The Problem Solving of Filmmaking

OK, first a little “Truth to Power.” The “DC Extended Universe” has been, so far, a little bit of a dud. I’m not talking about the TV shows here. I think that Arrow and the shows that orbit around them have been some pretty good television. But if you look at DC’s movies post-Christopher Nolan, they’ve been a little hard to like.

Sidebar: why is this truth to power? Strap in, this might be confusing. DC is owned by Warner Bros. Warner Bros. is part of Warner Media. Warner Media is part of AT&T. Solid Signal, who owns this blog, is an AT&T Preferred Dealer. So there’s always a risk in criticizing our corporate partner. After all I’m not as worthwhile to the organization as John Oliver is. (NSFW language in link)

Wait, what was I saying again?

Oh yeah. I was taking my life into my hands criticizing DC movies. Right.

Marvel Studios has done a really impressive job of creating an entire franchise built around its heroes. It’s arguably one of the defining mythologies of the 21st century so far. Sadly, I don’t think you can say the same about Man of Steel or most of the films that followed it. They’ve largely been a little dreary, a little less fun. DC’s fallen into a better vibe lately, though. Wonder Woman showed that there was a way forward for heroes that inspire even as they show a complex side. More and more, the DC Universe has “lightened up” a bit.

I think Shazam has turned out to be one of the best DC Universe films, and it’s done so by remembering something we all seem to have forgotten. Comic books may be our shared experiences today, but comic books, like Trix, are for kids. And Shazam really doubles down on the idea that becoming a hero is a great journey when you look at it from the perspective of a kid. By turning Shazam into a sort of superhero version of Big,  we can all see the fun inherent in the process.

But it doesn’t happen by accident.

There’s a great video that’s been floating around where Shazam director David Sandberg explains how nothing happens by accident in movies. Every scene, every single shot, contains tons of logic problems that must all be solved. If you don’t solve them, the audience is yanked out of the story and you’ve failed. It’s not just technical issues or story issues, it’s all the moving parts that build into something really spectacular.

Check out this video, but I warn you there are a few bits of profanity in it. I really don’t like posting that stuff here at this blog but I feel like it’s in context and I’m giving you fair warning.

There’s a lesson to be learned here that we all need to focus a bit more on the details, because that’s what will let us have fun.

Shazam is successful…

… but I have to say that I feel bad saying that other films aren’t. Take for example Suicide Squad. Here’s a film just full of opportunities for success and yet it’s considered (unfairly) to be a big old flop. With Will Smith, Jared Leto, and Margot Robbie, it shouldn’t have been. Yet, it failed to capture the hearts of Americans.  The film grossed something like three quarters of a billion dollars and supposedly about $150 million was profit. That doesn’t sound like a flop.

Yet, amateur reviewers from suburbs all over the country passed judgement over it. Suicide Squad, they said, failed to capture the essence of the comics (which statistically, no one had even read before the movie came out.) The performances were flaccid, the jokes bad. They effects were pedestrian. That’s what they said. Heck, that’s what I said too. But at least I feel bad about saying it. Probably 2,000 people worked on this film and hundreds of theatre owners booked it. All those people worked all those hours just so I could be entertained. And I wasn’t.

Funny thing is I bet director David Ayer took the same time and put in the same effort to make sure that David Sandberg did. And yet one person’s work is appreciated and one’s isn’t. That hardly seems fair.