Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Arrowverse

The Arrowverse (DC comics-related TV shows) dominate the WB network. Some are better than others. I'm going to skip Arrow. the founder of these shows. I don't care for the character and I I haven't seen enough episodes to have an informed opinion.

The Flash. This was the first Arrow spin-off and has frequent cross-overs. The show follows Barry Allen, his family and the staff of S.T.A.R Labs as they stop dangerous meta-humans. This is a show that started out a ot of fun but has been going down-hill every season. The first season mainly revolved around the Flash stopping a different villain each week with advice from the staff of S.T.A.R. Labs. Half-way through the season it was discovered that there was a Reverse Flash who was even faster. There was a long discovery plot arc where it turned out that an enemy of the Flash's from the future had traveled to the past to kill a young Barry but only succeeded in killing his mother. The Reverse Flash discovered that he was trapped in the past and needed to siphon the Flash's Speed Force in order to return to his own time. In order to do this, he replaced scientist Harrison Wells, founded S.T.A.R. Labs and because Barry's mentor. The plot arc was very well-done. There were goofy elements like the way they imprisoned meta-humans in S.T.A.R. Labs without a trial or any other constitutional rights but you could overlook that because the cast was so well-meaning.

The second season had a rerun property to it. Instead of the Reverse Flash from the future we had Zoom, an evil Flash from Earth 2, a parallel dimension. Once again, Barry was betrayed by a mentor. In this case, Zoom sent a speed-duplicate to impersonate the Flash from Earth 2. There was a new crowd of meta-humans from Earth 2.

The third season was a real disappointment. Again, the main villain was an evil speedster. This one was named Savatar after the Hindu god of motion. In the opening episode, Barry changed time in order to save his mother, then tried to change things back again. Things were slightly different because of this. Among other things, Barry had an annoying co-worker in is job as a CSI. By this point, half of the cast had super powers including three others with super speed. No one seemed to spend any time on their day jobs. Even after discovering that time travel was a bad thing, Barry kept doing it. The big twist (there's always a big twist) came when Barry discovered that Savatar was a time duplicate of Barry himself who planned to kill Barry's girl-friend Iris in a complicated plot that made no sense. Yawn.

Supergirl. This started as a CBS show then moved to WB for its second season. Because of the CBS roots, Supergirl takes place on a different Earth but occasionally visits the Arrowverse for cross-over events. The show's premise is that Supergirl is Superman's older cousin and was supposed to raise him but her spaceship was delayed and she was in suspended animation for years. When she finally arrived at Earth she was still, physically a teenager but her cousin was all grown up. Also a Kryptonian prison ship followed her spaceship and the alien criminals have been living undercover on Earth since her arrival.

The first half of the first season was a real joy. Each episode centered on Supergirl learning a lesson about being a superhero while capturing a dangerous alien. She worked with the DEA (a secret government program that her adopted sister was a member of) and was the executive assistant to Cat Grant, head of a huge media corporation. Cat Grant, played by Calista Flockhart was abrasive but also a mentor to Supergirl. Her co-workers Jimmy Olsen and Winn Schott doubled as mentors and potential boy friends.  Half-way through the first season the plots changed to an arc involving her aunt and some other Kryptonians who plotted to take over the Earth and the show lost some of its fun.

The second season changed everything. Calista Flockhart was only in a few episodes. Any relationship with Olsen or Schott was forgotten so that she could have one with Mon-el, a refugee from the planet Daxam. Most of the fun drained out of the show. The show also because the most overtly political in the Arrowverse.

Legends of Tomorrow. A time traveler named Rip Hunter assembled a team of B-list heroes and villains in order to travel across time to stop the villain Vandal Savage. The show stole a lot from Doctor Who with Rip being a Time Master in a stolen time ship (think Time Lord and TARDIS with superheros).  The first season involved traveling to different periods to foil Savage. A lot of it revolved around Hawk Girl and Hawk Man who, along with Savage, were reincarnated Egyptian royalty. Because it had such a large cast and in order to keep CGI costs down, the cast was usually split with half the team doing the actual mission and the other half staying in the ship to argue. The main character arc involved the villains, Captain Cold and Heatwave becoming part of the team. In general, it was humorless and never succeeded in capturing the sense of urgency the plot suggested.

The second season was a huge improvement. The first season ended with the destruction of the Time Masters so the Legends took their place in stopping anomalies in time. There were changes in the cast, too. This time the villains were the "Legion of Doom" - a trio villains from Arrow and The Flash who are trying to rewrite history so that they are in charge. Unlike the first season, this one is a lot of fun. They cross paths with interesting historic figures, possibly inspiring George Lucas and J. R. R. Tolkien. Instead of constantly fighting, the Legends act like a real team and the two geeks in the group clearly love using their powers. Unlike the other shows in the Arrowverse, this one is getting better instead of worse.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is easily the best DC superhero movie since Tim Burton's Batman. The Dark Knight trio had far too many plot holes to be really great pictures. The Batman sequels and the Superman movies just weren't very good. And the less said about Suicide Squad and Green Lantern the better.

What surprises me is the comparisons to Marvel movies. I've seen several reviews that dripped scorn over the various Marvel movies while praising Wonder Woman.

The thing is, Wonder Woman is a Marvel movie in every way that counts. Like Marvel movies, it's an origin movie that mixes seriousness with humor. It is hero-centric. Marvel decided from the beginning that their movies would feature the hero and that the villain would be secondary. In contrast, DC movies have mostly followed the Batman formula of giving the villains as much or more screen time as the hero.

More than any other movie, Wonder Woman resembles Captain America, the First Avenger. Both are period pieces following the progression of someone from untrained weakling through a period of trying to be taken seriously. They both pick up a group of ethnic soldiers. They are both fighting a rouge German who is about to unleash a super-weapon that will destroy London. (the next sentence is a spoiler) They even have someone sacrificing himself by crashing an airplane.

Wonder Woman ends in a CGI-fest, just like the Marvel movies.

Not there's anything wrong with Marvel movies. The reason they keep making bundles of money is that they are entertaining to watch. I enjoy watching the Guardians of the Galaxy for the 12th time much more than Man of Steel for the 3rd or 4th. I can't even watch Dark Knight Rises for the second time.  DC keeps going for dark and gritty and forgetting to make their movies fun.

The Justice League looks like it might be a lot more fun, but it might also be too derivative. The scene between Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen is too similar to Tony Stark and Peter Parker and Aquaman acts too much like Thor.

This is kind of ironic since DC spent decades reinventing itself to be more like Marvel.