's famous quoting (or mis-quoting, depending on who you talk to) of the Bhagavad-Gita, which linked the trailer to the Trinity test, nuclear weapons, and therefore, the reason we have Godzilla in the first place.

I hope Triple Bladed Sword never becomes a place where we reduce our reading of film, comics, books, and video games through pointless speculation about films that haven't been released. The Internet is so addicted to the New that it is no longer even speaking about the present, and it sure as hell doesn't have time to talk about the past. In my perfect world, here's what Cineplex should have done: had a special screening for both Robocop films. Then ask the people what they thought. And in my perfect world, when we're asked to comment on the quality of something we haven't seen, or worse yet, cannot have seen (because it hasn't been made), let's have the good grace to STFU, and reply, "I guess we'll see."

In the meantime, for anyone wanting to read about the best showdowns between Superman and Batman, check out this link to get some homework for assessing previous teamups and showdowns between these two heroes. Then, instead of taking the Internet's word for it, go read those issues, so you might have something useful to contribute to the discussion when Batman vs. Superman is finally released. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Algebraic!: The Best Cartoons for the Thinking Adult

Characters from Regular Show

I’m not sure when the cartoon revolution started, but it’s here and I'm excited. Pixar and Disney are now slipping subtle adult jokes into children’s films (“Do you think he’s compensating for something?” –Shrek) to the delight and relief of (bored) parents and adult movie-goers everywhere. Once upon a time, cartoons were for children, but today they have a mixed audience. I now spend my weekends watching the cartoon network—and not just to experience the nostalgia of childhood simplicity. These contemporary cartoons are actually pretty smart. And, in some cases, they’re also very adult. So, if you’re interested in becoming a cartoon buff, I’ve provided you with my favourites below. 

      Adventure Time (a.k.a. AT)

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Adventure

Target Audience: Older children and Young teens (and probably stoners)
Any time I have a chance to sing the praises of Adventure Time, I do. At first, this show was of no interest to me, but a friend of mine casually mentioned that it’s actually a post-apocalyptic narrative and I had to check it out. I mean, what sort of children’s show is post-apocalyptic*? If you’re an observant viewer, you’ll notice that the opening sequence of AT hints at this fact. Among a pile of random objects (a ring, a broken tv set, headphones), a disembodied arm hangs from a spidery tree. If you look closer still, you’ll also spot several undetonated nuclear bombs (yup, this is a kid’s show). Later in the series, you’ll get to see a shot of the earth from space—and you’ll discover that a huge chunk of it is missing. The characters occasionally mention a “great mushroom war,” prompting speculators to suggest that the post-apocalyptic event took place after a global nuclear war. It’s no mistake that the opening song specifies Finn’s species, either: he’s the only human left.
AT is worth a watch simply because it sporadically explores the nature of the catastrophic event that ended the world as we know it. Additionally, it’s quite philosophical for a cartoon. AT questions the ethics of cloning, genocide for the greater good, capitalism, and war, among many other adult topics. In its randomness, it also manages to be incredibly funny. BMO, Jake, Lemon Grab/Squeeze, and Ice King are some of the most interesting characters with some of the best lines. All in all, this cartoon is not just one of my top programs for children, but also one of the top for adults.

*As it turns out, quite a few. Pokemon and The Flintstones, for example, are rumored to be a post-apocalyptic narratives as well. Go figure. 

       Clone High

Genre: Teen drama (with a twist)

Target Audience: Teens and Young Adults

In this cartoon, genius scientists dig up famous guys and ladies and make amusing genetic copies: Abe Lincoln, JFK, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, and Gandhi. Then, shadowy government figures send those same teenaged clones to high school. The premise itself is funny and creative and it only gets better. Clone High is riddled with guest stars, including Jack Black, Marilyn Manson, and Mandy Moore. Every episode is bizarre, fantastical, and hilarious in its own way and serves as a satirical and cynical imitation of teen drama (think Dawson’s Creek and Degrassi). The characters throw parties (with alcohol free booze); delve into the seedy world of drugs (their drug of choice is raisins); and go to prom (along with the deformed clone of Marie Curie).

On the surface, Clone High doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, but it’s distinctly adult. Firstly, Clone High requires viewers to have a solid grounding in history—the jokes aren’t always obvious otherwise. Secondly, there are moments of restrained profoundness. While the show is mostly concerned with the shallow worries of high school students, the viewers are occasionally reminded that these clones are part of some awful experiment and have a direct link to the suffering and tragedies experienced by their originals. The soundtrack, mostly composed by the Abandoned Pools, reinforces the melancholy nature of Clone High. Indeed, it helps set the tone of each episode—particularly the last scene of the last episode which reveals the hellish fate of these lovable clones. 
 Sadly, Clone High was cancelled after its first season and so, the finale’s shock ending remains painfully unresolved.  

      Regular Show

Genre: Monster-of-the-week (sort of)

Target Audience: Young and late teens, young adults, and stoners

Regular Show is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. A hybrid of The Bugs Bunny Show and Undeclared, the show revolves around the daily adventures of protagonists, Rigby and Mordecai. Rigby and Mordecai are humanized animals (I think Mordecai is a blue bird, but I’m unsure about Rigby) who are probably in their early 20s. Needless to say, they represent the X generation well in that they’re both underemployed and apathetic. They spend their days (barely) working at this hellish park—I’m half convinced they’re stuck in limbo—in the middle of a nameless city. Their boss is a gum ball machine. The park’s repairman is a giant white ape, Skips, who, as his name suggests, skips everywhere.

Regular Show includes fantastical elements each episode, usually in the shape of some sort of monster or mystical creature which Rigby and Mordecai then must defeat. Some notable monsters include a cyborg virus, a video game villain, and a movie-loving gnome. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this cartoon is the fact that many of the characters are immortal, suggesting, once again, that Rigby and Mordecai may in fact be stuck in purgatory. That would explain all the unusual happenings at what looks to be a normal park. Regardless of the validity of my theory, you’ll surely be intrigued and entertained while watching this not-so Regular Show.