05th Apr2019

West Week Ever: Pop Culture In Review – 4/5/19

by Will

I took last week off, and the week before was a Thrift Justice, so I guess we’ve got a bit to cover, huh?

So a couple of weeks back, there was hubbub from a screening where Zack Snyder sort of kirked out and implied that anyone who expected a character not to kill was living in a fantasy world. Yeah, I’ve got to disagree with that.

First off, there’s a danger in applying real world politics to comics because, at the end of the day, comics are just what my friend James calls “White Male Power Fantasies”. They exist in a theoretical vacuum, so the minute you try to say “Look at the world around us! How would Batman interact HERE?” you’ve already broken the rules.

To think Batman should kill is a gross misunderstanding of what Batman is about.

Ya know, just because Keaton did it in Batman (1989) doesn’t make it *right*. Burton was railing against the most recent depiction of Batman at the time, which had been the ’66 Batman. So, he kinda went to extremes. Now, I wasn’t in theaters in 1989, but I still knew it was messed up when I eventually saw the movie on VHS. Keaton doing it doesn’t mean that Affleck can do it.

To think “Batman should kill. So effing what?” is a such a binary way of looking at things. You all feel he either should or shouldn’t do it, without factoring in the gray area where some outcomes are worse than death. Part of the thing about Batman is the power given to him by his urban legend status. He doesn’t HAVE to kill, because there are enough two-bit hoods out there telling folks they’ve seen him kill. Meanwhile, because of this storytelling, you never quite know WHAT you’re going to face if you even encounter him. And sure, he probably WON’T kill you, but he’ll make it so you walk with a limp for the rest of your life or can’t feel your right arm any more.

Also, let’s think of some other ramifications. If Batman were to kill, that would be terribly taxing on his relationship with the GCPD, who pretty much allow him to operate on their behalf. Sure, real world cops kill people all the time – in a lot of cases where it seems senseless but, again, you can’t “real world” this stuff.

Oh, and if Batman killed, then that would be the end of the villains you love so much. “Why doesn’t Batman kill the Joker?” Probably because that would be the end of the Joker, and all storytelling regarding him. These are the same people who are mad at Peter Quill for screwing up the fight against Thanos. Um, they have an entirely separate movie to pad out so, no, they couldn’t allow Thanos’ defeat that easily. Sometimes you just have to think of the business aspect of things. Companies need you to come back every month, so how are they going to build any sort of drama or suspense, if you just know he’ll mow down that month’s villain, and then do the same to whomever pops up next month? You don’t want Batman. You want The Punisher.

For Batman to kill would make him no better than his rogues gallery, so who’s the “hero” in that case? These were originally considered aspirational characters in certain aspects. Sure, your parents may not get gunned down in an alley leaving you millions, but if life deals you a bad hand, you make the most of it and don’t just go out murdering people. Because that’s what that would be: murder. Now, there’s the argument that maybe he kills in self defense. Maybe, but he’s also been written as such a skilled tactician that it should/would never get to that point. I will say, though, there is a difference between killing and letting someone die. Take Batman Begins, for instance. He doesn’t kills Ra’s, but he sure as Hell doesn’t save him, either. I do think Batman would do that.

I know there are a bunch of y’all who grew up at a certain time, thinking Burton is gospel, but this is the same incarnation that says Joker killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Sure the movies have shown us a Batman who kills because they wanna be edgelords, but at the end of the day, BATMAN DOESN’T KILL.

I’m about 2 years behind, but I binged the Dirty John podcast a few weeks ago, and now I want to talk about it with someone – primarily the fact that I don’t believe it. I mean, sure, it’s based on a true story, but that finale was so far-fetched that even Uwe Boll is somewhere saying “Yeah, I’m not sure if that’s believable.”

If you’re not familiar, Dirty John recounts the story of John Meehan – a con man with a history of wooing women and then taking them for all they had. Based on reporting from The Los Angeles Times, the podcast focuses primarily on Meehan’s relationship with successful interior designer Debra Newell, and how he basically psychologically abused her, while forcing her to alienate anyone in her family who he didn’t like. It’s a whirlwind courtship, followed by a quickie Vegas wedding, and then the craziness starts. Newell realizes that she doesn’t truly know the man she married, and begins to fear for her safety, as well as the safety of her loved ones.

I know there’s an adaptation on Bravo, starring Connie Britton, right now and, while I’m curious to see them reenact a lot of this stuff, I think I’ll just wait until it’s done to binge it at once. And I really hope they don’t try to make a season 2, because HOW? Then again, based on the ending of the podcast, I could see it and it wouldn’t be any less credible than that.

The always wonderful John Oliver devoted this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight to the working conditions in the WWE. If you didn’t know, wrestler’s contracts are structured where they are considered “independent contractors”, so they’re responsible for their own health insurance, while the company only covers injuries that occur in the ring. I’ve heard of stories where a wrestler might have a motorcycle accident over the weekend, but drag himself to work so that he can claim the injury happened in-ring just so it’ll be covered. This sort of thing might have flown back in the carny days of wrestling, but WWE is a billion dollar corporation, so this is pretty unacceptable. Past attempts by wrestlers to unionize haven’t gone anywhere, but Oliver points out that Vince McMahon does listen to the fans – the WWE Universe – so if there’s enough pressure from them, then things might change.

So, some interesting stuff is going in the world of music, as Lil Nas X went to #1 on the country charts with “Old Town Road”. The problem, however, is that many consider it a rap song instead of a country song, despite it having “country elements” as well as subject matter. So, after some outcry from labels, the song was removed from the charts.

Well, not to be outdone, Lil Nas X re-released the song last night, with an assist from Billy Ray Cyrus, who’s always down to make some coin. And the result still isn’t anywhere near as embarrassing as “Accidental Racist“.

I mean, I get it, but there does seem to be some shady stuff going on here to get it removed from the chart. And most folks are saying it’s based on race. It’s not easy for a Black man to chart in country music, as it’s still a recent phenomenon thanks to Darius Rucker and Jimmie Allen. Also, if you listen to anything by Sam Hunt or the Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem“, and you’ll hear that country has been biting hip hop beats for quite some time.

On the flip side, I don’t feel like this was a genuine effort. I mean, for one, the thing is about 2 minutes long. That’s not a song. That’s a snippet. Plus, what Lil Nas X did here was spit in the eye of the country music establishment. It’s not common knowledge to folks who don’t follow the industry, but country radio charts kinda come down to whose “turn” it is. Labels get together and sort that shit out instead of it actually being based on sales or anything. They’ll say “Well, it’s Blake’s turn”, so stations will follow suit and increase the number of spins that Blake Shelton gets that week, and voila #1. Then, the next week, it’ll be Jimmie’s turn. This is why nothing on the country charts sits like songs do on pop charts. You get your week and then you’re cycled out for someone else, which is why charting means SO much less in country. It means you got the seal of approval from the industry, but it’s not reflective of public opinion. It’s simply the labels telling you who they’re backing.

Since nobody actually cares about charts, this was just a publicity stunt, and a damn good one. I say let the song stay. Think of all the flukes and garbage that has made it to #1. Just let it go ’cause there’ll be a new Florida-Georgia Line single up there in about 3 weeks, and nobody will even remember this.

Things You Might Have Missed This Week

  • John Cho has been cast as Spike Spiegel in Netflix’s adaptation of Cowboy Bebop. I still think it should’ve gone to Ben Schwartz, but I don’t hate this.
  • Since the Disney acquisition of Fox, there are rumors that Disney might be in talks to revive the failed baseball series Pitch in an attempt to keep creator Dan Fogelman from jumping ship when his contract is up. Oh, I should mention that Fogelman also created the smash hit This Is Us, which is why folks would want to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.
  • Emily Bett Rickards announced that she’ll be leaving Arrow prior to its truncated final season, leading me to wonder “WHY?” She couldn’t hang on for 10 episodes? Is she THAT eager to jump back into pilot season?
  • Speaking of The CW, Lucifer finally decided to come collect the souls of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, as Supernatural will finally end after its 15th season. Don’t cry for these guys, though. They’ve got a long future of MonsterMania and other assorted pop culture conventions ahead of them – which I’m sure is their own personal version of Hell.

There’s nothing quite like going into a movie with ZERO expectations, but that’s exactly what I did last night with SHAZAM! While a lot of folks have already written off the DC movies, I’m still willing to give them a shot. I know almost nothing about the Fawcett/DC Captain Marvel, and most of what I know is from Geoff Johns’s New 52 reboot of the character – which old time fans tell me is something of a travesty. Still, Johns has rarely steered me wrong, and I actually enjoyed what he was doing with the character. It was originally presented in back-up stories in the relaunched Justice League, but then the books hit the “Throne of Atlantis” storyline, and I stopped reading for whatever reason. So I never did see the tail end of what he was doing there. So, without too much continuity and prior knowledge to bog me down, I went into the theater last night not really knowing what I was about to see. And I am SO glad that I did. I REALLY enjoyed the film, and I think it’s more of a course correction for DC than Wonder Woman was.

If you’re not familiar, this take on the character is basically a superhero adaptation of the Tom Hanks classic Big (there’s even a call-out to the most famous scene from that movie). Fourteen year old Billy Batson encounters the wizard SHAZAM, who bestows his powers upon Billy once he says the wizard’s name aloud. He gains a different power from each of the gods. Flight from Socrates, Strength from Hephaestus. Electricity from Aesop, Anger from Zeus, Speed from Archibald, and Punching from Michael. Yeah, clearly I don’t know the pantheon nor do I know his entire power set. It don’t matter – ain’t nobody got time for that! He gets his magic from a wizard, says a magic word, and changes from Boy to Man. A Super Man (but not THE Superman. Yeah, they’ve already been to court about that). Meanwhile, the evil Dr. Sivana had been considered to assume the wizard’s power when he was a boy, but was deemed unworthy, so he’s spent his life and fortune trying to find a way to rectify that situation.

This story plays out over a backdrop showcasing the current foster parent situation in the country. Billy is taken into a group home, run by a married couple of former foster kids, filled with 5 other foster kids. There’s smart ass Freddy, adorable Darla, quiet Pedro, that kid from Fresh Off the Boat Eugene, and the pretty pretty Mary. It deals with what the notions of “home” and “family” mean to Billy, as he hasn’t been able to stay anywhere due to his unending search for his mother. Plus, just as American Pie introduced us to the MILF, Showtime introduced us to the SMILF, this film introduces us to the FMILF (*chef’s finger kiss*).

The thing I loved about the film is that it really doesn’t waste a lot of time world-building. It might be in the DCEU and it might not. There are signs that it could be, but they don’t beat you over the head with them. It’s a movie that pretty much gets in and out. Sure, there’s the obligatory stinger to tease a sequel that may or may not happen, but it didn’t exactly get me excited or anything. I’d be happy for this to just be a one-shot kind of deal, but Hollywood likes money, so it’ll probably, unwisely, become a franchise.

I was surprised by the level of violence in the film. From a special effects standpoint, I feel like the designers took a lot of visual cues from Infinity War, as the Thanos Snap “dusting” effect was employed quite a bit, while the embodiment of the 7 Deadly Sins looked a lot like Cull Obsidian. Still, even though it’s a fun movie about “family”, I don’t know if you want to take young kids, ’cause those monsters…WOW.

Did it have problems? Sure. Like most DC movies, it had a weak 3rd act. I didn’t even realize it was over when it was actually over. It went to the next scene, and you’re like “Oh. Oh, so that was it?” I’m also not sold on Zachary Levi as Captain Marvel. Maybe that’s part of the character, that he’s always 14 years old inside, but I didn’t feel like he ever really became a hero. He was a guy who did heroic things, but – at his core – was a HERO? Even by the end, I wasn’t too sure. He spends a good chunk of the movie Tony Starking: cleaning up problems that were of his own making.

My biggest issue with Levi, though, concerns the potential sequel that would most likely feature Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Captain Marvel’s nemesis, Black Adam. If you don’t remember, Warner Bros announced a Black Adam film WAY before they started any of this other stuff. Before Aquaman, Wonder Woman, or even Justice League had filmed, Black Adam was on the schedule because they wanted in on that hot D.J. action. The problem I had with it then is even exacerbated now that he’s MUCH more famous than he was when that deal was signed: NOBODY has the charisma to go toe to toe with him, especially with him in a villainous role.

Black Adam in the comics, especially around the time of Infinite Crisis, tended to go back and forth between villainy and being on the side of angels. He’s basically DC’s Namor. He’s on whichever side suits him best at the time. So, it’s unclear which side he would’ve been on for Johnson’s movie, though it was uncharacteristic at the time for DC to center movies around villains (that has since changed, as we saw from this week’s teaser for The Joker). SHAZAM!, however, not only sets up Black Adam as a villain, but states that he was a “mistake” made by the wizards when choosing a champion. He’s apparently still out there, so he’d likely butt heads with Levi’s Captain Marvel. My question is this: Is the audience prepared to accept The Rock as a villain, and actively cheer against him in favor of Levi’s Captain Marvel? I’m not so sure, which is probably what has held up the project for so long (though they always say it’s due to “scheduling conflicts”. The man makes a movie every 6 weeks, so I hardly believe that).

All that aside, I had a lot of fun with this movie. It’s highly entertaining and might be my favorite DC movie from their modern slate (NOTE: I have yet to see Aquaman. “Scheduling conflicts”). If DC continues just focusing on character instead of world-building, they might be on to something. There’s no need to try to follow the MCU formula, especially when there are other options. It’s got something for everyone, and even a little bit of representation snuck in there that I can’t say more about without spoiling the 3rd act. SHAZAM! was a great way to end the week, which is why it had the West Week Ever.