Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Happily Super-Heroic. And… Pulpy.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on July 21, 2017

For everyone complaining about how tired they are of the superhero movies… I’m happily part of the problem. I’m not tired of them, mainly because Hollywood has finally been hit enough times with the clue-bat over the decades that they are finally learning how to make them. We’re finally seeing good, interesting superhero movies that are nevertheless distinct from each other.

Disney’s Marvel movies are leading the pack with the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” stuff. Duh.  These films are fun spectacles, and the creators have learned to play with the formula so that they stay fresh. They’ve figured things out. They may forget again, as often happens, but for now they have demonstrated competence in what made the superhero comics tick (something many comics creators today seem to have forgotten).

I haven’t been quite so impressed with some other offerings. The Netflix licensed shows have been a mixed bag for me, even though they take place in the same universe. They want to tell darker, grittier, streetwise stories that are more about drama and less about the superheroics. I’m down with that, and  and they seem to be circling around the right idea sometimes. The other superhero shoes on network TV have been hit-or-miss for me… and too often I’m okay with giving them a miss.  Sony’s superhero films (licensed from Marvel) have been another mixed bag. I didn’t bother watching any of the recent Fantastic Four films, but I’ve mostly enjoyed the Spider-Man and X-Men films (we’ll just pretend X-Men 3 never happened. Days of Future Past sort of retconned it anyway, which would have made it my favorite X-Men film for that alone…)

The DC comics movies — except for a few of the older non-DCU films (Nolan’s Dark Knight series, and RED) — have disappointed me. Until now. Wonder Woman really kicked butt. I want more like that, please. I have heard that WB/DC is abandoning the grimdark / gritty concept of their cinematic universe for something a lot more… well, like Wonder Woman. I’m happy about that. AFAICT, that whole concept seems to have been based on Zack Snyder’s relatively faithful adaptation of Watchmen. But Watchmen was basically the anti-super-hero book… fresh and interesting at its time, but only because of what it stood in balance with. It was a good one-shot, not the basis for an entire pantheon of films (or comics).

I thought Wonder Woman would be my favorite superhero film of the year, but Spider-Man: Homecoming surprised me. A lot. I wasn’t too interested in yet another reboot of the franchise, but this one blew away all of its predecessors. It had outstanding attention to detail, interesting characters, and the villain (The Vulture) ended up being one of the best of the superhero big-screen films. I guess Marvel / Disney was intent on schooling Sony how it is supposed to be done.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 disappointed me only in comparison to the original, which I’ve seen maybe four times and loved it every single time. The sequel was really, really good… but a little shy of awesome. In another year, it could have been the best, but it didn’t thrill me as much as Wonder Woman or Spider-Man. Then there’s Logan. My wife didn’t like it. I did. But for me, it was kinda like Watchmen… a fascinating change of pace in comparison to what else is out there, and a dark, hard-edged yet touching end for Hugh Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine… and probably Patrick Stewart’s final turn as Professor Xavier. It was a different kind of way to send them off, and I don’t know if it would have been my first choice. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I hoped I would.

So what is it about these superhero stories (the good ones, at least)? If you guessed that my answer had something to do with “pulp,” give yourself a gold star. 🙂  Here’s a fantastic quote from Patty Jenkins, the director of Wonder Woman:

Cheesy is one of the words banned in my world. I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied away from sincerity, real sincerity, because they feel they have to wink at the audience because that’s what the kids like. We have to do the real stories now. The world is in crisis.

I wanted to tell a story about a hero who believes in love, who is filled with love, who believes in change and the betterment of mankind. I believe in it. It’s terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world.

If you want to know why Wonder Woman is so awesome, this is it. And if you want to know why I’m suddenly interested in Patty Jenkins as a director, that’s why. This is what I want in my world now. This is why I’ve been so excited about the Pulp Revolution and Superversive stuff. These things are OKAY!

It’s okay to just have good, clean fun.

It’s okay to have heroes. They don’t need to be torn down.

It’s okay to aspire to lofty goals. It is not hypocrisy to fall short.

There’s nothing inherently superior about being “realistic.”

This is sort of the underlying current I take away from the better shows, and from the pulp movement. There’s this wonderful moment in Homecoming that really symbolizes the core of the superhero story for me. I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler… it’s just a moment when Peter has been invited to enjoy a night of fun with friends and his romantic interest who is sitting by the pool in a bathing suit. You can see his expression on longing on his face… this is his big chance at fun and happiness for a night. But instead, he chooses to suit up, piss off his mentor, and subject himself to a night of getting his butt kicked by bad guys… because he believes it’s the right thing to do.

This is probably what bugged me so much about about Zack Snyder’s superhero films. They were all the Watchmen. They ran counter to all of these points (even, to some degree, the “realistic” one). It was all about second-guessing heroism. In fact, that seemed to be the theme of Man of Steel: “Having super powers sucks. Don’t be a hero, you’ll always do more harm than good. Don’t even try because you’ll fail.” Gah! Forget that. I want stories full of action, adventure, excitement, and FUN. I want over-the-top awesomeness with gun-happy mutant raccoons and legions of ninjas. I want heroes who are still human on the inside, who fail all the time, but keep trying because they are heroes and that’s what heroes do, at the end of the day.

Considering how these movies keep dominating the box office year after year (man, who would have thought that would happen? So glad I’ve lived to see this day…) and show no sign that I can tell of slowing down, I’d say I’m not alone. There is power in these kinds of stories.

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