Seeking terminal velocity

Above: Look to the skies, or at least to the comics, for hints about DC’s new plans for its faltering film universe. Image courtesy DC Comics.

BitDepth#1053 for August 09, 2016

There’s a pivotal scene in the new Star Trek film that’s exactly the kind of madcap action that Justin Lin mined so successfully in the Fast and Furious movies.

Sulu and Scotty decide to get an old spaceship into space by dropping it off a cliff until it reaches terminal velocity, enabling the start of the craft’s engines.

This bit of movie physics enables a scene that’s worked ever since the earliest airplane cinema, of the ship hurtling toward the ground and then pulling up at the very last moment and rocketing back into action.

That’s sort of the point at which DC Comics and Warner Films have reached with their efforts to translate their four-colour fiction franchises into multi-million dollar success at the box office.

To fully understand what’s happening, you have to first view Batman vs Superman: The Ultimate Edition, Warner’s three-hour apology to everyone who emerged from the cinematic release of that film feeling as if they had been mugged for no good reason.

The other thing you must read is the 80-page DC comic, Rebirth, a refreshed mission statement for the company’s characters and with the appointment of its author Geoff Johns, as the lead oversight for future efforts at building a successful cinema mythology, quite possibly the blueprint for what the movies are likely to become.

Rebirth is its own apology, for the failed effort at reengineering the DC Universe of characters for at least the fourth time, under the banner The New 52.

For five years since the new series of books was launched in 2011, I’ve basically read only a few of DC’s comics and been consistently disappointed by all of them.

In Rebirth, Johns writes an 80 page mea culpa for the company, framed around the original Kid Flash, Wally West who finds himself lost in the Speed Force trying to figure out what went wrong with the universe he knew so well.

As Johns writes the character, he becomes a surrogate for anyone flipping through DC’s books over the last five years trying to find something that makes sense or resonates.

New for its own sake, as it turns out, is not necessarily a good thing.

In BvS: The Ultimate Edition, the cliché obverse turns out to be true. It’s possible for more to be better, even if it turns a film into a three-hour marathon event.

This time around, Zack Snyder’s film turns out to have more narrative thread than before, with more fulsome explanations for the previously incoherent Africa attack scene, some useful detective work by Lois Lane that pulls plot points together and additional Superman bits that make him look a bit less like a self-absorbed loser with the power to destroy the planet.

The last hour of the film, an almost uninterrupted fight scene, is essentially untouched and makes less sense given what the characters should have known at this point, but that’s at least true to the nature of comics, which have largely been successful based on how hard men in tights can hit each other

The hostile reaction fo Suicide Squad, which was completed in roughly the same time frame as BvS, has been ably matched by pre-release material from the upcoming Wonder Woman and Justice League films.

Both seem to sport a lighter touch and a more relaxed approach to the business of super-powered fights.

Both also sport an expanded presence for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, a reading of the character that gloriously resolves DC’s 75 years of confusion over a warrior princess who also happens to be a gorgeous, hot-blooded woman.

In May, Geoff Johns announced “hope, optimism and legacy” as his core plan for the DC superhero universe.

It seems super-nerdy to consider it, but comics have always been the root source of superhero cinema, and DC looks set, with Rebirth, to be preparing a massive course correction for its heroes in both media.