This is an entry on comic books, movies, and television. I know I really harp a lot on the urge to make all things dark and edgy, even Batman. But then I see rumors that the “creative team” behind the Green Lantern movie think that it failed because it wasn’t dark and edgy enough, and I just want to bang my head against something hard until the pain stops. I saw that movie and a lack of darkness and edgy-ness are the least of the problems with it. I don’t necessary have a problem with dark and edgy when it’s applied to appropriate subject matter, but sometimes it seems that’s just an excuse to try to disguise lazy writing, and I really can’t stand lazy writing. The title of this entry will become clear hopefully by the end of this.
There’s a show on TV now called “Arrow.” It’s not bad, and by comparison to the other two subjects I discuss below, it’s actually good. Now, this is supposed to be a modern re-telling of Green Arrow. I don’t much about comic book Green Arrow. Oliver Queen is a wealthy playboy who takes up the mantle of Green Arrow to fight for justice. He comes across as kind of an archer-Batman, but with less angst (although not angst free). So perhaps Green Arrow was always something of a Batman rip-off; I’m not sure. However, this show is totally a Batman rip-off, but even darker. I think the development of this show went something like this:
Developer 1 – So, Chris Nolan’s “Batman” franchise was awesome. Let’s make that into a TV show.
Developer 2 – We can’t. DC is weird about how they license their characters and they want more Batman movies.
Developer 1 – Fine. Does DC have another wealthy playboy vigilante?
Developer 2 – There’s Green Arrow.
Developer 1 – There’s more than one? Hey, fine by me. You know what would be even cooler than Batman? Batman who kills people!
Developer 2 – *blink* *blink blink* Do you even understand who Batman is supposed to be?
Developer 1 – Nope. So anyway, let’s take this Green Arrow guy, lose the name, ugh, and give him a really traumatic backstory and have him kill bad guys too! Yeah, that would be awesomely dark and edgy!
The show doesn’t even call Ollie “Green Arrow.” A bad guy calls him that once, but he’s not even called “Arrow.” Everyone else refers to him as either “Hood” or “the Vigilante.” Also, just to show Ollie’s not all bad even though he kills people, they brought in Helena Bertinelli. Sooo, not Batman at all…
Like I said, I don’t know too much about Green Arrow. Most of my knowledge of the character comes from the various DC cartoons. He always struck me as more of a deadpan snarker than Batman. The guy has a boxing glove arrow for crying out loud. That’s whimsy, or possibly a relic of the Silver Age. Anyway, maybe this is a faithful modern re-telling of Green Arrow, but to me it just feels like a cheap Batman knock-off without Batman’s apparently boring moral code that prohibits killing.
Of all the heroes not to turn into Batman (or a darker and edgier Batman if such a thing is possible as shown above), it would be Superman. Honestly, I do think it’s difficult to relate to Superman because how does one relate to a god? Man of Steel‘s answer to this was invoke the “world of cardboard” trope and show how superpowers could potentially drive someone crazy. I don’t actually disagree with the theory, even if the execution was poor. There were parts of it that made me upset, such as when L’il Clark asked Jonathan Kent if he should have let people die to hide his powers and Jonathan Kent said, “Maybe.” Maybe? Maybe?! No, there is no maybe! Although to be fair, most of people in this movie are pretty terrible. Anyway, Superman is a hero. He will sacrifice everything to save the day and save everyone. That’s what he does – he saves everyone. And it was his upbringing in Midwest Smallville that made him the kind of hero who saves everyone (hell, “Smallville” had a much better modern update of Jonathan Kent who was afraid for his son but also encouraged him to be a hero). Everyone is his neighbor. Everyone matters. That’s Superman. This was not Superman. I’m 90% certain the development meeting went like this:
Developer 1 – Chris Nolan’s “Batman” movies made so much money! Let’s totally reboot the franchise and do it again!
Developer 2 – The raging fans will track you down on the internet, find out where you live, organize a battle plan, and hunt you down in the night and then tell you why you’re an idiot, one by one by one. You’ll be begging for the sweet release of death.
Developer 1 – … Good point. Hey, that “Avengers” movie made tons of money. We’ve got Batman and Green Lantern so let’s throw in a couple of more people and do a DC team of Avengers!
Developer 2 – You mean the Justice League?
Developer 1 – Maybe. That name needs work. Hey, Superman is due for a reboot. Let’s make a movie with him!
Developer 2 – Sure, we could try again. We’ll lose the kid angle, lighten up on the angst, and maybe go the “Captain America” route since that did pretty well…
Developer 1 – Whoa, whoa, what are you talking about? Just take the script for Batman Begins, cross out all the Batman-specific nouns and replace them with Superman-specific nouns, and add some stuff about aliens. Oh, and make sure Superman kills someone. It was so lame that Batman didn’t even kill that insane clown that totally killed his girlfriend.
Developer 2 – *blink* *blink blink* Do you even know who Superman is supposed to be?
Developer 1 – Don’t know, don’t care, just make sure Chris Nolan’s name is in big letters on the promo materials.
The movie did try to invoke some of the current mythos of Superman (at least pre-DCnU) in which he is the representative of Hope (Batman is Justice and Wonder Woman is Truth). Of course, the movie was so heavy-handed with “Superman is hope” as to turn him into Space Jesus. Argh! Seriously, I haven’t been hit with so much obvious religious symbolism since Daredevil.
Now, since the story of Jesus is one of sacrifice, redemption, and yes, hope, one might think this movie couldn’t be as dark and edgy as perhaps the “creative team” wanted, although not for lack of trying. To that end the movie was about as hopeless as any I’ve seen and the victory at the end was as hollow as a chocolate Easter bunny. Superman technically saved the whole world, yes, but that’s not where it ends. He’s supposed to dig through the rubble and save survivors and clear the streets and clean up the mess he makes, because that’s what he’s supposed to do. But no. There was so much mindless destruction I thought the special effects team got confused and thought they were working on the Independence Day sequel. Boring CGI fight scene after boring CGI fight scene isn’t hopeful or frankly entertaining. And of course, Superman has to kill Zod. Granted, Zod as a space Nazi is a complete irredeemable monster, but that doesn’t mean the writers couldn’t have come up with something better. But they didn’t. They wanted dark. The result was a hopeless lazy mess that wasn’t much more splashy CGI battles and cliched dialogue. Ugh. I am not looking forward to the sequel. And frankly, the B-movie Iron Sky is a better movie about literal space Nazis.
And here’s unquestionably the worst result of trying to darken and edgy-ing everything. A few years ago there was a new Wonder Woman TV show in production. People were excited and scared, which seems to be the normal reaction to any news regarding development of Wonder Woman into a TV show or movie. Then it just went away. I had only seen the costume previews so I wasn’t particularly excited (but I was scared) to begin with. I then heard a pilot had actually been made but was so god-awful it was never aired. I wasn’t sure I cared, but one day I got bored and started searching the interwebs and danged if I didn’t find the thing. It wasn’t finished which leads to odd text instructions to the special effects team to fix certain things in post-production. For example, “pants to be darkened.” That was an actual instruction. So, was it that bad? Let me put it this way – I would rather watch the 1994 Fantastic Four movie than ever watch this thing again.
Wonder Woman is a brutal vigilante. I’ll pause a moment to let that sink in.
Wonder Woman is a brutal vigilante who uses her corporation to develop the crime-fighting technology she uses (but does not share) in her one-woman crusade for her version of justice. She breaks any law she wants (including those about killing people) but not a single person in the criminal justice system (not cops or federal attorneys) do anything to stop her. She’s this close to being the goddamn Wonder Woman.
The plot and dialogue aren’t very good, but that’s kind of beside the point of this rant. The plot is the head of an evil pharmaceutical corporation is using victims of human trafficking to perform illegal experiments to develop a super-soldier serum. She’s also bought a Senator to help her get her way on Capitol Hill. This doesn’t begin to bother me because this is exactly the behavior I expect from a comic book style villain. Hell, I’m pretty sure “Kidnap people and perform illegal experiments to develop a super-soldier serum” is Ulti-Roxxon’s entire business plan. But when I watch a movie where the “hero” behaves so badly I’m actually kind of siding with the bad guy, that’s a problem. Wonder Woman has no magic and I’m not sure she’s an Amazon, although she’s often referred to as not human. Her Lasso of Truth is just a catchy name and all she does is lasso people with it. Actually, the effect looks like Scorpion’s grapple move. When a “hero’s” heroic action reminds me of a hell ninja’s special move in a game called “Mortal Kombat,” that’s a problem. When a “hero” uses torture to get information from a bad guy, that’s a problem. When Frank Castle would look at this woman and say, “Hey, I think you’re overdoing it,” that’s a problem.
So, in short, everything that makes Wonder Woman, well, Wonder Woman, is ignored except for the outfit. She’s nothing more than a thug and the entire law enforcement system is thoroughly corrupt. And yet she’s applauded for breaking laws and trampling on basic human rights? Every aspect about Wonder Woman is absolutely wrong, even down to her “everywoman” secret identity falling into the trite lazy cliché of spending her nights alone with her cat watching chick flicks. She’s violent, she’s a hypocrite (leaving Steve so he wouldn’t get hurt but letting bad guys know her crime-fighting lair is actually her corporate headquarters that is full of people), and she’s a criminal. Even private investigators have to get licenses to work. But she’s above the law. She’s out for her version of justice. Nothing matters except satisfying her own version of justice and she will hurt or kill anyone who gets in her way.
And this actually brings me back to the title of this entry. There are so many problems with slathering all things with dark and edgy as highlighted above. Clearly the Wonder Woman pilot had editors, as evidenced by text instructions for post-production finishing. For example, the editors noted that Wonder Woman’s pants were too shiny needed to be darker to get the right look. But the fact she’s not, you know, Wonder Woman, was something so clearly overlooked the whole pilot got made and close to finished. Obviously someone realized the show had gone terribly wrong because the pilot didn’t even air. But I’m still startled at how much time and effort went into developing the pilot and show and it wasn’t until some horrified executive got to see the whole thing before post-production touch-ups that someone, anyone, spoke up and said, “No, this is wrong.” Whether or not this dark and edgy treatment is fair to Green Arrow, I don’t know, but I suspect Oliver Queen is being done a disservice. And Superman? The representative of hope in the DC universe is turned into the most depressing version of Jesus I have ever seen and wasn’t a very good Superman (which is why I referred to him as “Clark” in my parody).
And this is why the next Green Lantern movie is probably not going to be better than the first. The problem with Green Lantern wasn’t tone; it was a weak script, mediocre acting, and silly over-the-top special effects, some of which were very poorly done. Besides matters of taste, the Bad and Ugly prove that darkness and edgy-ness doesn’t negate lazy, trite, clichéd writing. Shiny pants isn’t the problem and “Pants to be darkened” isn’t the solution. Bad is bad, and ugly is ugly, and lazy is lazy. The tone of the media won’t hide the fundamental flaw of lazy storytelling.