The Death of Superman: Best Superman Movie Yet?

by Drew Kiess

death-of-superman-animated-movie

 

The Death of Superman is the latest film in the DC Animated Universe directed by Sam Liu and Jake Castorena from a script from comics writer Peter Tomasi. The film stars Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane, and Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. The Death of Superman is the first part in a two-part release adapting the Death and Return of Superman story arc from Mike Carlin’s Superman writing team in the early 90s, with The Reign of the Supermen hitting stores next year.

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant amount of time, you will know that I have been critical of many of the recent DC Animated releases. I think that one of the many benefits of this format for the DC characters is the ability to take a concept directly from page to screen. Recently however it would seem that these films are less interested in showcasing our heroes acting out the stories we all love and more interested in pushing them into adult-like scenarios, and I say adult-like because I don’t think there is anything remotely grownup about excessive blood splatters and fetishizing lesbianism (here’s looking at you, Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay). Most of the time, these harder edged updates come across tacky and out of touch with the characters and quite possibly the fans. Many of these films have been written by veterans in the DC animated worlds, so the disconnect hasn’t made a ton of sense, but perhaps they’ve just run out of things to say about this world.

 

Enter Peter Tomasi.

 

For my money, Peter Tomasi is the best thing to happen to the DC Movies in quite some time. His recent run at the beginning of DC Rebirth on the Superman title (opposite of Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics) has ushered in one of the greatest eras in the character’s 80 year publication history. Being tasked to bring this story to life is no small task, as the book itself is marred in a messy continuity and is impenetrable to anyone who is not familiar with that era (why does Lex Luthor look like a troll doll? And who the heck are these superheroes?) Don’t get me wrong, I love that time period, but there are good reasons why it hasn’t quite been elevated to the status of The Dark Knight Returns like it probably should have been. It’s weird and is very much a product of its time.

 

Placing The Death of Superman within the Justice League War continuity makes the story much more accessible (Let’s be honest: Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash are much more popular than Thorn, Gangbuster and Guardian). Dropping the Superman-Doomsday fight into a world we recognize allows Tomasi to draw out Clark’s personality.

 

The best parts of this movie don’t involve Superman punching Doomsday (although that stuff is great), but involves Clark and Lois. Clark is struggling letting Lois in on the big secret. It’s an incredibly well written plotline that humanizes Superman and gives him a weakness that is much more relatable than an alien killing machine. When the titular event finally does happen (this isn’t a spoiler… we all know Doomsday wins), you feel the Lois’ loss.

 

And this emotional weight that doesn’t rely on shock, gore, or sex to make the film stand apart is actually what makes it stand apart. It is emotionally resonating, visually exciting, and well-written from start to finish, with so many references from Superman’s history that I lost count. This has everything I could have ever wanted from any Superman movie, be it animated or live action.

 

I said after seeing the Deluxe Edition of The Dark Knight Returns (DC’s other two-part release, re-released as one movie) that it was the greatest Batman film ever made. I think we could be on the precipice of the same thing being said by me about Superman films if the second half pays off (and we get a Deluxe Edition, which I am hoping that we do), because I think I just saw the first half of what could be one of my all-time favorite comic book films.

 

As it stands, this is clearly among the best, if it is not the best, DC Animated Universe movies sense the relaunch. It is nothing short of spectacular and I hope that this raises the bar for this studio on what it means to adapt these characters and these beloved stories. They can be updated and adapted with love and accuracy. And they can be done with excellence.

 

This one certainly was super.

 

Final Grade: A+

 

The Death of Superman is on Blu-Ray and DVD August 7th, 2018

Advertisements

Episode 118: Mario Robles

Episode 118 is now live! For a third time in recent months we welcome Mario Francisco Robles onto the podcast. Justin and Kyle sit down and chat the ongoing Henry Cavill situation and what that could mean going forward for “Man of Steel 2.” Additionally, the guys chat the recent news on #TheBatman and what Matt Reeves has in store not just for the script and story, but for the role of The Caped Crusader!

10 Years Later, The Dark Knight Still Matters

By Mark Hughes

1200x630bbAs we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Batman film “The Dark Knight,” most talk centers on the film’s status in the superhero film genre and the iconic performance by Heath Ledger. But it’s worth remembering the film’s powerful reflection of our national debate about balancing social fears and security with our individual liberties and right to privacy, amid the so-called “war on terror.” It remains one of the most socially relevant and resonant action films of the modern cinematic age, and even more so specifically within the superhero genre.

“The Dark Knight” is among a group of high-profile films forcing us to consider the sacrifices and conflicting ideals civil society must confront in an age of anxiety about domestic terrorist threats and loss of individual autonomy. “Prisoners,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Rendition” are among those spiritual siblings to “The Dark Knight,” representing literal or analogous depictions of the rising national security state apparatus and how it has changed our culture forever. The best of such films also include themes about technology becoming both an existential threat to, and instrument of expression for, our security and our liberty.

I recommend watching a movie paring of “The Dark Knight,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Prisoners,” and “Rendition.” Specifically, I’d suggest watching them in that precise order, to achieve maximum impact. These films take different yet comparable paths to examine many of the same or conflicting ideas about terrorism, torture, privacy, abuse of power, and the painful choices we make or refuse to make, depending on if and when a given moment allows us to transcend ourselves and serve a greater good.

Does the greater good require us to violate our ideals, or does it demand we double down on living up to them? Do we take the easy path, or the hard path, and where does that path lead and any given moment? What are we willing to give up, and what is too precious to sacrifice in the name of either safety or liberty? When does our principled idealism have to give way to the truth about mandatory compromises to save civil society and our ideals from those who use them as weapons against society itself? Is it noble or foolishly selfish to keep our own hands clean and wave the flag of idealism, rather than get our hands dirty doing things to protect society even if society will damn us for it later?

These and many more questions are posited in each of the films I recommend you watch for this marathon on the anniversary of “The Dark Knight”’s release. And I hope everyone will participate in such a marathon viewing, to remind us all that these questions have not faded or lost relevance, even a decade later. Indeed, the relevance grows ever more obvious, and cinema has always been a great way for our society to confront our inner demons and major issues of the day together, in a church of pop culture where ugly truths and painful questions can be vocalized and portrayed in ways inviting us to let our guard down, internalize the themes and messages, and walk away willing to face the questions directly, with new insights and understanding of different perspectives.

Today, our nation faces a renewed crisis of conscience and existential threats to the very survival of civil society and democracy, if not eventually the survival of the world itself. The threat of terrorism was and remains very real, but larger threats have conspired and aligned against us both domestically and externally. So we cannot ignore the renewed importance of our debate about how we prevent and fight terrorism, without losing our fundamental liberties to authoritarians abusing those national security considerations as a means to grab power and undermine democracy.

It’s a testament to the power of cinema that it can play a significant role in how we visualize, consider, and ultimately address the most troubling questions about what sort of future we want for our country. “The Dark Knight” is one of several superhero movies proving comic book films are a valid part of artistic expression relevant to our national dialogue about who we are as a people, particularly with regard to waging war at home and abroad in the post-9/11 age.

The impotent cry of “keep politics out of superhero comics/movies” from certain corners of fandom is transparently absurd at face value, since of course comics have always been political and some of the greatest comic book stories are great precisely because of their social commentary and political relevance. Such is the case for superhero movies, and “The Dark Knight” proves it perhaps better than any other example from the genre. No reasonable viewer could watch “The Dark Knight” and fail to recognize its social and political relevance. How you interpret it is of course dependent on what you bring to the experience and how you perceive the world, but it’s also possible to interpret the film contrary to your own views, or to glimpse morally ambiguity within the story as well.

“The Dark Knight” might conform to your own views, or it might conflict with them, or it might conform to them in some ways while conflicting with them in others. Or it might all seem ambiguous and uncertain, the lessons hard to describe as either intentionally righteous or flawed and doomed to fail. What you get out of it can be radically different, even while certain aspects of the film have an element of objective truth to them, simply serving as mile-markers of sorts to keep our moral and intellectual journey honest.

It’s great when a superhero film entertains. It’s even better when a superhero film entertains and also informs. But it’s perhaps best when a superhero film entertains precisely because of how it informs. “The Dark Knight” is a terrific example of the latter, a film that is thrilling and transcendent because of how it informs us, how it challenges us, and how it makes us realize this caped crusader, this masked vigilante, this Batman, is a truer reflection of us and our world than we ever realized.

Happy anniversary, “The Dark Knight.” Of all the praise I could give you, I think the best is this: you mattered, and you matter even more today.

10 Years Serious: The Legacy of the Dark Knight

by Drew Kiess

Dark Knight 19a

“You changed things…forever”

Do you remember 2008? The New England Patriots just failed to complete an unbeaten season, Indiana Jones is hiding in a refrigerator, and Sarah Palin is still the craziest Republican. The world has changed quite a bit since 2008. Except for the Patriots. They’re still really good. Dangit.

Superhero movies had been on the rebound since the turn of the century, starting with X-Men in 2000 and the Spider-Man in 2002, and their respective sequels. These films took a more grounded approach to the subgenre and were hits. Marvel comics on film was finally hitting the big-time after decades of false starts, but DC was dead in the water following Batman and Robin (and to a lesser extent, Steel and Catwoman) and attempts to relaunch Batman and Superman on the big screen were troubled and often misguided.

Enter Christopher Nolan.

landscape-1466001422-maxresdefault

In 2005, Batman Begins was a modest success, but it offered one of the most nuanced and earnest interpretations of a comic book superhero to date (and perhaps since). Begins may not have lit the box office on fire, but Batman was back and people were paying attention again.

Three years later.

The build up to The Dark Knight in 2008 was the return of Batmania. There was an energy to this movie that hasn’t truly been replicated since, and when the movie finally hit, it hit hard. Heath Ledger’s Joker took the world by storm, taking a legendary pop culture figure and re-writing the legend entirely. “Why so serious” was now intrinsically tied to the character, and burned into public consciousness as an all-time great film moment. The Dark Knight was a massive success, clearing the $1 billion mark (a much more rare of a feat at the time). Comic Book movies would never be the same.

Heath-Ledger-The-Joker-The-Dark-Knight.jpg

The reason they would never be the same has less to do with The Dark Knight’s serious storytelling than with it does with its success. Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, despite neither being spectacularly lucrative, had a more long lasting impact in the storytelling department than did The Dark Knight, as every company wants their own universe now. Warners has two shared universes, Fox had their own comic book universe which is now in limbo thanks to a corporate buyout, Universal has struggled to get one off the ground, and Sony has thrown everything from Men in Black to that one guy who once appeared in an ad in a Spider-Man comic at the wall in hopes that people would look forward to seeing their films. And of course, Marvel Studios built a multi-billion dollar business off the backs of their 2008 films.

No, the legacy of The Dark Knight is that no superhero movie since has been like The Dark Knight. At least once a year, we see a critic refer to a superhero blockbuster as “the best since The Dark Knight”. It changed the way audiences perceive the ceiling for comic book movies. These aren’t just superhero movies—these are real movies. They can contend for awards, and you can say you like them without feeling silly. Without The Dark Knight, there is no MCU, because The Dark Knight didn’t just make Batman cool again, it made superheroes cool.

There is still a lot of talk about whether or not The Dark Knight is the greatest superhero movie of all time. Maybe it is. I don’t think that’s a very interesting conversation, though. What’s more interesting is the fact that the conversations are happening, still, even ten years later. The Dark Knight was a landmark moment for cinema that ushered in an age of geek-domination at the box office.

If The Dark Knight were to be released today, I cannot help but feel that it would not be quite as beloved as it is. It came out at the perfect time. Not a day too soon or late. It was lightning in a bottle, which is why it has never been replicated. Even The Dark Knight Rises (which, in my opinion is every bit as good, if not better) could not repeat the cultural impact, despite being an even bigger financial success. To sum up the legacy of the film by simply saying that it was special seems too quaint, but that is exactly where we are. There was nothing quite like it before its release, and there will never be another like it again.

So, no, I don’t think it needs to be the best superhero movie of all time, but I do think that it is easily the most important superhero movie of the modern age. While Superman The Movie may have been responsible for planting the seed, it was The Dark Knight that reshaped the landscape and finally tilled the ground.

And for those who wish to argue its merits based on inconsistencies and compare it to other movies’ ability to stick to the source material, all I have for you is one question:

Why so serious?

Shanlian On Batman: Episode 114

 

Justin and Kyle fire up the microphones to talk about recent DC news including the merging between Time Warner and AT&T, the upcoming reveal of the Aquaman and Shazam trailer, as well as Geoff Johns working on Green Lantern! Finally the guys chat the news of Ben Affleck leaving the role of Batman, courtesy of the Forbes Article from Mark Hughes