Category Archives: Movies

Superhero Business

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I recently saw the promos of Krrish 3. Fabulous effects. The look of the movie is really world class. There was a line in the promo which said “An evil was being born, to rule the world”. Of course there is nothing wrong with the line. And this blog piece is not really about Krrish. That line just rekindled some old questions which led to some more and so on. The immediate question was, why would that evil want to rule the world? And who decided that it was an evil?

Really, the whole world?  Dharavi included? What about Dalai Lama and his disciples?

It just does not make any sense that anybody would want to do that, even if they could. If nothing else, total world domination by one individual (together with his bad army) would entail a host of logistical problems. But that is just one of the questions which comics (the medium which gave the world most if its superheroes) have been getting away with, for ages. The reason given being, and quite rightly so, because the comics are meant for kids, who can’t care less. When I started reading comics, I never really questioned why the Superhero so badly wanted to battle the bad guys. Why does it do nothing but battle the bad guys? I also never questioned why the Superheroes invariably wore a suit. Would it not be wise to wear some camouflage and not such bright colors like red, yellow, green and blue? Is it because they want to stand out in the crowd and be seen? Is it really a good combat practice to do so? Maybe they do want to be seen, to be seen as a symbol of Goodness, who is also strong and give out a message to the bad guys to stop their bad business because there will be consequences? But in that case, why do the superheroes also wear a mask? Why do they want to be seen, but not want their faces to be visible? Why do most of them continue to lead an alternative life, as a commoner? Why don’t they proudly tell the world that they are the Superheroes?

In comics, we really do not care. We just accept them as facts of comics’ life. Some city, similar to ours, but fictional, where unique things happen. Superheroes in suits fight exotic villains. They are their own self-contained world. We read comics and are entertained. That is all that matters. But it was all meant for the kids, for the young. Kids really are the biggest consumers of comics. And while it was for kids, it was fine.

Soon, Superhero movies followed. And for quite some time, they were aimed at the fans of comic books too. Basically, they were nothing more than a literal moving adaptation of the comics itself. And hence, these questions did not apply to them because they, like their parent comics, were not to be taken seriously.

But it did not take the movie makers long to realize the obvious. They realized that they really do not need to make exact movie replicas of the comic books. Movies were a different medium and they demanded a different telling of the stories, even if the stories themselves were old. Also the movies need not be aimed at the young only.

Spiderman(2002) was not the first movie which featured a superhero. But it was very different. The most important difference being, it was the first movie which strived to impress those audiences also who were not necessarily the readers of spider man comics. In short, it tried to stand on its own as a movie, not a superhero movie, not a comic book movie, just a movie. And most importantly, it was effective in doing that. It was a huge success, which showed that non-comics-readers also watched and liked it. In order to do so, it had to answer some of the questions I mentioned above. The movie managed to answer some of them well, others not quite so. For example, it tells us the evolution of spider man’s suit. Or why it has to lead a double life. These it manages to explain reasonably well. But it does not offer a great explanation to why the spider man wants to fight bad guys, I mean, he could have very well stopped after catching his grandfather’s killer.

But why do these questions matter at all? I mean, who gives a damn, right? Not quite.

I think these questions matter to any sincere, thinking director/production-house who is making a serious movie based on superheroes. And that is precisely what the directors are doing these days: they are making realistic superhero movies. And then, you cannot ignore these things. When Zack Snyder made ‘Man of Steel’ with Christopher Nolan producing, they had to remove the red briefs of Superman, because what would they have said to Steven Spielberg, when he asked about it? ‘Hey Zack, why is your hero wearing underwear on top’? They could not just say that the original comics had them so. Similarly, they gave some explanation for the ‘S’ mark on the chest of Superman, and it was not that S stood for Superman (They said it is not an S at all, it is a symbol which stands for Hope in Superman’s native planet). They would have removed it too, but it was just too vital for the superman character. They had to make these changes because the red briefs and a random initials-crest do not belong in the real world. In fact, this red brief is such an absurd feature of Superman that the previous superman movie, Superman Returns, though not courageous enough to do away with it altogether, showed very few shots where you can see the guy donning the brief. (For an amazing view on why Superman and other superheroes wore undies on top, see this). Even the name ‘Superman’ is not that great, and they make all the effort in both the movies to use the precise term.

But the one superhero adaptation which changed the face of superhero movies was Christopher Nolan’s Batman (series). Christopher Nolan is an absurdly intelligent director. And he made an extremely serious movie about a superhero which was aimed to impress mature audience. The movie was serious because it tried to be totally believable. I think it is no coincidence that it was a Batman movie. Batman, for various reasons, is a superhero who can exist in an everyday world. He does not really need a separate universe to exist. Batman’s strength is his great cardio, his will power and his amazing gadgets, through his money. A lot of guys could be Batman. Similarly Tony Stark and Ironman make a great movie superhero, because he is totally exist-able too. My point is, you can make a totally believable movie with these guys. And Nolan did a fabulous job at that. All three of his Batman movies won critical praise and broke box-office records. And he meticulously explained each and every known Batman fact, his beginning, his motive to fight guys, his motive to hide behind a mask, the motives of all its villains, everything. The result was three very compelling movies. They featured amazing action sequences and the unique hero-villain battles, which are central to any comic-book storytelling, but Nolan’s movies were much more than that. The action sequences were great; but it was really the story and the complexity of characters which found praise. The Joker is a great example of that. The problem with making a convincing superhero movie, or rather with retelling any famous story, is that your audiences know a lot of facts beforehand. Your success or failure depends on how well you can explain all those facts in a new way. And Nolan did a great job at that, with liberal help from Hans Zimmer’s music, I must add. 🙂

But this realistic portraying of Superheroes give rise to another whole set of inconsistencies. And they have nothing to do with the style of movie making; these are inherent qualities of comic book story-telling. For example, I was watching ‘The dark Knight Rises’ recently, and I suddenly realized that Bane, and The Joker previously, were deriving so much pleasure in fighting and defeating Batman, that I could not help but wonder if Batman gave rise to those nasty villains? I mean, both Bane and Joker were not really into killing or torturing people, they wanted to defeat Batman, because he was such a brilliant, grand good hero. It was like they were in there for the challenge. And innocent people were being hurt in the process. This was kind of self-defeating. Batman was giving rise to villains who were tormenting the people who Batman set out to protect in the first place. Would it not be better for the people of Gotham that Batman trained a super police force of sorts with his expertise and resources and that force protected the city of Gotham with batman as its strategic commander but not a central figure?

One huge problem with all of these stories is the culture of fist-fighting and over reliance on physical strength, in spite of all the amazing things happening around. In The Avengers, one guy turns into a big green monster, one guy can fly and shoot missiles, one guy is coming from an alien planet and all these super cool things, but they still fight each other with hands whenever they get a chance. I mean, who fights with their bare hands in today’s world? Armies all over the world aim at confronting their enemies from a distance and finishing the battle there. The problem is the scope of the battle. Loki is coming to subjugate the earth and he is starting with a city? Really? Why is he not magic bombing an entire nation? The fighting units of his army are so small in scope; I cannot be sure how he plans to conquer the entire world in this fashion. And remember that guy just came from an alien planet, so he must be resourceful. Problem is, how else would you portray an eye catching hero-villain showdown?

The scope of superheroes also is very inconsistent. Batman wants to fight crime so badly, but it never disturbs him that there are other cities in the country where crime rate is high too? He is just content fighting for his city mates? Don’t superheroes become disillusioned by crimes in other cities? What about other countries? Do they feel bad by the civil war scene in Africa? What about poverty and pollution and drugs? Don’t they feel a sense of futility when they are saving 50 people in a city by a super-villain while thousands died from hunger elsewhere in the world? Do they ever feel like joining the Red Cross or politics so that they can help more people? Don’t they realize that real villains do not necessarily fight or maybe not look villainous at all? I hope you are getting my point.

Amazingly, all of these questions don’t exist for comics; they are just comics after all. They rise with serious, realistic movie making.

So, what really makes a good Superhero movie?

I think, Hancock was a very good superhero concept. The movie was ok, but Hancock makes a good superhero. He has superpowers but that do not automatically motivate him to do good for people. In fact, he is a hopeless drunk, which is very plausible for a non-ageing, lonely person who is a freak. People do not really like him, for he does more destruction than good. But he comes around, with some help, and choses the right path. Then he becomes a hero. Superhero.

The About-7 Movie List

A few days back, a friend asked me to suggest him some movies to watch. Absolutely. But what kind? Whichever you like, he said. I was about to do that but then I thought maybe it was not such a great idea. I can safely say that I watch more movies than him and that is not even condescending. He has better things to do in life. So the movies I come to like the most, though not bad, do not always make for an ideal casual weekend-evening watch. Sometimes you just want movies that tell a good happy story, which, when they end, make you happily ask your partner to order a generously loaded pizza and she agrees, momentarily forgetting about your belly !! You know the kind I am talking about. They do good business but not always are blockbusters. They never really wow you but they always register their good intelligent work. The kind which when you come across while flipping movie channels, while having dinner, make you stop (not the dinner, the browsing), happily. Here is the list of my kind of that kind of movies. Hope you like it. And about the title, well, its an allusion to how such  movies almost invariably rate just around 7 on IMDb. And yeah, they always have some cool songs playing in their background 🙂 .

Here it goes.

The Devil Wears Prada

The devil wears Prada (2006): This comedy drama revolves around a powerful fashion magazine Editor and a young college graduate who gets a job as her co-assistant. It does not help that the young lady does not share the same enthusiasm for fashion as her boss does. The best thing about the movie is, of course, Meryl Streep, supported very ably by the beautiful Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci. An urban comedy with interesting situations, this movie is smart but not too overtly so, which is a good thing really.

The rock

The Rock (1996): 90s was the decade of some of the most fabulous action movies ever. The rock is one of them. It is directed by Michael Bay (Transformers, Armageddon, Bad Boys) who, with all his corniness, does has an aptitude for telling gripping stories in a visually grand way. He is like a action version of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. So the Army General will have to say things like “Identify yourself”, to a person who he does not know, over a telephonic conversation, because Army generals compulsively talk that way isn’t it !! But it is a lots of fun anyway. The cast is indeed rock solid too: Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris and the great Sean Connery (who could not, for his life, pronounce the S sound, its always Sh. “I think I heard Shomeone”. “Shtupid Ashshhole”. I am sure his parents named him Sean with an ‘S’ initially. LOL). A great old action movie with a dab of humour.

The 40 yr ols virgn

The 40 year old virgin (2005): Steve Carell (The Office, Little Miss Sunshine, Get Smart) is such a masterclass at playing a likeable loser that its amazing. And he is funny as hell. He plays the guy the film’s title refers to. It is directed by Judd Apatow and has all the characteristics of the type of movies he is associated with: amazing buddy humour, lots of cultural references and hilarious support characters. The movie also features, of course, Seth Rogen (Knocked up, funny people), Paul Rudd (I love you Man, Role Models) and Romany Malco. One of my favourite movies.

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American reunion (2012): Who isn’t a fan of the original American Pie (1999). It spawned many sequels but this 2012 sequel was something else. For one, it managed to bring the whole cast back, including both of the MILF guys. It was really nostalgic to see all of them back in the original setting. It was like watching some of your friends after a decade and everybody is grown up and all. If you are fond of the original movie, as i am, do watch this, even if, for just the nostalgic value.

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Invincible

Invincible (2006): Invincible tells the (real life) story of Vince Papale, who went from being a 30 year old bartender to playing pro American Football for Philadelphia Eagles. For comparison, it is like if a Big Bazar bill desk employee got to play for the Delhi Daredevils in IPL, for two seasons. Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, The Italian Job) plays Papale. Like all good sports movies, it inspires and makes you feel like going for a run the next morning. And that awesome song which plays during one of those match scenes is Ted Nugent’s ‘Stranglehold’, download that too, super good guitar song.

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Knocked up (2007): The second Judd Apatow movie on this list, this movie is a romantic comedy about a slacker who gets a career oriented girl pregnant after a drunken one night stand. The movie features Seth Rogen and the beautiful Katherine Heigl (Grey’s Anatomy, 27 Dresses) who are excellent. This was the first time i saw Rogen and I am a fan since. As always, there is a superb support cast, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill (Superbad), Jason Segel (How I met Your Mother).
This movie is smart, super funny and very endearing.

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A Few Good Men

A few good men (1992):  One of my all time favourites, this movie is a court martial drama featuring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, both of whom received Best Actor nominations for this movie. Because that’s what they did, acted brilliantly. I can’t stress enough how good Jack Nicholson is. It has a riveting story and is extremely well made courtroom drama. But the best part is, how this movie takes you along with the case it depicts, makes you understand the various characters and the believability of an improbable end. Brilliant.

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Match Point (2005): Match Point is a Woody Allen movie but is unlike any of his typical movies. It is a thriller, for one. It is also a movie where, as Roger Ebert observed, every character is rotten. That’s a brilliant analysis for this movie and the reason why this movie is brilliant too. This movie deals with the themes of deceit, infidelity, money and luck. It stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Bend it like Beckham) and Scarlett Johansson, who is tailor made to play girls who betray. Meyers is well cast too. This movie is brilliantly dark and its interesting to see which rotten character you side with.

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Shoot ’em up

Shoot ’em up (2007): This movie is sick funny. This movie is audaciously violent and stupendous fun. This movie is like from Mercury, always hot and going too fast. I don’t really know how to describe it really. Let me try nonetheless. Suppose Mithun of old, approached Tarantino to create a movie for South Indian audience, this is what he would get. It stars Clive Owen(Closer, King Arthur) and Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man) and both are brilliant beyond words. Shoot em up is a super violent action movie with a wicked sense of humour. Its so outrageously improbable that you cannot help but wonder at its genius. I love this movie. Watch it with an open mind, and you shall be rewarded. And that guy in the picture above has a carrot in hand: not accidental.

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Horrible Bosses (2011) : When a movie has such a brilliant cast as Kevin Spacey (American Beauty), Jennifer Aniston (Friends), Jamie Foxx (Ray, Django Unchained), Colin Farrell (Minority Report, Alexander) and Jason Bateman (Hancock, Arrested Development), it is reason enough to give it a watch. But when someone else outshines these guys in the same movie, well, then it becomes a must watch. Charlie Day is that guy. Very earnestly funny. The movie is comedy about three friends who are fed up with their respective bosses and want some revenge and hire a hitman to do the job. Brilliantly comic due to its talented actors, this movie is very entertaining.