Sunday, January 17, 2010

"And Nothing To Do But Go On Home" (or: "Dudes, Remember Bryan Singer Made A Superman Movie?")

Holy crap, Superman Returns, aren't you an hour and forty-five minutes drowning in a two-and-a-half-hour movie? (And, on AMC, it's a three-and-a-half-hour affair, but I hadn't seen it since it was out in theaters and decided to give it another go.)

I'm not even saying there should have been more action (couldn't've hurt, though), and I'm certainly not going to insist "Superman needs to punch somebody" because he most certainly does not have to ... but man, this is a movie in need of some content. Maybe you could get away with long, silent glances if they seemed to signify something, either in the writing or in the acting, but it's an awful lot of audience participation going on there - "Fill in the blanks, kids, what do you think Lois is feeling but can't find the words to express?"

But what makes that two-and-a-half hours inexcusable is that the movie doesn't have any payoff, not really, anyway. I mean, the whole secret-child angle and competing with the kid's swell-guy dad for Lois' affections - it's not my favorite idea, I'll admit. But it could be interesting. Spare me the "faithful adaptation"; at this point, I'd much rather watch a movie like The Dark Knight, that takes a risk by using these concepts as a springboard to talk about things that matter to somebody, than an updated Superman origin using CGI. So I am totally willing to give this a shot. And it does start out very amibitiously, even to the point where I'm thinking on this second viewing, Man, maybe they really are going somewhere with this.

But they don't. Lot of questions to be sure, and that gives it the illusion of gravity: How does Superman cope with a world that's moved on in his absence? What would fatherhood mean for the Man of Steel? (Hey, that one might be something I could get into now.) Most importantly, as Eliott S! Maggin put it, "Must There Be A Superman?"

But at the end of the movie, I don't know. The movie doesn't answer any of those questions. Okay, Dark Knight doesn't give you the firm answer on any of the questions it poses, either, but it engages with them so that you can work it out yourself. You can debate the morality of the characters' actions in The Dark Knight - even that crap about "Batman is George W Bush" ... there's at least enough material in the movie where there's a case to be made.

But Superman Returns doesn't give you even that much. It lays before you a bunch of questions and then refuses to give you the tools to answer them with. This is a movie that's really just shrugging its shoulders, saying "Hey, don't ask me, I'm just puttin' it out there. I mean, I'm just sayin' is all..."

So what's the point of Superman Returns, ultimately? If it's spectacle, it's dragging in places. If it's a love story, the leads don't connect. It hits the Superman-as-Christ-figure beats, but only in that totally superficial screenwritery way. That bit at the end with Superman giving his son the same speech his father gave him - surely that's too thin, too irrelevant to you and I to justify 150 rather ponderous minutes.

And then Superman flies away into the sky, and they play that John Williams theme, and Brandon Routh does that same fly-by-the-camera thing Christopher Reeve used to do ... well, what does that mean? Because that music's always meant "Superman's saved the day and everything is fine" in the previous movies this film is so dutifully referencing. But there is no closure in this movie, so that music's just hollow. Rather cynically, it's using that familiar score to fool you into thinking that the movie is over - "Yep, that's it, everything's resolved ... you wouldn't be hearing that music if it wasn't, right?"

What is the point? You've got the Christ stuff, the abandonment issues, the fatherhood stuff, the unresolved love triangle ... and married to the constant homage to the previous Superman movies that just weighs it down because Brandon Routh looks a lot like Christopher Reeve but isn't, Kevin Spacey is doing a lot of the stuff that Gene Hackman is doing but isn't as funny when he's trying to be, the theme's by John Williams but the score's by somebody else.

You're a weird animal, Superman Returns. But that makes you an interesting failure. I watched you twice, which is more than I can say for Ben Affleck in Daredevil.

(I'd like to see that 20-page essay in defense of Superman Returns that Quentin Tarantino was supposedly working on, actually. Like, quite a bit.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

So Am I Just A Big Ol' Hypocrite Or What?

All right, so it is well documented that I am an unabashed Grant Morrison fan, but I dislike Geoff Johns (well, I mean his writing, it's not as though he's ever cut me of in traffic or anything).

So you could reasonably predict my reaction when I read about how Johns wants to define the nature of the Speed Force on his upcoming Flash run:

"I always thought of the Speed Force as if it were this layer, kind of like the fluid in your joints that allows your bones to move together, and if you think of that as the Speed Force, it’s this fluid between the now and the time stream. It allows the two to co-exist, because the way time exists, it’s not just a line, it’s a sphere. So that fluid coats that sphere and the sphere is the Speed Force. And that sphere touches all reality and it’s full of everything, it’s full of ultimate speed, moving through reality, because time is all relative and it’s full of all scientific knowledge. It’s all knowledge of all eras."

That reaction, of course, was "ARRGH."

Because it just seems so pointless, doesn't it? I mean, the purpose of fiction, right, is to either mindlessly entertain or reveal some truth about the real world (ideally both). I realize this seems awfully lofty for superhero comics, but I mean, even "Helping people is good" and "Stealing is bad" are truths - I'm not asking for Kafka or anything.

But this is just explaining how an imaginary system works. It is never going to be relevant for me to know how the Speed Force works because we haven't got one of those. It could be in service of a good story, of course, but it also could be that fan fiction-y mythology building and expansion that Johns does and that fans seem to like.

But then I re-examined my immediate reaction.

For one thing, the Speed Force has always been explaining how an imaginary system works (i.e. why a bunch of different superheroes all have the same powers for different reasons) that never really required an explanation in the first place; for fifty years everyone was fine with them just running really really fast. The difference is it came from Mark Waid, whose comics I've always liked.

The second thing is that quoted bit above, superficially, reads an awful lot like a Grant Morrison impression. It's big and wonderful and metaphysical, and you're not quite sure exactly what it means but it all seems to make sense to him. And if I had read that in a Grant Morrison interview, I'd be, "All right, sign me up, this could be rad times!" Now granted (...pun!), Morrison has built up a significant amount of goodwill with me as a reader, where even if something doesn't start out great, I'll stick with it because I trust it will pay off eventually (after about the second or third issue of Final Crisis, I thought, "Man, if Jeph Loeb had written this, I would be so done with this right now").

So the question I have to ask myself now is, am I totally biased against Johns as a writer of funnybooks? Even if he launched The Adventures of Exactly Everything Justin Wants To Read In A Comic Book tomorrow, would I dislike it? Or, more worrying - might I even be capable of liking it, but on some level (conscious or not) be looking for things to object to?

Man, this is why I haven't been to the comic book shop in months.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A List That I Started Writing And Gave Up On Finishing Almost Immediately


1.) "...And In Every Home..." - Orchestra plays similar riff to "Here Comes The Sun" (also Cream's "Badge") at :33 and elsewhere. Arrangement supposedly contains numerous musical allusions to George Martin arrangements and other pieces.

2.) "Blue Chair" - Costello sings same "Oh ho ho ho ho ho" as Lennon on Beatles' cover of "Anna"

3.) "20% Amnesia" - Guitar break at :48 recalls "I Feel Fine"

4.) "Pony St." - Bass bit at 1:48 recalls McCartney-style bass on "Paperback Writer" and "Rain"

And then I kind of lost interest.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Asterios Polyp

I finally got around to picking up 2009's critical darling graphic novel by David, don't make me look it up*. You know who I'm talking about.

Everyone else already read and commented on this several months ago, so I don't have anything in-depth or particularly novel to add, and anyway I just finished it today so it needs time to digest. All I'll say for an immediate critical reaction is:

-YES, it's formally brilliant and a message to purveyors of "cinematic" comics that hey, there are specific storytelling devices that are only found in the medium of comics, and you should be taking advantage of them.
-YES, the characters are very broad types, and the story and plot are fairly well-worn, but the book gives you a whole lot else to think about. In fact, given the somewhat abstract nature of the ideas in it, Mr. M has couched them in a very familiar narrative to help them go down easily (the book is nothing if not easy to read).
-NO, I do not have a strong positive or negative opinion about the controversial ending yet. I did not hate it, although I was warned about it.

On a personal note, my main reaction is this: Asterios Polyp is so good it almost makes me want to start drawing comics again. But only almost.

(*-Although I can spell Bill Sienkiewicz's name without looking it up, but that's because I used to work with somebody who had the same last name.)