Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Guide to Doing Wonder Woman Justice


        For someone who has barely read any comic books, I’ve spent a lot of time discussing movies based off them. If anyone were to come up to me and say that I’m not qualified to talk about comics and should therefore just stop together, I wouldn’t even put up much of an argument, but the truth is that, for anyone who’s interested in pop culture nowadays, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid talking about Marvel, DC and the like. Geek culture, whether we’re talking about comic books or Star Trek or A Song of Ice and Fire, is no longer a niche; in fact, it’s now not only mainstream, but so dominant that it has redefined the entertainment industry, shifting perceptions of what projects are capable of finding an audience and lending greater weight to pure hype and fan anticipation in marketing. While some protectiveness is understandable, given that people always feel a bit of ownership over the things they love, this expansion and diversification of audience means “original” fans need to accept that not everyone is going to approach their favorite characters and stories in the same way and that they no longer get to be the sole authorities on what works and what doesn’t. Superheroes aren’t confined to comics anymore, so why should their fans be? Frankly, if someone can’t appreciate or understand a movie without reading the source material, then the movie probably wasn’t that good to begin with.

        All of this is to say that, despite having little interest in delving into the comics they’re based on, I feel oddly fascinated by and invested in superhero films. It’s a genre exploding with exciting potential, most of which Hollywood frustratingly has yet to explore, and with characters and narratives that can reach mythological proportions,  they tap into current societal anxieties and obsessions in a way that realistic/literary drama never could. However, as cliché as the mantra has become, with great power comes great responsibility. Now that these movies have gained widespread popularity and a level of respectability, they can’t be dismissed as escapist fluff anymore, even if that attitude remains prevalent amongst both fans and critics. The stories they tell, the people they portray and the issues they’re willing to confront – and, perhaps more importantly, how they do all these things – matter.

        And that’s why, even to a comic book n00b like me, the announcement that Wonder Woman was going to be included in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel and the more recent unveilings of her casting and costume were a really big deal. It’s not just that she’s somehow never been in a live-action feature film before, despite being one of the most iconic superheroes ever. As a well-known female superhero, that rarest of entities, she has the power to singlehandedly either transform the comic book movie industry by convincing studios and creators to finally take the women in the audience seriously or indefinitely shut down any chance we have of improving female representation in blockbusters. Fairly or not, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice will essentially sink or swim based on its portrayal of Diana.

Wonder Woman preparing to stab whoever thought of that movie title

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Leftovers and Staring into the Abyss


            The Leftovers is not feel-good television. Initial reviews described HBO’s new drama as “some of the most desolate, despairing television on air”, “like a French arthouse series, but sadder” and “a show that will make some of its viewers want to slit their wrists” – and those are the positive ones. Perhaps realizing that waxing poetic about a show’s potential to rouse thoughts of suicide isn’t the most effective strategy for convincing people to watch it, many of these critics go out of their way to point out that The Leftovers “isn’t for everyone,” a qualification that seems not only unnecessary (nothing is “for everyone”) but also counterintuitive. If you like a piece of art, why discourage others from giving it a shot? Since when were critics responsible for accommodating audience opinions rather than simply articulating and trusting their own?

            More to the point, though, framing the show’s sorrowful mood as a caveat is like saying, “Mad Men is good, but there’s so much talking”. You’re disowning something essential to the work in question, turning its greatest strength into a negative. Precisely what gives The Leftovers its power is its commitment to exploring human emotions in all their raw messiness, its refusal to settle for false uplift and easy answers. To be sure, some people may find it too unpleasant to watch, and that’s fair enough, but for me (and, judging by the reviews, many others), it’s not a ponderous, soul-crushing exercise in mental fortitude so much as a pitch-perfect falsetto, hitting that elusive sweet note with such exquisite precision it stings. In it, I found something I hadn’t known I was yearning for: a complex, heartfelt portrait of loss.

The moment I fell in love