Tagged: Marvel Cinematic Universe

Mike Gold: Batman Resurrected

Michael KeatonNo, that’s not the title of the next Batman movie. Well, it might be. I suspect Warner Bros. hasn’t thought that far ahead. They’re too busy trying to make their Aquaman movie without giggling themselves to death.

A couple nights ago I was watching Batman Returns – you’ll recall that was Michael Keaton’s second and final Batflick. At the time of release, which was 1992, I thought it was an uneven movie. By and large, I liked the Catwoman stuff but I thought the Penguin parts were… foul. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen the movie, so when I surfed past it at a quarter-to-two in the morning, I thought it might be fun to check it out with my older and even more jaded eyes.

I was amused to discover the movie was broader than I remembered, but just as dark. It was almost as if Stanley Kubrick made the movie as a tribute to the 1960s teevee show. The Catwoman scenes weren’t as strong as I remembered, the Penguin scenes were better acted (but no better realized) than I thought, and the scenes with Michael Keaton that didn’t include either villain were, by and large, really good.

So what happened in the past 22 years? Certainly most of us enjoy the avalanche of Marvel Studios movies, the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe that, properly, excludes Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. But the tone and texture of the DC Movie Universe should differ from the tone and texture of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, just as your average DC Universe comic book differs from its Marvel counterparts – when done right.

(Yes, you read that right: I referred to the DC movies as a separate “Universe” from the DC teevee shows for one simple reason: they are separate. Completely separate. Needlessly and confusingly separate.)

So… what changed? Batman Returns really isn’t dated. Why would I be so taken with Keaton’s work this time around?

One word. Birdman.

You know the concept: an on-the-ropes actor best known for his playing a costumed superhero on the big screen tries to resurrect his career and give his life meaning by directing and starring in a Broadway play. For this effort, Keaton has been awarded top acting honors from the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, the Independent Spirit Award, the Satellite Award (from the International Press Academy, not to be confused with the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Golden Globes) and the AACTA International Award for Best Actor – that’s the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts.

Keaton has also received an Oscar® nomination for Birdman, in a particularly tough category this year. “It’s an honor just to be nominated…”

I always liked Keaton, and he really knocked me over in Clean and Sober. But Birdman surpasses his previous efforts because he knows we will conflate his character with his career. He relies that pre-existing relationship, and he pulls it off magnificently.

I don’t think Keaton’s career has been on the ropes, but it was no longer as high profile. I suspect he liked it that way. But, post-Birdman, he is an A-Lister once again. And this is strictly because he decided to do Batman in the first place – and because he thought it over and appreciated what that meant to both him and his audience.

All top-drawer superhero actors age… with a few unfortunate exceptions. The plot to Birdman is all about what you do with yourself after you shed your tights. Keaton figured it out.


(“Oscar” is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, so watch your ass.)


Mike Gold: Time Flies When You’re Saving The World

Last week we comics fans were treated to a nice treat that, had other circumstances prevailed, would have been the big buzz in our donut shop. Instead, events mandated – properly – that we turn our attention to the Charlie Hebdo matter. That situation remains unresolved and part of a much bigger and even more disquieting picture, but if we can’t stop to smell the flowers we will surely go insane. That’s why I’m going to talk about Marvel’s Agent Carter this week.

The mini-series – it runs eight episodes, and the first two ran last week – goes a long way towards answering the question “Hey, why won’t Marvel Studios pay more attention to the female characters?” It doesn’t answer the question “Hey, why won’t Marvel Studios do a Black Widow movie?” but I suspect if the executives at Marvel understand what they’re doing on Agent Carter, there well might be.

So, what’s going on in Agent Carter that’s so special? I think the two-hour debut did more to educate people as to the inequities in the workplace than any other single event in perhaps three decades. If things are going to change, illumination through entertainment is an important part of the mix.

Seeing as the series is set in the mid-1940s post-war period – after all, it is a sequel to the first real Captain America movie – it’s all too easy to look at it and say “well, yeah, but that was 1946.” This is true, but as George Santayana said, “when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

(Actually, Santayana said a lot of interesting things, my favorite being “Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.” Check him out at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Santayana.)

Okay, back to 1946. That was a time when nobody gave a second thought about women being paid a lot less then men. That’s because nobody gave a second thought about women being given much responsibility – Santayana, I suspect, probably thought we should have remembered how women held our nation together during the world war that just ended. That was a time when newspapers carried separate want ad listings: “Help Wanted – Men,” for laborers and executives, and “Help Wanted – Women,” for secretaries, maids and cooks. This was a practice that continued until some time in the 1970s; the possibility that such segregation was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act wasn’t even discussed until 1965. Women were fired for getting married, and society looked down upon those women who chose a career over pounding out babies every year or so.

Agent Carter is set squarely in this environment. Peggy Carter, as last seen in Marvel media, is an extremely competent field agent to say the least, but despite her wartime record she is relegated to secretarial duties at S.H.I.E.L.D’s precursor organization, the Strategic Scientific Reserve. In order to save the day and to fulfill her commitment to Howard Stark (let’s hear it for Marvel continuity!) she starts out by hiding her activities and condescending to the men who order her to do the filing.

Despite this, Agent Carter is not a political screed. It is a solid action show set in the well-defined Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with time-appropriate established characters such as a comparatively young Edwin Jarvis and a typically burly Dum-Dum Dugan (let’s hear it again for Marvel continuity!), and the actors whose characters appeared in the movies reprise their roles here, including Dominic Cooper as the senior Stark. Marvel’s evil corporate empire, Roxxon, plays a prominent role in this series.

Agent Carter is a very stylish, fast-acting and clever series built around the strengths of its star, Hayley Atwell. We’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future, in the second Avengers movie and in future episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Crom knows where else. But I really hope that Disney/Marvel/ABC (different floors of the same company) has the budget and the audience to take this program to a weekly series.

And then do that Black Widow movie.