Alien: Covenant is a Reminder that Space Might Be Pretty Damn HORRIBLE

Space is a damn scary place to be, at least according to movies like Alien: Covenant. If you’re not impregnated by facehuggers that vomit eggs down your throat, you’ll be eviscerated by xenomorphs who rip people apart for fun. It implies something dark, primal and aggressive lying in wait amongst the stars, and the idea of going to space is suddenly made 100% less appealing. It’s a horror film, naturally, but it does raise the possibility that our universe won’t be easily conquered.

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If we find life out there among the stars, we might get more than we bargained for – concept art by Valentin Petrov

New planets hide unknown threats, and some might be microscopic; it stands to reason that an alien world would carry alien bacteria if there really is life out there, and this is a threat our bodies aren’t ready for. While that isn’t nearly so horrific as a monster crawling its way out of your chest, the result wouldn’t be all that different – you’ll still die in a lot of pain and indignity.

Our immune systems are unprepared for such viruses, and they’d be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Consider the death-toll when conquistadors marched into South America: local Aztecs were unfamiliar with the likes of European smallpox, and their immune systems crumbled beneath the strain. It’s easy to see how extra-terrestrial germs or pathogens could have a similar effect on us (if they existed, anyway).

Accordingly, spores like those unleashed in Covenant aren’t unrealistic… even if what follows isn’t. The image of someone falling desperately ill for reasons unknown hits close to home. Cheerful, right?

We may not have to fend off inhuman creatures when we start colonising the stars, but our problems aren’t over nonetheless. We’d probably be better off with the xenomorphs: at least you can see them coming.

Beauty and the Beast Shows That Reality is, Like, Overrated

By ‘eck, I wasn’t a fan of outlandish RPG settings when I were a young(er) lad. The likes of Morrowind – complete with crazy mushroom infestations and giant fleas – were all well and good, but I preferred more down-to-earth landscapes that didn’t stretch suspension of disbelief quite so much. Yes, I appreciate the hypocrisy of this when I’d spend most of the time spamming fireballs out of my hands.

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Look at the sparkles. LOOK AT THEM (concept art for Beauty and the Beast by Karl Simon)

Anyway. It wasn’t until I heard a 15 year-old complaining about the same thing that I realised how much of a 180 I’d done. These days I’m less interested in realism: an immersive, enjoyable experience is far more important to me (not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course). There’s a lot to be said for sheer wonder, and a project that really epitomised that recently was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake.

Musical numbers aside, the screen burst with a colour and vitality that you rarely see in cinema now. Overrun with a blush of green and warm orange sunsets, the contrast was amped up until it popped in a loud, primary-coloured firework. The cottages in Belle’s village were also brilliantly wonky, leaning at awkward angles as if they’d been plucked directly from the fairy tales that inspired this story. It was a place bursting with magic and joy, and that’s exactly the kind of place I’d want to hang out in. As with The Lord of the Ring’s Hobbiton, you’d have to drag me away by my ear.

The same could be said of Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s Mediterranean paradise. A scattering of romantic Grecian architecture that blossomed up the side of wooded mountains, it was full of hidden corners and powerful artefacts atop thundering waterfalls. This contrasted fantastically with the dingy reality of WWI. It made Diana’s home a place I’d book flights to without thinking, too. That’s a notable departure from Batman v Superman’s landscapes: they were a hodgepodge of miserable urban jungles that can be best described as ‘damn grey’.

In short, it’s the kind of approach you can only get in fantasy. I’m glad I’ve broadened my horizons enough to see it. While realistic and dour settings are grand, we don’t always champion pure delight as much anymore.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is the Best MCU Movie (Drops Mic)

I’ve recently been smacked around the head by an epiphany. After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 and squeeing like a squeezy dog-toy, I now understand what everyone’s banging on about when they say that superhero movies should be fun. Although I’ve got a lot of time for grittier versions (a la Man of Steel or Logan), a film that goes for your sense of humour is arguably more… enjoyable? Is that the word I’m looking for? Anyway, you leave the cinema content that all is well with the world and practically bouncing along the pavement. You also get many, many quotable memes out of it. As such, I’d peg it as the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the original. Fight me.

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Something good, something bad or a bit of both? Concept art by Marvel Studios for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2.

This is thanks to its refusal to take things too seriously. Volume 2 is wonderfully irreverent, poking fun at itself while bringing back 80s nostalgia with a raised middle-finger. The film isn’t afraid to get weird either – and I mean properly weird. When it’s not using daft locations from the comics (including a living planet, of all things), it’s diving into well-worn tropes that are given a self-deprecating twist. There’s the obligatory ‘follow your heart’/realisation-of-great-power moment that’s shunted off kilter by a certain videogame character, and this is preceded by a ridiculous father-son game of catch mid-way through the story. Guardians knows that it’s silly, so everything’s very tongue-in-cheek. I suppose this is only fair when you’ve got a film starring sentient trees and a talking racoon.

Another bullseye is its strong character-development, of course. Karen Gillen’s Nebula benefits from this in particular, as does Michael Rooker’s brilliant Yondu (out-of-context quote of the day: ‘I’m Mary Poppins, y’all’). The main cast’s arcs aren’t quite so strong this time around, but they still get a thumbs-up as well. The only other MCU franchise that can match it in this regard is Captain America, or – and I know I’ll get stick for this – Iron Man.

Basically, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 hits all the right notes: it’d love nothing more than for you to just enjoy yourself. Seriously, go see it.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yeah, This is Why the Jedi Need to End

I boot up the internet and Star Wars is everywhere. With Star Wars Celebration 2017 coming to an end last weekend, the aftereffects of the event are still reverberating through the web like an infamous cry of a million souls before they were extinguished by a dirty great space laser. More to the point, everyone’s still recovering from The Last Jedi teaser and Battlefront II’s trailer. Suffice to say, that kind of reveal leaves a lasting impression.

However, one of the biggest takeaways from the event was Luke Skywalker’s claim that the Jedi must end in The Force Awakens’ sequel. As a former beacon of hope for the Jedi order, his disillusionment has caused quite a stir. The obvious question is ‘why’, but a better one should probably be ‘why not?’.

Are the Jedi fighting their last battle? Unused concept art for The Force Awakens

If you stop and think about it, the Jedi have been nothing but trouble. Besides appointing themselves as galactic police who stick their noses where it may not be wanted, they seem to rely on violence more often than diplomacy. Moreover, they bulled their way through the Clone Wars as generals and warriors when that’s precisely the opposite of what they were built for: I thought a Jedi’s lightsaber training is meant to be used in defence of the innocent and as a last resort, not a first response. Aren’t they primarily diplomats and monks?

Then there are all the amusing gaffs they’ve made throughout the original/prequel trilogies. Most egregious of these would be Obi-Wan’s flagrant dickery in lying to Luke’s face about his father. ‘True from a certain point of view’? Shove off, that’s ridiculous. It’s a somewhat limp attempt to justify a retcon and makes Obi-Wan look negligent. Then there’s Qui-Gon Jinn’s hilariously bad attempt at babysitting, where he takes a young child into the heat of battle when he could have left him literally anywhere else. Finally, the books reveal that the prequels’ Jedi temple was built on a super-evil Sith shrine that apparently corrupted them over millennia (it was apparently capped, but would you take that chance?). I mean, come on. I adore these films, but the characters do make some bizarre decisions.

Then there’s an aspect that, in contrast, the prequels handled rather well. The Jedi are essentially a cult: you follow their strict rules or you hit the road. Additionally, these rules can seem needlessly cruel. Take their refusal for Jedi to form attachments, for instance. This has never ended well, as demonstrated by Anakin’s fall and the fact that those same attachments let Luke save the whole damn galaxy.

Most damning of all would be when you read between the lines. As explained by Tor, a reason for Obi-Wan lying to Luke about his father could be that they needed an assassin who’d take out the Emperor’s greatest asset without querying why. Knowing about his head-in-the-clouds demeanour and daydream to be a hero, Kenobi fed him a suitably clichéd story about his father that’d set him on a collision course with Vader, no questions asked. It’s a calculated, manipulative move.

Similarly, Luke was given the surname ‘Skywalker’ and left with his family – surely a giant red flag to Vader – because he could also serve as bait as an added bonus. If Vader found him, Obi-Wan would emerge and take him down.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at the old Jedi order, and it doesn’t paint them in a very good light. As such, I’m not surprised that Luke wants to shut things down now he’s older and wiser.

Kong: Skull Island Shows Why Reboots Aren’t Always a Bad Thing

We like complaining about remakes: they’re a bugbear that send fans into a frothing rage. Mocked for their lack of imagination, we bemoan film’s creative impotence and agree that all these reboots should throw themselves in the bin. But this ignores the fact that retellings aren’t a recent fad – they’ve been happening for decades. The industry has always thrived on reimagining stories for a new generation. And there’s nothing wrong with that: cynicism aside, it allows us to revisit a property and explore something we wish had been done the first time around.

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Pushing Kong into the 1970s paints the story in an entirely new light – concept art by Eddie Del Rio for Kong: Skull Island

That’s definitely the case in movies like this year’s Beauty and the Beast, where a faithful adaptation is added to with backstory for both Belle and Beast. It was expansive rather than repetitive, and this is very much the approach of Kong: Skull Island as well. With a 70s setting, hordes of kaiju to take on Kong and a very different story that has nothing to do with New York, this is a movie that fights to avoid the familiar.

To my mind, Skull Island was very successful in taking a familiar story and reimagining it in a fresh way. While it may have been on the nose more often than not (its characters are unabashed clichés and the plot can be predictable) displacing the narrative from the Depression to a post-Vietnam war era gives it an entirely different flavour. I’m a little disappointed we’ll never see the Kong of this shared universe taking on bi-planes atop the Empire State Building – indeed, I wish those events could have happened in the past and formed the impetus to revisit Skull Island, wherein they find the original Kong’s bigger descendant – but I suppose that’s for the best when you consider the fact that it has to fit into a world where monsters appear in public for the first time during Godzilla. Not that there’s any chance he won’t clamber up the iconic skyscraper for Godzilla v Kong’s crossover, of course.

This is why I keep banging on about reboots being given a chance: unless you’re pulling an Amazing Spider-Man and going over the same origin less than ten years later, there’s usually something new to mine that’ll make a story fresh again.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.

Logan: What Happened to the X-Men?

Days of Future Past was a great send-off for the X-Men, all things considered: although we’d watched them be systematically murdered over its two-hour run-time, the final scene (which showed the team alive and well) ended their story on a satisfying note. After six films of heartache, they’d finally gotten their happy ending. However, Logan shows us that we spoke too soon. The X-Men are gone a mere six years later, mutants are dying out and the gruff but heroic Wolverine is a battered shell of his former self. Even Professor X is a husk of what he once was, stuffed out of sight in an overturned water-tower and babbling incomprehensible Shakespeare. It makes you wonder where everything went wrong.

Discussing that takes us into spoiler territory, so be warned – come back later if you’ve not yet seen the movie. The reveal is handled brilliantly, so I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you here.

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No matter what, it’s a far cry from the X-Mansion – concept for Logan by Shae Shatz (via i09

Logan may not give us much to go on, but the scant information it does provide is nothing short of heartbreaking. We learn that several people (upwards of 600, in fact) were injured in an event the film calls the ‘Westchester incident’: as a news anchor points out after the climactic battle in a casino, the effects of this were eerily similar to those seen when Xavier has his seizures. More distressingly, seven mutants were killed in this disaster. Because Westchester is the location of Xavier’s famous school, the implication is clear.

The fact that Professor X’s illness left most of his students in danger is devastating, especially considering how many of them were children. Indeed, while most assume the mortalities were classic X-Men – and director James Mangold alludes to as much – it’s possible that some of those victims were children in the first place. It would certainly add more incentive for Wolverine to keep the truth from his ailing mentor. For a teacher whose pupils’ safety is their highest priority, this is more damaging than any supervillain could hope to be.

Either way, it’s a deeply tragic turn of events. The X-Men thought they’d escaped the end of days but it found them nonetheless. The horror of not knowing exactly what happened makes things infinitely worse, meanwhile: we’re left hanging when it comes to our favourite characters. Are the likes of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm still alive? We’ve got no idea. As Logan’s writer points out, those deaths may not even have been of characters we knew.

That said, we can do some reading between the lines here. Jean is almost certainly a casualty. As one of the most powerful mutants out there, I can’t imagine she’d drop off the radar. Her demise would also emotionally destroy Wolverine all over again, adding to the cynicism that oozes out of his every pore in this movie. He went through hell and back to change the X-Men’s past, so things still going wrong would utterly break him. It’s a similar argument where Storm and Beast are concerned. They’re much too influential not to leave a footprint on Logan’s world, yet there’s little sign of mutants beyond Wolverine’s friends or the children they’re trying to save.

The only hero I can see making it out alive is Kitty Pryde, mostly thanks to her ability to phase through matter. Could she be hurt if intangible? Who knows. I suppose the likes of Cyclops could have survived and faded into obscurity too because of his penchant for angst, but I say that mostly because I’d love to see a story that adapts recent comics where he’s a Magneto-like extremist.

I don’t suppose it matters. Life sucks anyway if you’re a mutant by the time we hit Logan, regardless of whether you were present for the Westchester incident or not. Disturbingly, the mutant race went out with a whimper rather than a bang this time: thanks to foodstuffs that attack mutant-genes in carriers, no more can be born. In a dark twist, the DNA of older mutants is also co-opted as for experiments like Laura. Judging by our protagonist’s desperation to reach the Canadian border, we should probably assume that it’s one of the few countries with any protection left for Wolverine’s kind. Things are truly grim.

That’s a recurring theme of the ­X-Men franchise since Days of Future Past – the more things change, the more they stay the same. We see this clearly in Logan. While the timeline’s been altered, the events of prior films seem to have happened in one way or another in spite of the change. Professor X references the Statue of Liberty from the original movie, Wolverine still has his X-Men Origins dog-tags and he’s held onto the samurai sword from The Wolverine. One of the only alterations is the revelation that Wolverine had a drug-problem, a virgin career in cage-fighting and a position as an assassin when he was found by Xavier in this new reality. It’s reminiscent of the Ultimate comics version of the character, a series where he was employed by Magneto to kill Professor X.

We’ll probably never see how things shook out, of course – it’s much more powerful it’s left to our imaginations. The upside, though? We’ll just have to watch it again and see if there’s anything we missed. What a shame.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.

For Honor – What Is It We Love About Combat?

Great though video games may be, it’s awkward when someone accuses them of a borderline-fetishist interest in violence. That’s probably because it’s true. High scores are often dictated by the number of headshots you can pull off, whilst combat itself is one of the most common activities you’ll find within the medium. I’m not suggesting this causes the social issues you’ll read about in many tabloid newspapers (their scare-mongering can be painfully uneducated, frankly), but it does make me wonder why we gravitate so strongly toward fighting in media. It’s definitely a conversation worth having.

In the world of For Honor, combat's all there is - concept art by Ubisoft
In the world of For Honor, combat’s all there is – concept art by Ubisoft

This was brought to mind by For Honor, Ubisoft’s quasi-historical action-game released last month. Set in a fantastical kingdom populated with Vikings, medieval knights and Samurai, it focuses on the rigours of melee combat. In fact, the setting feels secondary to that adrenaline-rush you get from crossing blades with an opponent. It revels in the chaos of war.

Yet this I can understand: there’s an element of chivalry, skill and prestige associated with hand-to-hand combat. Mastering the sword takes years of practice, a truth I can verify due to of my own clumsy bumbling in a medieval swordplay class. I suppose it’s an ego-boost too, a desire to be dashingly heroic like Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow.

Not that this cool-factor is restricted to Dark Age weaponry. The same could be said of modern action movies where the hero must foil an evil plot or seek revenge. Although I’ve not yet seen it, I’d imagine John Wick 2 is a good example. We admire the lead’s talent, athleticism and casual nonchalance whilst putting the world to rights: they always know what to say or do. It’s wish-fulfilment in its rawest form, a representation of the hero we yearn to be.

This escapism also helps genres such as fantasy endure. The Lord of the Rings features a war against demonic forces, for example: the protagonist is their world’s only hope, an empowering scenario that (in the case of games, at least) makes us feel special. Moreover, there’s little grey-area to speak of here. We can blow off steam without worrying about the morality of doing so. Orcs and White Walkers don’t encourage much sympathy, after all.

Violence in the likes of horror is harder to justify, of course. Perhaps it operates in the same ball-park as crime fiction: besides upping the stakes, earning our revulsion is a good way of making your villain more intimidating. Additionally, it forces us to worry about consequences within the plot. Game of Thrones does this superbly. The unexpected – and often hideous – death of its characters leaves us on edge. Nothing is sacred, no-one is safe and anything could happen. The show is much more gripping as a result.

That’s the opinion amongst some professionals, anyway. Researchers from universities across the world (via Psychcentral) suggest that audiences might be “drawn to violent content because they anticipate other benefits, such as thrill and suspense”. As noted by Anne Bartsch from the University of Augsburg, it’s possible that “depictions of violence that are perceived as meaningful, moving and thought-provoking can foster empathy with victims, admiration for acts of courage and moral beauty in the face of violence, or self-reflection with regard to violent impulses”.

As such, it’s nice to know that our interest in violence (and violent video games) isn’t because we’re terrible people deep down. Well, for the most part – I’m quietly fond of the Star Wars prequels, so maybe I should retract that statement…

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.

Is it Time for the DCEU to Reboot?

The only thing that seems to be coming out of DC’s film department right now is disappointment. It’s a real blow. Clumsily dubbed the ‘DC Extended Universe’, this is a franchise that’s careening downhill whilst engulfed in the fire of bad reviews. On top of the critically-panned Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad, two directors have left The Flash in ironically quick succession. Additionally, The Batman has struggled to pin down a director after Ben Affleck – who also stars in the titular role – stepped down from behind the camera last month. There are even reports that he’s close to hanging up the cowl itself. When paired with rumours of trouble surrounding Wonder Woman (even if that’s since been refuted), it’s hard not to think a reset is desperately needed.

Concept art from the abandoned George Miller Justice League film - via SlashFilm
Concept art from the abandoned (and seemingly much cheerier) George Miller Justice League film – via SlashFilm

Tempting though it is, I’d be gutted if Warner Bros. threw in the towel. The last two instalments were less than stellar, but seeing Man of Steel consigned to the scrap-heap along with them breaks my heart. Despite having problems of its own, the film’s depiction of Krypton is nothing short of breath-taking. Moreover, I maintain that the first two-thirds of that film were spot-on. After a sympathetic journey to find his purpose in life, a now-humanised Superman becomes the hero we know and love once he’s donned his costume. He laughs, smiles and, above all else, does what’s right. But then it all goes pear-shaped with disaster-porn battles and a climax that understandably turned off fans. I’d argue that it only veered off the rails when Clark had his trippy, on-the-nose dream-sequence with Zod.

Similarly, its sequel had plenty of good ideas to work with. No, really. They simply weren’t executed well (though that’s a discussion for another day) thanks to its director and writers who’ve had a stranglehold on things thus far. To scrap the series without giving someone else a crack of the whip would therefore feel wasteful. Considering how the lauded comic scribe Geoff Johns has just taken charge, things may start looking up at last. We should at least see what he does first.

Nevertheless, I wonder what the result would be if they were to call things quits. Perhaps a soft reboot (a la X-Men: First Class) might be the best course of action. Future films could zero in on Wonder Woman’s past, Batman’s career pre-Superman in the 1990s or side-step entirely with new and unknown characters. The already in-production Shazam would be a great place to start, for instance. Introducing a young boy who’s given the power to transform into an adult superhero, it’d inject a sense of wide-eyed wonder that’s in high demand after so much gloom.

If DC followed this path, there’d really be no need to reference prior films at all. Each of the above can happily stand alone.

Failing that, they could even hand off to a new generation like Marvel is rumoured to do after Avengers: Infinity War’s sequel. Maybe the recently-announced Nightwing film – following the original Robin as he strikes out on his own – could be the first step on that road.

All the same, my preference would be for a completely fresh break set in the past. One ace DC has up its sleeve is a long and illustrious past stretching back into the WWII era: the Justice League weren’t the first team to protect our world. Known instead as the Justice Society, this group included Wonder Woman and an elder generation of the Flash and Green Lantern. There’s your ‘in’ for an audience arriving with fresh eyes.

Better still, it featured characters we’ve never seen in cinema before. That includes the mystical Doctor Fate, Sandman (who’s reminiscent of Watchmen’s Rorschach), the original Atom and happy-go-lucky Stargirl.

By focusing on this band of ‘Mystery Men’ and women (as they were known back then), you reverse the mistakes DC has made up until now. To begin with, returning to the Golden Age of comics where heroes do good because they’re upstanding people is something we’re missing in today’s dark, naval-gazing equivalent. Secondly, it’s not obviously a reboot so we’d avoid audience fatigue. As far as they’re concerned, this could fit into the universe they’ve come to know already. If they respond well, you’d then build back up to the present-day cast.

Whether DC has it in them to be so bold is another matter, of course. Changing tack would mean abandoning the many projects already in production. With Aquaman, Flash and The Batman already gearing up, that’d be a wasted investment Warner Bros. may not want to contemplate. However, If Wonder Woman and this autumn’s Justice League hit another critical brick wall it’ll probably be time to call things quits regardless.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.

LEGO Batman Shows Us Where DC Movies Should Go Next

We’re always saying that superhero movies have become too dark. Although I don’t disagree, this gripe is exasperating when geek-culture at large is berated for ruining what we’re told is a children’s genre (and aren’t we ashamed of ourselves?). Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the source of much grumbling in 2016, for instance. I’d imagine this year’s Justice League will have a similar effect, so it’s not a topic that’s going anywhere fast.

With that in mind, The LEGO Batman Movie is an ideal tonic. Funny, heartfelt and unfailingly bizarre, it’s a love-letter to comics and every era of the Dark Knight (even those we’d rather forget). As an example, the neon thugs of Batman and Robin make an appearance while Bane speaks with an accent that is unmistakeably ripped from The Dark Knight Rises. Billy-Dee Williams even gets to play Two Face at last after missing the chance in Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s simply wonderful.

Madness is the emergency exit - concept art from the DK Making of the Movie book
Madness is the emergency exit – concept art from the DK Making of the Movie book

Accordingly, I wonder if this isn’t the solution to complaints about age-appropriateness. Rather than re-tooling films like Wonder Woman or Aquaman so they’re suitable for kids, why not create another DC universe alongside it that’s built from the ground up to be family-friendly? LEGO Batman demonstrates that there’s enough room to accommodate both approaches.

It may overcomplicate things, but I’m loathe to ring-fence these characters for one audience or another. Despite being designed with children in mind, it’d be wilful ignorance to deny how popular they are amongst adults. This is a genre that’s grown far beyond its original demographic, and classic stories like The Dark Knight Returns only accentuate the point.  As such, it makes more sense to keep these approaches separate than compromise the vision of either one.

The question then becomes how to go about it, of course. Continuing with the LEGO series is one (very good) option. We’ve seen that those at the helm know exactly what makes DC special, and the Justice League have already made an appearance in LEGO Batman to boot. It wouldn’t take much to pivot into a team-up film or Superman movie, especially when the latter was voiced by Channing Tatum last time.

Another option would be starting fresh with an animated universe akin to Marvel’s Big Hero 6. The perfect jumping-on point would be a Superman story. After Man of Steel ruffled feathers, I can’t think of anything better than going back-to-basics with a boy-scout who doesn’t need to contend with a grounded universe. Want Krypto the super-dog? Cool, you’ve got it. If we can create a world where it’s OK to have often-ridiculous superheroes wearing their pants on the outside, why not? A lighter, kid-friendly film opens doors that just aren’t accessible elsewhere.

With luck, this would right the ship without throwing our baby out with the bathwater: there’s still something worth salvaging from the DC cinematic universe, flaws aside. To me, this is the best way of getting the best of both worlds without hobbling either. Everyone wins.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.