Why Our Superhero Movies are Great

Posted: December 23, 2017 in Uncategorized



The Astounding Anecdotalist. Señor Strawman. Captain Selective Memory. The Marc with a Mouth. These were all super-villain names I considered giving to the author of this piece, in which he insists that “our superhero movies suck.” Then I changed my mind. After all, Marc Barnes and I, at the heart of the matter, agree on the important things. Once you wade through the sensationalism in his article, the picking and choosing, the moving of goalposts, his conclusion mirrors mine. That conclusion is that sexual morals and ethics are incredibly skewed on the big screen. Heroes don’t always act heroically in those matters. Heroes are not bound by law, but by virtue. We can safely assume that, had Superman grown up in the southern U.S. during slavery that he would have been against it. Conversely, Lex Luthor often operates inside the law, but with devious results. Heroic virtue is what makes heroes, not necessarily the law.

That being said, I cannot get on board with Marc’s “beat up the big guy” approach. This approach is fairly rampant in our culture, and it probably always has been. It’s why baseball fans hate the Yankees or Bryce Harper. It’s why people generally have no sympathy for celebs who make mistakes. Often, we don’t like the best. Maybe it is because they are better than us at ‘x.’ Maybe we’re jealous. Maybe we need to take out frustration about our missed opportunities at those who supposedly have had all the luck in the world. Maybe Marc isn’t intending to do this, but what he has done is take the garden and point out a few bad apples.

Here’s an experiment for you. Think back to the last time someone asked you about how something went. “How was your vacation?” “How was your day?” “How are you feeling?” And how did you respond? Did you list off all the fantastic things you experienced? Or did you pick the ONE thing that went wrong. “The vacation was great! Except for that one day in rained in the afternoon.” “I’m having a great day, but someone cut me off in traffic.” “I’m really healthy, although I did have a cramp earlier.” We contrast the good with the bad. Somehow, all the great things that happen to us get measured by the bad. It’s like measuring light by how much darkness there is.

Now you might say that Barnes is trying to be a voice of reason. He’s calling out failed standards. And he is. But he’s blowing things out of proportion. He’s misleading. He’s presenting half-truths to prop up a call for virtue. This call does need to be made, just not in the way he’s doing it. He’s painting a false picture and people are being taken in. The result will be missing the forest for the tree and letting the bad define the good. Here’s how.

#1) Feeding the Choir.


You’ve heard of preaching to the choir right? Well, this is a little different.

Marc has a target audience here, made mostly of folks that agree with him. Mostly folks that strive for more virtue, are religious, or at least concerned with morality. They generally weed out bad films, TV shows, books, music, etc. They are always looking for wholesome entertainment. These are all good things. It can be hard to find wholesome entertainment. So when Marc’s article comes out, they feel affirmed. They are rightfully unhappy with how some stories go or how characters are portrayed. Marc affirms this. Thus, nobody stops to consider if what Marc says is really true.

Here’s a good example. Every year there’s usually a loud voice or two that complains about Hollywood running out of ideas and how everything is a re-make or been done already etc. These are usually the same people that complain that they have never heard of any Oscar-nominated films. You might also think that Hollywood is running out of ideas. It is common knowledge, right? It may be, but its also patently false.

Every year, on this very blog, there’s a check-in on Hollywood source material. Every year it is the same: original films and previously unmade adaptations account for at least two-thirds of all films. That’s only counting wide-release films. If limited-release films were counted, the figure would be even more skewed towards originality. Even so, most folks think Hollywood is running out of ideas because nobody has bothered to actually show them the data to take them outside their feelings, to say, “Hey, you should come with me to see Gravity instead of the latest Transformers flick.”

The same thing is happening here. We get sucked in. We remember that one scene that bugged us, or one film and we zone out all others. Just last year Christopher West, an absolutely incredible speaker and author, reviewed Deadpool. He used it as an example of how “mainstream” sexual perversion has become in that now its showing up in super-hero films. I too, was disgruntled and annoyed at these scenes in Deadpool. But I also understood that Deadpool is not mainstream. This movie made lots of money, but Deadpool is a land unto himself. Using a Deadpool film to get a pulse on the state of the superhero genre is like monitoring the Sahara Desert to see what rain is like on Earth. As expected, super-hero films did not take a ride down the Deadpool roller-coaster of death, and Deadpool remains unique, far away from traditional superheroes, an anomaly. Let’s not let those anomalies ruin everything else.

#2) Moving the Goalposts.


A huge issue with Marc’s article is this constant moving of goalposts, this careful selection of examples to serve Marc’s assertion while ignoring data that doesn’t. Even the title is guilty. The article is allegedly about super-hero movies, but then he brings up television shows like Daredevil and The Defenders. The operating assumption is that the title is misleading and that Marc is referring to all current superhero media. Except that isn’t really true either.

Marc ignores the fact that MOST superhero films don’t have the issue that he claims is ruining all of them. Going back to 2008 (a year selected due to the release of The Dark Knight and Iron Man, thus ushering in the modern era of high-quality super-hero films, and also because looking back to over a decade doesn’t do too much good in this conversation), here’s a look at superhero films released on the big screen.

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  • The Spirit
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Watchmen
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Green Lantern
  • Iron Man 2
  • Thor
  • X-Men: First Class
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • The Avengers
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Iron Man 3
  • Man of Steel
  • The Wolverine
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • Robocop
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron
  • Ant-Man
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
  • Fantastic Four
  • Batman v Superman
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • X-Men: Apocalypse
  • Doctor Strange
  • Logan
  • Wonder Woman
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Justice League

The bolded films fit into Marc’s “problematic” category, because their heroes don’t act virtuously in terms of sexual ethics. This undercuts their character and makes it hard to see them as heroic. For Marc’s theory (that there’s a problem in super hero films that heroes are not both virtuous and ethical, so they can’t actually be a hero) to have weight and be consistent, the films he speaks of need to actually have characters who are trying to be portrayed as heroic. Nothing can undercut heroism when there is no heroism to begin with.

The above list shows that “problematic” films have become increasingly sparse in more recent years. In fact, the good outnumber the bad, 27 to 12.

And that can be narrowed down even more. Wolverine, who has never been presented as a paragon of virtue, accounts for three of the twelve. Star Lord is a self-proclaimed outlaw (Guardians of the Galaxy), and Watchmen is not so much about heroes, as it is about what happens when they go bad. That leaves us with Iron Man, The Spirit, Green Lantern, Christian Bale’s Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Of those, only three are active: Iron Man, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Let that sink in. There are THREE heroes that fail Marc’s test. THREE.

There are some significant omissions. DeadpoolSuicide Squad, the Punisher, and Ghost Rider. Marc’s entire argument hinges on the fact that there is a disconnect between virtue and ethics. Deadpool, Ghost Rider, and the Punisher are neither ethical nor virtuous, and have never claimed to be. They do not claim to be heroes, so there is no disconnect. No moving goalposts on this one. And the Suicide Squad….

This is where one has to wonder if Marc actually likes superheroes, or if he just wants to trash them because of some hipster issue. His entire article concerns what truly makes a hero. Suicide Squad is a film that hammers the viewer, ad nauseam, about the villany of the featured characters. These are murderers, robbers and lowlifes. They are literally only cooperating because their heads will explode if they do not. Suicide Squad is not a super-HERO movie. Yet Marc holds up this film as a tentpole for his argument, which is basically like trying to convince someone to go vegan by telling them how good steak is for them. Look at this paragraph he wrote (with commentary included).

“Suicide Squad is the ultimate expression of this problem. We want our own vices to be edgy, cool, and not to interfere with our self-proclaimed status as “a good person, really,” so we make our villains heroes.”

No. No. No. None of these folks are heroes and, like Whitey Bulger or Freddy Krueger, they were not magically made into heroes just because a movie was made about them. They live in maximum security prisons where they will attack their guards at any opportunity. No attempt is made to make these guys into heroes. Sympathetic, maybe. Heroes, no.

This feels good — then we are struck by the inadequacy of the villain to perform basic acts of heroism, mangled as he is in knots of vanity, greed, and lust. So — between butt-shots of Harley Quinn and some Very Good Scenes with The Joker — we raise the stakes to nauseating extremes (you must be momentarily good or else a witch-queen will enslave the human race).

This isn’t really a question of being good. There are hundreds of examples from comics, books and films where a bad guy does something good. The Suicide Squad is not made of folks who walked into this situation. They didn’t volunteer for this mission. They were forced into it. Once there, they were forced to choose life or death. In that situation, survival, not virtue, drives the decision.

Recognizing that the vicious-man-as-hero cannot realistically save the world in and through his virtue, we reduce the world-saving act to an act of technical power (shoot the bad thing with a gun) making it possible for vicious, self-indulgent, lustful egomaniacs to be heroic — only by making an awful movie in the process.

Again, Suicide Squad, not heroes, obviously. But even so, in how many films have virtuous characters used “an act of technical power” to save the world. Thor throws Mjolnir. Captain America throws his shield. If an act of virtue is actually volunteering for the fight, the Suicide Squad don’t do that either. It is an awful movie though.

In a way, Suicide Squad is the logical conclusion of all superhero movies in which the protagonists do not strive for personal perfection, but remain content to obey a few basic moral laws. It is a hyper-powered, unbelievable romp in which the categories of good and evil are shirked off in favor of the only value that seems to matter — power.

Did Marc even watch this film? The characters in Suicide Squad don’t follow any laws. The categories of good and evil are absolutely NOT shirked off. There’s no mystery about it, the Suicide Squad is full of people that can all be placed in the category of evil. These are not good people, there’s no gray area. In an article that decries the duality of the modern superhero, Marc simultaneously complains that villains, who are neither virtuous nor ethical, are somehow the embodiment of this problem. This is ludicrous. Can you imagine complaining about Star Wars and using Doctor Who to illustrate your point? Can you imagine complaining that the characters in The Godfather aren’t virtuous? Or that they are spoiling movies about cops because of one good thing they did? In the words of Harley Quinn: “We’re bad guys. Its what we do.”

3) The Classic Strawman. (Not a superhero name)


The second thing that Barnes alleges is that there isn’t room for the little guy anymore. Evidently, there is only the rich (Batman, Iron Man), the supernatural (Thor?), and the genetically superior (Hulk, Captain America). He immediately disproves his own claim by mentioning Spider-Man, and maybe he thinks Thor and Wonder Woman are supernatural. They may seem like it to humans, so he can have that one. There’s also no room for small battles. Evidently, everything is a “save the world” issue. He mourns the days where anyone could be a hero.

“Original comic strips were full of asides to children to remember that “you can be a hero too.” If this looks cynical now, it is because our favorite superheroes do not engage situations in which ordinary people are genuinely capable in participating in the salvation of the world.”

Our favorite superheros back then didn’t engage in those situations either! It doesn’t look cynical, because nothing has changed since those comics were published. Normal people have always been saved by the super-normal. That’s literally why we call them superheroes. Sure, readers knew there was very little chance of being as rich as Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark, but they knew just as well that radioactive spiders, Pym particles, Green Lantern rings, or the speed force didn’t exist. They knew that even if you were only human, you’d need to train forever to reach the skill level of Hawkeye or Green Arrow.  Nobody on this planet could combat apocalyptic threats on their own. It isn’t a case of modern super-heroes getting over-powered, its a case of mythology and legend that’s been around since the Greco-Roman times. Comic books never told us that we could stop global threats or gain super-powers. They told us to be heroes in our own way. And they still do, and we still can.

These assertions are certainly straw men. It simply is not true that all our superheroes fall into one of Marc’s categories. Here’s all the heroes that don’t, from the movies listed above.

  • Green Lantern
  • War Machine
  • Black Widow
  • Falcon
  • Nick Fury
  • Hawkeye
  • Spider-Man
  • Robocop
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Star-Lord
  • Drax
  • Groot
  • Mantis
  • Quicksilver
  • Scarlet Witch
  • Vision
  • Ant-Man
  • Wasp
  • Mr. Fantastic
  • Invisible Woman
  • Human Torch
  • The Thing
  • Casey Jones
  • The Flash

And if you’re looking for battles that aren’t potentially planet-shattering, there’s these:

  • The Dark Knight
  • Iron Man
  • The Spirit
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Iron Man 2
  • Thor
  • X-Men: First Class
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Iron Man 3
  • The Wolverine
  • Robocop
  • The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • Ant-Man
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Logan
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming

Barnes conveniently forgets these heroes and films because they don’t fit his claim.

“Audiences are bored, quite rightly, by the fact that Hollywood seems incapable of producing a superhero movie that doesn’t end with the pathos-drenched threat of a Totally Epic Wasting of the entire universe. They are bored that the final showdown always amounts to a hero roaring to manipulate some CGI ball, stream, or wall of ungodly “energy” away from the innocent. But what else can we expect?”

Well Marc, we can expect something like any of the seventeen examples listed above. Something like what will happen in Black Panther as well, probably.

Barnes is trying to make a point that all we, and the writers of these films, care about is power:

“The loss of virtue, by which ordinary men are able to great things, puts the emphasis on power — on technical or supernatural strength.”

He wants to have it both ways. He wants to keep the focus off of power, while at the same time ignore that the power is the only thing that allows for these world-saving feats, and that what one does with power determines if they have virtue or not. Any normal human can say “I couldn’t stop the runaway train from killing people.” Our superheroes could stop that train. And if they do, they are heroic. If they don’t, they are not. Those are the heroic moments. This is comic book 101: “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.”

And speaking of Spider-Man, what’s the deal with this?

“He wants to break out, to quit his “friendly, neighborhood” vocation and take on the slick, amoral cool of The Avengers as they protect the world from total destruction. As an audience, we know that the moment he does he will be absorbed into an increasingly boring universe of grunting, sweating, super-charged schmucks playing heroes for impossibly high stakes and having sex with each other in the off-scenes.”

I’ll wait while Barnes names any of the Avengers who have had sex with each other. Banner and Black Widow never were officially a couple. Banner turned her down. We’ve already discussed Iron Man’s issues. Thor and Cap have never even been seen staying at a woman’s house. Hawkeye is married. Falcon and War Machine have had no romantic interests appear. Quicksilver is dead, and we’ll have to wait and see what develops between Vision and Scarlet Witch (they get married in the comics).

This is more than a straw man. This is just spouting nonsense for the sake of sounding knowledgeable. This is simply making things up with no basis in reality. There’s a feeling of pompousness here. A trace of “I know better” that’s willing to do away with facts. And that brings things to the final point.

4) Begging the Question


It’s been shown that there are only three active heroes that actually meet Marc Barnes’ assertion: Iron Man, Wonder Woman, and Superman. If we bring up TV shows, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Green Arrow and maybe Daredevil can be added. Still not really lining up with Marc’s version of reality, especially when you also add characters from The Tick, the Arrowverse, and more.

Marc’s taken complaints, blown them out of proportion and presented them as truths. They aren’t. And of course, there’s the biggest fabrication: that our superhero movies suck. Marc’s subjective experience should not cloud the objective fact that superhero films have been very much the opposite, aside from the DCEU. Marvel Studios films are generally very clean and present great messages about responsibility, sacrifice, courage and yes…heroic virtue.

You see, a person does not need to be perfect to be a hero. Barnes says:

“What is true of movies is true of life: When we cease believing in the good man, we begin looking for the strong man to save us.” 

This is, once again, begging the question. Just when did we stop believing in the good man? Day after day there are examples of people being heroes. A whole town got together to help a dying man see The Last Jedi. An MLB pitcher helped a family get their beloved dog back. People buy groceries for those in need. Those very same people have flaws and weaknesses. They make mistakes. But the very fact that they are weak makes them strong. The good is always there to choose. If Marc Barnes applied his judgement of super-heroes to real life people, not one of us would be capable of anything heroic. The faults in these heroes give us hope for ourselves. A womanizing billionaire with a drinking problem can choose to pilot a nuke into outer space, a brilliant burglar ex-con can prevent terrorists from developing new weapons while at the same time being the hero his daughter needs, a cocky test pilot can become the greatest space policeman ever, a forensic detective trying to solve his mother’s murder can stop other murders when he becomes the fastest man alive.

You wanted to see the everyman present in these films Marc Barnes? He is. And she is. They are overcoming their faults and sins to choose to be responsible for their power. And even if they don’t, they get back up. And yes, there’s sometimes a disconnect between ethics and virtue. But instead of holding those few examples high for everyone to see, let’s share the good examples instead, and live by their light, not the dark.



Awards season is upon us, and we’re bracing for the first round of meaningful nominations (so…NOT the Gothams).

Dunkirk really is the perfect storm for many people. It has a great director (Christopher Nolan), made a good chunk of money, it told a compelling story, had some great acting performances and it was a highly-accessible film that had a wide release run. It was received well, an actual summer blockbuster that had artistic merit. So naturally, now that it is Award Season, film fans will rush to laud it as the #1 contender.

So will supposed “experts” apparently. Over at Gold Derby, their 25 film experts favored the following films as #1 Oscar contenders for Best Picture.

  • Dunkirk: 11
  • The Post: 4
  • Get Out: 2
  • Call Me By Your Name: 2
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: 2
  • Lady Bird: 1
  • The Florida Project: 1
  • The Shape of Water: 1
  • The Darkest Hour: 1

So why is Dunkirk, lauded by so many, destined to fall short of the ultimate prize in Hollywood? Time for an astronomy analogy.

Let’s say you were to ask elementary students which star is brightest. Having not yet been enlightened on the finer points of astronomy, and seeing the sun as the biggest and most intense source of light to our planet, the answer is obvious to them. Many adults, unfortunately, would likely answer similarly: the sun, is the brightest star…duh.

Except it isn’t. It only looks that way from Earth. There are stars out there at least 10 million times brighter. If we think the sun is brightest, we’re ignoring other possibilities in favor of the most obvious one. And that’s exactly what’s happening with Dunkirk. It’s the most visible and the most well-known Oscar contender. More people have seen it than any other film listed above. They recognize it (justly) as a great film, but, in many cases, they haven’t seen the others. And even if they have, there are still more layers to the onion here.

A common theme around Oscar time is a “us versus them” mentality held by many moviegoers. These folks are generally the same folks who maintain that Hollywood has lost its creativity, even though they are the ones who insist on shelling out their money on mindless blockbusters, sub-par horror flicks, and unnecessary sequels. These are the folks that think The Avengers should have been nominated for Best Picture and they probably vote for the cutest actor/actress instead of most talented in the People’s Choice Awards. For them, movies should be exciting and explosive or romantic and cute. So they get upset when they haven’t seen any Oscar nominated films. “Why should I watch,” they say, “when I’ve never even heard of any of these?”

And now Dunkirk comes along. A great movie that also happens to be a bit of a blockbuster. Not a super-hero type blockbuster, but still one with lots of action and excitement and emotion! So, all of a sudden, there’s a great movie that everyone has heard of! They know (or they should) that Logan or Wonder Woman don’t have a shot because “nobody votes for super-hero movies because they hate super-heroes” (note: that’s not actually why they don’t vote for them), but here’s Dunkirk and they have seen it and its spectacular, and everyone else loves it and the critics love it and (oh, my gosh!) it was directed by Christopher Nolan, who did all those great Batman movies!

Side note here. Christopher Nolan is a great director. But he’s also the favorite director of every person who wants to feel like he knows something about high-quality cinema but actually doesn’t. Nolan is the “cerebral guy,” he’s not like Michael Bay or Zach Snyder or Bryan Singer, who don’t care about the story, he’s actually a good director. These folks will hardly ever mention folks like Wes Anderson or Richard Linklater or Alejandro Iñárritu, because those directors’ films are not mainstream enough.

So we have a great movie with a great director, and everyone knows it. So the media will say Dunkirk is the front-runner. And the “us versus them” folks will say Dunkirk is the front-runner. And maybe some of them will see the other films, and some will change their mind, but most won’t. Because if there aren’t a lot of big banners and/or friends of yours saying a movie is great, then, by golly, its just too hard to step out of your comfort zone, and this time Hollywood will finally give them what they have been waiting for: a really popular movie finally winning Best Picture!

And they will all be so disappointed. And angry. And probably offended. Because you have to be offended. Are you even human if you’re not offended by something at least seven times a day? They will be upset because “some film I’ve never heard of” won. As if, in this age of Netflix and Redbox and Amazon, there’s actually any legit excuse for not seeing the other films if they really wanted.

At best, Dunkirk is probably the fourth most likely film to win Best Picture. Not second, not third, but fourth. Right now, according to my Oscargold Algorithm (which has predicted Best Picture winners correctly in seven out of the last eight years, including an Argo win predicted even before it won at the Golden Globes) it’s sitting behind Lady BirdThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Call Me By Your Name. It will also have to deal with three more contenders that have not been released yet: The PostThe Shape of Water, and The Phantom Thread. It could drop as far as sixth, or even eighth.

The Oscargold Algorithm is based upon variables that actually influence Oscar voters, which is mainly the skill and success of the storytelling taking place on screen. Voters don’t care how much money a film makes, or how many people saw it. While there may be a few oddballs each year, most of the voters refrain from casting ballots for someone just because they haven’t won before or because they want to send a political message. They don’t care about the Golden Globes or the Critics Choice, although the publicity can’t really hurt a film’s chances. Dunkirk is a fine film. But it’s ultimately not going to be good enough to win Best Picture. And well, now that I think about it, neither are the picks from the “experts” listed at Gold Derby. Besides Dunkirk, you can probably count out The Darkest HourGet Out, and The Florida Project, although the latter two could get nominated at least.

For a complete listing of my Best Picture contenders, updated weekly, please visit this list.


So, ASIDE from the fact that DC films don’t have a very good track record, there’s some alarm bells that have been ringing in my head based mostly on trailers and commentary from those involved. Here are three of them.

1 – The Flash is going to be really annoying and the dialog might be too.

Yeah, so basically in every trailer we see this version of the Flash as an awkward goofball. Yes, Barry Allen is not a serious character. He enjoys humor and he and Green Lantern have, in the comics, often served as the the yin to the serious-yang of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. But he’s not annoying. He’s very bright and probably the most caring person in the Justice League. Yet in trailers he’s a punchline, and not because he’s telling jokes. His character is the punchline. Saying things when he shouldn’t, being dumb in bad situations, etc. Of course, once you note that Batman and Superman have both been butchered in the “DCEU” in terms of characterization, it really doesn’t follow to have much hope for Flash to stay the same as the character most folks know and love.

2 – The plot will be pretty generic.

Generic plots don’t always kill movies. And there are some great characters here with some great potential, but as is the case with Batman v Superman, this is looking pretty predictable.

We know Wonder Woman and Batman are “putting together a team.” This team will be facing some pretty formidable foe (Steppenwolf). I imagine, based on the mother box they have, the Amazons know about him already. We could see a flashback to the Amazons fighting parademons in the past, or at least Wonder Woman telling Batman all about them.

Batman goes recruiting. Flash says yes. Aquaman will be saying no because they need to make Aquaman cool and serious. Cyborg, to balance things, will also stay away. This seems to also be indicated by Alfred’s surprise at his arrival later. Some significant event involving the parademons and the ocean will bring Aquaman aboard, and Cyborg will probably get going if something bad happens to his family (remember the mother box glowing in his dad’s house). They both will have save the day moments.

The biggest save the day moment will be Superman’s return, which will follow a period of confusion where he fights his friends. He’ll show up and save the day at the end after spending some time figuring out what the heck is going on.

It’s all pretty straightforward and predictable. But could still be fun.

3 – Plot holes.

This is just a worry about the final cut of the film. With Zach Snyder stepping away and Joss Whedon taking over, its a major concern that there will be some editing issues. Then again there were a lot of reshoots so…

How about you? Any concerns on your part? Comment below.



How To Save the (DC) World

Posted: August 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

Much to the chagrin of DC fanboys everywhere (fanboy, noun: someone who loves their fandom so much that they are unable to find any fault with it, even if everyone else in the world does), the DC Extended Universe is shattering.


It’s been a long road for DC on the big screen. Man of Steel laid decent groundwork, but Batman v Superman ended up being one of the most disappointing films of all time, as well as one of the worst written. Freaked out by the critical drubbing BvS was taking, Warner Brothers, Suicide Squad squandered a good cast by rushing production on the film and handing it over to poor editors to try to bring some humor into a dark universe. They ignored the fact that the script, story, and CGI were trash. Wonder Woman offered a glimmer of hope, and the first critically acclaimed film DC had ever made that didn’t star Batman or Superman, leading to the speculation that perhaps good things were ahead, especially with a bevy of new films (Batgirl, Nightwing, Gotham City Sirens).

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be the case. The first card to fall was the scrapping of Ben Affleck’s script and director’s chair from the next Batman solo film. Next was the announcement that there would be a Flashpoint film, which is completely about readjusting timelines. Then there were the Justice League reshoots. Joss Whedon took over and they were extensive. Apparently not learning anything from the Suicide Squad debacle, a significant amount of time was focused on making Cyborg’s character arc lighter in tone, as it was deemed too dark. Now this is speculation, but my guess is that the ENTIRE film was too dark. You can’t lighten up Batman, Wonder Woman has never been very comic, Aquaman needs to be serious to get past his cheesy history, and Flash is already goofy. The only one malleable enough to change tone is Cyborg. Whedon also has apparently completely redone Zack Snyder’s original ending. Snyder’s version left things open for another film. Whedon’s does not pave those tracks.

This week, it was revealed that Jared Leto and Margot Robbie will reprise their roles in a new Joker and Harley Quinn film AND that director Todd Phillips is currently working on a separate Joker film which will NOT star Leto. This was followed by news that Matt Reeve’s The Batman will not be in continuity, which suggests that Ben Affleck will not be playing the caped crusader. (UPDATE: Reeve’s clarified today that The Batman will be in the DCEU. However, there is still no confirmation that Affleck will appear).

Things certainly look out of hand at Warner Brothers. Fortunately for them, there’s a way to get out of this mess. It looks something like this:

#1) Abandon Ship!


A common, yet unwise, factor for businesses is familiarity. They stick with something/someone because they have invested a lot of time with it, spent a lot of money, etc. Of course, how you obtained something should have little to no effect on if you should keep it going. DC is currently being stretched way too thin. Instead of trying to solve their storytelling issues, they are doubling down. Right now, only Justice League and Aquaman are actively filming. Draw the line in the sand after Aquaman’s solo film. Hit pause on everything else.



#2) Flashpoint


DC Comics has a tendency to reboot their universe every few years, which is usually annoying, but it benefits them here. In their “Flashpoint” series, the Flash has to deal with the consequences of a shattered timeline that has resulted in some pretty significant changes to certain characters, leading them to darker, savager lives. That sounds remarkably like what Zack Snyder did in the DCEU. A brooding Superman, a murdering Batman, a jaded Wonder Woman (not talking about the Patty Jenkins film here), and a Lex Luthor that is more Joker/Riddler than actual Lex. Aquaman is scheduled for release next year, so set Flashpoint for 2019 as a soft reboot, getting rid of the bad stuff and moving forward. As an aside, they can set Flashpoint somewhere between Wonder Woman and Man of Steel. So we get to keep the great movie, which of course takes place in World War I while scrapping the rest. X-Men: Days of Future Past already did something similar and it basically worked. The Flash can reset the timeline in the DCEU and we can all move forward.

#3) Stop Trying to Catch Marvel


There’s honestly no competition. The MCU’s worst film, Thor: The Dark World, was better received than the DCEU’s best, Man of Steel, until Wonder Woman came along. Marvel’s ready to start Phase 4, DC is staggering around Phase 1. And you don’t need to compete. If you do your job right, you don’t need to worry about Marvel. People will see your films and theirs.

#4) Hire New Blood to Tell Better Stories


The main reason Marvel’s been so successful is that they have hired fans. Ed Norton, ScarJo, Mark Ruffalo, James Gunn, Paul Rudd, Tom Holland, Scott Derrickson, Joss Whedon, and many more of those involved in writing and acting in the MCU, are comic book nerds. They don’t insist on deconstructing characters. They stick to the roots.

There’s no need to hire folks just because they are Hollywood stalwarts. Do they love the characters and can they tell a story? That’s about it. Get some new blood involved. Jack Nicholson once said that every time he and a director disagreed about something, he would do what the director wanted. That way he knew he wouldn’t be repeating himself from one film to the next. Marvel lets the creative team come to them with ideas, not the other way around. That’s what works.

#5) Make Great Films with Lesser Known Characters


“Phase 1” of a soft reboot should start with giving the major characters a rest. Ant-ManGuardians of the Galaxy, Hellboy and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World all proved that people will go see good films, even if they don’t involve the biggest names. Heck, Marvel Studios didn’t even have the rights to their A-Listers (Spider-Man & the X-Men) when they started out.

The Shazam! film is a fun place to start, as long as they stick with the classic version and not the New 52. Since Wonder Woman gets to stay in continuity, Wonder Woman 2 can proceed and she can carry the DC world for a bit. A police procedural with Martian Manhunter, the adventures of the Doom Patrol, a tragedy with Deadman, the classic James Robinson Starman run, or the Golden Age Justice Society would just be a few neat ideas.




#6) A Slow Burn


Once the groundwork is established, then bring in the big guns, but slowly. They don’t need to meet too soon. A cool thing about DC is that their heroes are often very city-centric. Keep Flash, Batman, and others in their respective cities. Keep them contained. Make the Justice League a last resort, maybe even borrow from the Batman Incorporated mentality where its really a international or national presence of heroes working solo, only calling for backup when need be. And don’t worry about comparisons to the Avengers. They are bound to come regardless of what happens.

This whole reset will take years, but that’s fine. Right now, DC seems in a rush. They need something lucrative. But take the time and do it right and it will be. Look how much money the DCEU films have made so far. They only stand to make more if they are done correctly.





Its the middle of July, which is the middle of the year. Here are the Top 10 films (based on objective artistic quality and personal preference) of the first half of 2017.

10) Kong: Skull Island


While it falls short in some areas, its nice to get a solid monster movie these days without dropping into the abyss of blandness. The cast holds up, the story is nice and mysterious, and the visuals make up for the occasionally corny script. Excited to see him fight Godzilla.

9) The LEGO Batman Movie


Well, it wasn’t The LEGO Movie, but the LEGOverse is turning out to be a fun place to get away to for a few hours. Plenty of laughs, some great voice acting, and of course its nice to see Batman fight Voldemort.

8) Split


M. Night Shyamalan finally made another decent movie. James McAvoy is brilliant as the antagonist and his 23 different personalities. A horror film that feels uncomfortably real at times, it ends with a classic M. Night twist, but not in the way you think.

7) Gifted



A heart-warming tale that veers (mostly) clear of tired family feud tropes, the cast is fun to watch and its nice to see Chris Evans’ acting chops outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

6) The Big Sick


Usually rom-coms don’t find their way to this list, but this one stands out. Its more original, timely, and its better written than most.

5) Wonder Woman


The first great movie from DC Comics to not star Batman or Superman provides a story of timeless heroism, a great score, and some really fun battle sequences, and it packs an emotional jolt as well. Full review here.

4) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2


James Gunn and company give us a sequel that builds on the first film, and really examines what it is to be a family. In a time where strong father figures are hard to find, GOTG2 holds one up in a realistic and heart-wrenching way.

3) Baby Driver


Seems like Edgar Wright can do no wrong. Add Kevin Spacey, a couple of Jons (Hamm and Bernthal), and a lively newcomer (Ansel Elgort) and you’ve got another great film in Wright’s portfolio. 

2) Logan



This one has all the feels. Hugh Jackman finally gets a movie that gives us the real Wolverine: rough, savage, but ultimately heroic. Its just too bad it had to wait until his last film as the X-Man.

1) Get Out


A thrilling foray into racial tensions and modern horror leaves your heart in your throat and plenty to talk about, not the least of which is Jordan Peele’s spectacular directorial debut.



Chris Pine as Steve Trevor and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince in Wonder Woman

Swamp Thing. Supergirl. Steel. Catwoman. Jonah Hex. Green Lantern. Suicide Squad.

DC Comics has an absolutely dreadful track record of films not involving Batman or Superman. With Wonder Woman, they hope to start putting them all in the past. Not coincidentally, Wonder Woman also gives us a hero who is good without reservation. There’s no brooding Superman, no homicidal Batman, and no deconstructing of characters that pop culture fans have known and loved for decades. That’s why this works. It brings us hope amidst suffering, and that’s what elevates this film far above their other recent attempts at entertainment.

The Story

Hooray for stories that actually make sense! Wonder Woman leaves behind the sloppy writing of the previous DCEU films, stops being complex and gives us a straight-forward story of good vs. evil. The simplicity is what makes it shine. Good guy beats up bad guy to stop him from destroying the world.

In fact, one of Ares’ tricks is an attempt to cloud the black and white into grey. Diana’s allies, he claims, are just more men who will do more harm to others. Perhaps they are not the Germans of World War I, but they still have faults, they still kill and cheat and scam. But Wonder Woman sees, in time, that humans still have the capacity for good and heroism, and even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t stop her from trying to save lives, because that’s her mission and her purpose. Life is worth saving, and there’s nothing black and white about that.

Patty Jenkins and company also do a great job of resisting the temptation to depict men as clueless buffoons. This isn’t a female v. male movie. There’s heroism from men and women (though obviously a woman leads that category), and villainy from both as well.

The Characters

There’s not much in the way of stand-out roles here; there’s nothing like Ledger’s Joker or Downey’s Iron Man. Godot plays Diana very well, with just the right amount of innocence and intensity, but Wonder Woman just doesn’t have a ton of depth, and that’s fine. The most complex characters have small roles (Sameer, Charlie, and Chief) and they lend the story some intricacy that the main characters lack.

To be clear, there’s no lack of quality either. Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, and Danny Huston are all very solid in their roles. We just don’t get characters that have much of a history. And this is something that the Wonder Woman mythos just has to deal with. Her gallery of rogues just doesn’t have the depth of other heroes.

The Bells and Whistles

Since this film is essentially a mash-up of Greek mythology and WWI, its closer to Captain America: The First Avenger than it is to Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of make-up, costumes, and special effects. The period costumes are impeccable, and combat in the European theater of war comes to life in a much more realistic way than WWII does in the first Captain America film, where we see more skirmishes, but less of the reality of war.

The Lasso of Truth translates wonderfully to the big screen as both a weapon and a polygraph administrator, and Ares gets his classic look for the big final battle, which is where the special effects really get to shine. It’s fun to see a battle of demi-gods depicted in a reasonable way, especially after boss battles in Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman were so pitiful.

As for the score, its fine as a whole, but really shines in scenes of battle, especially when Wonder Woman takes center stage.

The Final Verdict

Wonder Woman is a lot of fun. It provides a great female role model who holds high ideals. The only twinge I have when think about this movie is how off Diana’s motivations are in Batman v Superman (again, thank Zach Snyder for his constant need to deconstruct the heroic) when you see where she comes from in this film. But that’s a knock on Batman v Superman, not Wonder Woman.

And while it is a good film, it leans a bit more toward standard (albeit well-made) blockbuster territory than say, something like Logan or The Dark Knight. Even so, it’s a step in the right direction for DC and a film that is a breath of fresh air for those who have been waiting for the return of heroes who act because it is the right thing to do, not because they feel compelled or conflicted. That’s the kind of hero this world needs right now, when its so divided. And that’s the kind of hero Wonder Woman gives us.

Rating: 7/10 stars.



Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.

Finally. DC Comics has made their first critically acclaimed film not starring Batman since 1978. Yes, its been that long.

Comic book nerd that I am, of course Wonder Woman is going to be my Film to Catch of the week. I’ll review WW next week, but here’s a quick run-through of the rest of this weekend’s releases.

The other wide-release film, Captain Underpants, is surprisingly not awful. If you liked the books, you’ll probably like this, and you can bring the kids to it and not leave the theater feeling like you’ve wasted your life. But you can do better.

In limited release, I, Daniel Blake is the film to see. It’s powerfully acted and a great underdog story. Past Life is a solid indy product that focuses on two Israel girls searching for secrets from their father’s past in WWII Poland. Churchill isn’t anything special, but Brian Cox in the title role gives a grand performance. Finally, Dean is a middle-of-the-road dramedy about life and loss. A standard tale, but well acted.

  • Must See: Wonder Woman
  • Worth Your Time: I, Daniel Blake
  • Take It or Leave It: Captain Underpants: the First Epic MovieChurchillPast LifeDean
  • Stay Away: None


 Where do They Come From?

Only wide release films count towards these numbers.

  • Wonder Woman: Adaptation of the DC Comics comic book series.
  • Captain Underpants: Adaptation of the book series by Dav Pilkey


Original: 19

Adaptation: 19

Sequel/Prequel: 13

Remake: 4


These ten films are the “Best of the Year,” IF THE YEAR ENDED TODAY.

This weekend’s releases not included.

They are ranked based on likelihood of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, with #1 being most likely. International films are not included until the end of year if Oscar potential exists.

DISCLAIMER: I may not personally recommend (or even like) all films on this list.

1) Get Out ( – )
2) Logan ( – )
3) Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 ( – )
4) John Wick: Chapter 2 ( – )
5) Their Finest ( +2 )
6) Norman ( -1 )
7) The LEGO Batman Movie ( -1 )
8) A United Kingdom (+1)
9) Beauty and the Beast ( -1 )
10) The Lost City of Z ( – )



This year’s Oscars are a little bit more difficult than usual, so I’ve waited until the last minute…here. we. go!

Best Picture

1) La La Land

2) Moonlight   

3) Manchester by the Sea

4) Arrival

5) Hell or High Water

6) Hacksaw Ridge   

7) Hidden Figures   

8) Lion 

9) Fences


La La Land is the favorite, so I’m going against my Best Picture algorithm (which picks Moonlight), and picking it. The algorithm has been correct for 5 out of the last 6 Oscars.


Best Director

1)  Damien Chazelle – La La Land

2) Barry Jenkins – Moonlight

3) Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge 

4) Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea

5) Denis Villeneuve – Arrival


Best Actor

1) Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea

2) Denzel Washington – Fences

3) Ryan Gosling – La La Land

4) Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge

5) Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic

So close. I’m barely picking Affleck.


Best Actress

1) Emma Stone La La Land

2) Natalie Portman – Jackie

3) Isabelle Huppert – Elle 

4) Ruth Negga – Loving   (#6)  

5) Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins


Best Supporting Actor

1) Mahershala Ali – Moonlight

2) Dev Patel – Lion

3) Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water

4) Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea

5) Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals   (#6)

Dev Patel has a bigger role and may win, but Ali was so good!


Best Supporting Actress

1) Viola Davis – Fences

2) Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea

3) Naomie Harris – Moonlight

4) Nicole Kidman – Lion

5) Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures   (#6)


Best Foreign Language Film

1) Toni Erdmann

2) The Salesman 

3) A Man Called Ove

4) Land of Mine

5) Tanna

Toni is the better film. I’m not buying the whole The Salesman will win so Hollywood and stick it to Trump.


Best Animated Film

1) Zootopia

2) Kubo and the Two Strings 

3) My Life as a Zucchini

4) The Red Turtle

5) Moana


Best Documentary Film

1) O.J.: Made in America

2) 13th

3) Life, Animated  

4) I Am Not Your Negro

5) Fire at Sea  


Best Adapted Screenplay

1) Moonlight  

2) Fences 

3) Arrival

4) Lion

5) Hidden Figures 


Best Original Screenplay

1) Manchester by the Sea

2) La La Land

3) Hell or High Water

4) The Lobster   

5) 20th Century Women  

Another close one. Manchester could lose if too many voters just ride the La La Land wave.


Best Film Editing

1) La La Land

2) Moonlight  

3) Hacksaw Ridge

4) Hell or High Water 

5) Arrival


Best Cinematography

1) La La Land

2) Arrival

3) Moonlight

4) Lion  

5) Silence


Best Production Design

1) La La Land

2) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

3)  Hail, Caesar!   

4) Arrival

5) Passengers  


Best Costume Design

1) Jackie

2) La La Land

3) Florence Foster Jenkins

4) Allied   

5) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Another close one. Jackie, just because it is a period piece.


Best Make-up and Hairstyling

1) Star Trek Beyond   

2) Suicide Squad

3) A Man Called Ove


Best Original Score

1) La La Land

2) Jackie

3) Moonlight 

4) Lion 

5) Passengers  


Best Original Song

1) “City of Stars” La La Land

2) “How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

3) “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” – Trolls

4) “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – La La Land

5) “The Empty Chair” – Jim: The James Foley Story  


Best Sound Mixing

1) La La Land

2) Hacksaw Ridge

3) Arrival

4) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

5) 13 Hours 


Best Sound Editing

1) Hacksaw Ridge

2) La La Land

3) Arrival

4) Deepwater Horizon   

5) Sully 

Close. Hacksaw deserves it. Will voters understand the difference between mixing and editing?


Best Visual Effects

1) The Jungle Book

2) Doctor Strange

3) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

4) Deepwater Horizon   

5) Kubo and the Two Strings 


Best Short Film

1) Mindenki (Sing)

2) Ennemis Intérieurs

3) Timecode

4) La Femme et le TGV   

5) Silent Nights


Best Animated Short Film

1) Piper

2) Pearl

3) Pear Cider and Cigarettes 

4) Borrowed Time

5) Blind Vaysha


Best Documentary Short Film

1) The White Helmets

2) Extremis

3) Joe’s Violin

4) Watani: My Homeland   (#8)

5) 4.1 Miles

Reviewing Silence resulted in bumping this segment back a few days, but today we’re dealing with that constantly nagging voice that whines that there’s nothing original left in Hollywood.

Its not the movie studios’ fault if folks choose to ignore good films they are not familiar with. Known commodities will nearly always win box office battles, because its easier to get people in the seats, but profit and box office receipts don’t equate to quality, and in this age there’s honestly no excuse for not seeing the amazing new films and ideas out there.

You’ll note that a star * = still in theaters, and +/- signs indicate how much more or less money the film made to its counterpart on this list last year.

Where Did They Come From?

There are four categories: Originals, Adaptations, Sequels (which include prequels and spin-offs), and Remakes.

To be fair, I’m only listing films that made it to wide release. If I counted limited release films as well, the original films would trounce the other categories in a landslide.



Using the same qualifiers that the Academy Awards use, Original Films are films that are new screenplays, and not based on previously existing material such as novels, plays, television shows, etc. Basically, “Original” means not connected to any pre-existing work in print, screen, or stage.

Films based on events, but not creative works, are still original films. In 2015 there were 61 original films released. This past year (2016), there were 68.

The Top Five Original Films at the worldwide box office in 2016 were:

  1. Zootopia – $1.02B+$144M {Inside Out}
  2. The Secret Life of Pets $875.5M/ +$401.7M {San Andreas}
  3. Moana$555.2M/ +$311.4M {The Good Dinosaur}
  4. Sing – $488.2M/ +$250.5M {Spy}
  5. Passengers $292.9M/ +83.9M {Tomorrowland}




Adaptations are all films based on already existing material, which can include novels (The Legend of Tarzan), comic books (Dr. Strange), plays (Fences), TV shows, etc.

Reboots are classified as adaptations because they are not sequels to existing material, but new versions of adapted material.

The emergence of shared universes is making classifying some films tricky. My guide is that if the focus of the film is on a character or characters that have not headlined a film before (Suicide Squad and Dr. Strange for example), then it is an adaptation.

In 2015 there were 38 adaptations, this year that number is 44.

The Top Five Adaptations at the worldwide box office in 2016 were:

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them$810.6M/ +$214.3M {The Martian}
  2. Deadpool$783.1M/ +$147.2M {Mockingjay, Part 2}
  3. Suicide Squad$745.6M/ +$202.9M {Cinderella}
  4. Doctor Strange$670.2M/ +$150.9 {Ant-Man}
  5. Warcraft$433.7M/ +19.3M {Kingsmen: The Secret Service}




In this category are films that are sequels or prequels to other films. There were 30 sequels in 2016, that’s an increase of seven from the previous year.

The Top Five Sequels/Prequels in 2016 were:

  1. Captain America: Civil War$1.15B/ -$547M {Jurassic World}
  2. Rogue One$1.04B/ -$499.9M {Furious 7}
  3. Finding Dory$1.03B/ -$470.1M {Star Wars: The Force Awakens}
  4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice$873.3M/ -$526.7M {Avengers: Age of Ultron}
  5. X-Men: Apocalypse$543.9M/ -$656.1M {Minions}




This category includes all remakes of feature films regardless of their country of origin. There were only 4 remakes in 2016, up one in number from the year before. Here are their international totals.

  1. The Jungle Book$966.6M/ +$871.1M {Poltergeist}
  2. Ghostbusters$229.1M/ +$148.9M {Point Break}
  3. The Magnificent Seven$162.4M/ +$152.4 {The Loft}
  4. Pete’s Dragon – $143.7M


In Conclusion



Though the sequels brought in the most money in 2016, it was less than the previous year, with most of that shortfall moving to original films (especially the animated variety) and The Jungle Book.

Once again, the myth of Hollywood losing its creativity is debunked.


This week, Pope Francis moved the cases of ten individuals one step forward towards canonization. Among them was Takayama “Justo” Ukon, a samurai driven out of Japan for his chosen faith. In light of this, it’s time to take a look at Martin Scorsese’s new film, Silence, which deals with the period of persecution that Ukon lived in.

“I want to go out in the countryside
Oh sit by the clear, cool, crystal water
Get my spirit, way back to the feeling
Deep in my soul, I want to feel
Oh so close to the One.”

– Van Morrison, “Hymns to the Silence”

There’s so much to say about Silence. It’s been a hot topic in Catholic circles in the three weeks since its release. The ever-awesome Bishop Barron has weighed in, along with a torrent of Catholic film-goers. While anticipated greatly by so many, it’s left a lot of people questioning what exactly it’s trying to say. A few reviewers said they are “needing time to process the film.” Let me save you that time, because there’s really not much to process. It’s not that you shouldn’t reflect on it. After all, a measurement of quality art is how much it makes you internalize what it’s saying. And that’s the problem with Silence. It doesn’t say much worth hearing.


Thomas More is not impressed by your apostasy.

Imagine, if you will, Braveheart, and legendary William Wallace, moments from death, being offered the respite that a quick execution will provide. Imagine Wallace asking for mercy instead of his ravenous call for “Freedom!” Imagine Sir Thomas More opting to lose himself, saving his own life for the sake of politically correctness in A Man for All Seasons. What would we have? We’d have a lot of folks we call heroes going belly up, that’s what. And what wouldn’t we have? We wouldn’t have the Scottish army rallying to Wallace’s cry and winning their freedom. We wouldn’t have SAINT Thomas More.

So now we come to Silence. For those not in the know, it’s a story focusing on the persecution of Catholics in 17th century Japan. More specifically, its a historical FICTION about two priests who risk their lives to go to Japan to find their mentor, who has allegedly renounced his faith.

When you hear that synopsis, generally speaking, you’d think you’d have a good understanding about what would happen. It is a familiar, albeit tragic story. The priests would do a bunch of good, but eventually they would get caught. Maybe one would escape, but this is Hollywood. This is Martin Scorsese. There has to be a sacrifice! There has to be heroism. And there is…kinda. 

There’s a remarkable inconsistency to what the writers of this film want us to believe. The two priests, Fathers Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver), while both holy men, are very different. Garupe complains more, worries more, and wants to play things safe. Rodrigues is the calm one, reminding Garupe why they came to Japan, to save souls. And they come into contact with Japanese Catholics who are absolutely in love with their faith, and eternally grateful for the unexpected appearance of the clergymen. And then, there’s Kichijiro, the reviled man who smuggled the priests into Japan and is revealed to have renounced his faith and watched as his family was killed for believing in it. And this is where the rubber hits the road…and gets a flat tire.

While Christians are imprisoned and killed by the government, the priests watch in horror from hiding at the insistence of the natives. As the net tightens around them, the priests are asked by their flock if they should renounce their faith to save their lives. Without hesitation, Rodrigues answers in the affirmative. Garupe, astonished at this response, answers in the contrary. This is the crux of the film. To be, or not to be, a martyr?


For Garupe, the answer is yes, and despite his previous complaining, he gives his life while trying to save a Christian from execution by drowning. But this is mostly glossed over. The story, after all, follows Father Rodrigues, who is eventually captured and imprisoned. Father Rodrigues speaks to God about these trials, wanting some sort of instruction from Him, but lamenting and complaining that he hears nothing, except silence, in return. In the end, Father Rodrigues denounces his faith, gives up his priesthood, marries, and repeatedly displays anti-Christian behavior when the government requires it of him. After all that, upon Father Rodrigues’ death, he is shown clutching a crude wooden cross hidden in his palm.

Speaking from a narrative position, the problem here isn’t necessarily that Rodrigues apostatized. Its that we’re expected to treat him as a hero, as if the duality of a public and private life divorced from each other is laudable. “Look,” the film says, “he kept his faith hidden all those years in spite of everything! He’s heroic!” But a hidden faith is no faith at all. Jesus is pretty specific about this. You don’t hide your light under a basket! A Christian life is lived for others, or its not lived at all. What good is salt if it loses its flavor? (It actually ceases to be salt…shout out to Fr. Mike Schmitz for that bit of data).

The problem with Silence is the same problem we face in modern times. The modernist’s creed is to separate the personal from the public. You can believe whatever you want, as long as you do it in private. You can do whatever you want, as long as deep inside you feel like a good person. And we convince ourselves that this is fine because we call God an abstraction. He’s not there to tell us what to do or to interfere. He’s silent.

But here’s the thing. This supposed silence actually is God’s voice. It’s not vapid emptiness. God’s spoken word is a constantly-renewing creation. To believe he does not speak to us is to ignore his constant voice. To fill our ears with the wretched static of noise is to close ourselves off from the nature of God’s universe, still aborning. Silence is not an empty void of despair, but the very language of God.


Issei Ogata’s (right) portrayal of the villainous Inoue Chikugonokami is marvelous.

If Fr. Rodrigues had been really listening, he would have understood how blatantly God was working; his flock was looking to him for example! Kichijiro breaks INTO prison not once, but twice, to go to confession, even after betraying his friends. It’s Kichijiro, the big sinner in need of mercy, who reminds Rodrigues, years after he’s abandoned his duties as a priest, that he’ll never stop being one. Rodrigues doesn’t really listen to the silence. He listens to the noise! Japanese officials tell him his quest is useless, they drive him to despair. Fr. Garupe’s sacrifice is pushed away and Fr. Rodrigues gives up in the face of roaring discouragement, cruelty, and violence. This isn’t heroism, its tragedy. It’s not William Wallace. It’s not Sir Thomas More. Ignoring the mission is not victory.

It’s significant to note that one of the apostatizing priests in Silence was based on the real-life Father Ferreira, who actually repented and died a martyr. But that’s not shown in this film, or in the book it’s based on. What’s shown is a film shot through the lens of moral ambiguity, where the viewer gets to decide who the hero is, or if there is one at all. This is exactly why this film isn’t worth reflecting on. There’s no deep meaning, just a vapid expanse of noise. Would you sit and reflect for days/weeks upon the static you hear when your favorite radio station goes out of range? If you did, it would likely only be to reflect on what you’re missing. The same thing holds true for this movie.

Silence is noise; a distraction from what true heroism and true Christianity is. There’s no need to spend weeks reflecting on it, unless you’re doing so to note what’s missing. But even then, why not fill yourself up with the silence of God instead? His still, small, voice that’s always there to listen to. Get away from the screens and walk in God’s nature, reflect on it as his gift. Go visit with people he’s brought into your life. Look for God’s Silence. Just not in this film.