Friday, August 21, 2015

Fantastic Four movies, Doctor Doom and Impossible things

In the past few weeks, the newest Fantastic Four movie came out.  While I haven't seen the film yet, my understanding is that was disappointingly horrendous, made doubly upsetting by where we are culture-wise when it comes to superhero movies.  Up until Fantastic Four, I believed that Hollywood had gotten to a point where current gen superhero movies (2008-now) were like pizza:  Meaning they're FANTASTIC when they're good and still pretty enjoyable when they're 'bad'.  However, the behind-the-scenes fiasco and poor quality of Fan4stic is not what I'd like to talk about today.

I'd like to talk about Doctor Doom.

Doctor Doom is one of the most feared villains in the Marvel Comics Universe.  Originally the arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four, Victor Von Doom's ambition and wickedness is boundless to the point where I feel that he's almost wasted upon the Fantastic Four.  He's the ruler of the country of Latveria, a mad scientist on the same level as Tony Stark or Reed Richards and one of the most powerful sorcerers in the world.  He is also one of my absolute favorite supervillains ever.

I explain this to you, dear reader, because if you have seen the films but are unfamiliar to the comics, this information would be lost upon you.  The Fantastic Four films (Both the 2004 one and the apparently worse 2015 one) have forgone Doom being a mad scientist wizard dictator and made him.....a guy that shoots lightning and a glowstick man?

Pictured Above: Two People Doctor Doom could mop the floor with.
While the treatment of Doctor Doom by Hollywood is disappointing, it is hardly surprising if you understand how Hollywood scriptwriting (or rather, the scriptwriting business) works.  In any sort of professional writing book, workshop or class, you are taught a specific rule.  In Blake Snyder's fantastic book Save the Cat it is referred to as "Double Mumbo Jumbo", but it was taught to me as the rule of "One Impossible Thing".  The rule states that in order to keep audiences from getting wildly confused, every movie is only allowed 'one impossible thing' in their plot, which usually ends up being a driving force in the film.  For example, let's look at the popular sci-fi movie Men in Black, where a super secret organization defends the Earth from extraterrestrial threats.  The existence of aliens in Men in Black is our one impossible thing.  If the Men in Black dealt with demons, werewolves and zombies as well as aliens, the studio would have deemed it too confusing for audiences and wouldn't have gone with the script (despite the fact the comic Men in Black is loosely based on has them dealing with all those threats and more.)

Now, the Rule of 'One Impossible Thing' is by no means gospel.  The Avengers has numerous impossible things and was a smash hit.  However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an entirely different animal.  Each 'impossible thing' (i.e: the Avengers themselves) had their own film that established them in their collective universe, and most movies (especially Fant4stic, if the stories about pre-production are true) don't have that kind of time or budget.  So the rule of 'One Impossible Thing' remains in effect.

Now with that knowledge, look at Doctor Doom.  As a dictator of his own country, a mad scientist who builds near perfect robotic replications of himself constantly AND one of the most powerful sorcerers on the planet, he is at least two impossible things in and of himself.  That's not even including the impossible thing that must be in any Fantastic Four movie: the cosmic rays/interdimensional phenomenon that give the Four their powers in the first place!  Thus, the awesomeness that is Doctor Doom gets lumped in with the same origin as Reed Richards and his friends, thus keeping both the 2005 film and the 2015 film down to One Impossible Thing.

So how can one translate Doom to the big screen with this limitation?  Well, I'm sure the people at Marvel Studios could whip something together if the property were to be sold back to them, but that's a best case scenario.  Assuming we are not tied to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and STILL limited to One Impossible Thing, there are two big things we can do to make sure Doom is done right:

1) Put Victor in the movie, but not Doctor Doom. Pick Someone Else for the movie's villain

Doom is too precious a character to the fanbase to make into "the fifth wheel who turns evil".  The Four have numerous other villains who aren't Doctor Doom, so have one of them be the fifth person transformed by the cosmic rays (My suggestion for this position: Mole Man).  Doom can still be in the movie, but as the friend of Reed Richards and a scientist who helped them in their expedition to space/another dimension.  You could even have him design (or help Reed design) things like the Fantasticar.  Certainly show Doom's darker side, but at a time when it had yet to develop into full blown supervillainy, perhaps due to the influence of Reed.

2) In the movie's third act, have Doom suffer a terrible fate.

Perhaps in the final battle with Mole Man, have Victor Von Doom supposedly die in the explosion caused by the destruction of Mole Man's world conquering machine.  Maybe have him and Sue Storm fall from the Fantasticar during the final escape, and Reed only has time to save one.  I could list scenarios for days, but the important thing is to make the Four believe that Victor died in the final fight.  You can even hint at his survival in the post-credit scene, because.....

3) You have the sequel focus on Victor becoming Doctor Doom

With the sequel of any film, the Impossible Thing counter is reset.  The Impossible Thing from the previous film is now possible (obviously) so a new impossible thing needs to set the plot going in this one.  Have it be Doom's magical abilities, since his super science will have been established in the first film.  Have the film be about him amassing a force in his homeland of Latveria, using his scientific knowledge and newly learned magic to conquer and rule his homeland.  Of course, the Fantastic Four will find out about a dangerous rebellion in Latveria (probably learning it from the US government) and be asked to intervene.  You can even have a whole "Magic vs. Science" thing going on in the dialogue involving Mr. Fantastic, one of the best scientists in the Marvel universe.  The main focus though, will be on the origin of Marvel's greatest supervillain.

Obviously, this is not enough to make an entire movie off of, and I'm sure a writer better versed in the Fantastic Four could probably come up with an even better idea for a movie.  This is just my observations on why my favorite comic book characters cannot be translated to cinema and how he might better be put onto the big screen.  If you have a better idea for putting Doctor Doom into the movies, I'd love to hear it.  Until then, this is the best idea I got.  And from what I've heard, it's a hell of a lot better than the newest Fantastic Four movie.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Witcher, Race, Fantasy Worlds and Other Controversial Things

Wow, it's been a while since I wrote here.  I'm going to make a conscious attempt to update this more regularly.

Anyway, recently the game The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was released, with rave reviews from nearly everyone.  However, the website Polygon also published an editorial criticizing the video game's lack of characters who aren't white (I've yet to play the game, but to the best of my knowledge the only nonwhite character is a succubus).  The article isn't exactly starting a witch hunt over race here, in fact it continues to praise the game.  It's basically saying "Hey!  This is an awesome game and I love playing it.  But for the next one, how about a more diverse set of characters?  That'd be even cooler!!"  Naturally, this reasonable criticism of a video game met with the usual metric ton of vitriol and hatred that has come to be expected on the Internet.

While I'm all for more diverse characters in video games, I chose to listen to a few arguments to why the world of The Witcher should remain whiter than a snowman's coke habit.  I heard a lot of pretty silly one's about historical context, but one had a rather interesting point to make.  The Witcher was based on the stories of Andrzej Sapkowski, which in turn were based on Polish mythology.  Long story short, the argument was that because Polish mythology involved white people, so should these video games.

This brings up an interesting point:  should a game attempt to be diverse if the subject matter involves regionally based mythology?  The inclusion of  (for example) white people in a Prince of Persia game wouldn't make any sense,  and while the God of War series has included people from Persia (as little more than people for Kratos to slaughter, but that's to be expected), it wouldn't make sense for Native American characters to suddenly show up in the middle of ancient Greece.

This would solve the issue with race in The Witcher 3......if it was regionally based mythology.

To the best of my knowledge, the world explored by Geralt in his games is NOT Poland.  It is a unique world based on the legends of Poland, much in the same way Marvel comic's Thor is based on Norse myth.  While there are certainly many things taken from Nordic myth (probably more things than The Witcher has from Polish myth), that did not stop the casting of Idris Elba as Hiemdall or Tadanobu Asano as Hogun the Grim.  The inspiration for The Witcher need not prevent the guys over at Projekt Red from including a more diverse cast, especially when the game setting covers an ENTIRE world rather than a single country.

This issue of race also brings up interesting issues about other fantasy settings.  Lord of the Rings is strongly inspired by Slavic myth, and while it's silly to ask for a diverse cast from a book written in the 30's, is that an excuse for Peter Jackson's films?  I've often said that because LOTR is such a coveted fantasy world among fans and LITERALLY the first example of modern fantasy, it gets a free pass in terms of race.  Now, I'm not so sure.

We can also look at the world of Rokugan in The Legend of the Five Rings RPG and CCG setting.  Rokugan is heavily based on Japanese mythology (with a little bit of Greek myth thrown into it's creation myth), and to the best of my knowledge is only populated by 'Asian' people.  Does Rokugan get a free diversity pass because Asians are less represented than white people?  A similar argument can be made for Poland, who've had a rough history to say the least.  Are they truly any more represented in video games than Asian Americans due to the color of their skin?

These are just a few of the things I've thought about since this controversy involving The Witcher was brought up.  I don't really answer these questions because I don't know the answer.  In the end, it's up to Projekt Red if they want The Witcher 4 or future DLC to include nonwhite characters.  As long as they know that many of their fans would appreciate this attempt at diversity, I think myself and the writers at Polygon have done their job.