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297. Steel – Shaq Week 2022 (-#47)

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

This week, we’re doing something a bit unusual. To round out Shark Week, we are marking Shaq Week. So today, ending the week with Kenneth Johnson’s Steel.

Following a horrific accident during weapons research, John Irons returns home to South Central Los Angeles to discover that some of the weapons he helped design have been making their way into the hands of the local gangs. Unable to accept this, Irons crafts a superhero persona for himself, vowing to protect the local community as the vigilante Steel.

At time of recording, it was ranked 47th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On Thor as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s One True Superhero…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the looming release of Thor: Love and Thunder, it seemed like as good an excuse as any to take a look back at the character of Thor within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and what makes him unique within the shared universe.

Interestingly, Thor is perhaps the only major character within the shared universe who feels like an old-fashioned superhero rather than a product of the military industrial complex. This is particularly apparent within Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, both of which are essentially stories about Thor being exiled from or rejecting the structures of Asgardian society. The result of all this is interesting. In a universe where so many heroes are defined by their relationship to the armed forces, Thor actually feels like a superhero.

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

New Escapist Column! On the “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as a Critique of the Marvel Power Fantasy…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at what the film says about the larger thematic preoccupations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is built around the superhero power fantasy, with much of the franchise focusing on the idea that its central characters should be allowed to do whatever they want, to bend the world to their tremendous wills. Multiverse of Madness is an interesting and deliberate deconstruction of this power fantasy, focusing on a superhero who has internalised that idea to a dangerous degree, while teaching another character that perhaps the ends don’t always justify the means.

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

New Podcast! Your Feature Presentation – “What Does The Batman Say About Super Heroes?”

The Escapist have launched a new pop culture podcast, and I was thrilled to join Jack Packard for the sixth episode. Jack and I discuss The Batman.

277. The Batman – This Just In (#67)

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

So this week, a new entry: Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

Bruce Wayne is in the second year of his war on crime in Gotham, and things are not improving. Indeed, the city is thrown into anarchy when a new villain calling themselves the Riddler begins targetting city officials and threatening to unmask the city’s darkest secrets. Can Bruce survive what is coming? Can the Batman? Can Gotham?

At time of recording, it was ranked 67th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “The Batman” as an Argument for Superheroes…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist on Friday. With the release of The Batman this weekend, it seemed a good opportunity to take a look at the film, and what it says about the state of the superhero genre.

The superhero genre is arguably the dominant mode of American blockbuster cinema, the prism through which the populist form must be viewed in its present incarnation. Perhaps the superhero is best understood as a descendent of the classic pop archetypes like the cowboy or the gangster. However, very few superhero films actively engage with what that transition actually means, what makes the superhero a more modern American archetype than the cowboy or the gangster. The Batman is the rare superhero movie engaged with this question.

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

New Escapist Column! On the Tangled Ethics of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. This weekend marks the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, so it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the movie’s big themes and ideas.

On the surface, No Way Home feels a lot like recent nostalgia plays like Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, in that it’s very much an appeal to the memory of a pop culture object. However, No Way Home has certain advantages over these movies, in that it’s a film that seems to be trying to be about more than just recycled imagery. However, it never seems like No Way Home is entirely sure what exactly it is about and what exactly it is trying to say about that.

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

New Podcast! Podcast 616 – “Eternals”

Podcast 616 is a podcast looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was thrilled to be invited to join Dan Owen for a discussion of Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, which is a movie I enjoyed considerably more than most.

It’s a fun and broad discussion, which delves into questions around auteurship within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the paradox of superheroes, the question of power, and the challenges in adapting concepts like the Deviants for the big screen. It was really fun to roll up my sleeves and delve into this discussion with Dan, which allowed me to chat about everything from my blind spots with certain characters to the way in which the plot and themes of Eternals feels true to the spirit – if not necessarily the art – of Jack Kirby.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

Non-Review Review: Eternals

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals is a small, but necessary, step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There has been a lot of pre-publicity around Eternals, most of it centring on Zhao as an auteur. Zhao has given interviews insisting that she directed all of the film’s action. Kevin Feige has talked about how her work convinced Disney executives to shoot in real locations rather than simply rendering a lot of the movie in post-production. As such, Eternals has become a weird battleground for the idea of authorship within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When Marvel saw the breadth of its domain…

It is easy to understand why this is. There have been Marvel Studios movies directed by Oscar-winners before; Joe Johnson won an Academy Award for visual effects on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Taika Waititi recently won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for JoJo Rabbit. However, there is something tangibly different about seeing a big budget blockbuster coming from an artist who won both Best Picture and Best Director at that year’s Academy Awards.

It also makes sense in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have undoubtedly been Marvel Studios films with strong senses of authorship: Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. However, those movies all feel quite a long time ago. Although one can perhaps pick up traces of Cate Shortland’s personality in Black Widow or Daniel Destin Cretton’s interests in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, those films feel very familiar and very rote.

Red eyes in the morning…

There is tangible sense of opportunism at play in way that Marvel Studios has positioned Eternals as an auteur-driven project. After all, the studio has a long and complicated history with directors who have distinct visions; Patty Jenkins, Edgar Wright and Ava DuVernay have all suggested that the company’s culture is not particularly welcoming to creatives. In particular, Zhao’s assertion that she oversaw the movie’s action sequences exists in the context of Argentine director Lucrecia Martel, who recalls being told that if she chose to direct Black Widow, she would not be allowed to direct the action scenes.

Again, context is important here. Eternals is really the company’s first director-driven project since Black Panther, which is a big deal given the studio’s history of beginning pre-visualization of scenes and special effects “before the cinematographer or director has signed on to the project.” While movies like Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel, Ant Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home are all varying degrees of entertaining, none of them feel like the work of a filmmaker who has something particularly pressing to say about the modern world.

Superfriends.

All this tension plays through Eternals, the fine balancing act between a director with a very distinctive artistic sensibility working with a studio that appears eager to launder its reputation by association, while also being anxious that this auteur doesn’t get to go too far. In some ways, Eternals feels like a limit case for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an example of just how far the studio will allow a creative talent to stretch a rubber band before aggressively snapping it back into the default position.

This is the challenge facing Eternals. It goes further than any Marvel Studios film in recent memory, but that’s still not far enough.

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253. Catwoman – Batman Day 2021 (-#49)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Billie Jean Doheny and Niall Glynn, The 250 is a weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT.

So this week, Pitof’s Catwoman.

Patience Phillips is a young woman working as a designer at a cosmetics company. One evening, while working late, Patience hears something she shouldn’t. Hunted by her employer’s security staff, Patience is left for dead and washed away like the trash. However, her would-be murderers are about to discover that Patience has never been more alive.

At time of recording, it was ranked 49th on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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