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New Escapist Column! On Versatility and Adaptability as Batman’s True Superpowers…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. It’s been a busy couple of weeks with actors talking about the role of Batman. Val Kilmer discussed it in a long-form interview with The New York Times and Robert Pattinson brought it up in his GQ quarantine profile.

Kilmer argued that the actor playing Batman was unimportant in irrelevant, which is both true in the general case and false in this specific situation. In a general sense, Hollywood is moving away from movie stars and towards intellectual property. However, Batman remains one of the few established brands that is flexible enough to allow a unique approach shine through; Adam West, Kevin Conroy, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Will Arnett and Ben Affleck have all offered distinctive takes on the Caped Crusader, each finding a different window to explore the cultural icon.

There is no single “right” interpretation of Batman, and this has contributed to the character’s ubiquity and endurance. Indeed, it’s arguable that Superman has struggled to remain relevant precisely because he doesn’t have that same flexibility. Superman remains largely stuck in a template defined by the Richard Donner movies, unable to escape their gravity and the pull of the nostalgia around them. Batman can be anything that he needs to be – and that is why he remains as popular as ever.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! The Incredible Expansiveness of “Star Wars”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening, getting ready for the release of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker.

One of the most interesting and compelling aspects of the larger Star Wars mythos has always been its expansive nature, the extremely detailed world that George Lucas created to tell a very simple story. That complexity allows for imagination to run wild, for fans to populate that world with their own readings and speculation. However, there’s also an underlying tension at play; in that it exists as part of a marketing machine, it leads to the clutter of the prequels, and it occasionally leads fans to get over-invested with their version of these characters.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! “Charlie’s Angels” and the Franchise-ification of Everything…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine a little while back, looking at the recent Charlie’s Angels film.

Elizabeth Banks’ Charlie’s Angels is a mess of a film, one that struggles with a variety of problems. Its biggest problems are tonal, with the movie unsure of exactly how it wants to pitch itself: is it a gritty reboot or a campy adventure? There’s a tension at the heart of the film, one which traps it between past and future. Banks clearly wants to reinvent Charlie’s Angels, but she’s also unable to escape the franchise’s history. This is an interesting push-and-pull, one that arguably illustrates the tension of modern franchise film-making.

Most obviously, is it really necessary for a campy seventies sexy spy series to have a “canon”, and is it really necessary for a cinematic adaptation to be beholden to that “canon”? You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

139. The Lion King (#45)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Phil Bagnall and Graham Day, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This time, Rob Minkoff and Roger Allers’ The Lion King.

The Pridelands have enjoyed a period of sustained peace under the stewardship of the proud king Mustafa. However, Mustafa’s young son Simba finds himself embarking upon a journey of self-discovery and adventure as he learns just how fragile happiness can be and just how heavy responsibilities can weigh upon a king.

At time of recording, it was ranked 45th on the Internet Movie Database‘s list of the best movies of all-time.

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111. Beauty and the Beast (#248)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guest Andy Melhuish, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise’s Beauty and the Beast.

Once upon a time, a tired traveller came upon an isolated castle. Imprisoned by a foul-humoured beast, the man’s daughter was forced to trade her father’s freedom for her own. However, over time, the young woman comes to realise that there may something human lurking beneath the creature’s monstrous exterior.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 248th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Re-“Born Again”: Daredevil, Season Three, and the Limits of Textual Fidelity…

One of the more interesting aspects of the modern boom in geek culture is the increased emphasis on textual fidelity.

Much has been written about the high volume of adaptations, sequels, remakes and reboots that dominate contemporary popular culture. The trend is strong, even among this year’s prestige releases. A Star is Born is the third remake of the film, and there are many more stories besides. First Man is a story that covers well-worn ground, a modern American myth, albeit from a unique perspective. Suspiria is a remake of a beloved cult classic. Widows is an adaptation of a British television series. If Beale Street Could Talk… is taken from a James Baldwin novel.

However, it is also very revealing that so many modern adaptations of beloved properties are very much fixated on the idea of fidelity. “Faithfulness” has become a watchword for these adaptations, not just in terms of easter eggs, but in terms of basic construction. In its own way, this may perhaps be an extension of the emphasis on comic books and graphic novels as a key inspiration for modern blockbusters. Given how many comic book artists also work as storyboard artists in film, it is tempting to treat the source material as a storyboard, to adapt a panel into a still image.

This is an interesting approach, but one which often overlooks the actual act of adaptation as an art of itself. It is not enough to cobble together a film from a collection of familiar static images, and can occasionally lead to a very surreal and uncomfortable disconnect, with a filmmaker lifting very literally from their inspiration while also making something that bears little resemblance to the source material in any non-visual manner. The third season of Daredevil runs into this problem repeatedly, largely as a muddled attempt to bring Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Born Again to the screen.

Note: This article contains minor spoilers from the third season of Daredevil.

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Iron Fist – Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch (Review)

Iron Fist draws its influences from the strangest possible places.

As a rule, the Marvel Netflix shows are heavily rooted in the reinvention of Marvel’s street level heroes that began around the turn of the millennium. There are generally two key creative figures associated with this era, artist-turned-editor Joe Quesada and writer Brian Michael Bendis. Working the bunch of street-level properties, these two figures invented and reinvented a number of characters and concepts that would become a cornerstone of this shared television universe.

Hitting the wall…

Sometimes the influence was rather direct. Jessica Jones draws fairly heavily and literally from Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ twenty-eight issue run on Alias. Sometimes that influence was more conceptual. Luke Cage tells its own unique story, but it is heavily influenced by Brian Michael Bendis’ rehabilitation of the title character during his runs on Alias and New Avengers. In some ways, Daredevil is an outlier, drawing on the iconic eighties run by Frank Miller, but it is still heavily influenced by millennial runs by Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker.

Given this existing framework, there is a very obvious influence from which the creative team might draw. Written by Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and illustrated primarily by David Aja, The Immortal Iron Fist was launched in November 2006. The run was launched during the tenure of Joe Quesada and spun directly out of Daredevil. It was also praised by critics and adored by fans for its radical and thoughtful reinvention of the Iron Fist mythos. It was also just plain fun, with Michal Chabon summarising it as “pure, yummy martial-arts-fantasy deliciousness.”

More like bored room, am I right?

With all of this in mind, it seems like Iron Fist should not have to look very hard for an influence. The Immortal Iron Fist was a comic that reinvented a long-forgotten character in a way that made him accessible to modern audiences that had never latched on to Danny Rand. More than that, by focusing on the history and legacy of the title, Fraction and Brubaker had found (some small way) to defuse the potential racial controversy simmering beneath the production. Emphasising the tradition of K’un Lun, The Immortal Iron Fist diversified the mythos.

And yet, in spite of all of that, Iron Fist chooses to draw most heavily and most overtly from the original appearances of Danny Rand in Marvel Premiere and Iron Fist, a run largely forgotten by history and notable primarily as a stepping stone to much greater things.

Hardly gripping.

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