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The Marvel folks have been dominating the discussion of superheroes lately, but I'll always be a DC Comics kind of gal, thanks largely to watching "Batman: The Animated Series" at just the right time when I was a kid. It remains my favorite incarnation of "Batman" and it's high time it got its own Top Ten List. This was one of the harder lists to pare down, and I've got a long list of honorable mentions as a result. As always, entries are unranked and ordered by airdate. And I reserve the right to totally cheat and count two-parters as single episodes.

"On Leather Wings" - The show's pilot episode is also one of its greatest, that sets the tone and style for the entire series. The mad scientist story is straight out of the earliest incarnations of Batman, but the modern sophistication of the writing and the more adult handling of the characters quickly establishes that "Batman: The Animated Series," (Henceforth "BTAS") had far bigger ambitions than most syndicated weekday cartoons.

"Heart of Ice" - Perhaps the best example of how "BTAS" reinvented, added to, and permanently enriched the "Batman" universe. Mr. Freeze was a gimmick villain until Paul Dini and Bruce Timm got their hands on him, giving Victor Fries a tragic, crushing backstory that humanized him utterly. Add the score, the winter imagery, and that amazing Michael Ansara performance - Freeze's cold heart was never a gimmick again after this.

"Feat of Clay" - A two-parter with some of the strongest animation in the entire series. The tour-de-force finale sequence is pure, glorious nightmare fuel. However, it's the villain origin story, which could easily be mistake for an old fashioned '40s or '50s noir mixed with sci-fi horror, that really packs a punch. The shapechanging Clayface was one of several of the Batman villains who I found legitimately frightening in these early episodes.

"Almost Got 'Im" - A collection of our favorite villains gather to play cards, banter, and swap "Almost got 'im" stories about the Caped Crusader. It's a light, funny episode with a lot of great punchlines. The individual stories aren't all that memorable, but the framing device and the character interaction is priceless. I especially love how Two-Face's giant penny story provides an origin for the beloved Batcave fixture. And that he's still got the hots for Ivy.

"Heart of Steel" - I love Barbara Gordon in this, far more than I enjoy her subsequent appearances as Batgirl. Maybe it's the wonderful creepiness of the Rossum Robots (gotta love that reference), patterned off Miyazaki creations of all things, or the paranoid "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" story. Or maybe it's the heightened intensity of the action and suspense. Because the enemies were robots, they got away with much more violence here than usual.

"The Laughing Fish" - My favorite Joker episode, because it's so wonderfully absurd and twisted. The poison gas that leaves its victims with disturbing perma-grins, the copyright scheme, the wacky commercial with Harley singing the Joker Fish jingle, and Batman going up against a shark - it's just one outrageous moment after another. This was also the episode where Harley Quinn really became Harley Quinn, and I love the character to bits.

"If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?" - I always had a thing for The Riddler, having cultivated a similar know-it-all personality as a kid. Riddler's origin story is not one of the better ones the show came up with, but I was always a sucker for the puzzles, and the writers came up with some fun ones for this episode. This was also the first time I remember seeing Robin in the series, who could usually be counted on to lighten things up a bit.

"Harley and Ivy" - Was there ever a pairing of female villains as perfect as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy? Bad girls were never so much fun to watch, and I couldn't help rooting for Ivy's twisted feminist schemes, even though I knew she was in the wrong. I mean, what woman hasn't secretly dreamed of having a bazooka on hand when harassed by a pack of hooligans? Their comeuppance, or course, is poetic justice at its finest - Gotham's Finest, that is.

"House and Garden" - I don't know why, but Poison Ivy episodes always seemed to involve the most horrific monsters and concepts. "House and Garden" has some of the most jaw-dropping. The story starts out innocuously enough, one of several second season episodes dealing with familiar villains' apparent attempts at reforming themselves. Ivy appears to have given up crime and become a suburban mom, but of course all is not what it seems.

"Harley's Holiday" - And finally, we end with a comic romp with my favorite "BTAS" character, Harley Quinn. Unlike Poison Ivy, Harley really does try to reform when she's released from Arkham. Unfortunately she's picked up some bad habits after all that time with Mr. J. I had a touch time choosing between this and the previous Harley episode, "Harlequinade," but this one gives Harley a chance to show what she's like working solo, and I appreciate the hopeful ending.

Honorable Mentions: "Christmas With the Joker," "Robin's Reckoning," "Two-Face," "Joker's Favor," "The Clock King," "I Am the Night, "Read My Lips," "Appointment in Crime Alley," "Eternal Youth," "Trial," "Mad as a Hatter," "Harlequinade," "Second Chance," "Catwalk," and "Over the Edge."
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Good grief, I don't think I've ever seen a casting announcement stir up this much controversy. Last week it was announced that Gal Gadot, most recently seen in the "Fast and Furious" franchise had been tapped to play Wonder Woman in the yet untitled Batman and Superman team-up movie. There were all the usual fanboy complaints about Gadot being wrong for the role - too skinny, too slight, and so on. However, the real debate was about the inclusion of Wonder Woman in the team-up movie at all. Shouldn't the biggest female superheroine be introduced in her own movie?

I have no opinion on Gadot one way or another. She wasn't my first choice, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't have the opportunity to prove what she can do. The other potential candidates who we heard rumors about hardly seemed any better. And as others have pointed out, she could bulk up and the right costume makes a lot of difference. Gadot didn't leave much of an impression from what I saw of her in the "Fast and Furious" movies, not that she really had much of an opportunity to do much in the first place. Frankly, I don't know if her acting chops are really going to make all that much difference since Zack Snyder is most likely going to be directing the team-up movie, and he has a abysmal track record with young actresses. See his complete inability to do anything with the cast of "Sucker Punch," for starters, and his bungling of Silk Spectre in "Watchmen." It took the involvement of multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams to bring some spark to Lois Lane in "Man of Steel." To be honest, Zack Snyder is about the worst choice I can think of to be handling the introduction of Wonder Woman.

Should she be getting her own movie? Of course. Wonder Woman has always been counted way past due to return to the spotlight. I understand she's a tough character to modernize and the studios are terribly squeamish about female-led superhero movies, but to keep shutting out heroines as the Marvel and DC film universes keep expanding is becoming less and less excusable every year. I don't object to introducing her in a big ensemble movie, if that's what it takes to allay some fears in the financiers. However, my biggest worry is that Wonder Woman will be consigned to supporting status permanently, the way that Black Widow of "The Avengers" has been. Despite all the talk of potential spin-off films for her and Nick Fury, there's no sign that Marvel is going to be putting either of them in the spotlight any time soon, or any other female or minority heroes for that matter. Instead, they've been relegated to sidekicks and love interests, as usual.

I don't think the possible diminishment of Wonder Woman going to be doing the new DC film franchise any favors either. If she's going to be a major player, she's going to need all the time and attention she can get. The upcoming Batman and Superman movie is already going to have its hands full introducing us to Ben Affleck's take on Batman, and now we know it's going to be introducing Wonder Woman too, and potentially other superheroes like the Flash. I think the best case scenario is for Wonder Woman to only make a brief cameo as a lead-in to her own story, in which case it would have been better if DC had kept this under wraps and made it a surprise. However, the casting announcement suggests that this isn't the case, and Wonder Woman will be playing a significant role in the new movie. That's going to complicate things considerably, and I worry that she's going to end up being shortchanged.

Frankly, the more I hear about the new team-up movie, the more worried I get. And the more I hear about the plans for the bigger DC live action franchise, or rather the lack of them, the more it seems doomed for failure. None of the chief creatives are the ones I'm happy are driving this bus. David Goyer has been stuck in grim and gritty mode for ages, and I don't know if that approach is going to work for the broader comic book narrative that a real "Justice League" team-up is going to need. Zack Snyder's idea of faithfulness to source material is "Watchmen," which is just depressing. And the promise of Christopher Nolan and Ben Affleck's involvement seems to be limited - both are busy working on their own projects after all.

It sounds cynical, but in spite of all the fan adoration and all the potential the DC universe holds for great movies, it doesn't feel like anyone at Warner Brothers is really invested in making these movies the best that they can be. The Wonder Woman announcement is just the latest in a long string of questionable decision.
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For years Warner Bros. has been trying to capitalize on the success of Batman through a television spinoff, they way they did with the long-running Superman series "Smallville." There was the "Batman: Year One" prequel project that would have explored Bruce Wayne's early days as the Bat, a project that eventually became "Batman Begins." There was the "Graysons," about the pre-Robin youth of the Boy Wonder. And there was the very, very short-lived "Birds of Prey," about a trio DC universe superwomen with ties to Batman. Now here's the latest - FOX has committed to a pilot for "Gotham," that looks at Gotham City before Batman showed up on the scene, focusing on a younger Commissioner Gordon. It's "Batman: Year One" without Batman.

The impetus for this development is obvious. The premiere of Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" won high ratings last night for ABC (review forthcoming). It marks the first major entry of the Marvel universe into live-action television in some time, and there has been talks of other shows in the works, like the rumored Agent Peggy Carter spinoff. DC has had plenty of successful shows over the years, but we could certainly stand to see a few more, especially if they want to explore some of their non-superhero titles. "Gotham" is clearly an attempt at putting some of their lower-profile Batman characters to work the way Marvel is opting to use some of its lesser-known characters in "S.H.I.E.L.D"

And sure, why not? This isn't a new idea. There was a forty-issue "Gotham Central" comic book series that ran from 2003-2006 based around the daily travails of the Gotham City Police Department, and there was some talk of a TV adaptation. "Gotham" sounds very similar since it centers around the Commissioner. The Batman universe also has several other memorable law enforcement characters, including detectives Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya, who have long histories in the comics. Removing Batman from the picture doesn't mean that his rogue's gallery of villains is off limits, and there are some good ones who are never going to be considered heavyweight enough to show up in the films. Plus, we might finally also see some development for minor, but important characters like Thomas and Martha Wayne, the parents of Bruce Wayne.

I might have been more wary of this news a few years ago, but we're been seeing a good number of successful prequel series lately, including "Hannibal," "Bates Motel," and AMC just ordered up the "Breaking Bad" spinoff "Better Call Saul." Prequels don't have to be a narrative dead end, especially when they're working with a universe as colorful and well-populated as Gotham City. My hope is that "Gotham" will take the plunge and really commit to the idea of showing the downfall of a great city. Maybe it could be a period piece, taking advantage of the '30s detective serial and noir origins of Batman. These were always the elements that the movies tended to overlook or downplay, opting instead for the more fancy action sequences and funny costumes.

I also take heart that the series will be headed to FOX and not the CW, which is currently airing the DC series "Arrow." Though there are exceptions, CW's has a younger target audience and they tend to go for slicker, broader material. I gave up on "Arrow" pretty quickly when it became apparent that they were doing everything they could to hide its comic book origins under a mountain of generic teen drama cliches. There's no guarantee that FOX will want to aim "Gotham" at grown-ups, but if they do, at least they have more experience fostering good genre shows like "The X-Files" and "Fringe." I'd rather we got a series that could be paired up with the happily campy "Sleepy Hollow" than one that could be paired up with "Arrow."

There are plenty of reasons to be wary, of course. The later seasons of "Smallville" turned into a showcase for minor DC superheroes and dragged out its origin story past the point of absurdity. "Arrow" looks like it's about to go down the same path, dragging the Flash into this season's storylines. I wouldn't be too keen on watching a version of "Gotham" where we're hammered over the head with allusions to future characters and events week after week. However a solid crime procedural with some flamboyant criminals could be a lot of fun.

What interests me most is which version of Batman "Gotham" is intended as a prequel for. The Nolanverse films? The backstory for the Ben Affleck Bat? Or something entirely different? And for those of you who would rather have a Batman series with Batman, there's already a perfectly good on airing on CBS - "Person of Interest."
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One of the major entertainment news stories today is the debunking of the rumor that Bryan Cranston is being courted to play Lex Luther in the new Batman v. Superman movie, a claim that seems to have originated at the shady Cosmic Book News site, and then was inexplicably picked up by Rolling Stone and snowballed from there. This happened, despite the Cosmic Book News story being full of unlikely details, like Ben Affleck supposedly being signed on for thirteen appearances as Batman, and Matt Damon being in the running to play Aquaman. Oh boy. Meanwhile, Latino Review keeps jawing about casting rumors for the next "Star Wars" movie and insists that some big announcements are coming soon. Whether those announcements have any truth to them, or are completely made up doesn't seem to matter to the fans.

I'm complained at length about the rumormongering surrounding big franchise movies before. However, watching the Bryan Cranston item play out over the last few days, I don't think that there's any meaningful way to fix this problem. To explain why, I'm going to use the news aggregator site Reddit as a stand-in for the larger internet. All the content on Reddit is user-submitted or linked to with the appropriate crediting, each item displayed in an order determined by "upvotes" and "downvotes" from Redditors. The real fun is in the discussions attached to each item, where individual comments are also governed by upvotes and downvotes. I use the site frequently and I'm a fan of how they do things, but there are some significant downsides to democratizing the content. Over and over again I've seen obviously false or erroneous items reach the top of the front page, on the strength of sensationalized titles. I've watched misinformation spread through discussions where hundreds of people upvote a comment that sounds good, but may be completely wrong. Corrections or questions about the source of the information can often be buried way down the page, where few people ever see them.

This is the way the internet works too. Users gravitate toward sensationalized content, toward exciting and familiar names. A website like Cosmic Book News can upload complete nonsense, and the nonsense will get page hits if it's talking about the right subject matter. It's not hard to see why the Bryan Cranston rumor took off. The story about Ben Affleck being cast as Batman last week was huge, and Cranston's "Breaking Bad" has been getting lots of attention for its ongoing final season. Cranston being cast as Lex Luthor doesn't sound too unlikely. "Breaking Bad" has wrapped, so Cranston should be available for big film roles. It's not until you actually read the story that the fakery becomes obvious, and of course many of us never bother to. If one legitimate publication like Rolling Stone fails to fact-check before it prints the rumor, these things can spread like wildfire through the whole mainstream media. The temptation to jump into the speculation before the studio returns your calls can be irresistible. People want to write about it because everyone else is writing about it, and those pagehits sure are shiny.

Reddit has mechanisms in place designed to counter this to some extent. There are moderation teams that are quick to remove posts from self-promoters, slap "Misleading Title" tags on questionable content, and keep a close eye on contentious topics. Commenters are good about self-policing too, calling out people who post stolen content, voicing skepticism for unlikely claims, and often providing vital context. However, there are many, many instances where these counterefforts are to no avail and the bad information spreads. Despite multiple debunking stories being posted around the internet today, I can guarantee that there are a lot of Batman fans out there who still think that Bryan Cranston is playing Lex Luthor, because they'll pay attention to the juicy rumor but overlook the retraction. Remember the rumor about all six James Bond actors appearing onstage together at the last Oscars? That one was debunked weeks before the ceremony, but I still ran across plenty of disappointed viewers on Oscar night wondering why Sean Connery hadn't shown up.

Don't think you're the type to fall for these kinds of rumors? Well, I did. I saw the Cranston rumor posted on Reddit without attribution, and while I hadn't seen anything about Cranston being in talks with Warner Bros. on my usual entertainment news sites (Deadline, Indiewire, Filmschoolrejects) it sounded believable. There are always rumors floating around about the biggest blockbuster movies, and some of them turn out to be true, like Vin Diesel talking to Marvel about being in "Guardians of the Galaxy." I didn't bother checking sources or reading the Reddit discussion (which did point out that it was a rumor), because frankly I'm not all that interested in what's going on with the new Batman and Superman movie at this stage, and too many of these early news items and rumors have obnoxious spoilers attached.

It's important to remember that this far out, when these big movies are still in pre-production, everything is up in the air. Actors get cast, but they can also get recast. Directors get fired. Scripts get rewritten. The studio executives can still cancel the whole thing if they want. Nobody knows what the final product will look like, not even the guys in charge. So there's very little harm in speculation and fake stories at this point because it doesn't really affect anything, and debunking is easy. All Warner Bros. has to do is put out a press release saying Lex Luthor will be played by so-and-so, and we all start talking about who's going to play Alfred or Robin or Lois Lane. And this is why Cosmic Book News and Latino Review keep getting away with it.

The rumor mill is an annoyance, but honestly not a very big one. And it's good at keeping me on my toes.
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Big casting news out of Hollywood yesterday. After some rumors that Warners was trying to lure Christian Bale back to the role, they've announced that the new Caped Crusader, making his debut in 2015's "Man of Steel" sequel, will be played by Ben Affleck. I wasn't paying much attention to the casting speculation, but this is a choice that demands some commentary. I'm disappointed, but not for the reasons that you might think.

Affleck is a decent actor and looks the part of Bruce Wayne, which is all that's really necessary for him to play Batman. You don't need to be a decorated thespian to be a good superhero - "Captain America" and "Thor" prove as much. Affleck's previous turn as a crime fighter in 2003's "Daredevil" was nothing to be ashamed of, and people forget that he was considered a contender for the role of Superman back in the 90s. And he did put on the blue tights briefly for 2006's "Hollywoodland," a period thriller where he was cast as the jaded '50s Superman actor George Reeves. Sure, some of the fans are upset about the Affleck's casting, but some of the fans are always upset. I expect Affleck is perfectly capable of turning in a decent performance as Batman, and have no objections to him on those grounds.

So why am I disappointed? Because Affleck just came pretty damn close to getting nominated for an Oscar for directing "Argo." Over the past few years, he's proven that he's far more valuable to us as a director than as an actor. I know he's continued to take other acting gigs, like appearing in "To the Wonder" for Terrence Malick and the upcoming thriller "Runner, Runner," but I'm worried that being a leading man in a big franchise film, and everything that comes with it, are going to take his attention away from the kinds of projects that are better served by his talent. How is this going to impact "Live By Night," the adaptation of the Dennis Lehane novel that he was putting together with Leonardo DiCaprio? What about his rumored Revolutionary War film, "Bunker Hill"? Scott Cooper has already replaced Affleck on the big screen adaptation of "The Stand"? And I can't imagine that Affleck only signed on for one movie, so how is that going to affect his other potential projects further down the line?

I'd be much more excited about the "Man of Steel" sequel if it had been announced that Affleck was directing it, instead of starring in it. Remember, Affleck turned down a chance to direct a possible "Justice League" movie last year. I'm not thrilled when I see promising directors who have made a name for themselves with smaller films getting involved with the studio franchises, but at least Justice League" would have given Affleck a chance to stretch a little as a director, tackling a big blockbuster action movie after a string of mostly realistic, serious dramas. I'm still waiting for him to show a more range, though "Argo" was a step in the right direction. Affleck being behind the camera would have also made me more excited about the prospect of a Batman and Superman movie than I am at the moment. I understand why Warners wanted him for "Justice League," since Affleck's style is a good match for the starker Christopher Nolan style that defines the current DC movie-verse. Instead, we're probably going to end up with Zack Snyder again, and while I know he's getting better, he's still a director I have some serious issues with. He's still an action junkie in the worst way.

I have to wonder why Affleck said yes to Batman, after expressing dissatisfaction with superhero roles in the past. Warner Bros was instrumental in "Argo" getting made, so saying yes to Batman definitely helps Affleck to cement his relationship with the studio, and that may result in their backing some of his future, non-franchise films. Over at Forbes, Scott Mendelson goes into this possibility in more detail. Like the recent Michael Bay deal that got Paramount to pay for "Pain in Gain" in exchange for Bay directing "Transformers 4," this could be a move that ensures Affleck gets to make his own pictures on his own terms.

I also suspect that Ben Affleck took the role because he just likes acting, which accounts for him casting himself in the lead roles of two of the three movies he's directed. And that's fine, because he's not bad at it. He's not great, which I've felt has held back his work to an extent, but he's always done an acceptable job. As for playing a superhero, on the one hand he's got his artistic credibility to uphold as a serious filmmaker, but on the other hand, it's Batman. What red-blooded American male doesn't want to be Batman?

So put the pitchforks away. It could have been a lot worse. Ben Affleck deserves a chance to show us what he can do, though I wish were talking about him behind the camera instead of in front of it.
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If you thought that this summer was crowded with expensive blockbuster movies, wait until you see what's coming up in 2015. I alluded to this a little in my previous posts on the upcoming movies I've been anticipating, but I don't think I got across the sheer number of major studio franchise films that are coming our way. Here's the current list of announced projects slated for 2015 release dates, with the most notable titles in bold:

Sequels

Avatar 2
Independence Day 2
Finding Dory (Finding Nemo 2)
The Batman and Superman Movie (Let's count this as Man of Steel 2)
The Adventures of Tintin 2
The Avengers 2
Hotel Transylvania 2
Prometheus 2
Snow White and the Huntsman 2
Inferno (The Da Vinci Code 3)
Kung-Fu Panda 3
The Smurfs 3
Alvin & the Chipmunks 4
Mockingjay Part 2 (The Hunger Games 4)
Jurassic Park 4
Bourne 5
Mission: Impossible 5
Pirates of the Caribbean 5
Die Hard 6
Star Wars Episode 7
James Bond 24

Reboots

Fantastic Four
Terminator

Spinoffs

The Penguins of Madagascar
Ant-Man (Marvel Universe film)

Originals

Assassin's Creed
Inside Out (new PIXAR film)

We're probably going to see some of these movies delayed or pushed back to 2016, which is normal. And many of these titles are going to be holiday or spring releases. However, we're still looking at a summer 2015 schedule that is going to be jammed with potentially massive films. 2013 is turning out to be a summer of what some have dubbed blockbuster fatigue, where audiences have been subjected to so many of these expensive event films week after week, they've had enough. As a result, we've had a string of expensive flops over the past few weeks. In 2015, we're inevitably going to see some big titles flop because there simply isn't going to be enough room for them all to grab the audience's interest long enough to make a profit. Scheduling is going to be a life-or-death matter, and notably we've got a lot of big titles like "Star Wars" and "Superman" still missing from the schedule, and a lot of prime real estate in May not staked out.

Some of the tried and true franchises that have hung in there for years and years, delivering profits, are going to find themselves going bust. I suspect that this may be the end of the line for such dependable moneymakers as "Bourne," "Pirates," and maybe even the old "Terminator" franchise. There are bound to be some dramatic head-to-heads. "Asassin's Creed" is currently positioned against an original PIXAR movie in June, for example, while the next "Bond Movie" is up against "Ant-Man" in November. Remember that with theater prices continuing to go up, there are fewer audience members to go around and people are getting picker about what they want to see. The studios are going to have to do a lot more work to convince us of the appeal of a fourth "Alvin & the Chipmunks" movie, or why we should take a chance on "Fantastic Four." Right now, there aren't that many movies I think are guaranteed to be hits. After "Dory," "Bond," "Star Wars," and "Avengers," it all gets iffy pretty quick.

While the studios are probably going to lose out from the increased competition, this will be good for theater owners who are likely to see more turnout overall thanks to the increase in big titles. Whether this is good for the consumers depends on what kind of a movie fan you are. If you're a fan of these big blockbuster films, particularly anything involving CGI cartoons or superheroes, you'll be spoiled for choice. If you're not, you may have fewer options because the big franchise movies have been crowding smaller films out of the theaters. Personally, I'd consider paying to watch about half of the films I listed in theaters just based on their pedigrees, but I'd only prioritize and make actual efforts to see five of them. Movie reviewers may see their influence grow too, as audience members become more cautious about which movies are worth investing their time and money in.

There have been some significant discussions about the possibility that 2015 may be the tipping point for the current blockbuster model of making studio movies. Steven Spielberg's predictions of more big blockbuster bombs potentially endangering the whole system seem likelier than ever, and 2015 looks like a potential powder keg from that perspective. Still, 2015 is still two years away, and a lot could change in that time. Maybe we'll see "Star Wars" or some of the other big contenders delayed. Maybe the global box office will grow big enough to sustain more of these big films.

Or maybe not. Looking over the list of 2015 hopefuls, I can't help already feeling exhausted. There are so many big movies crowded on that schedule, with so many big names and big characters, it's hard to think of any of them as a special event. The event films just look like the new normal.
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Why The World's Finest?

The biggest news out of Comic-Con this weekend is that Warner Bros. has opted not to go for a full "Justice League" movie in 2015. Instead, we're getting the movie team-up of Superman and Batman, a pairing that happened occasionally in the comics under the title "World's Finest." We don't have an official title yet, so I'll be using this one for the time being. Seeing Batman and Superman onscreen together in the same movie has been a common geek fantasy for a couple of decades now, and the inevitability of a "World's Finest" movie has been a long-running Hollywood in-joke. However, there have rightly been concerns about putting DC's two biggest heavy-hitters together.

What's the problem? For one thing, Superman and Batman have traditionally existed in very different cinema universes. Superman has always been a more romantic and idealistic figure who fought his opponents in broad daylight. Batman is a creature of the night, darker and grittier and more adult. Sure, they could both be goofy and silly, but there was still a wide gulf between the Metropolis created by Richard Donner for the most iconic Superman films and the stranger, more sinister Gotham City created by Tim Burton for Batman. It didn't help that Superman became something of an also-ran during the 90s and 2000s, and proved difficult to reinvent for more silver screen adventures. It's only now, after "Man of Steel" made decent bank by following the gritty reboot template set out by the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, that we've got both DC superheroes operating in something like the same universe and they've both proven to be bankable.

Why now? Well, that's no mystery. DC is still struggling with its film franchises, but it wants to put out something in 2015 to try and counter the runaway success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will be releasing both "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and "Ant-Man" that year. With "Man of Steel" as a solid, but not spectacular foothold, "World's Finest" makes more sense than a "Justice League" movie. You'd only have to introduce one new superhero, the new Batman, instead of a whole group of them. Batman is enough of a draw on his own that he should be more than enough to keep superhero fans occupied, speculating about casting and storylines and villains. There are rumors that a "Justice League" movie is still in the works, but a few more years down the road, after DC has had the chance to try out some other characters. Hollywood Reporter has suggested a Flash movie is in development for 2016. Alas, still no word on Wonder Woman.

Will a "World's Finest" movie be a success? I think that's reasonably likely. From a marketing standpoint, Superman teaming up with Batman certainly has all the makings of an event. The announcement at Comic-Con didn't announce a title or casting, but simply showed people a combination logo of the Batman and Superman symbols and the crowd went nuts. The concept should even be strong enough to overcome the divided reactions toward "Man of Steel." There are a lot of other factors that we don't know yet that are going to have some significant impact on the project. Who's going to play Batman is a big one. The release date is another. We do know that Zack Snyder is directing the film and David Goyer is writing it, the same pair that just did "Man of Steel." These are not the guys I'd want handling this movie if I had my way, but at least there will be a sense of continuity maintained.

But will it be any good? Maybe. There have been a lot of stories about Batman and Superman fighting each other or teaming up or both. There's no lack of material for the filmmakers to draw from. I think Zack Snyder can handle the fighting part, but I'm not sure about the team-up parts. A lot of the fun of these ensemble stories is all about the character interactions and the little absurdities. "Avengers" worked largely because of the involvement of Joss Whedon, who was good about injecting humor, keeping the mood light, and balancing the various characters against each other. Snyder and Goyer are operating in a much more serious and somber universe, which may ironically end up making the whole venture come across as a lot sillier and campier. Still, it's much to early to say anything yet.

If the movie were coming out in a normal year, I'd be much more confident about its chances. However, 2015 is going to be a monster year for blockbusters, and there's actually some danger of a movie featuring two of the most famous comic book characters who ever existed getting lost amid all the other massive tent pole films.

More on that tomorrow.
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It's been a couple weeks since the Aurora shootings, and I think it's okay now to add my two cents. I don't want to talk about the tragedy itself in any detail, because I'm not qualified in any way for that. Instead, I want to try to sort out some thoughts and ponder the question that's been on my mind since I heard about what happened in Aurora - what does it mean?

Looking at the response to the tragedy, very little it seems. Security was briefly beefed up at theaters, but I don't think that's going to last. There was some discussion of gun control policies and mental health access, but most of the pieces I saw were cynical op/eds, predicting that nothing would actually change. There were also a few thoughtful ones about the terrible nature of the media coverage, and I generally agree with the theory that mass shootings are all about attention seeking, and no good can come of the media furor around the gunman involved. I got a look at a few minutes of the local news coverage of the shootings, where a hyperbolic reporter made reference to the fact that they were going to follow the story for days, weeks, and perhaps months and years to come. I stopped watching after that.

What about the impact on the movies themselves? Well, it was interesting to see how Hollywood responded. The "Gangster Squad" trailer was pulled, and the film itself delayed to January so that a potentially offending scene could be excised. Warner Brothers cancelled premieres and press, donated money, and did everything in their power to show their sensitivity to the victims, short of pulling "The Dark Knight Rises" from theaters. Box office tallies of the opening weekend of were not officially reported, a symbolic gesture since most of the usual bean counters got the estimates out to us anyway. The assumption is that the shooting played a part in the opening weekend grosses of "The Dark Knight Rises" falling below initial estimates, but nobody can say for sure. It's still a monster hit around the world, so any financial impact was limited.

The shooting in Aurora was a terrible tragedy, and in the immediate aftermath there were specters of all kinds of horrible fears, about movie theaters suddenly being less safe, about these highly anticipated blockbuster film premieres being a magnet for attention-seeking maniacs, about our whole film culture suddenly somehow being complicit. But after a few weeks and with the benefit of some distance, the more it feels like this was just another random act of violence perpetrated by a highly disturbed individual. It could have happened in a post office, a school, or any other public place where a crowd of people had gathered. I don't want to suggest that these mass killings are not deeply shocking and awful every times that they happen, and perhaps indicators of some deeper systemic problems, but they happen for reasons that are usually extremely personal and limited the particular perpetrator involved.

So the shooting, in spite of the shooter's apparent obsession with Batman, has nothing to do with the movies. It reflects absolutely nothing about the Batman franchise, or superhero films, or onscreen violence or anything else you want to try and tie it to. The urge to do do, however, is a strong one. We want to find an easy explanation and we want the shooting to mean something. And it's too easy to speculate and draw conclusions that there really are no bases for. As much as we want them, there aren't ever going to be simple answers in cases like this. I've seen a couple of people try to blame the content, and predictably there's some yahoo trying to sue Warners for releasing the film, but it can't possibly stick. The shooter hadn't even seen the film, remember.

And related to that, it's very tempting to want to use the tragedy as a bludgeon for the moral or political issue of your choice. I caught myself wanting to tell off someone online for being enthusiastic about the Bobcat Goldthwait comedy "God Bless America" because it contains a scene where there's a shooting in a movie theater that's played for laughs. After Aurora, how could you champion a movie like that? But of course, that movie came out months ago and has nothing to do with Aurora. In light of recent events it was insensitive and unfunny, maybe, but that didn't somehow make the movie bad. "God Bless America" was rotten all by itself.

I'm glad that "Gangster Squad" was moved, because it is in very poor taste to evoke the shooting so close in time, even if the scheduling of the film was a coincidence. I think the film's fortunes have probably been irreparably damaged though. And I was relieved that "The Dark Knight Rises" had very little content in it that could be connected with what happened that would give any conspiracy theorists more ammunition.

It feels small and petty to feel protective of the films in this situation, but I am a media junkie after all, and the media is what I obsess over. I really enjoy Nolan's Batman films, and no matter how they're regarded in the future, it's sad that they're always going to be associated with this tragedy.
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missmediajunkie: (Default)
Here's how we're going to do this. Review posted today will be a spoiler free as I can possibly keep it. Review posted tomorrow will go into all the analysis of the things that you shouldn't know about before watching the latest Christopher Nolan Batman film. Got it? Great. Onward!
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missmediajunkie

May 2014

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