November 2nd, 2016

marvel

why the middle film is the best of Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy

In my review of Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders for Tor.com, I mentioned the cheap shot that the film script took at the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, and also gave that cheap shot praise, as the film deserves all the cheap shots the world can lob at it. A commenter asked for clarification as to what I thought was wrong with Christopher Nolan's third and final Bat-film, which started a conversation, and I just posted this, which I'm quite proud of and reproduce, slightly modified, here:

Nolan was very obviously doing the beginning, middle, and end of Batman with his trilogy, and the problem is that the beginning was not as strong as other versions of the same story (Batman Year One in the comics, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in animated form — hell, MotP has pretty much the exact same plot as Batman Begins and is superior in virtually every regard), and the end was too contrived toward being the last Batman story and didn’t follow through very well.

Tellingly, the source material, by its nature, never has an ending. Superhero stories don’t end, as a general rule — certainly mainstream comics superhero stories don’t. (Watchmen, a story that actually did have an end, even made that a major theme of its climax and ending.) So that may be part of why trying to end Batman’s story failed.

But the heart of superhero stories, truly, is the ongoing narrative of their work saving lives and protecting people, so naturally the strongest of Nolan’s three films was the middle one. And it gave us one of the best superhero stories ever, at least in part because the main character wasn’t Batman, wasn’t Gordon, wasn’t Harvey, wasn’t the Joker — the main character was Gotham City. And it was magnificent. (And another reason why the third movie fails is that it pisses all over the Gotham-is-strong theme of the second movie by having everyone just succumb to Bane.)
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marvel

my ranking of the MCU TV series

Back in May, I ranked the then-dozen extant Marvel Cinematic Universe films in anticipation of the release of Captain America: Civil War. (If you click on the link, just insert Civil War in a tie for #2 with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and read my thoughts on that movie here.) Now that Doctor Strange is about to come out (we'll be seeing it Saturday), I figured I'd take a look at the other end of the MCU, to wit, the TV series on ABC and Netflix, ranking them by season. (I'm reserving judgment on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four as it only just started.)

1. Jessica Jones season one. A magnificent, taut, well-written, brilliantly acted storyline that takes a hard look at the real-life consequences of the use of super-powers and the psychological damage that can be inflicted -- not just on Jessica, but also on Luke and Trish and, truly, Kilgrave. Plus some amazing work by every actor in it.

2. Agent Carter season one. A superlative colloquy on institutionalized sexism and how damaging it is, not just to the women who are discriminated against, but also in the ability to actually get shit done. Plus Bridget Regan just killed it, and Hayley Atwell's Peggy is the heart and soul of the MCU, in my opinion.

3. Daredevil season one. Just as Iron Man was the perfect intro to the MCU in film, this is the perfect intro to the Netflix corner of the MCU on television. Pulls together all the best elements of the comic character. Loses points for killing Ben Urich for no good reason.

4. Luke Cage season one. If I was ranking "favorites," this would go first, but ultimately I have to ding it for an unfocused second third and the terminally disastrous decision to kill off Cottonmouth and replace him with the one-note Diamondback. Too bad, because so much of this series is perfection.....

5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season two. Kicks everything into high gear, as the fallout from S.H.I.E.L.D.'s collapse gets an in-depth treatment, we get some very compelling new characters, plus the series' best villain to date in Reed Diamond's Whitehall.

6. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season three. Almost as strong, losing points mostly for the spectacularly uninteresting Lincoln and his dull relationship with Daisy being such a focus of the season, as well as forcing us to endure the continued presence of Grant Ward long after he stopped being interesting.

7. Agent Carter season two. Many great moments, but never quite cohering into a good storyline. A disappointing followup to the brilliance of the first season. (Though the musical number was classic.)

8. Daredevil season two. The Punisher half of the season is fantastic, with great work by Jon Bernthal, and a strong introduction and good look at the underside of Daredevil's heroism. The Elektra half is a total disaster. In 1982, ninjas were inherently cool and exotic and awesome -- in 2016, that awesomeness has long since worn off unless you provide something else to hang it on, and we don't have that here.

9. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season one. A lot of incredibly boring wheel-spinning while waiting for Winter Soldier to hit theatres so the real story can start. At least they give us a good reason for why Ward is so boring, but we don't find that out until most people have stopped caring.
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