Polygon.com has the best analysis so far of why Wonder Woman is the best and most popular of the DCEU films, and it isn’t because Gal Gadot looks awesome in the leather swimsuit. Or even because she’s a kickass woman in a central role. (Side note: let’s quit with the damn memes arguing “Well, she wasn’t the FIRST…” Duh. We all know that. In the modern comic-film renaissance, there’s been a striking lack of female leads and you all know it, so stop undercutting it with pictures of 1990s Buffy and her lollipop.)
Instead, Polygon makes the point I’ve tried to make about the dour and ultimately head-scratching DCEU films so far: “Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad all espouse a fundamentally selfish worldview - where heroism is a test of self, not a service performed for other people.” It also details that this is the Zack Snyder viewpoint, he whose next project is rumored to be Atlas Shrugged: it is the Watchmen-like vision that distrusts selflessness, that argues coercion is more reliable than altruism.
When Christopher Reeve’s Superman is faced with General Zod hurting innocent bystanders and causing destruction on the streets of Metropolis, he fled to the Fortress of Solitude to draw Zod away from collateral damage - allowing people to think him a coward rather than risk innocents being hurt. When Snyder’s Superman faces the same situation, he doesn’t even seem to care, and the general public is seen as either hating the superheroes (out of jealousy, apparently) or worshipping him because he’s so superior to us.
That’s direct opposition to Diana, who presumes from the beginning that people are naturally good and compassionate, if only permitted the freedom to be so. Her heroism leads by example; she inspires ordinary humans to heroic acts. It’s worth noting that the best of the preceding DC films was The Dark Knight, which had the same damn premise. The Joker places his faith on human selfishness and depravity… and loses. Because in the end, humans were fundamentally decent, and his Randian nihilism fails. (Then the last Christopher Nolan movie threw that whole concept out the window, which is why I declare it doesn’t exist.)
I really don’t need to write a separate review of Wonder Woman at this point, though it will be part of my summer movie roundup. These pieces I’ve linked the past few weeks, and especially Polygon’s, say everything I wanted to say.
• Star Trek Discovery sets its release date for Sept. 24! Wait, you mean I’ve subscribed to CBS Go all this time for nothing? (Not really, it still saves me buying whole seasons on iTunes for Criminal Minds and Madam Secretary. Ah, the trials of a streamer.) As announced previously, it will premiere on CBS broadcast that Sunday night, with the second episode immediately available on CBS All Access and weekly on Sundays thereafter. The 15-episode season will be separated into two chapters: the first eight episodes in the fall, seven more in the spring. Netflix will carry it, but only to countries outside U.S. and Canada. In the meantime, check out some early art and trailers. Repeat after me: Please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck…
In other Trek news, last week was Captain Picard Day, a holiday I might have celebrated with its own special post if the Real World Job had not been kicking our butts all over the internet last week. Good lord, I miss having a captain who can help us think about the human experience with his perfect delivery (and good writing). “Starfleet was founded to seek out new life, well, there it sits!” SyFyLys comes up with the more bizarre heroics of everyone’s favorite captain, while I prefer the entirety of “Measure of a Man,” folks. Go on, go watch it.
“Jean-Luc, sometimes I think the only reason I come here is to hear these wonderful speeches of yours.”
• Jezebel amuses the hell out of me by detailing the many ways shark movies get nature and basic physics wrong. Go Bruce! We were thinking of seeing 47 Meters Down, just for giggles, but plans changed. Anyone seen it and want to report? (And no, it won’t be as good as Jaws, because nothing ever is…)
• io9 puts together a decent list of science fiction and fantasy novels that changed speculative fiction forever. Of course it’s missing plenty of important books, including 1984, The Mists of Avalon, freaking Frankenstein…. I’d definitely argue that Ms. Shelley’s masterpiece should be included in place of Dhalgren for sheer influence. There are nearly 1200 comments at press time, so I’m guessing others had a few suggestions. #geekfight
• Happy (belated) Father’s Day to the geeky dads out there! Here’s a collection of writer-dads and their offspring from the Los Angeles Times, including Stephen King and Joe Hill reading each others’ books. Hee. Hail to the Kings!
• This weekend’s movie outings were The Mummy and Cars 3. Shorthand: One is much more entertaining and charming than the other, and you can guess.
Look, Mummy is not nearly as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes score would suggest. I have suffered through much worse. I went into it expecting it to be awful, and already saddened about it because I was very excited about the Dark Universe franchise. It’s not awful, but it’s not great, either. Tom Cruise is in a role that needs to be charming to make up for the (script-required) amorality, and since he made his bones playing charming rakes, it’s odd that he utterly lacks charm here.
Other critics complained that it spent too much time setting up the Dark Universe; to me, that was the most fun. Russell Crowe as Jekyll/Hyde is pretty fun to watch, and it’s almost a disappointment when the mummy sidekicks show up, because they owe a lot more to The Walking Dead than Boris Karloff. There’s a cute shout-out to the Fraser/Weisz Mummy movies - blink and you miss it - and we had a big laugh and fistbump over it. But even that was almost a mistake, because it was simply a quick reminder that those movies were so much more fun than these.
The Mummy was a movie that could not decide whether it was a horror movie with action scenes, or an action movie with creepiness. Unfortunately, in trying to straddle the line between them, it failed at both. And yet I’d still rather watch it three times over before watching The Mummy 3, which does not exist.
On the other side, we have Cars 3, to which I was dragged kicking and screaming because CultureGeek Jr. is a huge Cars fan and was on furlough for the day. I don’t care for car racing in general, the first Cars movie was rather annoying to me, and I never saw the second for that reason.
Fortunately Cars 3 ignores the generally-disliked second installment altogether - even CultureGeek Jr. admits it was awful - and delivers a charming, entertaining film that actually had me laughing in several places. Nathan Fillion joins the cast as the new CEO of whoever owns Lightning (Owen Wilson) McQueen’s career, and there’s a good bit of nostalgia and sadness over the loss of the late Paul Newman in mourning for “Doc” Hudson.
Better yet, for the generally male-inclined Pixar films, a secondary female character takes center stage, and it’s a good bit of awesome. The “old” jokes might feel a bit weird when aimed at Wilson’s McQueen, since cars don’t exactly age and Wilson is all of 48. The ending is a nice twist, and while I saw it coming, it will be appreciated by the younger folk. Here’s a spoilery interview with Wilson; full of background but very spoilerrific, so be sure to read only after you go see it.
Which you should. Even if (like me) you are only a tepid Cars or Pixar watcher, if nothing else Cars 3 shows the massive gains made in Pixar’s animation. The visuals are striking - not just the races, but countryside scenes, backgrounds, scenic vistas… when none of the cars’ cartoon faces are talking, it’s easy to forget that this is an animated film. There's a level of detail unimagined when Pixar first started making movies, and that was my primary reservation about Pixar vs. Disney's own animated features; Pixar's visuals just weren't as interesting to me, up until Brave. Cars 3 takes it another step, folks. It's that good.
Alas, it looks like they may do a Cars 4. Unfortunately Hollywood doesn’t seem to know how to quit when they’re ahead.
Meanwhile, the previews included Pixar’s Coco, which also had a full-length trailer for a holiday Frozen short. We usually don’t get trailers for the pre-movie shorts, and yes, Frozen writes its own rules, but it hints at a bit of Pixar hedging its bets - underscores heavily that the Frozen short will only be offered at Coco screenings. This was the first Coco trailer that really made me interested in seeing it, so I hope they are wrong about its potential.
• RIP to Stephen Furst, best known for Animal House, Babylon 5 and St. Elsewhere; and to John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky, Lean on Me and the original Karate Kid movies. Sadly, we finally have some answers on Carrie Fisher’s death, and it seems her sobriety had faltered, but it may not have contributed to her death from sleep apnea-induced heart attack, if I’m understanding it correctly. Rest in peace, dear; you’re still our princess.
On the local scene...
• I'm happy to report that A Winter's Tale is a terrific outing for the always-stellar Shakespeare St. Louis, despite being one of the Bard's lesser efforts. It falls victim to the two great sins of Shakespeare as viewed through modern audiences: the "Shakespearean filler," in which we get long scenes of a side character being silly to pad out the run time while the other actors are getting ready backstage; and of minor characters excitedly discussing something important that happened offstage. I'm not going to criticize the writing of William Shakespeare 500 years later, but both of those stumbling blocks occur in A Winter's Tale. And yet it doesn't drag down the show; which is not the easiest to comprehend or the most popular of Shakespeare's plays.
Best of all, however, are the performances turned in by Rachel Christopher as Paulina and Cherie Corinne Rice as Queen Hermione. Both simply burn down the stage with their intensity in what is a very off-kilter play - neither full tragedy nor full comedy, but aspects of each. Christopher in particular is amazing as she faces down a king who has gone mad with jealousy and destroyed his family, and without fear she tells him the truth while all the men are cringing and cajoling. Rice portrays the queen with dignity and grace, while standing firm against injustice. But as I look back on it, it's Christopher who shines. She's had a few minor roles in motion pictures; here's hoping we see more of her beyond Shakespeare Glen.