Monday, 25 April 2016

Goodbye, Prince








  When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain
Before high piled books in charactery
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain
  When I behold upon the night's starred face
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance
  And when I feel, fair creature of an hour
That I shall never look upon thee more
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love--then on the shore
  Of this wide world I stand alone and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do think.

That is a poem by John Keats, the most poetic of English poets. Others were more important, more popular, or more often studied, but John Keats made English more beautiful than any writer has before or since. He gave us the Odes (to a Nightingale, to a Grecian Urn, and my own favorite, on Melancholy). His poetry is the most vivid, most sensuous, most alive poetry I've read, and to read it is to celebrate being alive.

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

John Keats died before his 26th birthday. The poem above meditates on how fleeting his life might be, and his fear that his death might come before he had written out all the poetry churning in his brain, which is exactly what happened. To love John Keats is to be forever teased by the would have, the could have, of a poet whose poetry reached heights few other poets ever could, but who was robbed of the chance to write more, just as we are now robbed of the chance to read it.

I woke up on Friday morning to the horrible news that another perfect artist, another artist whose work transcends time and language and genre, whose art, at its best, skips blithely past our defenses and strikes something deep within us like a dart, has been taken from us too soon. Prince is dead. How can we go on? Prince is dead.

I did not grow up in Minnesota, like a few of my friends on Facebook, whose grief I cannot imagine. I did not know Prince personally, and I can't imagine what his loved ones are feeling right now. I did not even grow up on Prince's music: I was just a little too young to catch him at his apex. My musical taste's development caught the end of his prime as an absolute world-straddling hitmaker, and I have "7" on the mix-tapes I made by listening to the radio with my fingers hovering over the "record" button, but I was too young for Purple Rain, Sign O'The Times, and Kiss, all the more for 1999 and Little Red Corvette. I was around for a few of the "Prince or Michael Jackson" conversations, and for the Love Symbol replacing his name. Prince didn't belong to me: his activism, name-checking Black Lives Matter, naming the first song on his last album "Baltimore" and singing that if there is no justice, there is no peace: the struggles he sings about are ones I care about, but they are not my story. I admit it is impossible for Prince to mean as much to me as he means to other people.

There is no reason I should be quite as distraught as I am about Prince's passing: Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson and David Bowie didn't make me feel this way. Pressed to it, I can't think of a single artist whose death would make me feel the same way Prince's has, and so I sit a step removed, and watch myself grieve, startled at how hard this hit me.

Which other celebrity could have the lights shone on public monuments turned purple, and for everyone to know exactly what it meant, and who it was for? What artist was talented enough to claim an entire color for himself (and not even an obscure one like puce or chartreuse, but one of the big, "in-every-crayola-box" ones), and for everybody to go "Yeah. OK. You can have purple from now on," like they did for Prince? What artist was big enough that you said "Prince" and nobody said "Prince who?" (even my royalist sister-in-law)? Nobody.

I play every version of Purple Rain I can find again and again, I plumb my friends' Facebook feeds for articles, tracklists, videoclips and bootlegs, I watch interviews and tributes, I read distraught articles by people who loved Prince like an uncle. In the absence of a friend who can come over, maybe this is how I can feel connected to the mourning: by sharing in the videos and articles that all the other mourners are also watching and reading. Thank you Michael, Regina and Jane. The links you've been sharing on your Facebook pages have helped me feel like I'm sharing with someone. And that poem by John Keats runs through my head when Purple Rain does not.

Prince was the most talented musician I will probably ever encounter in my life. He wrote every song, played every instrument, sang every vocal, and produced and mixed every song for Sign O'The Times: every single step of recording one of the best albums in my collection was completely and solely done by him. His songs all hit the mark -- whatever he's trying for, he does it. And then live, you can't take your eyes off him, and his guitar solos are all perfect combinations of wild unpredictability and technical perfection. All I can do is wonder, and reel in awe.

I am listening to what nobody knew would be Prince's final concert, on Soundcloud.



To impress upon my wife how important Prince is, I explained that for much of the 80s, "Who's better: Michael Jackson or Prince?" was a legitimate question. It seems Purple Rain didn't make as big an impact here in South Korea as Thriller did, but that seemed to be a good frame. But what that comparison doesn't cover is that Michael Jackson hadn't been relevant as an artist for a decade by the time he passed on. Until the end, Prince was recording music, performing, mentoring other artists, writing songs, producing, creating, and supporting communities and activists. That longevity (as well as staying out of tabloids) is why I don't think we can argue anymore that it's a contest between Prince and Michael Jackson. Jackson probably had a higher peak in terms of popularity, but Prince's footprints are deeper and wider spread.

And then I think that, like John Keats, I am sure that Prince had more music in his head, that we will not get to hear. I realize that this is a selfish thought, and also that Prince has done so much that it is right to celebrate him, and not to cheaply wish we could have yet more. But the world is poorer. Music is poorer for his passing. He had more young artists to mentor. He had more albums to make of his own, and more collaborations, and more stages to crash and songs to raise to a new level with a perfect guitar solo. His talent and his ability to perform stayed with him right until 2016.

I did not like Prince right away. In fact, for much of my 20s, I had an out and out prejudice against music from the 80s. My music taste developed in the early 90s (they say the music you liked around age 13-14 is the kind of music you will like for all your life), and at that age, grunge music was backlashing against the synth pop sounds of the 80s, so my distaste for keyboards and that "Hungry Like A Wolf" sound kept me away from 80s music entirely for years.

Prince is the one who brought me back. The song Purple Rain, specifically, was the song that went right past my guards and defenses, and convinced me to give the 80s another listen. It is the ultimate confessional song. It is the very sound of a person pouring their heart out in music, it is an absolute show-stopper, yet so moving and personal at the same time. How a man could create that song, which holds so much meaning for so many people, hits them so deeply, amazes me. It is one of the greatest songs I know, from beginning to end. It is a song that owns its greatness, wears its ambition on its sleeve, and actually achieves its moon-shot. Starting with the undeniable Purple Rain, Prince's music slowly, irresistibly  grew on me, and he steadily climbed in my esteem, until now, when he is one of my top two artists, and every song I can ever hope for from him is already in the bag, or the vault.

Prince is gone. I am sad, and I want to be around other people who loved him. But I also celebrate him. I celebrate his humanitarian work. I celebrate his genius. All those perfect solos and all the different personas he sang with. The way he could be passionate and confessional, fun, goofy, sexy, dirty, silly, whimsical, experimental or as "pop" as pop can be, without ever ceasing to be Prince: that he could contain so much inside him, still inspires and awes. Prince is the John Keats of music: a pure genius, unsullied even when he sings about ugly things. A perfect conduit of joy, grief, love, of all the emotions we have, making us all more alive, helping us experience the world more vividly and sensuously and abundantly, then taken from us too soon. So, thank you Prince, for the gift you shared with us for your time on the planet. Thank you for giving 80s music back to me, for moving your fans in so many different ways, for making my kindergarten students and my son dance, and for connecting everybody who is now sharing purple-themed grief on their websites and facebook walls. Music brings people together, and now, even in our grief, we are not alone, because we love you, and we will miss you.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Part 1: Batman v Superman v Zack Snyder

Following up my Star Wars review in January, once again a movie has put a bee in my bonnet, and I'll write about it way after the point. Batman v Superman underwhelmed me, or rather overwhelmed me in the wrong way. Fridge logic was jumping at me way before I had a chance to find a fridge, and that's a problem.

It is weird when people call a film that made over 800 million worldwide a failure, but that 28% Fresh rate on the Tomatometer stings. The yardstick for cinematic universe launchpads, Avengers, outdid it in box office (780 mill to 1519 mill worldwide), and acclaim (28% to 92% Fresh on the Tomatometer - all figures at time of writing), and achieved that with a cast of characters not nearly as well-known and iconic as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. In fact, Marvel is eating DC's lunch even without access to many fan favorites like Wolverine, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Deadpool (and Spider-man, when Avengers came out), because other studios had those film rights. They beat Superman and Batman with their hands tied behind their backs. Soundly. Bottom line: Batman V Superman is a much weaker launchpad for fifteen years of related tentpoles than Avengers was.

However, before I am dismissed as a hater, and before I take a crap on Superman's lawn, I want to be clear about this:

I was primed to love this film. I wanted to love it. I maximized my chance of loving it: I saw it as early as I could, and avoided reading reviews, so my take would be unsullied by other opinions. I’ve always been a DC guy, and would have loved to be looking forward to all DCEU's phases, from now until the reboot. All my biases worked in this film’s favor. But then, I had to watch the actual movie.

From here, expect Spoilers. A lot of them. So if you plan to see it yet… move along.


Here is The Guardian's very funny "Everything Wrong with Batman v Superman."


There were things I liked about this film, in case three paragraphs ago isn't enough to show I'm not some kneejerk, butthurt nerd, or bandwagon pot-shot-taker.

  • Only Christian Bale is a better film Batman so far than Ben Affleck
  • Only Michael Keaton is a better film Bruce Wayne so far than Ben Affleck. 
  • Other than swinging Superman around like a wrecking ball, this Batman's combat scenes were the best we've seen in film. Batfleck is also closest to the Batman we saw in The Animated Series, the amazing 90s cartoon, which might be the definitive non-comic Batman treatment so far. Christian Bale's Batman was a ridiculously tough act to follow, and Chuckie Sullivan pulled it off. Zack Snyder gets what's cool about Batman... and let's be real: this is a Batman story.
  • Jeremy Irons' Alfred is also great, though he had too little screen time and it'll be hard to supplant Michael Caine as the best Alfred we've seen. 
  • Wonder Woman looks great so far 
  • Her music and her entrance were completely fist-punching-the-air awesome. Best twelve seconds of the film. 
  • If he had been written better, I would have said we have an extremely interesting, and definitely very original Lex Luthor, which is a very good thing in a villain. But I have reservations more to do with his writers and director than the performance itself. 
  • I even think Henry Cavill's Superman is still salvageable, but probably not while Zack Snyder is directing.


On to the problems, the biggest first:

1. Zack Snyder and His Writing Team Does Not Understand How to Make Superman Interesting, Who Likes Superman, What Kind Of Story Superman Stories Are, Why We Like That Kind of Story and just, basically, Superman.

I'm a Superman guy from way back. Watched every episode of Smallville, many with my Dad, who is also a Superman guy. I know Superman's dramatic limitations: he's just too powerful. Rooting for the guy who punches harder than anyone else is like rooting for gravity. The only way to make him interesting again is to put something on the line outside of the realm of raw power.

Really good Superman stories put the idea of Superman, his motivations and principles, into conflict. Christopher Nolan's first two Batman films were great examples of raising the personal stakes beyond mere punch-ups. The choices Batman made in dealing with Joker, Two-Face and Ra's Al Ghul tested the very ideas on which Bruce Wayne based his Batman. Those choices mattered. To make Superman interesting again the meaning of Superman has to be tested in the choices he makes -not just by things people say about him (of which there's a lot here). In two films so far, Superman made a surprisingly small number of choices: most of the time he just kind of watches, broods, and then reacts to events.

Here's an actual choice:


Other than that moment, for two whole films now, here are the times Superman takes initiative: 1. Saving the bus of kids even though his father told him not to show his powers. 2. Wanting to write a story about Batman for the Daily Planet. 3. Finding Batman and telling him to stop Batmanning! I think that's it. The only other choice he makes is "Should I keep being a hero, or not?" ...which is basically masturbation in a film that is a superhero movie. In fact, all that existential fuzz reminds me of a different hero than Superman.

The comic book movie Zack Snyder did before Man Of Steel was Watchmen, which features another all-powerful blue hero, Dr. Manhattan. Dr. Manhattan started out human, and got turned into a matter-manipulating demigod in a lab accident. Once he becomes capable of seeing protons, he slowly disengages from humanity, and eventually leaves Earth because he can't relate to us anymore, and likes atoms better than humans anyway.



"Should I Superman or not?" seems more like Dr. Manhattan than the Superman I know. So does the entire public discussion of/backlash against Superman (which also shows up in The Dark Knight Returns). However, the Superman I know does not lose his connection to humanity: he dives into it. A job, a secret identity, a girlfriend, visits to Smallville for Thanksgiving. His entire motivation to be a hero springs from his effort to connect with humanity, which is why the scenes where Martha Kent says, "You don't owe the world anything" ring wildly false. That's the exact opposite of Superman's entire heroic makeup. The best thing about Superman is how he embraces his adopted planet, and the best scenes in Man of Steel and this film were the ones where we see his connection with humanity: the scenes with his parents. The reaction when Zod threatens his mother in Man of Steel is one of the realest moments in the film. (It happens just before the famous The Smallville Esso/7-11 Product Placement Throwdown [brought to you by IHOP] - great scene!)

There's stuff you can change about a hero, and stuff you can't, or they won't be recognizable anymore. Take away the red underpants. Whatever. Bat-nipples... oookayyy. But Batman doesn't kill, and his parents were murdered. Spider-man's Uncle Ben dies. And Superman is good for the sake of being good because of his upbringing. That's the nature of the character. If you give Daredevil back his sight, or take him out of Hell's Kitchen, he's no longer the Daredevil we know. If Captain America starts cussing like Negan on The Walking Dead, he's not Captain America anymore. If Superman is a petty jerk who can be provoked by a mug of beer, who considers abandoning humanity because they graffiti'd his statue... then Lex Luthor is in the right, Superman is too alien to be trusted with all his power, and Batman should kill him. The innate decency is an inextricable part of Superman. It is the whole reason Batman should withhold his killing blow. Because Zack Snyder goes a different direction, he has to ass-pull the dumbest contrivance in comic movie history to justify why Batman didn't finish things off right there.

Source Dumb. dumb dumb dumb.
Without his moral compass shining bright, the reversal where Batman decides not to kill Superman falls from flat to ridiculous.

Now, who likes Superman? Kids like Superman. If you ask 100 five-year-olds to invent a superhero, 96 of them will invent a hero that is basically Superman and 4 will invent a Power Ranger, or a princess-robot-dinosaur-pony version of them. To grown-ups, Superman is kind of dorky and dramatically inert, because he's too powerful, and inevitability is no fun to watch, but to kids, that's awesome, because kids often feel powerless and wish they could fly, too. It makes absolutely no sense to make a Superman story that kids won't be able to enjoy, because that's his main demographic! A kid gets SO excited watching a Superman story, because the whole story is a build-up to the moment when The Super-Punch flattens that bad guy! Yay super-punch! Kids don't care if inevitability is less dramatic, because Super-Punch, daddy!

The other people who like Superman like him for childlike reasons: because sometimes it's fun to slip back into that innocence where good guys are good guys and bad guys get super-punches. We get tired of pyrrhic, morally ambiguous or bittersweet victories after a while. I didn't buy superhero film tickets to have difficult thoughts: I can get those anywhere! Ghost Pa Kent's story about how saving the farm drowned the Lang's horses violates the basic tenet of the moral universe in which Superman exists, and has always existed: one where good guys can win, because that's why we go see movies, gosh darn it! In a moral universe where every act of heroism might have a horrific consequence (like drowning horses), Superman's only responsible choice is to leave the planet. Goodbye, story. Sometimes I don't want a cynical Watchmen ending, where Dr. Manhattan looks at the Ozymandias and Nite Owl and says "Maybe we made the world a little less shitty at this horrific cost... but maybe not! Maybe this was just a bunch of really awful stuff that happened," and then abandons earth and humans to their own shittiness. Sometimes I want to escape, and see the bad guy get flattened with a super-punch, OK? Sue me. I know that the Christopher Reeve Superman cannot exist in a 2016 film, but there must be a way to make a Superman that is suitable for 2016, but is still recognizably Superman. Marvel has amply demonstrated it's possible to make a superhero film kids and adults can enjoy.

Different heroes are different types of stories. Iron Man is a story of redemption (from a wrecked personal life) through heroism. Captain America is a story about keeping moral clarity in a world full of grey areas. Daredevil explores the gap between law and justice. Batman is everyman reaching full human potential: we love stories like that: that's Rocky, Luke Skywalker, and Katniss Everdeen. It's The Karate Kid and Kung Fu Panda and the Last Girl in every horror movie. But Superman is not the story of surpassing limitations: Superman has no limitations. Superman takes the limitless -- the demigod -- and brings him down to us, and the things that humanize Superman make him interesting. That is the kind of story Superman is, and it's why we like him more than Martian Manhunter. He grew up on a farm in Kansas. He gets reamed out by his editor and given crap assignments at The Daily Planet. "Haha. Even Superman has deadlines and a ball-busting boss," makes us feel better about our crap days. It's no wonder the scenes with Ma and Pa Kent were the best parts of Man of Steel: as I said above, they are his strongest tether to humanity. And nothing is more fun in a Superman story than the contrivances he must go through to maintain his secret identity: dealing with Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, hiding his secret identity from them in the 1978 film were some of the best parts of the movie. That punching hard stuff? Superman's got that covered. But when Lois Lane is trying to trick Clark into taking his glasses off... that's where the fun of Superman is, because now the ultimate person-without-any-limitations, has to act within constraints.



Zack Snyder leaves all that potential for fun on the table. He scurries past it with eyes averted like the kid who snuck an extra dessert. Jimmy Olsen dies in the first scene of BvS, and Lois has always known he's Clark Kent. In the film's last scene, Clark Kent is declared dead in the newspaper (in the Superman's death saga, Kent was declared missing, not dead). Without Clark or Jimmy, and with Lois being in on it, Superman's entire fun side is wasted, and all that remains is the overpowered, inevitable super-punching bore.

TL:DR: Zack Snyder doesn't understand anything about Superman or why anybody likes him, and doesn't seem to care, either.

EDIT: Turns out his writer, David Goyer, is equally myopic on Superheroes who aren't anti-heroes. This article corroborates a lot of what I intuited here. Nice!


More in Part 2!

Part 2: Batman v Superman v Just Making a Two Hour Trailer

Continued from part 1.

2. Zack Snyder's Best Talent Ruined This Movie

What are Zack Snyder's two best talents? He can make a trailer that stops the world. He is so so good at making action look really good. So darn good. The problem is, entire sequences of the film, and whole scenes, seemed designed more to provide setup for some killer snip that went into the trailer, than for actually being part of a scene that was good as an effective scene. The dream sequence with Trenchcoat Batman. The crayon "You let your family die" on a newspaper clipping (which, misleadingly, resembled the scrawl on Robin's empty uniform in the Batcave... seeming to reference a Joker who did not appear in the film). "The red capes are coming" (a line which didn't even make sense in the context of the scene) "The oldest lie in America is that power can be innocent" (good line, but untrue: it's easier to find records of the idea that the price of liberty is constant vigilance). The trailer-bait took me out of the movie, and frankly, it's hard to pull me out of a movie. I try to get carried away.

The films that got Zack Snyder this job were recreations of Watchmen and 300, which worked exactly insofar as they hewed closely to the original graphic novels. Dawn of the Dead was also a very good remake: it might be my favorite zombie movie. When he takes a story that is already laid out for him, and his only task is to make it look absolutely great, he completely nails it. Ask him to create a believable reality and set a story within it, and you get Sucker Punch.
Read that Critics Consensus summary twice.

Watch the movie again, with an eye for this: every scene in the first half of the movie scans the way you tell a joke: with a setup, and then a punchline. The punchline is either a zinger of a cool line (trailer bait), or a revelation of new information (clumsy plot advancement). Again and again and again. Many of the lines work, and the some reveals make you go "ooh!" ... but that isn't enough to comprise a good scene, and a story with great characters like Batman and Superman needs a good scene writer. What Snyder is doing would probably work on a comic page: the Walking Dead comics I'm reading also have a lot of scenes that seem written as build-ups to a good line or a reveal, but what works on a page doesn't work in film. I just watched Netflix's Daredevil, Season 2, with scenes full of revelations, surprises, and characters at plausible and interesting cross-purposes, with reversals that make sense. Seeing all that great writing just underscored how cheesy the few exchanges between Batman and Superman were.


Terse cheesy tough talk out of an 80s movie is a huge waste of two actors who, I think, could deliver very interesting performances of the characters. But not with Zack Snyder directing them like a movie trailer crossed with an MTV video.

And when he DOES try to write an actual exchange between them...



 It's hilarious. For all the wrong reasons.

I am incapable of watching a movie without noticing the music. Not that it was possible not to notice the music in this one. The entire score here also seemed made for a two-minute trailer. When the action was flying, those dramatic close-ups and slow-motion and ponderous music stuff made it feel like something Important was happening... but that portentious music never let up, to the point that everything was getting "Hey! Pay attention! This is profound!" treatment. As any student studying from a used textbook knows, when everything is underlined, nothing stands out anymore. The whole movie come off as relentless and exhausting.

What I wouldn't have given for one clever, quiet scene as witty as this one, just for a break from Hans Zimmer launching BWAAMs at me.



One more thing about the music: when Hans Zimmer's overbearing score wasn't playing, for the background music in the mall where Lois got kidnapped, and for Lex Luthor's party, the music was done by a spoof lounge singer called Richard Cheese. Yes. A singer named Dick Cheese provided two songs for the Batman v Superman film. Now, the first time Dick Cheese worked with Zack Snyder it was in Dawn Of The Dead, where the song "Down With The Sickness" was the perfect meltdown song for a montage of claustrophobic people slowly going mad, while the song slowly disintegrated into f-bombs. These are substandard versions of jazz classics: even these would have been a step up. And a character even quotes one of them while threatening Martha Kent, as if they have thematic importance. If Zack Snyder is putting his buddies' crappy songs into the soundtrack, and nobody higher up put the kibosh on his bad choices, not only is Zack Snyder completely the wrong person for this job, but I'm beginning to doubt the whole extended universe's creative oversight. You'd think they'd have learned their lesson after giving Superman maybe a son in Superman Returns. This bodes very ill for the DC Expanded Universe.

Ben Affleck is an actor who is better or worse depending on what kind of writing he is working with. The only case more extreme is Nicholas Cage. So let's get the man an effing writer, and a director who understands how to do a scene, please!

PLEASE find a better show-runner for the DC Expanded Universe. Superman and Batman deserve it! I suggest Brad Bird, but I'm open to other ideas.


Conclusion in part 3 (yes, I get worked up about this)

Part 3: Batman v Superman v Prospects for A Successful Expanded Universe

Final installment: continued from part 1 - Zack Snyder vs. Superman, and part 2, Batman Vs. the Two Hour Trailer..

3. Grim and Dour Doesn't Work For Most Superheroes...

Everybody writing a script that breaks the fourth wall, because Deadpool made a lot of money, is going to discover soon that Deadpool didn't make a ton of money because he broke the fourth wall. It made a ton of money because it was exactly the kind of movie a Deadpool movie should be. It was as perfect a fit for that character as Christopher Nolan's films were for Batman. When other heroes who are not Deadpool try to be in a Deadpool movie, they will fail. If you tried to give Spider-man the same treatment Daredevil is getting on Netflix, it would be a train wreck and everyone would hate it.

Grim and dour works with a few superheroes. Batman. A nice, gritty Daredevil film could be really good, though unnecessary with the netflix series on. Ditto for The Punisher, if it's allowed to have an R rating. A gritty Wolverine could be awesome, depending on who plays him. The television Green Arrow is really working. Other superheroes will never fit into that tone. Thor is just too silly. Nobody wants to see a The Flash do an Oldboy-ish hammer fight scene. But for Daredevil, it's completely awesome. Warner had a ton of success, and made a ton of money, and got a ton of acclaim, for those bleak and gloomy and dour Dark Knight films. Because that's the kind of character Batman is. But Superman just isn't, and trying to play him that way was ill-advised at best, and a fatal mistake at worst. A grim Flash won't make it. I'm not sure if Wonder Woman will, but an Aquaman film that isn't even fun will be a really tough sell, because Aquaman's a tough sell to begin with. As Avengers 1 was the proof of concept for "phases," DC's film launching phase one cannot avoid comparisons with Avengers, and people came out of Avengers wanting to watch nine more films like that, thinking they'd probably be entertaining enough, because the actors were fun and watchable enough to fill in the scenes between the action set pieces. Nobody came out of BvS thinking it'd sure be awesome to endure eighteen to twenty more hours of loud, dour, and dumb.

You can make a movie for adults about Batman, because adults get the "he's only human" thing and appreciate the idea of human ability overcoming. Little boys like Superman, because nobody can tell him what to do, but he helps people anyway. To adults, Superman is kind of goofy, and adults are smart enough to recognize that Superman is too powerful, and sucks the drama out of a battle. A Superman aimed at adults is never quite going to work.

...And It's a Terrible Choice in the Long Term

But by making a Superman that doesn't appeal to kids, that I'd hesitate to bring my son to see, Warner Brothers is making a really, really stupid blunder. First, because that's not how Superman works, and they're turning their back on Superman's core demographic, and second, because kids today are the nerds of the future, and frankly, kids are way more loyal than nerds. Nerds are loyal to their characters, but they also have a very clear and specific idea of how their heroes should be portrayed on screen, and if you venture too far from that, they'll abandon you in the time it takes to record a butthurt youtube review. It is really really hard to build up goodwill among nerds (in such a way that general audiences will see your film too), and it is really easy to squander that goodwill. Compare that to kids, who, if you impress them, will beg their parents to bring them out to see the sequel in IMAX 3D, and want the entire set of toys and related merchandise for Christmas, and the halloween costume, and the underpants, and the coloring book, and the birthday cake, and then all that stuff again but slightly different when the sequel comes out.

Yeah, saying "Marvel is fun, DC is dark" is clearly a method of differentiating the two hero brands, and differentiation is good, I guess. But right now, the nerds of the future, with all their future disposable nerd income and future fierce nerd loyalty to their favorite nerd characters... are running around in Iron Masks and Hulk fists and Spider-man t-shirts and swinging Mjolnir hammers and Captain America shields, just like today's adult nerds ran around with toy lightsabers and Darth Vader masks and Superman capes. DC is not just leaving all that money on the table but surrendering it and future dollars to Marvel, by saying they're going to make superhero films for grown-ups. The farther you follow down the timeline, the worse an idea this is.

4. Setting Up an Entire Expanded Universe In One Film Is Simply Asking the Film to Do Too Much

This film introduced a new Batman, introduced him to Superman, required them to fight AND THEN become allies, introduced a new Lex Luthor, developed three antagonists for Superman - Batman, Lex, and Doomsday, as well as a new ally, Wonder Woman, while consolidating the universe's tone and introducing three new superheroes for future films, and giving Batman a reason to muster the Justice League while killing Superman. No wonder the film was bloated as anything: they gave it way, way, way too much to do. They crammed three or four films' worth of world-building and explaining and plotting into a single film.

Is Marvel's "Phase One" the only way to set up a cinematic universe? It's hard to say. But Marvel used four films -- Iron Mans 1 and 2, Thor and Captain America, to set up The Avengers. Four films of world building and character introductions, so that when Avengers came along, we could enjoy the ride instead of having to sit through reams of exposition. Particularly for characters like Thor, whose origins are kind of goofy, it helped not to have to explain that in the middle of setting up another car chase. Batman and Superman didn't need too much background explanation -- Superman already had his origin story and everybody knows Batman -- but does the casual fan care enough about Aquaman anyway? Or Cyborg? Letting Wonder Woman click through their clips was a clumsy and dumb way to tease future movies. That's the kind of stuff Marvel would have put in a post-credits stinger or a DVD easter egg.

Avengers knew they had something good when Iron Man did well, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark left everybody wanting more. Only when Iron Man was a smash did they know they could swing for the fences with Avengers. Who is the insanely watchable sparkplug that will keep Justice League team scenes popping? There'd better be one, because a lot of people only go to films that give them characters they actually want to hang out with. From what I've seen so far, Superman's not that guy.

If I were in charge of the DC universe, there would have been a Batman solo film before BvS to establish Batman. Maybe also either a Wonder Woman or Flash film. There would have been a Batman vs. Superman film where they slugged it out, and gained each others' trust. THEN there would have been a Dawn of Justice film where they meet Wonder Woman, and Lex Luthor starts trying to lead a public backlash against superheroes. Maybe Flash or Green Lantern is the surprise reveal when Doomsday attacks instead of Wonder Woman. IF or AFTER fans have bought into the idea of a justice league film series, maybe Green Lantern (who has SO much backstory about the Green Lantern Corps to cover he's a difficult hero to put on film) gets a film, and if we can find someone who is as fun to watch as Robert Downey Jr. to play The Flash and/or Green Lantern, and send sparks around the room to drive Batfleck nuts the way Iron Man antagonizes Captain America... then we've got the basis for a nice, fun string of films I'd pay money to see. If the Batman solo film is completely huge, then Flash's film goes before BvS instead of after, or between BvS and Dawn of Justice.


Now, I’ll just check off the complaints I’ve read in other places, but I definitely agree with.


  • First half was fragmented and nonsensical
  • Dream sequences didn’t serve the story in any way (I hear it hints at sequels... I don't care. Sequel-hints are only allowed if they also advance this story.)
  • Lex Luthor’s motivation was never made clear
  • Lex Luthor’s entire exploding wheelchair subplot was extraneous: seeing Metropolis in ruins was already plenty motivation for Bruce Wayne to go after Supes. Lex could have vanished from the first half of the movie, and the movie would have been shorter, but not poorer. He could have vanished from the second half and only Doomsday's appearance wouldn't have happened. Which would have been OK, because it's Batman v Superman, not Batman v Superman v Doomsday.
  • Lex Luthor is dumb. Using special bullets that can only be traced to Luthercorp in a move to set up Superman, and then using a special fancy wheelchair that could surely also be traced to him, in his bomb plan, seems to me like a detective skills test for Batman. Which Batman failed.
  • Batman, The World’s Greatest Detective, wouldn't have failed that test. He'd have figured out what Luthor was up to faster than Adam West’s batman figuring out one of The Riddler’s riddles by playing word association with Burt Ward. This is the one big hole in the portrayal of Batman in this film: he's a meathead.
  • The writing on the returned insurance checks resembled the writing on Robin’s costume, which seemed like a connection in the trailer, but wasn’t. I hate misleading trailers. Really hate them.
  • Why did Lois Lane throw the spear in a pool?
  • How did Lois Lane know she had to retrieve the spear...which she had just thrown into the pool?
  • Why would J Jonah Jameson (just kidding I know it was Perry White) refuse Lois Lane a helicopter for a story, but give it to her when she said it was NOT for a story?
  • Why could Batman find Martha Kent, but Superman couldn’t? Especially when he could locate Lois in half the time it takes to fall off a building.
  • When did Lex Luthor figure out Superman was Clark Kent, in order to kidnap his mom?
  • Why does Superman waste 20 seconds smooching Lois Lane while Batman and Wonder Woman are in mortal peril from Doomsday?
  • Many of the scenes in the first half of the film could have been re-edited in any order without changing the movie significantly.
  • Could teasing the upcoming justice league movies have been more clumsy and heavy-handed (click click click)?
  • Why didn’t Superman give the Kryptonite spear to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get killed by Kryptonite?
  • Why didn’t Batman make something deadlier and easier to handle than a spear out of the kryptonite? Like a brass knuckles knife? Or some bullets?
  • Why did Lex Luthor think making an unstoppable death monster would be a good idea in any way whatsoever? A smart Lex Luthor would have gotten control of that ship and then hidden it, and learned every secret of Kryptonian tech he could from it.
  • If Batman had killed Superman, could Wonder Woman and Batman have beaten Doomsday on their own, and if not, how fucked would the entire planet have been? Lex is way too reckless here to pass as the smartest human alive.
  • Nobody in America says that power can be innocent, or has for long enough that it is the oldest lie in America. Nobody ever says that. Except Lex Luthor, in order to say it is a lie. Zack Snyder or his writer is just writing whatever shit comes into his head.
  • A plot as clumsy, and easy to connect back to Luthor, as kidnapping Martha Kent? The Lex Luthors I love are way more subtle than obvious tricks like this and the exploding wheelchair.
  • Lex Luthor is more frightening if he is more clearly in control of his faculties, more calculating, in my opinion. He'd scare me more if he were together enough to actually deliver a 40 second speech at a gala in his honor.
  • How is it that Superman seems to be finding out just now about the existence of Batman, who appears to have been doing his thing for a long time?
  • Batman is killing people. Nobody could have survived a few of those explosions.
  • What about Superman and his behavior (vanishing, sulking, brooding, wrecking entire city blocks) would make people want to build a giant statue of him after the people looking for him destroyed a whole downtown, instead of, say, a memorial to the thousands of people killed in the battle of Metropolis? That Superman allowed a statue of himself like that to go up and overshadow the dead, explains to me why many people don't like him.
  • Seriously, Superman didn’t even clean up the Kryptonian ships he smashed? No wonder there’s a public backlash against him.
  • This article is on the mark as to how badly the film treated its women.
  • The ways they referenced The Dark Knight Returns did not have enough respect for that piece of comic history. Bruce Wayne tosses off the line "We've always been criminals" as a throwaway rather than as the pivotal moment of the end of the age of costumed heroes. There is no context for the lines he says to Superman about "the world only makes sense if you force it to"... many of the tricks he used to fight Superman were from that series as well, but Zack Snyder just didn't demonstrate that he understood what made that story so good, when he copped its ideas.

We are having some serious fridge logic issues here. You know, as well as those fundamental ones. I’m even going to go as far as to say George-Lucas-misreading-Star-Wars-fans-level problems, where he misunderstands what these heroes are about so badly that fans are going to turn on him.

I've predicted before, and I haven't seen anything to change my mind yet, that I still think when the world gets sick of comic book movies, DC is going to catch the backlash, the same way DiCaprio caught the Titanic backlash, but Kate Winslet didn't. When fans abandon superhero films en masse, it still looks like DC will take the biggest hit. And that'll be a shame, because Batman looks great on film, and Wonder Woman deserves better, and little kids around the world deserve there to be awesome Superman films being made every few years.

OK. It's all out of my system now. Carry on as you were, fellow fans!

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Eulogy for The Marmot's Hole: The Official End Of The K-Blogosphere

After four years or so with the same layout, I've been making small tweaks to the blog and the sidebars: the names appearing there will be changing. If you know a blog or podcast that deserves a place on my sidebar, please let me know: I'd hate to be like one of those blogs I used to snicker at, with three-years out-of-date blog links in the sidebar (says the guy who just yesterday removed the link to ROKetship, who repatriated in 2011 or so).

Last December, something important happened in the "Korea-blogosphere" or "K-blogosphere." K-blogosphere is a term first used by GI Korea in a comment at Metropolitician Michael (now Dr.) Hurt's blog (here - sez google). I used it a lot myself around 2008 and 2009, when I blogged the most. It was a word that imagined there to be a community of Korea bloggers, who were connected, and that those connections meant something. One could (or at least, I did) talk about the "K-blogosphere" as if it were an organism, the way many Korea-bloggers like to talk about "Korea" as if the country were a character in a drama.

At that time, there were a handful of blogs that one could probably refer to as the go-to Korea blogs: a group of blogs that referred to each other, and that everybody kind of assumed everybody else was reading. We even met up sometimes. We teamed up on projects like The Hub of Sparkle. You could rattle off their names. Zenkimchi. Expat Jane. Scribblings of the Metropolitician. Korea Beat. The Grand Narrative. The Marmot's Hole. Gusts of Popular Feeling. Brian in Jeollanamdo. ROK Drop. A little before my time were The Big Hominid and a couple of others.  K-pop K-blogs created their own little ecosystem, led by Dramabeans and Allkpop and Eat Your Kimchi. Outside those "big ones" there were a swack of others that were a little less famous, but part of the web of connection, linked on the sidebars and in articles.

As time went by, more blogs, both "big" and "small" fell defunct, the bloggers repatriated or started repeating themselves or moved on to other projects or had kids, changed jobs, and got busy. Or the commenters went berzerk. Or people eventually noticed they sucked, or the authors found better ways to get attention/notoriety. A few bloggers got harassed and bullied into removing their blogs.

The very idea of a K-blogosphere has always had its skeptics. A few commenters, one who is a good friend now, always argued it was a stretch to call K-bloggers a community. This became more and more true as tumblr, twitter, reddit, Facebook groups and pages, vlogging and podcasting all came into their own, and each developed its own niche, and all the "original K-blogs" that vanished were replaced by newer blogs. Finally, there wasn't really a K-blogosphere anymore, but many. The tumblr k-blogosphere. The social justice K-blogosphere. The teaching K-blogosphere, the K-pop one. The foodie one. The military/security one, and they intersected less and less. Somewhere around the time ATEK imploded, I became disillusioned of the idea expat teachers could align their scattered interests. Likewise, I stopped believing expat blogger community could be called into existence simply by using the term K-blogosphere a lot. Little knots of convergence would remain, but social media seemed to supply quicker, richer connections, and seeking "likes" "shares" and "upvotes" was more fun than taking the effort of writing out blog posts and hoping for comments. Eventually, the very idea we needed a K-blogosphere kind of dissipated. Or maybe I just got married and decided to invest my energy in a different set and type of connections. I won't rule out that I'm just out of touch now, but I'm unwilling to participate in That. Facebook. Group. just to get dialed back in. So be it.

Through all that, there was one go-to, one lodestone in the ever-changing Korea blogosphere. Or maybe it was the last tent peg stopping the entire tarp from blowing away. For everyone who'd graduated Dave's and gotten bored of those Facebook groups where the new wave of teaching first-and-second-years k-eep k-omplaining, there remained The Marmot's Hole.

One of the original K-bloggers, Robert Koehler's blog went through a number of phases, but spent a longer period with a higher level of sustained output, popularity and relevance than any other Korea blog. And really, it wasn't even close. Robert Koehler has been cited by more major western news sources than any other Korea blogger and over a longer span of time, and he has also had more foreign journalists commenting and visiting his page. I don't think there is anybody who would dispute that. In December, The Marmot announced his retirement from blogging, and the last intersection of the increasingly dispersing venn diagram of Korea blog niches vanished. With The Marmot's retirement, I don't think the idea of "the big k-blogs" exists, or is a useful term anymore, and if it hasn't been for a while (probably the case), this is the locking of the door as it shuts.

It was a great run though, so my hat is off to The Marmot, Robert Koehler (you can see what he's doing now by following his photography tumblr). Everybody blogging in Korea owes him a debt, so thanks for the links, the fun, and for being the biggest tree in the wooly ecosystem that was the K-blogosphere for so many years.

Where to now? Who's to say? Now that all the touchstones have been pulled up, I think everybody's going to crawl further into their little niches. Nobody will be filling The Marmot's shoes. Dave's, Facebook and Reddit aren't generating the combination of diversity, cumulative knowledge of commenters and liveliness found at The Marmot's Hole. I expect things to continue fragmenting, and I expect that the best thing I get out of blogging (as has been the case for a few years now) is no longer some measure of fame (snicker) but the chance to send up a flag to find some small number of interesting, like-minded people to find me.

The Marmot's Hole is gone. I am sad that the archives have been pulled offline, for the sake of history. The other legacy I hope continues is this: The Marmot never claimed to be an expert, and often said that the longer he spent in Korea, the less he knew. I hope that kind of humility and uncertainty remains an undercurrent in the attitudes of future K-bloggers.  It's sure nicer to read than the pretense of unearned authority. But I'll take curiosity over the fear of saying anything substantive, if it comes to that. As for the comment boards... they're probably gone forever, and I don't think they're coming back.

Good luck in the future, Mr. Koehler.