The Five Hero Laws

There are many types of heroes in film, comics and television but many of the most memorable have a few things in common. These are all realizations I’ve made while watching action films. There are five laws to ensure the hero is a lovable character audiences will connect with. There are of course exceptions to all of these laws but for the most part, these are a great start to creating an epic hero.

Law One: Make Your Hero Lose Something (or someone)

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Most of the best heroes start from a place of loss. Luke’s aunt and uncle. Ripley’s crew. Bruce Wayne’s parents. Spiderman’s uncle. Basically any comic book hero and some family member. In some cases, the hero works to get revenge, to make sense of their loss and, in other cases, the lost item serves as the Macguffin for the rest of the story.  For the audience to identify with the main character at all, they have to start from a common place emotionally. Everyone has lost someone or something important to them and can easily identify with the main characters when starting from this place of misery.

Law Two: No Love

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This is a tricky one as the hero can  love someone but their love can’t be the driving force behind their actions. Some good examples of this are Aragorn, Han Solo, Spiderman, and Batman. All of these characters have love interests, wives, partners, whatever you want to call it but all of their journeys take place independent of these significant others. The driving force for each of these isn’t rescuing their loved one, winning their true love etc. in fact, most characters that are driven by love or passion end up being villains: Darth Vader, Gollum, Magneto, etc.

Law Three: No Killing (humans that is)

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Almost every great hero ends up killing the antagonist at some point in their story. In some cases there are a few other casualties along the way but in almost no cases do the heroes end up killing a human to win the day. All of these villains are memorable, killed by our heroes and none are totally human: The Alien Queen, Darth Maul, Sauron, Malekeith, Greedo, Ronan, Red Skull, The Terminator, General Grievous, Jabba the Hutt. More often than not, if the villain is a human, they end up committing suicide, falling into a reactor, a vat of acid, a construction site, or a star while the hero tries in vain to save them. Rest assured in most cases, the hero killing their nemesis is accidental or an absolute last resort (Man of Steel).

Law Four: Lots and Lots of Faceless Killing

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Star Wars, Avengers, Lord of the Rings, 300. These are some of the highest body count movies of all time and there are almost no humans with faces killed by our heroes in any of them. Star Wars has storm troopers and droids, Avengers has the Chitauri, Lord of the Rings has Orcs and Goblins. By having our heroes slay dozens of faceless cronies we are always on their side. We don’t feel guilty cheering for them. We revel in watching them cut down their foes because we don’t sympathize with orcs or storm troopers in the same way we would a human guard. Look at the good guys in all of these movies, they have armor with their faces showing and all of them are human or very close (elves are the only exception). Whenever our heroes do fight human enemies, they more often than not just knock them out or subdue them. You aren’t going to see Aragorn or Captain America beheading a human henchman.

Law Five: Suicide Mission

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What better way to show that a hero is selfless than have them end their movie on a suicide mission? Of course they rarely, if ever, die (300 being the exception). Han flies into the Death Star core, Captain America crashes a plane, Ironman catches a Nuclear Warhead, Frodo and Sam march into Mordor. All of these characters emerge from certain demise relatively unscathed. Apparently a hero is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good but a real hero does so and survives.

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‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ Moves to March 2016

Open Matt(e):

I predicted this about two weeks ago now. The Guardians success proved Marvel is just too strong for WB to go head to head.

Originally posted on Variety:

Warner Bros.’ “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has moved up in the calendar from May 6, 2016 to March 25, 2016.

The pic stars Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill with Zack Snyder directing.

The film was planned to go up against “Captain America 3″ but instead will move up more than a month to avoid the confrontation.

It’s no longer necessary to wait until May to launch a big tentpole — both “The Hunger Games” and “Captain America: Winter Soldier” bowed in March to boffo results, as have several Snyder films including “300.”

“Batman v Superman” has been filming in Detroit as for the past two months and has more than enough time to make the March 25 date.

Warners also announced dates for nine untitled DC films.

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Step Right Up

The internet is abuzz today with snippets from Disney’s Bob Iger confirming Disney’s interest in expanding the presence of Star Wars at their theme parks leading up to the December 18, 2015 release of Episode VII. These statements come with Disney’s fiscal Q3 report released yesterday. My question while reading these reports was, just how important are theme parks to a company’s bottom line? While thinking about this, I also realized how vital theme parks are to studios in general and that while movie decisions from the studios are obviously important, creating a movie franchise that can translate into park ticket sales is arguably more important than a creating a box office hit. Below I’ll look at some movie decisions made in the last few years that were almost certainly made with theme park bottom lines in mind. 

Marvel Studios

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Disney’s purchase of Marvel in 2009 left many with their doubts. There were concerns that Marvel didn’t have a cast of characters strong enough to warrant a $4 Billion price tag. Keep in mind The Avengers behemoth hadn’t happened yet. Marvel Studios was still in it’s infancy and most people assumed the success of Ironman was luck. Oops. What a lot of people failed to realize at the time was that Marvel was the key to millions of boys aged 5-15, a demographic that Disney struggles to capture, particularly with it’s theme parks. Let’s face it, The Magic Kingdom (Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Mickey) is way less cool to a 14 year old boy than Universal’s Islands of Adventure (Jurassic Park, The Hulk, Spider-man). This purchase was the first step towards competing head to head with Universal for comic-focused ticket sales. Disney now holds the rights to make Marvel themed rides everywhere except Orlando (Where Universal has a comic book world). Cha-Ching.

Guardians of the Galaxy

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is it a coincidence that Marvel’s first major non-Avengers release was Guardians of the Galaxy? It is a fun, sci-fi, wild, action-filled romp with hundreds of merchandising opportunities and almost limitless franchise potential. How about if I tell you that Disney is allowed to use Guardians in Orlando for rides, attractions and merchandising? Now the smash hit that may well be the biggest box office movie of summer 2014 becomes a whole lot more profitable and not just this year, but every year, for maybe the next 15-20 years when you have a futuristic ride in every Disney park and a gift-shop filled with ships, guns, costumes and stuffed raccoons. Now add that you can have an upgrade for each sequel (one has already been promised) and it is impossible to say that the decision to make this movie next wasn’t driven by the desire to cash in on Marvel’s incredible theme park potential. 

Jurassic World

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What is Universal’s response? Let’s take a massive movie franchise that takes up a huge amount of real estate in one of our parks, is perfect for boys 5-15, has dinosaurs, and reboot it in a way that will allow us to totally revamp our rundown ride and sell more tickets. Say hello to Jurassic World. Ironically Chris Pratt also stars in the upcoming thriller where we revisit Jurassic Park almost 25 years since it destroyed the 1993 box office. In this new film the park is a fully functioning, bustling, slick and futuristic theme park, until something goes wrong of course. Sounds like the perfect recipe to get people to buy tickets to see the new and improved Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios. Don’t be surprised to see a massive expansion in the next year or two as Universal strives to compete with Disney’s Marvel-based success. 

Star Wars

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Star Wars is coming to Disney parks in a big way. While there are already some Star Wars rides, the full potential is far from realized. With Episode VII coming in 2015 and multiple spin-off movies coming in the next decade, don’t be surprised to see an entire Disney park devoted to Star Wars. There could have areas based on each planet, rides for each movie, meet and greets with all the characters. What Dad/Grandpa from 30-65 wouldn’t want to take their kids to this park and introduce them to the worlds they grew up with? Episodes VII-IX promise to introduce legions of young padawans to Star Wars and you can bet Disney cashes in on this in every way possible, including with their parks. 

Doctor Strange – who will it be?

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Doctor Strange, earth’s sorcerer supreme, will get his own Marvel flick in summer 2016 but Marvel has yet to announce which actor will be performing spells and saving the world from demons. I expect that announcement to be made soon, possibly this weekend in San Diego. There have been dozens of rumours and names tossed around but here are my predictions based on Marvel’s past choices. Kevin Feige has said that this will be Marvel’s most important film since Iron Man as they need to prove they can pull off the magical side of the Marvel universe as well as the sci-fi and technical side that has been portrayed already.

viewDoctor Stephen Strange was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and debuted in Strange Tales #110 (1963). He was a genius level neurosurgeon who was obsessed with two things: money and himself. When a car accident shatters his hands and ends his career, he travels the world looking for cures and meets The Ancient One, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme. Through a series of events, the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme is passed to Strange and he acts as Earth’s defender against all sorts of magical and demonic entities. The role of Doctor Strange will need to be serious and brooding at times but he also has a sense of humour. The toughest part of this role will be ensuring it doesn’t come across as campy or cheesy.

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For the most part, Marvel has picked lesser-known actors to fill their roles so far. See below for their past choices. This is why I believe Doctor Strange will not be portrayed by the likes of Jonny Depp. I’m not saying there were no big names cast in Marvel phase 1 or 2 but for the most part the household names were not members of The Avengers. When you sign someone on to a 5-10 picture deal, you can’t cast someone that will cost $20 million per movie. All of this being said, here are my picks:

Jon Hamm

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His name has been floating around recently. Aside from having the perfect looks for the role, he has a seriousness that would work as well as some comedic chops which he displayed on SNL. With Mad Men coming to a close next year he’ll be available as well.

Jared Leto

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Has proven he can play a character that is a little out there. I feel like he may be too much of a household name after his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers Club but he certainly has the talent and look to pull off this role. His cost may be a draw back.

Aiden Gillan

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Definitely best known for his role as Petyr (Little Finger) Baelish on Game of Thrones, I think Aiden has the talent and the look to pull of Doctor Strange. He is unknown enough to not cost a fortune and has the experience playing the mysterious creep. A bit of a stretch here but so was Chris Hemsworth (now number 5 on highest paid actors 2014)

Matthew Macfayden

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Better known for his stage work in Britain, Macfadyen is an incredible actor with an intriguing and unique voice. Probably best known for his work in Pride and Prejudice, he would be a newcomer to the U.S. action genre. Marvel has dipped into the British stage acting pool before (see Tom Hiddleston) why not do it again?

Hugh Dancy

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This is probably a huge stretch and would involve Marvel going totally rogue in terms with their selection but I think Dancy could be phenomenal. He is currently appearing on NBC’s Hannibal and is stellar. He plays the damaged hero better than I have ever seen and stands out each week among a stellar cast.

Hopefully we will all find out soon. Maybe I just wasted 30 minutes and it will end up being Benedict Cumberbatch after all.

I am Jack’s feeling of uncontrollable excitement

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I will start off with two disclaimers. One: If you haven’t read or seen Fight Club ( the 1996 book and 1999 film) written by Chuck Palahniuk and directed by David Fincher, then there are some serious movie-ruining spoilers ahead. Two: I am obsessed with Chuck Palahniuk and everything he has done (with the exception of Pygmy) in his writing career. I’ll admit my bias when it comes to both his style and subject matter. I am Jack’s unending admiration.

While Chuck let it slip that he was working on a graphic novel sequel to Fight Club last year, USA TODAY published an interview confirming many more details on the upcoming novel from Dark Horse. When I first got wind of the sequel I was upset as I assumed it would be a film, made without Palahniuk’s consent, pumped full of marketing money with many a spoiler in the trailers. After all, it is the twist in the third act of Fight Club that makes the film so memorable. I will never forget it as being the first film I saw with a shocking twist on the scale of The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, or Memento. I am Jack’s sense of shock and delight.

In the 1996 novel, The Narrator, AKA Jack, ends up shooting himself to destroy his alter ego, Tyler Durden. With this act, he saves humanity from the pervasive and steadily growing cult that is Project Mayhem. The Narrator goes to heaven (mental hospital), has an argument with God (hospital director) and the novel ends under the assumption Tyler might return some day. I am Jack’s need for closure.

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In a rare instance of an author preferring a film’s adaptation, Palahniuk has often said he wished he had ended the book the same way as the movie, with Jack failing to kill himself, holding Marla Singer and watching the five major banks in the U.S. explode in front of him. For this reason I was surprised but pleased that the graphic novel would not be a sequel to the film. I actually tend to prefer the ending of the book. The line, ” Yeah. Well. Whatever. You can’t teach God anything.” Is pure, poetic Palahniuk. I am Jack’s use of alliteration.

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This graphic novel is being illustrated by Toronto’s own Cameron Stewart, best known for his work on DC’s Catwoman and his many collaborations with Grant Morrison. I personally cannot wait to see the continuation of The Narrator’s story and what causes him to get sucked back into the Project Mayhem world. It is great to see more films based on comics and graphic novels but I think it is even more important that folks from other industries are using comic books to extend their stories. Tarantino released a Django Unchained series last year to expand on the film based on his original screenplay and director’s cut. The books were fantastic and were definitely not the typical prequel/ movie tie-in books that are churned out for blockbuster flicks. I am Jack’s appreciation for comics.

I think in the future this graphic novel will become a film. I am a little nervous given the fact that I doubt Brad Pitt, Ed Norton, Helena Bonham-Carter and David Fincher will be involved but you never know. If they are involved, I expect the film to be incredible. If they are not involved, then I have serious concerns. Either way we will get to see the return of some of the most interesting literary characters of the 20th century in a completely different medium in 2015. I am Jack’s unbridled excitement.

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Comic Pick of the week: Ragnarok #1 (2014 IDW)

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Walter (Walt) Simonson is probably best known for his incredible work on Marvel’s Thor in the 80’s. He returns to Norse mythology this week with IDW’s Ragnarok #1, featuring tales of the the destruction of the Nine Worlds. It looks like this comic, in true Simonson fashion, puts a new spin on the tale and I’m sure there will be some stunning art and great twists in the first issue.

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Simonson revitalized Thor in 1983 (issue #337) with the introduction of Beta Ray Bill and a very original cover (seen above). His art and creative storytelling helped Thor gain the popularity he enjoys today. I actually found a beat up copy of this comic last year and it is one I really treasure. Beta Ray Bill is a badass warrior and I’m sure Ragnarok will introduce many more. Both covers on this one look great and are already sold out. I would get this comic if you can for the read but also for the potential value. Rangarok #1 (2014 IDW) comes out tomorrow, July 23rd.

The Nature of Canadian Netflix

As Dr. Ian Malcolm so, uh, eloquently put it in Jurassic Park, “Life, uh, finds a way.” Nowhere is this more true than the delicate ecosystem that exists online. As numerous companies and industries have discovered over the past 2+ decades, users are going to access content in the cheapest and easiest way possible and there is almost nothing anyone can do to stop them (see Blockbuster, TV ratings and basically the entire music industry).

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This recent CBC article shows that about 1/3 of English speaking Netflix users in Canada access the U.S. version. Why? Because the offering of movies in Canada is pretty abysmal. Netflix struggles to get the rights to stream most films on Canadian Netflix. While that is slowly changing, it will be some time before the offering we see in Great White North comes close to our neighbors.

This brings me back to consumers finding a way. 1/3 of Canadian users have found a loophole to get access to all the content they want on the U.S. version. They mask their IP address and the app can’t figure out the difference. I don’t expect Netflix to find a solution for this any time soon. In many ways, Canadians accessing the superior U.S. Netflix will only put more pressure on distributors in Canada to get a deal done. They need to monetize what Netflix is allowing Canadian users to access and quickly or risk losing more cash to this Canadian/U.S. Netflix hybrid.

2016 Box Office Battle

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Kevin Feige revealed in Empire that Marvel WILL NOT be moving the release date of Cap 3 from May 6, 2016. Usually this wouldn’t be news but it is the first confirmation we’ve heard that May 6th will officially be a death match between Captain America 3 and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both films will look to win the 2016 box office battle and Feige’s statement will certainly irk Warner Bros. Marvel being unwilling to move their release date shows their confidence in the universe they have built and the popularity of Captain America. Cap 2 is, in my opinion, the best Marvel film to date and by the time 2016 rolls around we will have seen Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man. Marvel is sure that the buzz will be huge for Cap 3 and I think with the Disney/Marvel marketing machine behind the film it will win the weekend.

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I’m predicting is that Warner Bros. will bump BvS back despite recent statements from their domestic distribution chief Dan Fellman. The dynamics here are fascinating and I’m sure even if one studio moves their date it will be for “production reasons.” With how important opening weekends are to the studios and given the relative lack of success of Man of Steel compared to Captain America 2 or The Avengers, I’m guessing Warner will need to do everything they can to increase their box office take and that means moving Dawn of Justice. This two year game of chicken will be great fun to watch and I can’t wait to see the next move.

I actually wrote a case for Ivey a couple years ago on this very topic which you can check out here.

The Nitty Gritty World of Star Wars

From the few clips we have seen of J.J. Abrams on the set of Episode VII it looks like Star Wars is going back to the aesthetic that made the original trilogy stand out. As you can see in the newest video, J.J. shows off the new and improved(?) X-wing. it is dirty, damaged, and real. No CGI here and that is cause for excitement. The planets  in the original trilogy were diverse but they looked REAL. Yes they had their extremes. Hoth was a world of ice, Tatooine a desolate desert planet. These locations looked realistic. The world was dirty, or frozen, or sandy, or muddy. You could feel the grit of the world and the use of real locations and real props and animatronics created this feel. Episodes I-III lost this with Lucas’ excessive use of CGI. I saw Jurassic Park in IMAX 3D last year and the CGI scenes didn’t exactly stand the test of time. The animatronics still looked flawless. Seeing this full sized X-wing gave me chills. I trust Abrams to do this right and this small clip makes me even more excited.

 

I’d also like to mention that this clip is for the Star Wars: Force for Change in support of UNICEF. It’s an awesome fundraiser and you can read more about it here: LINK.

What Apes and Alien Robots Teach Us

One of the bigger box office battles of the year has seen Caesar duke it out with Optimus in a battle royale. I chose to compare these two films for a few reasons: They are both special effects driven. They both feature main characters that are not humans. Both films were released within a month of each other. Both films are seeing massive box office returns so far. Both are well established franchises with 3+ films in each series. Both deal heavily in the sci-fi realm. Finally, both are personal favourites of mine and this is my blog.

I have been a passionate defender(yes that was me) of The Transformers for my entire life. I have given Michael Bay the benefit of the doubt. I am now ashamed to wave the white flag and admit that after butchering my beloved The Transformers for 3 consecutive films (the first was actually great) I can no longer turn a blind eye to his willy-nilly disregard for the mythos, character development or plot of The Transformers universe. I could turn this entire blog into a rant about why Age of Extinction is a monstrosity with little redeeming value but instead I will focus on what makes “Dawn” an amazing film.

Beware of Spoilers from here on out (you were warned)

1. The use of special effects

These films are truly incredible special effects marvels. Neither of these films could have been pulled off 10 years ago and both are filled with mind-blowing CGI. Apes uses Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell among others to portray the apes using motion capture technology. Transformers uses CGI on a grand scale to animate robots, incredible transformations, alien ships, and, of course, explosions (it is Michael Bay after all). Here comes critique number one: Transformers has no “wow” moments. Not one. Not a single memorable special effects sequence. Not one interesting camera movement. Apes has dozens. The close ups of ape interactions where you forget they aren’t real are incredible. The battle sequences that are given a personal touch. When Koba steals the tank there is an amazing camera sequence going 360 degrees. Flames casting silhouettes, slow motion Saving Private Ryan-esque war sequences, all of these make you sit up in your seat and say, “wow.” Michael Bay has forgotten to create those moments. For all of its faults, Transformers 1 had scenes you remember. Optimus transforming for the first time, the autobots arrival on earth, even the battle scenes had feeling and suspense. Robots were killed that had personality, not the decepticlones we have seen since the first film.

2. Good vs. Evil

Optimus’ behavior in the first place was a sore-spot to anyone that loves transformers. He is unbreakable, honourable, and would never have beheaded a surrendering villain (Dark of the Moon) or shot a human (Extinction). Nor would he hold grudges, nor would he hate humans, nor would he distrust anyone. This was his flaw in the 1980’s cartoon, in fact, Megatron killed him because of it. Optimus fought because he had to. End of story. This Optimus, vengeful, hateful, distrusting and angry is not one I recognize. Caesar is the Optimus I would want to see. He has faith in apes and humans alike. He values family, strategy, and you cheer for him because of it. You want him to succeed because he is driven for the right reasons. How can you cheer for a character that actually says “I’m going to find that human and kill him.” There are motivations behind being evil. Koba’s evolution is slow but you can identify with him. Gary Oldman is character you can easily sympathize with. Typically the greatest villains are not soulless killing machines. Darth Vader becomes a whole lot less cool if he didn’t save Luke or have the tragic backstory. Otherwise Darth Vader becomes Darth Maul and is forgettable.

3. Less is more

The best franchises focus on a few main characters and show their arc throughout the films. Side characters come and go and some play vital roles but for the most part, the series focuses on the main few and their journey. Think Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, even Toy Story. There are new characters in every movie. Some of these new characters stick around. Some characters play supporting roles throughout every film but by the end of the series, the main characters have taken a journey, they have changed and their arc is complete. You can see this progression happening with the Apes franchise. Caesar is growing and changing. Koba, Maurice, and Rocket all have arcs and have appeared in both films. Blue eyes is new in this film but should appear in the next one. By the end of this film, every main character is different than they were to start the first film. Transformers has utterly failed to do this. Bumblebee is the exact same. Every other character has died, been replaced or has a new name. Optimus is the only character that has taken any sort of journey but even I don’t get what his motivation is anymore. Megatron/Galvatron just seems to want to kill everything for no reason. In the first film he wanted the All-Spark to create life, In the second film he wanted to destroy the sun to create life, third film he wanted to bring Cybertron to earth to steal our resources and now he just wants revenge on humans? I hate to say that i’m lost. I am. It makes me sad. Have a few core characters, have them grow and change. People can identify with them. 50 years from now people will watch Dawn, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story. Transformers 4 will fade into the blackness of space and I hope the 5th film can reverse the damage that has been done.