Will Apocalypse X out the X-Men Movies?

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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The X-Men franchise has had its ups and downs.  One of its major downs is that for some time the movies haven’t quite hit the mark with the mainstream audience.  “X-Men” is one of Marvel’s most prolific comic book series, featuring some of the most popular characters in the Marvel universe.  So why is that not reflecting in the box office anymore?

Back in 2000, the first live-action X-Men movie was released, and it was a smash hit with critics and at the box office.  This film told not only the fans, but also the mainstream (and, of course, Hollywood) that superhero movies were here to stay (for a long time).  X-Men and its sequel, X2, (along with competitors Spider-Man 1 and 2) comprised a major breakthrough in the superhero genre.  These films captivated the comic book lovers by staying true to the source material, while also appealing to the everyday person.  The first X-Men movie started the ball rolling, and X2 (again, with help from the first two Spider-Man movies) made that ball score some serious cash for Hollywood.  In other words, X-Men was a viable franchise.  Then came the letdown.

X-Men: The Last Stand might be more than a title, it might actually be Fox saying, “Hey, this is the last time these characters will be relevant.”  It was bad enough that Bryan Singer (who directed the first two) did not direct this, but Fox really stuck it to the fans by hiring Brett Ratner as Singer’s replacement.  You know him, right?  He’s the guy who freely admitted to knowing nothing about X-Men.  Not surprisingly, The Last Stand was a disappointingly bad film.  At that time, I had never seen so many mistakes from a comic book film in my life.  The biggest reason it is a letdown is for its lazy treatment of the source material, “The Dark Phoenix Saga”.  This was a heinous crime.

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Despite the trilogy (miserably) ending, Fox was intent on punishing us for giving us two great X-Men movies by also giving us X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  The movie is, of course, about Wolverine, but who asked for this?  The first three movies dealt with Wolverine’s past and present problems.  I guess the main draw of Origins is that you get to actually see it, because Fox believed that the fans’ imagination is as blank as theirs.  The movie looked like it had a budget that was half that of the first two X-Men movies, as evidenced by the infamous CG Wolverine claws, and pretty much every special effect looking like it got lost on its way to a PS2 game.

All momentum for X-Men was stifled thanks to two horrendous films, and it never came back.  After taking a couple years off from killing their fan base, Fox decided to reground the series.  Thus, we were given First Class.  It is an excellent film, and might be my favorite of the entire series.  But for how great this film was, sadly the box office didn’t reflect that.  The movie made as much as Last Stand’s opening weekend.  After two horrid films, was it any wonder to Fox that not enough people were interested in the franchise anymore?  Alas, First Class was the start of bringing the fans back.  So, the next logical step was to…erase The Last Stand?

We all know Last Stand sucks, but until I saw Days of Future Past, I had never seen a film that has the sole purpose of erasing a past film.  Watching DOFP was like watching another prequel from George Lucas, whose intent was to erase the bad moments of the prequel trilogy.  Say what you will about Lucas, but at least he knows they suck and is willing to admit it.  Fox just said, “Please don’t buy the third one” and treated DOFP as the third one instead.  Well, I guess that worked, but we really didn’t need it to.  In a lot of fans’ minds, First Class was a fresh start that didn’t need any of the original cast in a sequel.  In Fox’s mind, though, Wolverine needed to be a part of it.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t make money, because obviously his absence (save for a 5-second cameo) was the reason First Class failed, and his major presence is what made Last Stand and Wolverine such monumental successes.  Days of Future Past was the first X-Men movie to receive a mixed response.  A lot of people believed it to be a great film, but a lot of others, who were expecting to see the old and new X-Men unite, felt let down that it was just another Wolverine movie.  One thing is for sure, though: the buzz didn’t reach the heights of the first two, nor did it innovate anything.

Flash forward to present day.  Like Last Stand, the title X-Men: Apocalypse can be taken to mean the end of the franchise.  If not, then the box office numbers for it sure do.  Last Stand and Wolverine butchered this once-great franchise, and as long as each new movie affiliates with those, nobody will care.

Ahhh…good times.

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Daredevil went MIA!!!

By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

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It seems like anytime Marvel generates buzz for their projects, that buzz quickly goes ice cold, simply because they don’t live up to the hype.  (Look at Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron, and Civil War as recent examples).  This time, it was none other than their Netflix show Daredevil.

Last year, Daredevil was the talk of the town.  Any person who knew me wanted my opinion on the action scenes of the show.  Although I wasn’t a huge fan, I understood why people loved the show.  To be honest, its fight scenes are the best out of all superhero films.  But that wasn’t what interested me about the show.  Not only did the show make you believe that superheroes could be in our world, but also the story dared to surprise its audience.  And the main characters were actually effective.  Wilson Fisk was my favorite part of the show.  Actor Vincent D’Onofrio offered a unique take on the character.  Needless to say, once the season was over, everyone was ready for season 2.

Fast forward to a year later.  I was ready to receive a lot of messages about the fight scenes from the new season.  Then…nothing.  Nobody was talking about it!  Even mainstream internet sites, such as IGN and Rotten Tomatoes, were barely mentioning it.  Why was Daredevil being treated like the new kid at school who’s popular for the first week, and is then ignored afterwards?

Well, it was because season 2 wasn’t really about Daredevil.  You see, Marvel thought it’d be a grand idea to devote the whole season to origin stories of other characters, such as Elektra, and (most prominently) The Punisher.  Granted, Punisher IS cool in this show, but there’s no reason that he should cut into Daredevil’s screen time.  Because Daredevil became the secondary character in his own show, season 2 felt unnecessary to watch.  All season 2 showed the audience was that Daredevil wants to be like Batman and Punisher is there to kick butt.  WOW!  But the biggest let down for most fans was that the action took a major leap backwards.

Not only was the lighting poor (as in, too dark to see anything), but also none of the fights looked like they were thought out.  Who in their right mind starts the season with Daredevil versus Punisher (you know, the face-off that you think would be saved for the end of the season, because it’s a main draw)?  After you have seen what is supposed to be the climax, what’s the point of continuing?  Even worse, the fight itself was a complete letdown.

The worst part, though, was the main villain.  For two seasons, they built up this gang to be the worst of the worst, yet we find out that the main villain is…the guy who played Cyrax in Mortal Kombat: Legacy?  (You know, the other show that had a great first season, and a disappointing second season).  Sure, if I had read the comics I would have known more about the character, but this show did not even try to build him up.  But don’t let that fool you, because it’s supposed to be a major twist when you see him!  There’s nothing more exciting than a big reveal of a character no one cares about.  Once again, Marvel proves how great they are at pissing me off for not giving me a reason to care.

Overall, this season seemed like one giant setup for a Punisher spinoff.  Whatever momentum this show produced has now been shifted to Punisher.  I hope Daredevil stays MIA.  Bring on The Punisher show, because I can’t wait to see him become a secondary character in his own show!

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MCU–Why It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

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By:

Matthew J.R. Kohler

Two weeks ago, Marvel released Civil War to theatres, and I still haven’t seen it.  In fact, I have not seen any Marvel movies since Winter Soldier.  You may say, “The nerve!  The audacity!”.  But hear me out: I have not seen any good reason to watch these films, because there is no real threat presented in any of them.  And for that reason, I believe the Marvel movies finished its course a long time ago.  Now, since you’re demanding examples right now for such a blasphemous statement, here you go:

We know in comic books that when somebody dies they come back to life.  Resurrection is inevitable in comic books because there is a lot of money at stake, but what usually happens is the characters are brought back in a new story that is set in a new universe.  In the “Civil War” arc, Captain America dies at the hands of Shannon Carter, but returns in the unconnected, official Captain America issue line .  With the “Civil War” arc, writer Ed Brubaker separated the issue lines.  When a reader knows that what they are reading is separate from a main storyline, he or she can actually believe that, for example, Steve Rogers died at the end of “Civil War” and stayed that way.  The same goes for Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns”.  That story does not take place in the main Batman storyline, and Batman dies at the end.  Now, I did not just explain all of that to impress you, I did it to give context to my next point: the MCU doesn’t want you to be “invested.”

Usually, the word “invested” is associated with the words “money” and “time”.  How much time and money are you, the viewer, going to invest into this?  For me, it used to be that with every Marvel movie I was devoted—both in theatres and on DVD.  This changed after I saw the pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The year before, Agent Coulson is clearly dead in The Avengers.  Yet, in Agents, he is brought back to life nonchalantly.  Although Marvel says he is not alive in the MCU, his resurrection still feels like a copout, and was the first major example of how most of these movies have no real consequences to them.

At 0:45 is where this show jumped the shark.

That same year, I was excited when I heard that Thor was going to lose his hand in Thor 2.  Instead, I was disappointed because it was an “illusion.”  Marvel tried to rev people up Empire Strikes Back-style, only to tell them, “just kidding, we’re not THAT intense!”.  After a while, nobody will actually be invested in these films, because if there is no sacrifice, then what is the point of these movies, or any movie for that matter?  Every character should have consequences for their actions.  The only character in the MCU who comes closest to such a thing is Captain America, but his emotions aren’t shown enough to convince you that being frozen took a toll on him.  Instead, his being frozen for 70 years is treated like something that happened merely to advance the story of the franchise.

A couple of days ago, I watched the animated Ultimate Avengers movie once again.  Sure, it is short (a scant 70 minutes), but it still managed to do justice to all of the essential Avengers, including Captain America (by showing his suffering as a man out of time).  Unlike the live-action movie, all of the Avengers show that they have individual problems that they will need to resolve at the end (what a concept!).

So how can a 70-minute film have more in-depth characters than a 140-minute film, or even seven 2-hour-plus films?  Well, when your movie’s sole purpose is to advertise other films, the characters take a backseat, and just become objects for action scenes and advancing the plot in non-action scenes.  Granted, The Avengers wasn’t so much an ad for more films, but it very much treated its characters as objects for action and exposition rather than unique people.  Therefore, you don’t care about them.  Even if they are in peril, you don’t have any reaction, and it doesn’t matter if they get hurt or not.  As for the films that ARE more focused on advertising…

When you hype certain characters being in the next film, who gives a crap about watching it?  You remember Thor and Captain America?  Both of those films were trashed because they were just long advertisements for The Avengers.  Likewise, such films as Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and Cvil War are advertisements for “the next one”.  Can you recall anything earth-shattering that happened in any of those movies?  What about Winter Soldier, Thor 2, or Iron Man 3?  Sure, S.H.I.E.L.D fell apart in Winter Soldier, but the end to a faceless entity (that no one cared about) does not count.  Sure, Tony Stark gave up being Iron Man at the end of 3, but we all know how long that lasted.

After watching all of these movies, it’s pretty clear that Tony Stark’s greatest power is building machines that turn on him.

So why shouldn’t we care about Civil War?  When your film is based on a violent comic about heroes killing other heroes, you have to deliver.  After eight years and seeing nothing that even came close to reaching such high stakes (unless you count Quicksilver, for some reason), I didn’t expect it to happen with the newest movie.  In the end, everyone comes out fine (oh happy day).  No!  Sure, Cap leaves the Avengers at the end of the movie, but whoopty-doo!  We all know he’s gonna be back for Infinity War.

13234800_1004862042954424_210339950_o.pngFrom the studio that brought you Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron, comes the epic blockbuster of the summer.  This time, the consequences are even more minute.

You know, it didn’t seem that long ago when characters had to battle through the trenches.  Take the original Spider-Man.  Peter Parker is in love with Mary Jane, but after choosing to become Spider-Man, he received more responsibilities.  He realized this and chose not to tell her, and to walk down the superhero path alone.  To top that off, his best friend wants to murder him for what he did to his father (who is dead).  Some pretty intense stuff happens in the final five minutes, which made me want to see the sequel.

It’s hard to say how long the MCU will go, but moviegoer interest here in the United States seems to be dwindling.  Just look at the box office numbers for Civil War.  Within two weeks it still hasn’t made anything close to the last two Avengers movies.  Could people be experiencing superhero fatigue because they’re tired of nothing consequential happening?

What’s crazy is that Marvel’s problem is not that hard to change; just create conflict with the characters’ psyche at the end, or have them kill someone.  In Empire Strikes Back, Luke realizes the true power of the villain, after going against his masters’ wishes to battle Darth Vader on his own.  BOOM!  There’s a perfect example of our protagonist facing the repercussions of his actions.  Marvel should focus more on each movie, instead of slowly telling one story through umpteen movies.  This is film; not TV.  Let’s face it, Civil War and all other Marvel movies are pure entertainment, but that does not mean any of them are good.  If it can’t make you feel for these characters, then what entertainment is there to watching a flashing screen of stuff and things happening?

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Look, Marvel!  It’s a screenshot from a family movie in which Nazis are the bad guys, but it actually takes itself seriously!  It doesn’t have Captain America in it, but it does have Swastikas!

When the Budget Counts

By: Matthew J.R. Kohler

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Fan films are growing like wildfire.  I love the idea of fan films.  I think it’s cool that you want to share your version of something that you love so much.  But that doesn’t mean you should be sloppy about it.  A couple of weeks ago, a Darth Maul fan film came out and I criticized it in my weekly podcast (Episode 3 of “The Good, The Bad, The Action”).  For all of its production value, I found the film to be very unprofessional.  So how do you make your budget count on a movie?  How do you make it more than just something that “looks” professional?  The answer is simpler than you think.

The Darth Maul short film is almost 18 minutes long, yet I have no idea who any of the characters are.  As far as I know, they are just random Jedi.  Although the action “looks professional,” the story is non-existent, which causes the fight scenes to suffer (just like the Nightwing web series).  The biggest, and most common, problem with fan films is they assume you know who everyone is.  Sure, 90 percent of your audience will know who the characters are, but you should still introduce your story as if it’s a completely new idea.  Remember: nobody has seen your version of the universe, so you should build it up. 

When I watched the Nightwing series, I saw characters who added nothing to the show, such as Joker, Barbara, Bruce Wayne, and Tim Drake.  In a fan film, less is more when it comes to story.  Since your budget is low, you should not make a series with so many characters that none of them have a story.  The Maul film makes that mistake.

For the entire movie, we see Maul fight random Jedi henchmen.  I remember Savage Oppress, in season 3 of Clone Wars, being built up as a brute.  Then, he was assigned to take down a small Jedi fortress in two minutes by himself.  Each time I watch that scene, I am left wanting more. 

Back to the fan film.  Darth Maul is a dominating Sith, but in this universe we do not know that.  The filmmakers should have given a more detailed introduction to Maul, by showing him watching his prey.  By spying on them, we would have been introduced to the Jedi as well.  Anticipation would have been building as we became oriented with the universe.  Therefore, it would have made the first fight scene much more exciting.

The excuse I hear too much about fan films’ overall lack of quality is “it’s low-budget”.  Here is the thing: you don’t need any money to have a good story and interesting characters.  It’s funny that as movies became more expensive, their quality dropped.  Can you honestly say that the $200 million dollar Force Awakens had a better story and characters than any of the original three Star Wars, which were each budgeted between $10 million and $32 million?  Can you honestly say that the $230 million-dollar Amazing Spider-Man had a better story and characters than the $140 million-dollar Spider-Man?  Remember Kevin Smith—the rebel filmmaker?  His first film was Clerks, which cost $27,000.  The movie is in black and white, barely changes angles within its scenes, and features only a handful of characters.  And you know what?  That movie is considered a landmark in independent filmmaking, not because of its technical professionalism, but because of its creative professionalism. 

As movie fans, we should look past the surface of costumes, makeup, (both of which were nailed by the Maul film), and the fact that it was shot with a RED camera.  We need to think more critically about the movies we are being given, by both fans and Hollywood alike, because story and characters are everything.  Try this on the next hot fan film: instead of just clicking the “like” button, view it for what it is and critique it for its story and characters.  In the end, you will actually be helping out the filmmakers, instead of patting them on the head for serving you mediocrity.

A Look at Avengers’ Past, Present, and Future

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

Not many film series begin with a FIVE picture plan, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Avengers, like it or not, was a big success, but it could have been a big failure.  Back in 2008, audiences sat through Iron Man, a decades-old character that no one cared about (kind of like the Fantastic Four now).  But, swooping in was none other than Robert Downey Jr. to save the character.  After that film’s success, Marvel chose to capitalize on its Avengers-teasing post-credits sequence by advertising the proposed film with four more films.  Now, four years after the first Avengers film was released, I am looking back at the success of The Avengers, what its popularity means now, and the future it has paved.

Recently, I watched the film for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and I have to say that the film doesn’t hold up.  The reason being that, as a superhero fan, I am burnt out on origin stories.  For several years, Marvel, DC, and many other comic book companies have been restarting various series over and over, retelling the origins of its characters.  With the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we were given three origin stories (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America) and two other set-up movies (The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2) just to see another origin story in The Avengers.  The whole movie is about them getting together to fight a common enemy.  It felt like a waste of time, having seen the five “set-up” movies.  Hell, the first six films felt like the start of the Marvel animated show, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (which ran from 2010 to 2012).  The first five episodes set up who our characters are.  Then, the sixth episode is about the “alien” attack that forces them to team up.  Sound familiar?  I wish the movie would have started with something like the Avengers (unwillingly) already assembled by Nick Fury.  They’re all in a room in the opening scene.  Fury walks in and gives them their objective.  From there, the personality conflicts would ensue.  With five set-up films, this movie was supposed to just give us The Avengers from the get go, like how 90s comic book cartoon shows (Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men) did with their titular characters.  But, Marvel did not see the reintroductions as needless, because they wanted to pull in a more general audience who did not see the previous films.  And, it worked.

Marvel’s first Avengers film grossed triple the amounts of Thor, Captain America, and The Incredible Hulk.  Normally, sequels either do slightly better or worse.  (Look at The Empire Strikes Back, The Harry Potter films, and The Two Towers).  In terms of both storytelling and box office success, the first five MCU films meant nothing when viewing The Avengers, because in Marvel’s mind, that movie was the actual franchise starter.  In terms of both box office and critical and fan reception, The Avengers defeated the other 2012 superhero tentpole—The Dark Knight Rises, which is part of a series that was considered the king of superhero franchises for four years.  The new king, The Avengers franchise, had its eye on a new goal: keeping its fan base while increasing its range.  Both Iron Man 3 and Captain America 2 did insane numbers compared to its predecessors.  How?  It attracted fans who watched The Avengers.  It was evident that every MCU film after The Avengers would be instant gold.  Sure, there were misfires, such as Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Iron Man 3 not being that great, but Marvel was still on its way for a repeat.

With Age of Ultron, many people, including myself, were excited to see what Marvel would do with the series.  Unfortunately, it was more or less a repeat of The Avengers (this time they take on a NEW villain who also has an army and wants to take over the world!).  What the sequel didn’t have going for it that Avengers did was freshness—by 2015, we had already seen the Avengers team up once.  As a result, the movie did not do as well.  (Look at the numbers: Age of Ultron made over $160 million less than Avengers’ $623 million gross).

Now, does this mean that superhero films are not as popular now?  Not necessarily.  Look back at the 90s.  The 1989 film, Batman, was a phenomenon that made Batman the king of superheroes again.  But when Batman Returns came out, the movie flopped compared to the first one because of how unusual it is.  That same year, though, Batman: The Animated Series came out and was crushing the animated series market.  Batman was still popular.  Age of Ultron did not do as well as its predecessor because of quality, not because of audience’s fickleness.  What Marvel needs to do to keep its audience is to morph with its consumers’ changing tastes.  The Revenge of the Sith is a good example of this.  After backlash at the lighthearted and/or dull films, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Lucas created a more serious Star Wars film for the fans.  The Empire Strikes Back is another example of this.  It was a drastically different film from A New Hope, and it slowly transformed into what is considered one of the greatest films of all time.  The two Avengers films, by comparison, are more of a flat line.

As for the future, the third and fourth Avengers films are coming in 2018 and 2019, respectively.  I am already not impressed.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for its lifespan, has been retreading ground that we have seen for the last fifty years, by telling the same stories straight from the comics (aside from Infinity Wars, just look at Winter Soldier and Civil War for other examples).  After a while, the comic book fans viewing these movies might not care anymore what happens, because they’ll grow tired of the lack of originality.  And, casual moviegoers will grow tired of every story not actually ending, but instead setting up for another film or twelve.  Perhaps future movies will become more and more identical in terms of rehashing origin stories, following famous comic book story lines nearly beat for beat, and being one giant advertisement for an even bigger movie?  Only time will tell.

I’ll Have What Deadpool’s Having

Several times in the past, producers (Hollywood) have misunderstood why a certain movie was so successful.  Typically, Hollywood oversimplifies the reason behind the success.  As a result, several knock-offs are made, with the selling point being whatever Hollywood thought was the selling point for a movie’s success.  X-Men spawned the trend of superhero movies being cool for the masses, Dark Knight inspired gritty/“realistic” superhero films like Man of Steel and Winter Soldier, and Avengers set off the “fun/kid-friendly trend”, which set the stage for Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Now, Deadpool seems to be starting a new trend.  Since the R-rated film’s overwhelming opening weekend, 20th Century Fox has reportedly been considering making Wolverine 3, a movie that is of an all PG-13 franchise, rated R.  What this infers is that they do not understand what actually made Deadpool a success.  It was mainly because of the diehard Deadpool fans, Ryan Reynolds, the widely accessible comedy, and the inventive marketing.  The R-rating was a no-brainer, given all the other elements.  That said, the question of this article is not, could the R-rated superhero movie really become the new trend?  Rather, the question is, how could this be a positive trend?

A successful R-rated action movie is far less common now than in the 70s thru 90s.  Deadpool is most certainly such a rarity.  But it was a featherweight action movie, not “hardcore”, as many moviegoers have been calling it.  The movie’s mainly rated R because of its vulgar humor.  Now, if Wolverine 3 were to be rated R, it would logically be because of the violence.  But would upping the rating matter?  The answer is no, because the Wolverine series is fundamentally flawed, for the simple reasons that Wolverine is supposed to be an unlikable and invincible character, and is therefore a weak choice for a protagonist.  (Why rob Wolverine of what makes him Wolverine—his selfishness?  And, what tension is there in watching a protagonist face any conflict when he can’t die?).  Did it make a difference when the sequel was set it in Japan?  No.  The box office showed that; movie made even less money than Origins!  As with a radical location change, a higher rating does not correct such fundamental flaws.  Sure, you can get away with more, in terms of violence, language, etc.  But if you’re just doing it for shock value, then you’re doing it wrong.

What the best violent movies teaches us is that when you show violence in movies, make it quick.  A huge criticism I had with Deadpool is that I would see a real image, and then it would cut away to an obviously CG shot.  Such an inconsistency was obvious, because it was going on for so long, and was the center of attention.  As a result, it completely took me out of the movie.  When movies were “really” violent in the 70s thru 90s, they would show very little of it.  The Exorcist’s neck twisting is very iconic, yet it’s only a few seconds long.  Let’s look at something that is not violent—bullet time, the most groundbreaking action filmmaking trend in the last 17 years.  Introduced in The Matrix, bullet time was used sparingly in the film, proving once again that less is more.  Then, we received several movies that replicated this effect, such as Transformers, Underworld, Matrix Reloaded.  Here is the thing: when you replicate without enhancing, you fail to be original.  As a result, your product suffers.

In the last fifteen years, PG-13 movies have flirted with the R rating by being very graphic, but doing it tastefully. Lord of the Rings is a film that could easily be rated R.  It’s a medieval film where droves of people are killed in brutal ways.  But, how is it PG-13?  The blood is black.  Therefore, it’s more fantasy-like, and less graphic.  (But, don’t be fooled; heads being chopped off and catapulted is disturbing).  And it’s not like 2000’s X-Men was not graphic.  Did we forget about the flashback of Wolverine being tortured under the experiment Weapon X?  Wolverine was covered in blood and the experimenters appeared to be Nazi scientists.  The scene is fairly graphic and intense for a “kid’s movie.”  Nine years later, that same scene was shown in neutered form in X-Men Origins, by way of no blood.  Perhaps we now need an R-rating to get the same level of violence that we saw fifteen years ago in PG-13 movies?

Overtime, movies go through trends, which start off as a positive, then turn into a negative.  I hope Deadpool was a transitional movie into a period where we see movies that are sensibly rated R, and not for shock value and because “it worked for Deadpool”.  We now know that an R-rated movie that is predominantly vulgar humor with a little action can make serious bank.  But now we should see darker-toned movies (that call for an R-rating!) be rated R.  Movies like Blade Runner, Terminator, and The Matrix would love to get the spotlight now.  What I don’t want to see happen is the R-rating turn into a marketing ploy.  Hopefully, this trend is used to its full potential by delivering serious movies that are so intense, in terms of tone and style, that they earn an R-rating.

Food For Thought: The Character Makes the Fight Scene

by: Matthew J.R. Kohler

rocky

For the past month, everyone has been talking about how great Creed is.  Well, I’m here to tell you that a much better version of this movie came out forty years ago.  It was called Rocky.

To be a character in a movie about the big match you have to stack the deck against our hero.  In other words, the audience has to think that this guy could never win, but desire to see him succeed.  Throughout Rocky, you see a thirty-year-old man being made fun of by everyone, thinking that he is nothing.  Not to mention, Rocky isn’t exactly the most attractive man in this film; he looks like your everyday working man.  His low income comes from boxing other no-names, and being a debt collector for the mob.  In other words, he is the last person you would think could win the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World.  Then, he gets the chance of a lifetime to go toe-to-toe with Apollo Creed, the current holder of the title.  And, he has five weeks to train.  Even though Rocky doesn’t beat him, he does match evenly with the best, and that’s all that matters to him.

For a fight scene to be excellent, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the best crafted fight scene; it just needs a great character.  If you don’t have a character that people can relate to, then why bother?  One of my favorite action/ fight scenes is from Fearless.  Throughout that film, we see how much Jet Li’s character had changed not only through his words, but also through his actions.  His character change is shown in the climactic scene (which I will not spoil).  Back to Rocky.  Rocky didn’t only have to make the characters believe he would win, he also had to make the audience believe.  What Creed lacks is the underdog protagonist.  The titular character is rich and he looks like a model (in fact, his face makes him look like he has never even been in a fight).  Right there, he has a lot more going for him than what Rocky did in the original.  Granted, he has the reasonable goal to go the distance so that he does not feel like an accident.  But, it is not as interesting as Rocky’s goal, which is to go the distance with the champ in order to prove to himself that he’s not just another bum from the neighborhood.  Why is Creed’s story not as interesting?  Because Rocky’s story is far more relatable.  How many of us are already rich and good-looking, as opposed to average-looking with average-to-low income?  Rocky IV is another example of an unrelatable protagonist.  This version of Rocky is rich, “in shape”, and his only naysayers are those dastardly Russians.  In order for a protagonist to be interesting, he or she has to have flaws that make you believe there is a strong chance that he or she will fail.  What’s the fun in watching a flawless, “in-shape”, rich guy pursue a goal?  Don’t you think it’s lame when you realize that there’s nothing to suggest that he might not accomplish his goal?  Real people have flaws; therefore, relatable characters have flaws.

A very average guy.

That is one of the words I will continue to throw at you—relatable.  In any fight scene, the main character needs to be relatable and realistic.  Nobody looks like Michael B. Jordan or Rocky in Rocky IV.  But everyone can look like Rocky in the original, or be like him.  I think anyone would want to root for such a character.  The major problem with too many films is that you cannot relate to the protagonist at all.  What amazes me is that our current generation of moviegoers are all about “realism” in movies, but seem to be okay with Captain America, a WWII hero, being devoid of any physical damage whatsoever.  Jackie Chan, on the other hand, looks realistic, like his face has been through hell.  The imperfect guy looks a million times cooler than the pretty boy.  If you’ve read other articles of mine, you know that Bruce Lee is my favorite action star and character.  Sure, he had an amazing body, but it made sense because of what he was doing—taking on a bunch of fighters one after another, by himself.  His flaw, though, as shown in the films Fist of Fury and Big Boss, is that he is not wise enough to realize that violence doesn’t solve anything.

We all remember the ascension, the build-up to the final fight.  Whether it is Rocky’s montage or Luke Skywalker training on Dagobah, every hero needs the ascension.  By the end of the Rocky montage (when he is running), he is all alone.  What does this reinforce to the audience?  That everyone thinks he cannot do it.  The indifference among most of Philly drives Rocky to shock Creed when the two begin to trade devastating blows.  As an audience, we need to see that our character learned something by the end; otherwise, the fight makes no sense.  I despise action scenes that have no point.  Example: what the hell did Captain America learn in First Avenger?  Nothing!  Early on in the film, he is told that he is a hero.  From there, true to Marvel’s current trend of films, the movie is all about watching the perfect good guy beat up the ruthless bad guy.  Even in the second one, it’s all about the perfect Cap helping his imperfect friend.  Why should I care about his big fights?  Rocky, on the other hand, learned that all you need is heart and determination, which he demonstrates at the end of the movie.  When Apollo is dodging every blow, Rocky uses heart and determination to change up his method of attack.  He uses what he learned as the key to achieving the impossible.

Luke is terrible for two films before he gets good.

Rocky is an all-time classic character.  He is the center of a true underdog story, in which no one, even the viewer, believed he could win.  So, why stop with just him?  Why can’t we have more films like Rocky?  In Fist of Fury, the Japanese warriors believed all Chinese were sick dogs.  Who wouldn’t want to see these guys destroyed?  When you have an amazing conflict and everyone is out to get you, that is when a fight scene works the best.  Ip Man is the most recent film to masterfully tell such a story.  Instead of a person who is down on his luck to begin with, Ip Man shows the transition from the protagonist having everything to having nothing.  This transition made me want to see Ip Man destroy the villain—the Japanese general.

The bottom-line is that great action scenes (whether it’s a gun fight or a boxing match) cause more of an audience reaction when they are emotionally invested in the main character’s journey.  I would like to see more movies like Rocky, ones that make the audience say, “This character’s awesome; I hope he/she makes it!”.