How to Build a World

How to Build a World
Posted by on Feb 26, 2015

In the past I have talked about world building and it’s benefits for creating a compelling story. Recently, this idea has come back into my mind for a number of reasons. Marvel’s announcement about adding Spider-Man to the MCU is chief among them. However, my new year’s resolution this year was to re-watch all of Walt Disney’s theatrically released animated films. I’ll detail the experience more when I have actually finished watching all of the 50+ films. As I watch these films, I get to thinking about world building and it’s use in film. Particularly with how Disney has handled it so far. Before that, let me tell you what I think is needed to build a truly wonderful world.

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Most recently, one of the best worlds built from scratch has got to be John Wick. Originally seen as your basic B-level action flick, its masterful world building helped elevate the narrative to another level. What worked so well is that the directors didn’t bother spelling everything out. I’ll do my best not to spoil anything but they essentially introduced elements that obviously had a history but they didn’t tell the audience. They just introduced it as it should be and left it at that. How this helped them is it let the audience to fill-in the gaps.

They introduce a concept such as a currency only mean’t for hitmen and assassins. Instead of giving us some sort of explanation as to how this currency works and its worth, they simply just use it. This currency then becomes this cool gimmick throughout the film that continually piques the audiences interest. It also allows the audience to speculate how these characters gained their varying levels of wealth with this currency. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. We are left to wonder how widely this currency can be used. Is it global? Can it be used as bribery for politicians? We are literally left with endless possibilities. To create a successful world, leaving a little mystery to allow your audience to explore is key.

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What’s also important is having a distinct visual style. Take Big Hero 6. It’s a world where San Francisco and Tokyo have been merged. Here you get distinct combinations of iconic examples of American and Japanese culture. The visual style, as with just about any animated film, is also very distinct. Characters are more caricatures than realistic with features that support or clash with their personalities.

Go Go Tomago looks like a bicyclist or a sprinter. She has the legs of someone who was always pushing to go faster. I mean seriously, just take a look at what Olympic sprinters look like. Her mentality of a tough, fearless, speed demon is only supported by the way she looks. Wasabi on the other hand has an opposite relationship. He looks like your typical strongman, hulk, bruiser type. Broad shoulders, barrel chested, and just big all around. He looks like someone who is called in when someone needs a buddy to help them out in a fight. However, his personality clashes with this perception. Out of the entire group, he is by far the most neurotic and least likely to want to jump into a fight.

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These visual cues, whether directed at characters or scenery, are key to develop a world that the audience can get lost in. It allows the audience to fill in the gaps of what else could be going on in the world.

While having a sense of mystery and a clear visual style is important, nothing can be more important than your question. Every successful world can be boiled down to one question that the world gets shaped around. How would an underground assassin network operate? What would it look if the most advance technologies we have, were accessible and affordable to the entire public? What would the world look like if dragons were real? I bet you can figure out which movies I’m talking about here. This question may not be your starting point, but I believe it is a sign of a well crafted world.

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After Earth, while terrible, had a single nugget that piqued my interest. What would the world look like if humans were suddenly at the bottom of the food chain? Starting there I can see a story forming. What if one day we found that the various species on Earth suddenly seemed to turn on humanity. Where not only animals are no longer afraid to actively defend against humans and their machines, but hunt them down. Amazon forest crews would find themselves fighting off hordes of monkeys who have developed poisonous saliva. Cities would find themselves overrun by the natural wildlife as they refused to be scared away. Throw in plants growing more aggressively and you have yourself a situation that would cause humans to want to flee earth. That right there seems to be a start of a more compelling story than what we got in After Earth.

My observations are not an official, peer reviewed basis for a theory that required months of research. I have simply watched a lot of movies and started to to piece these things together. Most films can be observed this, especially that of the animated genre, and I find two ways to break them down. They either have a strong narrative or a well-built world. Not to say they can’t be both, it’s just that they tend to favor one or the other. For instance, most of the Pixar films would land in the narrative category. This makes sense since they have essentially built their company around how to tell a story. On the other hand, the better Dreamworks films tend to have stronger worlds.

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Why I bring this up is because Disney tends to ride the line. Sometimes it works out well, other times it doesn’t. It seems they have tried both and mostly have had average success on either side. However, those that do the best are usually those that have a stronger narrative base (Frozen, Lion King). What I find interesting though, is that they have created many worlds that are truly unique. Big Hero 6 is the most recent while Treasure Planet is a place I eagerly want them to revisit.

So in conclusion, before this piece gets out of my hands, Disney has tried many different story-telling styles. From world building to strong narratives they, more than most, have tried both. Recently, they are getting their groove back with John Lasseter at the helm. I can only wait in anticipation to see which side of the line Moana and Zootopia fall on.

The Kingsman Review

The Kingsman Review
Posted by on Feb 19, 2015

This last weekend, I had the supreme pleasure of seeing The Kingsman: Secret Service. I won’t try to hide it. This is a good movie. It’s fun, entertaining, and doesn’t pull its punches. Before I get to carried away, there are three main reason The Kingsman is a hit.

First, the action choreography is sublime. I mean this very literally. The church sequence itself was jaw dropping. Again, literally I had to consciously close my mandibles because of my sheer awe. When I watched this scene, it reminded me of John Wick. The difference is that the directing style of Kingsman puts you into the action. The choreography in John Wick was usually presented pretty plainly. A medium shot of the action that allowed for us to see Keanu Reeves systematically take down his enemies very plainly. It worked for the film. The atmosphere of the film was very subdued, dark, and the opposite of flashy. That’s why the action worked the way it did.

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The Kingsman on the other hand, are in a much more vibrant and fantastical world. While similarly slick, the fights were largely just shot differently. One of the first fight scenes involves the hand off of a glass of whiskey (scotch?, can’t exactly remember) without spilling a drop. The difference from John Wick is the camera choices. It follows the action and rotates around the fight. It put’s you into the action instead of being an observer. When you see it, which I assume you will, you’ll see what I mean.

The church scene is the best representation of the films camera style. I really can’t emphasize enough just how mind blowing this scene was. Not only in its action but in it length. To put it simply, the scene was put to the song Free Bird. So yeah, it’s long. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t drag. It just keeps going and with every second it just gets better. This scene is worth the price of the ticket by itself.

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While the action is probably the highlight of The Kingsman, the second pillar of this film is its humor. The humor has a strongbase in the British style and with a little crudeness mixed. After all, The Kingsman can best be described as a love letter to James Bond. Every line has nearly perfect comedic timing and they are delivered with just the right amount of sass and dry wit. Even if you’re not a fan of British humor, I’m sure you’ll still get more than a few laughs.

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The humor is also well served by it’s actors. Colin Firth, while a good actor is not too well known for his action comedy roles. I was pleasantly surprised however by his performance. He nailed absolutely everything, down to his epic fight scene in the church. It honestly made me wish he could play James Bond. He was suave, sophisticated, and brutal with a touch of wit. Just brilliant to be honest.  Samuel L. Jackson absolutely nails his part as well. This is mostly because he plays a rather timid character than what we are used to seeing from him. Nonetheless, he was a likable villain which is a great asset to any movie. Samuel Jackson’s villain plays perfectly opposite Colin Firth’s hero. Both on either side of a fine line.

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Lastly, as I said earlier this film above all else is a love letter to James Bond. The current trend for espionage films, and action films in general, is to go dark. Sometimes it works and again, I cite John Wick as an excellent example. However, this doesn’t always work. By paying homage to the classic silly gadgets and tropes abundant in James Bond, The Kingsman circumvents this problem. Along the way, we still have some very dark moments that leave the audience shocked.

All in all, The Kingsman is a great movie. The humor might be a little to crude at times but otherwise it’s a fun, entertaining ride.

Why You Should be Watching The Flash

Why You Should be Watching The Flash
Posted by on Feb 12, 2015

I need to have a little disclaimer before I get started. The Flash is hands down my favorite superhero ever. This means two things. One, no matter how good or bad the show is, I would watch it anyway. Second, it makes me hyper critical of the show. So even though I would watch the show no matter the quality, I am not afraid to point out what they do wrong. Fair warning, there are a few mild spoilers below.

With that out of the way lets get into. The Flash premiered this last fall after a pilot style intro in Arrow. This was possibly the perfect way to start the show. Simply because he wasn’t introduced to us a as a superhero. He was the nerdy CSI who had a sweet spot for Felicity. This way, by the time he puts on the suit we already liked the character. Unlike Oliver Queen in Arrow who was pretty much introduced to us as a vigilante. That became his whole identity. It created this one-dimensional character that took about a whole season to gain some depth. With Barry Allen, we already knew him. He was a character before he was a hero, which just became another dimension to the character.

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We’ll get back to the fastest man alive in a second. Because the other factor that helped this show hit the ground running is its supporting cast. The three additional members of Team Flash, Cisco, Caitlyn Snow, and Harrison Wells help to expand the perspectives we get. Something that again was done later in Arrow that helped the show increase in quality. Cisco resonates with the geeky/nerdy side of  Barry Allen and acts as the audiences surrogate. Every time he “creates” the names of the villains is just another little nod to the fans. Caitlyn on the other hand helps to show Barry’s age. Being a young professional and what that looks like in today’s world. Basically, these two characters help show the two major aspects of Barry in a none super hero role. Not too mention when all three of these characters actually get together, we get a pretty unique look at what actually being a superhero could be like. Not too mention Iris West and her father. They both are iconic from the comics and are Barry’s family. They serve as a reminder not only of the tragic death of his mother but that family goes beyond blood.

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Now Harrison Wells does something else for our Scarlet Speedster. He provides a look at what Barry could be. It is still unclear whether Wells falls on the side of the angels or not. However, it is pretty clear that Wells is in it for himself and using his powers for his benefit only. Barry on the other hand views his powers a gift for others. Sure he’ll use it to unpack or change a little faster than normal, but relatively these things are pretty harmless.

Hold on, we’re going to switch gears and do some good ol’fashioned speculation. We know that Wells is a Reverse Flash. Historically, there have been two. The first was Eobard Thawne, a man from the future who gained access to the Speed Force. The other is Hunter Zolomon who gained time manipulation powers that simulated super speed. Without getting too much into, there is enough evidence to support Wells as either evil speedster.

My bet is that he is Eobard Thawne. Whether the other RF is Zolomon or Wells pulling off some kind of time travel trickery is anybodies guess. Honestly it doesn’t matter because Wells has information about the future. Not only that but information that seems to point to pretty significant point in Flash’s history. There is a lot more to speculate on but that’s not the point of this piece.

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That brings us to our next point. Flash has a very colorful rogues gallery one that I would argue is stranger than most. Instead of trying to update these characters or make them more grim, they fully embrace them. Particularly Captain Cold and Heatwave. The show fully embraces the corniness of these characters while still making them believably sinister. This however is nothing compared to when they will introduce Grodd. Grodd is one of Flash’s arch-nemesis and one of his more….weird characters. Simply put, Grodd is also known as Gorilla Grodd. He is a hyper-intelligent, talking, psychic gorilla bent on world domination. The fact that the show runners went with him in the first season is incredible. I mean, once Grodd comes into the picture there isn’t a villain that you couldn’t pull off.

Before we get to our final point, lets get back to Barry Allen. Grant Gustin is possibly just about as perfect for the role as you can get. He easily brings this authenticity that you would expect from someone who loves the Flash. Now, I don’t know if he was a fan before hand but it seems that he was. The Flash, the character, at his heart just want’s to help people. Whether its a villain or not, he wants to use his powers to help others. He’s not on some mission to better the world or exact vengeance, he simply wants to use his powers to the benefit of others. Grant Gustin is able to represent this in spades. Again, as I said earlier I believe this is partly due to how we were introduced to Barry Allen. We saw him as a character first. Someone that we liked. Those feelings get transferred to his time as a The Flash. All I am trying to say is that Grant Gustin does an excellent job of representing at least what I believe to be truest version of the Flash.

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Which brings us to our final point. The Flash show-runners have flung themselves into the Flash history in order to bring us the show that we need. They could of tried to go dark and gritty like Arrow but they didn’t. The Flash, for me, has always been a versatile hero. A hero that one minute will tie robbers shoelaces together to stop them to sacrificing himself to save the multiverse (that’s a whole other can of worms).  He is equal parts fun and serious. His show encapsulates that to a tee. One moment he will be riding high and the next minute he will be brought crashing down. Those extremes can’t really be brought into other superhero shows. Mostly because they are too focused on being serious and dark. The Flash embraces the absurdity of the heroes world so that we can experience new moments of humanity.

What Marvel Could Do With Spider-Man

What Marvel Could Do With Spider-Man
Posted by on Feb 5, 2015

UPDATE: Late last night Marvel released a press release stating that they had come to an agreement with Sony. Spider-man will be joining the MCU in an upcoming film with his own franchise starting July 28, 2017. It seems the arrangement allows for Marvel to handle the brunt of planning and production. However, Sony will retain the distribution, financial, ownership, and final creative rights. Basically they have the power to say yes or no to story ideas. With Spider-man taking Thor: Ragnarok’s release date, there has been a slight shift in release dates. Thor: Ragnarok will release November 3rd, 2017. Black Panther has moved to July 6th, 2018. Captain Marvel is now November 2nd 2018. Rounding it out, Inhumans will now release July 12th, 2019.

What is most interesting is that Infinity War has not changed release dates for part 1 or part 2. Part 1 will release May 4, 2018 and Part 2 will release May 3rd, 2019. The only thing that I can glean from this, is that Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Inhumans might not be as important to Infinity War as originally thought. My guess, they will be used to start setting up Phase 4. I still believe the Spider-Man franchise should wait till Phase 4, but you can read on to learn more.

 

Ever since the Sony Hack last year, the rumors concerning Spider-Man have been many and varied. To this day there still hasn’t been any official announcement. Even after a supposed Spidey summit in January that involved Sony’s Japan headquarters, no new news. Absolutely nothing. What we do have is a report from Latino-Review that seems to shed some light on not only the fate of Spidey but Marvel Phase 3 in general. You can read a shorter summary over at Comicbook.com that has fewer potential spoilers. Basically, Sony and Marvel came to a compromise that would allow Spidey to appear in Infinity War.

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To clarify, these are mostly unfounded claims and the credibility these claims have is the Latino-Review’s supposed inside source. They haven’t been too far off in the past but I would file these reports under speculation. However, this got me thinking. If Spidey wasn’t going to appear before Infinity War what do you do with him in the mean time? Spidey has to be reintroduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This would probably mean a new actor and a new take on the character. However, I personally feel that if we get another Spidey origin story I might just explode. So I came up with my own way to reintroduce the character.

It involves a slow reintroduction. Without any particular order of importance, I’ll outline how Spidey could be introduced into the MCU. First, he would need a Marvel One-Shot. Marvel One-Shots if you are unaware are short-films that were based on characters or events in the MCU. These were usually attached to the home release of Marvel films. Their focus ranged from Agent Coulson to Trevor’s (The Mandarin) adventures in prison to essentially an Agent Carter pilot. While not very long, these films did a great job of filling in the gaps of what happened after our favorite films.

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For Spidey, I imagine two ways for this to go down. First, we would get a glimpse from Spidey’s life as an established hero. Where he stands in the grand scheme of things and even where he was when New York was under attack. I imagine Spidey being a little older. He has been around working at the Daily Bugle and hanging out with MJ. Most of his heroics would be pretty minor. Muggers, robbers, and general thugs would be his main villains. He was mostly an urban myth until the battle of New York where he is seen actively helping people and fighting off the aliens.

Then we would see where he is at now. With most heroes untouchable by the press. I mean how are you going to paint a guy who wears the American flag as a menace. Since Spidey is an “unofficial” hero, J. Jonah Jameson targets him for his rants. We then see how Spidey has been struggling to fight the press and his regular villains, something we have seen before. We would then at the very end see Tony Stark, or somebody representing him, approach Spidey. Not only to join the Avengers but to start working at Stark Industries.

The only two things that need to happen in this one-shot is Spidey’s recruitment and J. Jonah Jameson. This is mostly so that we can see J. K. Simmons become JJJ once again so that all is right with the world.

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Beyond the one-shot we would also need Spidey to do some crossovers. Particularly, I think Spidey should crossover in the upcoming Marvel Netflix series. Since these series will focus around street level heroes, it’s not hard to imagine these heroes crossing paths. Spidey is first and foremost a street hero. Stopping muggings and what not since isn’t quite cut out for the big cosmic stuff.

Spidey wouldn’t even have to physically appear. They could just dot references here and there about him. Ideally, we would actually see Spidey but I wouldn’t be heart broken. If he was a regular on the series he could act as a branch between the street level heroes and the rest of the MCU.

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The last thing that I think would need to happen is for an appearance in a major MCU film. Ideally this would have been Civil War. However, it has been confirmed that isn’t an option anymore. What could still work is to have Spidey appear in Black Panther. At this stage, Spidey would have to be an established hero who was either working at Stark Industries or has founded Parker Industries from the comics. What I imagine, is Spidey is invited by T’Challa to Wakanda to consult on something. Depending on how the events of Civil War leave the state of the Avengers, Spidey could be representing Tony Stark in some way. Or after Spidey is invited to Wakanda, whoever is acting as the current spymaster could approach Spidey to observe the state of the country. Whatever happens largely depends on what the state of the MCU is in at the time.

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Now one other decision that would need to be made is who would actually play Spidey. I have two things to say about this. First, if they stick with Peter Parker they should keep Andrew Garfield on. I would rather them pretend the first two Amazing Spider-Man films didn’t happen but they could still fit them in. We know that other than Tony Stark and Bruce Banner the other Avengers went to do their own thing away from New York. Spidey’s two films could potentially fit into Phase 2 of the MCU. Cap was dealing with Hydra, Tony was dealing with the Mandarin, and Thor was dealing with Malekith. All of these distractions would have pulled them away from New York. This isn’t a perfect solution but if they had to, this is the only way I see them adding them to the continuity.

Now if they were to recast Spidey, I think they should go with the Miles Morales Ultimate version. Miles would bring some much needed diversity to the MCU and you could distance yourself from the Amazing Spider-Man films. You have two options with Miles. Either you establish Miles as the only Spider-Man that has ever happened. It would totally work and would mainly be simple substitution. Or you could still retain a connection with Peter Parker. In the Ultimate comics, an alternate updated version of the Marvel Universe, Miles received his powers from another spider from Oscorp. He gained similar abilities to Spider-Man but kept them secret because there was already one Spider-Man and Miles just wanted a normal life. However, Peter dies and Miles picks up the mantle soon after.

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That right there does two things for the MCU. Gives us a new Spider-Man with the potential to still acknowledge the original incarnation of the character and establishes an important precedent. The precedent of passing on the mantle. Eventually, the actors playing our favorite characters have to retire from the MCU. Heck even Robert Downey Jr. came close after Iron Man 3 from leaving the studio. By introducing Miles Morales, you can show that these heroes are interested in establishing legacies. Recognizing folks that come their way that could carry-on what they started. Very important if Marvel wants to continue their brand.

All of this to say that nothing can really happen until we know the fate of Spider-Man. I do not think we need a new Spider-Man film yet. I would rather see the first Phase 4 film be a new Spider-Man film and set him up as the new driving force of the MCU. However, as long as we don’t get another origin story I’m pretty much happy.