|The internet's most wanted, August 2015.|
Counterclockwise from top right:
Josh Trank, Bernie Sanders, Axel Alonso, Steven Moffat
This isn't another post about the trainwreck currently in cinemas (the one not featuring Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, and LeBron James), but it starts there. Cue the 20th Century Fox spotlights and fade the logo to black — except that one lingering F ... .
* * * * *
Fantastic 4 opens with an interesting enough scene — one that captured my imagination and predisposed me to give it a shot despite the beating it's been taking in the press.
Fifth(?)-grader Reed Richards scribbles away intently in his notebook as his teacher calls on him to come to the front of the class and give a presentation. Several times, the teacher calls him by variations on his name ("Mr. Richards? Reed!"), but the future Mr. Fantastic only looks up when the entire class bursts out laughing at his space-cadet inattentiveness. Snapping to attention, Reed takes the podium in the class and presents his oral report on what he wants to do for a living as a grown-up. "I want to be the first person to build a teleporter," he explains, before going on to give a basic theoretical background in how his teleportation device would work.
"I suppose you're working on this thing in your garage," his teacher taunts. "Next to your flying car."
"I'm not working on that anymore," young Reed deadpans.
"This was supposed to be an assignment about real aspirations for a real career in the real world," chides his teacher. "Sit down. You can re-do it for partial credit tomorrow."
|Evan Hannemann as Ben Grimm, paying an awful lot of|
attention to that Richards kid.
"What do you want to do with your life when you grow up, Mr. Grimm?" asks the teacher, absent-mindedly making marks in his own notebook.
"When he builds that thing, I'm gonna fly it. Or drive it. Or whatever," says Ben. "I'm going to travel in Reed Richards' teleporter." As the teacher sighs in exasperation, Reed looks up from his notebook, as if noticing the other students in his class for the first time, especially Ben Grimm.
Except — that's not how the first scene plays out. I've fudged the set-up and misattributed some parallels. I've also invented Ben's dialogue out of whole cloth.
But wouldn't it have been great if that had been our introduction to Ben and Reed and their relationship? Indulge me, and you might agree it sets up both their differences and the power of their friendship. It allows Ben to stand up for Reed in a more interesting way than against some tiresome stereotypical bully. (In fact, it puts him between Reed and the biggest bully any fifth-grader ever faces: the teacher.) It echoes Ben's college promise to Reed from the comics (specifically, from John Byrne's retooled Fantastic Four origin story). It practically sings — and 98% of it is right there, already in the movie.
What a missed opportunity
After what is there, the movie cuts to the Grimm family junkyard, presumably that night, where Ben and Reed go on to bond at greater length but with less certainty than in the version of the opening scene I just laid out.
* * * * *
Bernie Sanders paying an awful lot of attention as
Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford take the mic
Sanders's supporters' reactions ranged from irritation to outrage to confusion. Sanders had been a well-documented supporter of the civil rights movement in the '60s and is today a tireless enemy of income inequality. How could Marissa Johnson or other activists speaking under the #BlackLivesMatter banner accuse him of not addressing the black community?
Those feeling the Bern didn't see the missed opportunity for Sanders, a progressive who's been friendly to black America's welfare in the past, to use his voice on behalf of the struggle galvanizing black America right now. The Sanders camp gave Johnson the microphone — but imagine if Sanders had borrowed it back to quiet the boos directed at Johnson and joined her in asking for a moment of silence. It practically sings, doesn't it? And 98% of it is already there, in the moment.
* * * * *
Cut to two weeks ago, right here on the internet. When asked about the new Hercules ongoing series and, more specifically, implications of Hercules's bisexuality, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso missed an opportunity. Thinking back to X-Treme X-Men, Alonso clarified that that alternative-timeline Herc's relationship with James Howlett "took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616." Alonso capped that with "same goes for Hercules here" and unwittingly crushed LGBT readers' hopes for an openly bi- headliner in the All-New, All-Different Marvel lineup.
Namor (and LGBT readers) paying an awful lot of attention as Northstar
beats a hasty restreat from Hercules's wake.
But Alonso still missed out. He missed a chance to connect a dot in a puzzle he's actively been working on during his tenure at Marvel Comics: how to reach underrepresented demographics who, by dint of their sidelined place in culture, may need and appreciate super-heroes even more than the middle-aged, middle-class, straight, white males whom conventional wisdom says are the genre's target audience. Close-up on Alonso reflecting on his mistake, reading Brett White's excellent "Why Bisexual Hercules Matters to Me," which does a far better job of explaining how this missed opportunity stings for LGBT readers while it's only an intellectual curiosity for me.
* * * * *
Cut to Doctor Who, gearing up for its return with a series of new episodes next month. Both trailers for the new series include the Doctor's perennial nemesis, the Master — now regenerated as a woman and calling herself Missy (short, one presumes, for Mistress).
Peter Capaldi as the Doctor paying an
awful lot of attention to Michelle Gomez
as the Mistress.
Gender-swapping the Doctor may never have occurred to showrunner Steven Moffat. As a self-avowed lifelong fan of the show (like his predecessor, Russell T Davies), Moffat has likely been plotting the major arcana of his Doctor Who for decades and began doing so in the years when gender-swapping the show's main actor would have been unthinkable. I don't mean met by opposition from conservative forces at the BBC; I mean unthinkable — as in outside the realm of changes you could make to the program and still have the same show. The Doctor's maleness may not be essential to his (or her) character, but the landscape of television is one where his very outfit is seen as essential to his character. For a generation of BBC execs, showrunners, and writers who wouldn't consider having the character change clothes more than 12 times in 50 years, gender-swapping him is a leap more giant than sending Neil Armstrong to the moon. It's no wonder it never occurred to Moffat in the years he must have spent fantasy-casting his Doctor Who and daydreaming about the questions he wanted to answer and characters he wanted to bring back into the series. He had a lifetime of opportunities he was keen not to miss — and that's why he missed one so important to others.
* * * * *
Same for Axel Alonso and Bernie Sanders and, yes, Josh Trank and the hundreds of others responsible for Fantastic 4. They were busy pursuing their own opportunities, furthering their own agendas. They weren't willfully neglectful of others' — just wrapped up in their own.
Passion — in movies, politics, comics, the arts, and life — is a carpe diem affair. You have to seize the days before they can escape you. In that mindset, the greatest crime you can commit is to miss an opportunity. That's why people are hurt when they aren't spoken to, when their issues aren't addressed. It's also why people don't speak to others and don't address their issues. We're all chasing the versions we have in our heads, the versions that speak most clearly to us and to others about us. In doing so, we miss each other, like those proverbial ships passing in the night.
Not that all is lost. Cue the pre-credits "where are they now" updates:
Steven Moffat retooled the Mistress and looks to be making her a recurring character on Doctor Who.
Axel Alonso addressed his blind spot in a follow-up installment of Axel-in-Charge and (more significantly) has had conversations about it with Marvel staff and Hercules writer Dan Abnett.
Bernie Sanders has started talking about private prisons and their disproportionate impact on African-Americans.
Fox Studios' Deadpool already has the title character in perhaps the most comic-accurate movie super-suit we've seen to date and has O.K.ed an R rating for his trademark violence and juvenile banter.
These aren't exactly missed opportunities unmissed, but they are examples of creative voices moving to seize new opportunities as they arise.
That's the good thing about a carpe diem culture. There's always tomorrow to seize.
Now if only I can get Avi Arad and Kevin Feige on a conference call, because there are some real gems the three of us could un-miss in yet another FF reboot.