Monday, July 25, 2016

The Mole People (1956)

When I started this blog my intention was to review lots and lots of monster movies of the 40s and 50s. how many have I actually reviewed so far?  Not enough to consider this a monster blog, that's for sure.

So I just recently gave this 1956 sci fi adventure movie a re-watch.  I'd previously seen it maybe 6 years ago.  It actually held up much better than I was expecting.  As a teenager who was just starting to watch B-movies I didn't realize that there was a difference between a GOOD monster movie and a REALLY REALLY BAD ONE.  And this may not be a great monster flick like 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' but it's certainly a few notches above 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' or 'Robot Monster'.

So the movie actually starts in a library with a scientist explaining Hollow Earth theories to the audience.  This doesn't really have anything to do with the story.  It's just that the movie is begging you to take it seriously.  Cut to an archeological expedition digging in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range.  They're searching for a mythical lost city.  They keep name-dropping the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical Flood to further establish credibility.  Unfortunately an earthquake disturbs the dig site.  It also dislodges an oil lamp from one of the mountain peaks.  The lamp is brought to the archeologists by a young shepherd boy.

The scientists study pictographs etched into the lamp.  It tells of the Gilgamesh version of the flood and a temple built high in the mountains.  Thinking this may just be the lost city they're looking for, the explorers set off to find the temple.

To further establish credibility the filmmakers show that they actually researched mountaineering.  The explorers explain that they plan to set up multiple base camps on the side of the mountain.  They show our heroes crossing portable aluminum bridges, close-up shots of their crampon clad feet, and of course, native Sherpas carrying their gear (I don't know if you can tell, but I was a bit of a mountaineering geek in my teenage years).   I don't usually expect to see this much accuracy from a B-movie.

So they reach the top of the mountain and find the lost Sumerian temple.  Unfortunately the ground crumbles under their feet and one of the members of the expedition falls into a seemingly bottomless chasm.  Dr. Bentley - the leader of the expedition - establishes himself as the hero of the story when he immediately leads the way down the chasm after his comrade.  Unfortunately a cave-in traps three members of the expedition - Dr. Bentley, Dr. Bellamin, and Dr. Lafarge - underground.  They set off exploring the tunnels and trying to find another way out.  They discover some of the tunnels are man-made.  After stopping to rest they are attacked by the titular Mole People.

The Mole People are really cool.  Nicely designed monster costumes.  They claw their way up through loose dirt, and then grab you and pull you under.  My only complaint is the way they have that hump on their backs, but they walk upright.  Shouldn't they stoop over?

So our heroes are captured by the mole men but manage to escape.  They find their way to an underground city populated by Albinos.  Dr. Bentley theorizes that this is the rest of the lost Sumerian city buried underground centuries ago in one of the mountains many earthquakes.  The Albinos aren't to keen on new arrivals.  The natives have a strict population control policy due to the limited quantity of their mushroom food source.  So they decide to sacrifice our heroes to the 'Fires of Ishtar'.  Our heroes aren't to keen on the prospect of being scarified, so they put up a fight.  They use a handy dandy flashlight to blind the Albinos and make a break for it.  Unfortunately they get separated in the tunnels and Lafarge is killed by the Mole People.

Our heroes bury their fallen comrade, and head back to the city.  They manage to convince the natives that they're 'messengers from the gods' because of their magic flashlight.  They get a lot out of this deal.  Not killed for one.  Also they get their own slave girl as an added perk.  The slave girl - named Adad - is a genetic throwback who is treated like dirt by the natives because she isn't an Albino.  She's your typical empty headed native love interest from this type of movie.
Dr. Bentley: "You shouldn't have to be a slave.  You should be free."
Adad: "What is free?"
Later in the movie:
Adad: 'What is love?"
I'm kind of surprised she never asks what breathing is.

It's revealed that the Mole People are mindless slaves of the Albinos.  They are forced to work in the mines and harvest Mushrooms.  Our heroes - being the square-jawed heroes that they are - oppose injustice of any kind, including this inhumane treatment of Mole People.  They more or less try to run the underground city using the power of the magic flashlight.

The main villain of the story is the high priest who wants this magic flashlight for himself.  He has been suspecting the divine status of our heroes for some time now, and the discovery of Dr. Lafarge's body confirms his theory.  Fun fact, the high priest is played by Alan Napier, probably best know as Alfred from the 60s Batman TV series.

He hatches a plan to feed our heroes drugged mushrooms and then sacrifice them to the Fires of Ishtar.  Previously to this point we've seen some native girls be sacrificed in part of an elaborate ceremony.  Masked priests open a massive set of doors and a blinding light streams out.  The sacrifices willingly enter the chamber and the doors are closed behind them.  Later masked Albinos carry blackened corpses from the chamber.

Adad actually does something useful at this point.  She gets help from the sympathetic Mole Men to stop Dr. Bentley and that-other-guy-she-doesn't-really-care-about from being sacrificed.

- If this is a movie you think sounds interesting, spoiler alert from this point on -

The high priest attempts to stop the Mole People revolution using the magic flashlight.  Unbeknownst to him, the batteries had previously gone dead.  Thanks to the enraged Mole People, the high priest also goes dead.  Adad tries to get the massive door open, but her puny little 50's girl arms can't do it, so the Mole People smash the door in, causing the Fires of Ishtar to stream into the room.  Adad, headless of the danger, rushes into the chamber to free Dr. Bentley and what-sis-name.

It is then revealed that the Fire of Ishtar is just sunlight.  It burns the skin of the Albinos, but is harmless to Adad and our heroes.

So they decide to climb out of the light well to the surface world.  And here comes the part that - in my opinion - prevents this from being a really good movie.  Something movies of this era liked to do is tack on a tragic ending for no reason.

When they reach the surface there's another earthquake.  Adad runs back towards the temple like the little idiot she is and is crushed by a collapsing pillar.  This feels so pointless and tacked on that it kind of ruins an otherwise good movie at the last minute.

BUT if you are into lost world type stories, adventure movies, or classic monsters, you should definitely check this one out.  True, it may take itself a little too seriously at first for as campy as the lost city actually is, but if you're already familiar with the clich├ęs of the genre you should get a chuckle out of the power hungry high priest, the heroes pretending to be all powerful because they have access to 20th century technology, and the love story between the hero and the ditzy slave girl.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Thoughts On: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

"Hey Geekboy!"  You say.  "If you're doing the Indiana Jones movies, shouldn't you start with 'Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Hmm?  The first movie in the franchise?  Hmm?"

Firstly, 'Temple of Doom' is the first one I saw - from start to finish anyway.  I saw part of 'Raiders' on TV when I was 4 or 5, but Mum and Dad thought it was too adult for me and changed the channel.  And rightly so.  I would go on to see 'Temple of Doom' at age 12 during my obsession with the Orient Expedition Lego comics and games.  Johnny Thunder is more or less an Australian version of Dr. Jones so he was the proper stepping stone to the movies.

Secondly, the title card tells us 'Temple of Doom' takes place in 1935, one year before 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'.  Yep, technically speaking 'Temple of Doom' is a prequel.

Oh yeah.  Spoilers I guess, if you haven't seen 'Temple of Doom', but you probably have.

George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wanted to get down to the nitty gritty of what made Indiana tick in this movie.  This version of Indiana was supposed to start at a place of 'If I can't have the Ark of the Covenant, nobody can!' and would have blown it sky high rather then let the Nazis have it.  He's just out for Fortune and Glory.  Over the course of the story he is supposed to grow into the more respectable archeologist from 'Raiders'.

There's a bit of a disconnect though, because young Indiana in 'Last Crusade' starts off as a literal boy-scout.  How do you go from "That belongs in a Museum!" to "Some say Dr. Jones is more Grave Robber than Archeologist..."  I suppose you could say the Indiana could have become disgruntled and bitter after losing the Cross of Coronado ("You lost today kid, but you don't have to like it.") and turned to the archeologist Dark Side.

In some ways 'Temple of Doom' gives us the most selfless version of Indiana.  Ironic, because they were trying to make him at his most roguish.  This Indiana is the father figure to Short Round, a young orphan boy who tried to rob him, and the protector of a woman he just met.  True, he more or less kidnapped Willie in the beginning for selfish reasons, but hey, she had the antidote when he was dying.  You'd do the same.

Then he comes to an impoverished village in need of a champion of justice while he's just passing through, and decides to help only after he hears about all of the children in the village who had been carried away as slaves.  Because he's just in it for the fortune and glory.  Right Indiana.

In all of the other movies his motivation revolves around a personal interest in how the adventure turns out.  True, he's recruited by the government in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' but the possibility of seeing his Ex girlfriend Marion Ravenwood again is a definite perk.  In 'The Last Crusade' he has no interest in finding the Holy Grail until he finds out that his estranged Father disappeared looking for it.  And then in 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skull' - yes I do consider 'Crystal Skull' cannon, I like that movie! - He's trying to protect his reputation when he's accused of being a Communist sympathizer.

All of those motives make sense.  It's not actually selfish to look out for people you care about or protect your reputation - I remember my Grandma saying that sometimes all you have is your good name.  But to try and help people you've just met?  That's an undeniably selfLESS act.  'Temple of Doom' plays out like an episode of 'The Lone Ranger!'  The Lone Ranger and Tonto ride into a new town, see that it's run by a corrupt mayor, or held hostage by a gang of outlaws, then they save the day and ride off with a "High Ho Silver!" leaving the good townsfolk to ask "Who was that masked man anyway?"

When they reach the titular temple of doom Indiana has an opportunity to grab the Sankara stones and scram.  He doesn't because he hears one of the slave children crying out in anguish.  Indiana investigates, and impulsively throws a rock at the Thugee guard whipping the boy.  Because this selfish rouge sticks up for the little guy.  This act - selfless though it may be - causes Indiana and the gang to be captured by the cultists.  Yep, our hero helps those in need regardless of the consequences.  That greedy selfish nature his character has is really shining through.  Indiana is forced to drink a potion that makes him an evil zombie cultist.  Short Round is forced to work in the mines with the other slaves.  And Willie?  She's about to be scarified to Kali.  Time out from the review for a second.

In the part where Indy and Short Round are rescuing Willie from the sacrifice Spielberg does something Spielberg does so well.  He has an action scene that is really intense and really funny.  Willie is being lowered into a flaming pit.  Our heroes come along, stop that bad guy lowering the cage, and start to pull her back up.  More bad guys attack Indiana, and the cage starts lowering again.  Repeat.  Several times.  And it's hilarious.

Spielberg does something similar in 'The Adventures of Tintin' with the sword-fight between Sir Francis Haddock and Red Rackham.  Haddock is trying to blow up the ship and all of the pirates on it.  He sets a really long fuse leading to all the ship's gunpowder.  Rackham discovers him and they get into a big swashbuckling fight.  Red Rackham stomps on the fuse.  Haddock finds a way to re-light it -breaking a lantern or something -  and they keep fighting.  They go through this several times, and each time Haddock re-lights the fuse you laugh as your heart rate increases.

So they have a big fight, free all the slaves, and then try to escape in the big mine car chase.  I think the movie actually has a bit of action fatigue by this point.  There's that part with the flooded tunnel that Lucas and Spielburg borrowed from the 1941 serial 'Jungle Girl' and then more fighting once they escape the tunnels.  There's a hilarious call back to 'Raiders' where Indiana is confronted by two swordsmen and reaches for his gun.  BUT HIS HOLSTER IS EMPTY.  He lost his trusty revolver in that car chase all the way back in the beginning of the movie.  We get a little bit of a taste of that planned sword-fight that they cut from 'Raiders'.

Then we have the famous bridge sequence.  Even though lots of jungle movies and serials from back in the day - 'Gunga Din' and 'Perils of Nyoka' come to mind - have a collapsing suspension bridge, if you try to do one now everybody will point and say "Temple of Doom! They got that from Temple of Doom!"

Here we have a scene that mirrors the ultimatum from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' where Indy threatens to blow up the Ark of the Covenant and Rene Belloq calls his bluff.  Indiana first threatens to drop the stones into the river were they'll be lost again.  When his bluff is called by Mola Ram, he changes his approach.  Now he threatens to cut the bridge and take as many of the cultists with him as he can.  Big fight, he cuts the bridge, and he and Mola Ram fight over the Sankara stones.  Two are lost, but he manages to save the third for the villagers.

At this point in  the story Willie finally calls him out for pretending he isn't being selfless.  "So much for your Fortune and Glory!"

Wait a minute. Wait a minute. WAIT! A!! MINUTE!!!

I only just realized something after years of watching and re-watching this movie.  In the opening Indiana threatens to kill Willie unless Lao Che will give him a valuable diamond.  This is a reflection of the bridge scene but FLIPPED!  On the bridge Indy is bargaining with Mola Ram to let Willie and Short Round or he'll drop the stones into the river.  In the first scenario it's a life for the diamond, in the second it's the Sankara stones for a life.  I can't believe I never noticed that parallel.  So this movie DOES show us a good bit of character growth after all.

So there you have it.  'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'.  A movie that shows us Indiana Jones at his worst and may just give us Indiana Jones at his best.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Villain Cameos in Marvel Movies

'Captain America: Civil War' is undoubtedly a 5 star superhero movie.  They had a lot of story elements to juggle: resolution for the Winter Soldier story-line, bringing the conflict between Cap and Iron Man to a head, and introducing new characters like Black Panther and the latest version of Spiderman.  But the movie in no way feels overstuffed, and each character has a moment in the spotlight.  I loved all the stuff with Falcon, Spiderman and Antman are both hilarious, and I really want to see more of Scarlet Witch now - I wasn't crazy about her in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'.  The main themes of the story - standing your ground on moral issues, dangers of conformity, the futility of revenge - are really strong.

But I have a problem with how they treated one of the villains.

Marvel has villain problems.  Nobody on the internet ever said that before, amiright?

But I'm not talking about the usual complaints of unmemorable villains.  I'm talking about the way Crossbones - a pretty major villain from Cap's rouges gallery - has a brief cameo and is killed off before the twenty minute mark.

I'm not saying that Crossbones should have been the main villain of this movie or anything.  I'm not saying that at all.  A story featuring conflict between Captain America and Iron Man barely has need of a main villain, and the one who is lurking behind the scenes does a fantastic job of being the mastermind and tying all of those revenge themes together.

But to take a villain like Crossbones - whom Marvel had been teasing since 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' - and then kill him off after only one appearance in costume is disappointing to fans.  It doesn't matter if they were planning to use him more later or not.  They could have if they wanted to, but they can't now because he's dead.

"But Geekboy," you say.  "Villains die and then come back in superhero comics all the time!  Heroes too!"  And that's true. But to the casual movie audience who don't read the comics and don't already know that Crossbones is a big deal IT WOULD BE CHEATING TO BRING HIM BACK.  So it's a lose-lose situation when you turn your villain into a cameo thug and then kill him off.

I can see Marvel's point of view here.  What they're doing is trying to give all the major villains some screentime without overstuffing the movie like fans complained about in superhero movies like 'Spiderman 3' or 'Amazing Spiderman 2'.  And this is a technique that's been working well so far in the Captain America movies.

'Captain America: Winter Soldier' gives fans a scene with Batroc the Leaper in the beginning.  It doesn't feel like a waste that he hasn't appeared again, because a man in a purple costume doing French kickboxing probably couldn't carry a movie as the main villain.

Taking Arnim Zola - a goofy cyborg character from the Silver Age of comics - and turning him into an AI computer worked because fans weren't really expecting Marvel to have Zola in such a serious movie at all.

But then in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' we have Baron Strucker - Nick Fury's nemesis, and one of the head honchos over at Hydra - who is killed off before the halfway point of the movie just like Crossbones.

And you do NOT want to engage a die hard Mandarin fan in conversation about the infamous plot twist in 'Iron Man 3'

It's puzzling to me how Marvel keeps taking villains like Baron Strucker and Crossbones and disposing of them before they have a chance to live up to the potential of the villains they are in the comics.  Especially when fans and critics alike are waiting for a villain who can give pretty-boy Loki a run for his money.  Hopefully Thanos will live up to all the hype when he finally shows up in Avengers 3 and 4.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Floptacular Films: Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt.  A movie that received a ton of criticism before it was even released due to casting Caucasian actors as mythical Egyptian deities.  It was released in February, and I've heard that studios release new movies over the winter months for the same reason TV executives air shows on Friday nights: Secretly they want them to fail.  Because they're evil.

Most critics dismissed the film outright, stating that it was a bombastic in your face mess with bad CGI. A few semi-favorable reviews stated that it's so bad it's good.  "A little bit like 'Batman and Robin'.  Don't see it in theaters, rent it when it's released on DVD and watch it with friends when you need something to laugh at."

So.  Is Gods of Egypt a bad movie?


It really isn't.

I watched this at home on DVD where I had control over the volume.  I can't say one way or the other about complaints that the movie is 'too loud' because I wasn't in a theater where you can't turn the volume up or down at will.  Honestly, I thought it was too QUIET at times.  I couldn't catch all of the dialog the first time around.  As far as complaints about the CGI, I thought this was a visually spectacular movie.  It's not the real world, it's a Steampunk-ish flat earth version of ancient Egypt.  It's a fantasy.  There were one or two places where the graphics did take me out of the story though - Set's wings being square and blocky when everybody else with wings had more organic looking bird wings, and the shiny golden armor Horus is wearing at the end that his head is sort of floating on top of.  Aside from those two things none of the effects bugged me.

Some critics didn't understand why members of the Egyptian pantheon are taller then everyone else.  Have these people never seen Hieroglyphs?  The Egyptians depicted more important - more powerful - characters as being larger than life - bigger than the insignificant mortals.  I think it's brilliant that the gods tower over everybody in the movie.

What about people who think this movie is unintentionally hilarious?  Personally, I think it's a comedy. On purpose.  Specifically, it's a buddy comedy movie.

'Gods of Egypt' is a throwback to the fantasy movies of a bygone era: Specifically the Ray Harryhausen movies such as 'The 7th voyage of Sinbad' 'Jason and the Argonauts' and 'Clash of the Titans'.  It takes many of it's plot elements from these stories - An evil usurper (Set) takes over a kingdom and casts the rightful heir (Horus) into exile.  There are fair damsels to be rescued (Zaya, and to a lesser extent Hathor) and the heroes must battle big scary monsters - like the giant fire breathing cobras - in order to complete their quest.

All in all, it feels a bit like the 2010 'Clash of the Titans' with some Indiana Jones type action in Set's booby trapped treasure chamber.  The sci fi elements remind me a bit of 'John Carter' - another flop I enjoy - or all of those Viking spaceships in 'Thor: The Dark World'.  Thor is like Vikingpunk, this is Egyptpunk!

"But Geekboy!  You make it sound like this movie is just a repeat of things I've already seen!  Does 'Gods of Egypt' bring anything new to the table?"

You betcha.

Spoiler warning.

'Gods of Egypt' retells the Osiris myth.  After Osiris is murdered by Set, Osiris' son Horus must avenge his father's death and reclaim the throne.  Unfortunately for Horus, his eyes have been stolen by Set.  Enter our hero, the plucky thief Bek.  After Bek's gal-pal Zaya is killed, Bek offers Horus a deal: He can steal back Horus' eyes and help him reclaim the throne and his beloved Hathor - whom Set has enslaved in exchange for sparing Horus' life - IF Horus will help him rescue Zaya from the underworld.  Thus begins a strained and hilarious partnership.  And this is the really really new thing 'Gods of Egypt' brings to the genre.  Bek and Horus' friendship goes through all of the same beats of a classic buddy picture in the midst of an mythical fantasy epic.

First they pretty much can't stand each other: Bek manipulates Horus into aiding him - giving him one of his eyes after he agrees to help - and Horus resents and disrespects Bek, in a 'If you have to tag along, at least make yourself useful and fetch me some water' type of way.  He also hides the truth from Bek, failing to mention that rescuing Zaya is beyond his abilities.

Of course, after they earn a little mutual respect and begin working together as a team, Bek learns the truth at the worst possible moment.  Naturally he feels used and betrayed by Horus, and hesitates just long enough to give Set a momentary victory, leading to the film's moment of greatest despair.  However, our heroes rally and band together again for one final round with Set.  Bek and Horus each perform a selfless act, Bek risking his life to give Horus his second eye, and Horus squandering an advantage he has against Set to rescue Bek.

Bek and Horus' friendship is the heart of this story, but it has plenty of other things to offer.  It handles the Damsel-in-Distress plot device in a very original way.  Zaya's journey through the underworld adds a ticking clock to the story, and feels like a nod to greek myths like 'Persephone'.  The movie sets up the possibility of coming back from the dead from the get-go, and then tells the audience over and over again that it's impossible.  In the end when characters do come back, it doesn't feel forced or unexpected because it's set up from the beginning.

The scene where Horus and Hathor are bickering in the swamp is hilarious.  Thoth is hilarious.  There are some really cool visuals like the cobra battle, flying chariots pulled by giant scarabs, Ra's Sunship,  the logic defying waterfall coming out of the sky, ect. ect.

Something this movie does very well is explain things as it goes along.  I'm not real familiar with Egyptian mythology, and I don't think I'm alone in that.  Western society on the whole is more familiar with the Greek myths because they've been adapted time and time again, and because we've read them in school as classic literature.  So I wasn't familiar with Hathor's connection with the underworld, but it doesn't matter if I was confused at first because they explain that later.  The random monster that Ra fights so it doesn't eat the world?  They explain that later.  And what feels like a throwaway scene reverencing an obscure myth is important in the climax when Ra isn't around to STOP the world eating monster.

I went into this movie planning to enjoy it.  It's what I do.  I like to like things, so I try to like things.  That said, I wasn't expecting to like it as MUCH AS I DID.  I would recommend it to a friend, and if you haven't seen it, I also recommend it to you.

Because sometimes the critics are wrong.

Friday, July 8, 2016

On Box Office Flops...

I have a confession to make.  I really like box office flops.
It's almost like there's a direct ratio of how badly a movie performs critically and how much I enjoy it.  There are exceptions to this rule of course.  Some movies like 'Jonah Hex' or 'Prince of Persia' have truly disappointed me.  But for every 'Prince of Persia' it seems like there are five 'Cowboys and Aliens'.

I get a bizarre pleasure of reading bad reviews, then seeing the movie myself and then going: "What's wrong with the critics?  What's wrong with audiences?  This is amazing!  Our society is undeserving of this masterpiece!"  I think it's the same counter-cultural trait I have that seeks out TV shows that have been canceled after only one season and going: "WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!  THIS SHOW WAS THE BEST THING EVER!"  I think this may be part of the reason my big brother is convinced that I'm secretly a Hipster.

For the past three years I've allowed myself to see at least one guilty pleasure flop movie.
Last year it was 'Seventh Son'.
The year before that it was 'I, Frankenstein'.
This year it was 'Gods of Egypt'.
I enjoyed each one slightly more then the last.  I think 'Gods of Egypt' is my favorite flop in recent memory.  If this keeps up, I can't wait of next years flop!

So.  Why do such enjoyable movies flop on a regular basis?
I'm assuming that other people enjoy some of these too, and it's not just that there's something wrong with me.  I think it's probably a case by case thing, but here are some common factors in the flops I like.

The flops I like (just like everything else I like) tend to be genre movies.  The stuff that appeals to Geeks.  "But Geekboy," you say, "All of the most successful movie of the past decade (minus the teen romances) have been comic book movies aimed at Geeks!"  And you'd be right.  Geekdom has been dominating the box office.  But for whatever reason, Geek movies are very sink or swim.  It will either make a million dollars like 'The Avengers', or it will flop.

Flops tend to be like B-movies.  They're fun as all get out.  Escapism in its purist form.  They really appeal to a small group of people, and those people go see them and enjoy them.  Eventually these movies will probably be cult classics.  But unlike the monsters and aliens that inhabit classic B-movies,  The modern day flops often have a huge budget.  I recall reading about Disney's 'The Lone Ranger' how ironic it is when a modern day western goes overbudget, because B-grade westerns used to be the cheapest movies to make.  Even though a group of people see and like these movies, if they don't have selling power, some kind of marketing gimmick like a bunch of popular Superheroes together in one movie, they can't make back the money spent trying to make the coolest movie ever.

I'd like to start a new segment on this blog called 'Floptacular Films'.  In these posts I plan to give some of those overlooked movies a second look.  There are movies out there that I almost didn't watch because they didn't do well, or because a lot of people didn't like them.  Maybe you skipped over some of these that I enjoyed.  Maybe if more people looked on the bright side of these flops, people would watch them and fewer enjoyable movies would be dismissed by society.

Monday, July 4, 2016

How I Would Fix: Batman and Robin

Welcome back to How I Would Fix: that segment of my blog where I take a movie that many view as sub-par and humbly state that I know more about storytelling then the large group of individuals who came together in collaboration and shed blood sweat and tears to bring their dream project to the big screen.

Today I am taking on 'Batman and Robin', which the internet has declared to be the worst Superhero movie of all time.  At least until 'Fan4stic' happened.

I'm just going to give a quick overview of the same old tired reasons people give for hating Batman and Robin.  Questionable costuming choices.  The fact that the dialog is pretty much just a slew of bad puns.  The Bat-credit card.

But if you get right down to it, these reasons are mostly cosmetic.  If the story was good enough, nobody would care about the cheesy stuff.  Take 'Batman Forever' from the same director of 'Batman and Robin' as an example.  The villains are crazy over the top, Two Face is a disgrace to the original character, and honestly that David Bowie inspired costume Riddler wears in the end of the movie isn't any better that anything in 'Batman and Robin'.  But that movie is SO much fun, and while some people like to hate it, it's still an enjoyable movie with a big fan base.

Before I get started on the story details of 'Batman and Robin' I'd like to talk a little about the casting in this movie.  It really is a pity Val Kilmer couldn't be convinced to reprise the role of Batman from 'Batman Forever'.  His Bruce Wayne was dark and broody like Bruce Wayne should be.  The brooding nature brought some seriousness to 'Batman Forever' to contrast all the silliness going on with the villains.  He was also really suave, reminding me a little of the Pierce Brosnan era James Bond.  On the flip side, George Clooney plays Bruce Wayne as a happy-go-lucky goofball.  This would be fine IF he were depicting the playboy mask Bruce Wayne puts on in public.  But NO.  This Bruce Wayne is a goofball in the privacy of Wayne manor, a goofball in the Batcave, and a goofball inside the Batsuit.

I also heard - and this may just be a rumor - that they originally wanted Patrick Stewart (of Captain Picard fame) to play Mr. Freeze.  I could see this working.  I imagine he'd take the character in a more serious theatrical direction and maybe they would have given him less ice puns to spout.  Instead we got Arnold Schwarzenegger with lines like "Cool Party!"

But enough about that.  I'm not here to talk about bad puns.  If you're here to listen to somebody complain about puns, there are countless other uninspired 'Batman and Robin' reviews about that out there.  You're here because you want solutions, not somebody wining about the same old things.

So.  A brief synopsis is in order.  There is trouble in the Batcave.  Batman and Robin bicker almost constantly because Robin feels like Batman is holding him back.  Batman thinks Robin's young and impulsive behavior will get him killed.  In short, Robin is like a whiny teenager, and Batman is like a helicopter parent.  Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze is stealing diamonds which he is using to build a giant freeze ray.  His plan is to freeze Gotham City unless they give him enough money to fund his research - finding a cure for the life threatening disease his wife has.

In another part of the world, a rather unhinged botanist, Pamela Isley, is - trying to breed plants that can kill people because people are killing the environment?  After she becomes a Supervillain, she travels to Gotham City, because Wayne industries was funding her research.  Discovering that she now has the power to manipulate men, and also that Batman and Robin are the only people who can stand in her way, she decides to divide and conquer, driving a wedge between the already bickering dynamic duo.  She also decides to team up with Mr. Freeze for whatever reason.  Meanwhile Barbara - Pennyworth? Not Barbara GORDON?  Shows up and decides to become Batgirl.  Oh, and in an unimportant subplot, Alfred is dying because he has the same decease as Mrs. Freeze.

Now, what would I cut out entirely?

First of all, I would get rid of Bane, Poison Ivy's henchman and third villain.  He's unnecessary, (so unnecessary I didn't see fit to mention him in my synopsis) and they don't do the character justice.  Poison Ivy has the power to manipulate people, so she could make any bozo her henchman.

I would also cut out Alfred's sickness.  I don't feel like it adds enough emotional weight to be in the story.  Either punch it up or throw it out.

What would I alter?

I would reduce Mr. Freeze's role.  Even though he has clearer motivation and a little pathos here and there, I don't feel like he's a powerful enough villain to carry the climax.  I would reduce his role to supporting villain who kicks off the story.  Again, like 'Batman Forever' has Two Face start the story, but the more dynamic Riddler steals the show and becomes the main villain in the end.  Two Face is reduced to Henchman level in the climax.  I feel like Poison Ivy is more of a threat and has greater on screen presence, even though her motivation is murky at best.  I would definitely keep those moments of pathos Mr. Freeze has though.

The Batgirl problem.  'Batman Forever' faithfully adapts Robin's origin.  How did 'Batman and Robin' mess up Batgirl so royally?  Barbara Gordon NEEDS to be Commissioner Gordon's daughter.  That's how her story goes.

Batman and Robin's relationship.  In a movie called 'Batman and Robin' don't you think the audience wants to see Batman and Robin working together instead of fighting all the time?

So.  Here's how MY version of 'Batman and Robin' would go.  It would run pretty close to the same until Poison Ivy shows up.  The thing is, instead of going after Batman and Robin directly, she would manipulate COMMISSIONER GORDON.  With the commissioner under her power she could control GOTHM CITY'S ENTIRE POLICE FORCE.  Batman and Robin are now wanted men on the run from the very law they've sworn to uphold.  See how that raises the stakes?  See how it forces Batman and Robin to work together?  Even if they've done some bickering prior to this point they have to form a team against a common enemy.

Meanwhile Barbara Gordon has returned from boarding school.  She notices that Dear-Old-Dad is not like himself.  Also, Batman, whom she knows to be a hero, is on the run.  Perhaps there is a flashback to a time Batman saved her from a mugger or purse snatcher or something.  Through a little amateur detective work she gets to the bottom of the Poison Ivy problem.  She then dons a pair of Bat-tights in order to join Batman and Robin in their crusade against Poison Ivy and rescue her Father.

And.  THAT.  Is.  How.  I would fix 'Batman and Robin'.