These are uncharted waters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a mega-franchise that produces hits so dependably that it’s acquired a logic of its own, which does not resemble normal human artistic endeavor.
In 2018, Marvel Studios produced Black Panther, a profoundly successful movie about a character who was not particularly well-known before he started showing up in Marvel movies. The film made a staggering amount of money, with a $700 million domestic box office take. It was the #1 movie of the year in the United States, even beating that year’s Avengers crossover.
They planned to make a sequel, of course, with Chadwick Boseman returning as King T’Challa. Writer-director Ryan Coogler started working on a script, and most of the original cast signed on for the second movie. They were about seven months away from the start of filming on Black Panther 2 when the news broke that Boseman had died of colon cancer, a condition that he’d been struggling with privately since 2016.
At that point, the normal thing for the studio to do would be to announce that the film was cancelled, and that the MCU would regretfully move on without Black Panther. Instead, they decided to make the movie anyway, rewriting the script to have the lead character die offscreen on page 2.
This is a bizarre way for a movie studio to behave. They made a two hour and forty-minute film about how bummed they are that they couldn’t make a sequel to Black Panther, and released it to theaters, and then everybody showed up and loved it anyway.
Continue reading Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 99.1: Make the Movie Anyway
It’s an appropriate word to begin Superman III, history’s first superhero sequel. Superman II doesn’t count, of course, because the original Superman movie was planned as a two-part story. So this moment — the beginning of film #3 — is the first time the filmmakers have to skip over the origin myth, and start a brand new story from scratch.
And it begins, naturally, with a negotiation over how much money we’re going to give to Richard Pryor.
Continue reading Superman III 4.3: Enter Gus
Soggy, scared and running low on second chances, Cable stumbles out of the scenery and into a new relationship with a young sidekick who, in my opinion, might secretly be a ghost.
I mean, explain Jude, if you can. He’s an extremely unwatched minor who runs America’s grungiest gas station. He appears to be puzzled by Cable and the energetic shooting war that erupts around him, but he keeps his cool and helps Cable as much as he can, appearing in the quiet moments when she needs him, and receding into the background when there are other people around. There is no evidence in the text that he is a human child, and plenty of evidence to the contrary.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.22: The Kid
At this point in the blog, Superman II has two current plot tracks. In one thread, three powerful, untouchable people drop from the sky, and immediately start exploiting and gentrifying, destroying both the environment and the economy of a struggling rural town. Meanwhile, nerdy Clark Kent finally gets a date with the girl he’s been crushing on by revealing to her that he’s secretly rich and famous, and now he’s driving that point home by whisking her off to the ice mansion party palace that his dad built for him.
In other words, this is a movie about white people.
Now, obviously, that’s not unique for the genre. It turns out that big-ticket superhero movies tend to be produced by rich white people, so they’re usually about an individual or a small group of people who become immensely powerful, often from birth or by accident, who then battle the forces of disruption and social change, in service of the status quo.
And then there’s The Batman, which is all about how terrible white people are. And I have to say, it makes a compelling case.
Continue reading The Batman 94.1: This Would Be a Good Town Not to Be From
“Hmm, a primitive sort of lifeform,” Ursa muses, as she assesses the rattlesnake. Ursa’s just arrived on the planet, and she doesn’t know that you’re not supposed to pick up unfamiliar lifeforms. That snake probably had other things on its schedule for today.
Annoyed by the interruption, the snake strikes, burying its fangs in Ursa’s supposedly impenetrable skin. Wincing, she throws the reptile to the ground, and then sets it aflame with her magical heat vision.
“Did you see that?” she calls to her friends. “Did you see what I did? I have powers beyond reason here!”
Yeah, it’s called white privilege. A lot of us have it, unfortunately.
Continue reading Superman II 2.21: First Contact
I want to check back in about the history of blockbuster movies, which I’ve been doing sporadically so I can figure out how they work. So far, I’ve talked about the first blockbuster, the 1912 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which set the bar for the kind of large-scale spectacle that audiences could expect from the high-prestige movies. We’ve also discussed the first American blockbuster, the 1915 Ku Klux Klan recruitment film The Birth of a Nation, which pioneered most of the foundational principles of narrative filmmaking, and also made the case for the continued oppression and second-class status of Black people in the United States.
And today, we’re going to look at Gone With the Wind, the flabbergastingly successful 1939 four-hour film epic about the death of the Old South, and… well, the birth of a nation, I suppose.
Continue reading Superman 1.87: The Other Movie About Black People
“Now, look!” Perry shouts, slamming down a copy of somebody else’s newspaper on his desk. “The Post: It Flies!” He drops another: “The News: Look Ma, No Wires!” And another: “The Times: Blue Bomb Buzzes Metropolis!” I don’t know how he has time to do all this extra reading; doesn’t he have a paper of his own to put out?
Then he picks up today’s Daily Planet, with the long-admired banner: Caped Wonder Stuns City. This headline is way better than the other three, so I’m not sure why he’s upset about it.
“We’re sitting on top of the story of the century here!” he barks. “I want the name of this flying whatchamacallit to go with the Daily Planet like bacon and eggs, franks and beans, death and taxes, politics and corruption!” And then he keeps on snapping at his terrified reporters, in a scene that’s supposed to be funny but isn’t, because Jackie Cooper is terrible.
Part of the problem here is that this isn’t really Perry’s job. In all of the previous versions of Superman, he hardly needs to ask; Superman stories just start piling up on the editor’s desk before he even knows that Superman exists.
Really, this behavior is more the purview of J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of the Daily Bugle, who’s always demanding that camera-clicker Peter Parker bring him more photos of Spider-Man. Those are the two heroes that get the most press coverage in comic books, Superman and Spider-Man, because they have secret identities that work for the paper.
I wonder what all the other superheroes do, when they want some earned media? I don’t think DC’s Metropolis is as chock full of caped wonders as Marvel’s New York City is, but still, there must be dozens of masked vigilantes who never make the front page at all. I guess it’s who you know.
Continue reading Superman 1.69: The Chief
I’d like to get back to the history of blockbusters, because it’s going to help us understand how big movies like Superman work, and what audiences respond to. A few weeks ago in “Dawn of the Blockbuster“, I wrote about the 1913 Italian epic Quo Vadis, which was the first feature film specifically designed to amaze the audience with grandeur and spectacle. Today, I want to talk about The Birth of a Nation, the 1915 American movie which was more popular and more profitable than any other film in the first three decades of motion pictures.
The Birth of a Nation is one of the most influential films ever made, an eye-popping, jaw-dropping spectacle that invented most of what we know as the language of cinema. It’s also one of the most evil films ever made, a grotesque three-hour Ku Klux Klan recruitment film that grievously damaged race relations in America, in ways that we’re still feeling today. Sometimes movies can be several things at the same time.
Continue reading Superman 1.68: Nineteen-fifteen
I was talking yesterday about human history, and so far I’m only up to World War II, so I’m afraid there’s quite a bit left.
In Superman: The Movie, Jor-El tells Superman that he must not interfere with human history, which may have seemed like a good idea in the abstract but is pretty hard to achieve, especially for a guy who can fly and blow things up with his eyes. That kind of thing tends to make a noticeable dent in the arc of history, one way or another.
Superman first encountered this problem just a few years after he was created, when everybody expected him to go and fight on the front lines of World War II, which — given the inherently unstoppable nature of his character — would have led to a limited set of story options.
As we saw in the excerpts from WW2-era Superman comics yesterday, the common American understanding of the war was that there were three or four bad people in the world — Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito and maybe Stalin — and if we could apprehend those individuals and bring them to an international tribunal for justice, the war would be over and everything would be fine. It was basically a battle with a handful of powerful supervillains, and that kind of thing is right up Superman’s street; he could just leap over to Europe and head east, collecting dictators as he went along.
So let’s say that Superman gets his hands on Hitler, and serves him a hot slice of comeuppance. Then what?
Continue reading Superman 1.64: Human History, and How to Not Interfere With It, part 2
It’s a moment of celebration — after all this time, with Lois Lane in terrible trouble, Superman emerges triumphantly from the magic revolving door. The music explodes with pleasure: it’s SU-PER-MAN!
And then we see the only Black character in the movie with a speaking part: a criminal, who rents out women for sex. “Say, Jim!” he cries, entering the frame with a hat and an amazed expression. “Whooo!”
Superman lifts a finger in response; our hero has no time to hobnob with the locals. “Excuse me,” he says, and moves on to something more important: a white woman, in trouble.
Continue reading Superman 1.55: The Bad Outfit