On Saturday my game group got together, and we weren't sure what to play since we didn't have tons of enthusiasm for continuing In A Wicked Age. I threw out a bunch of random suggestions, mostly stuff I own but haven't played yet.
We ended up playing Capes, a superhero game which seems to be sadly little-known and little-loved even by the standards of indie games. (Come on, how can you not love a game that has a literal laser-shark on the cover?) I've had it on my shelf unplayed since I first got into indie RPGs in early 2007.
It's a shame Capes isn't better known, cuz it turns out to be both 1. really fun, and 2. based on a completely different design philosophy from most indie RPGs, one which to my knowledge hasn't been explored much since then. That makes it greatly worth playing for anybody who either designs RPGs or who is just interested in how they work.
What is this crazy design philosophy? Well, Capes is:
- GM-less, with narration authority, plot responsibilities, and playing of villains and secondary characters distributed evenly between all players.
- Driven by the game mechanics
- Lacking scenario creation rules, explicit story-structuring or pacing rules, or front-loaded premise rules of the type found in many indie games.
- Competitive: the book encourages players to try their best to beat each other, includes a "Strategy and Tactics" chapter, and advises that if you can find a rules loophole that makes you more effective, you should exploit it as much as possible! (Yes, it's the exact opposite of the advice you're used to reading in RPG books. Rather refreshing actually.)
Given all that, you'd probably think that Capes must be more like a board game than a role-playing game, what with everybody trying their hardest to beat each other using whatever game mechanics are legal. You'd think that it would be impossible to generate a story this way, or anything other than a long fight scene. But you'd be wrong, because the stroke of insane genius in the design of Capes is that to earn the Inspirations and Story Tokens that you need to advance your agenda as a player, you need to get other players to put a lot of chits and dice on an index card representing a conflict. And to do that you need to make the conflict something that they care a lot about winning. Which means that playing to win requires figuring out what sort of conflicts capture the interest of the other players.
Specifically, you only get Story Tokens when your character loses a conflict on which another player has staked Debt. One of the best ways to do this is to play a villain, come up with a dastardly plan that the heroes will do anything to stop, bid it up really high, and then let your character lose it on the last round.
So as I understand it, the design goal of Capes to be a competitive game which, when played with optimal strategy, produces an engaging genre-appropriate story as a side-effect. That' s a bold statement. I'll have to play it a little more before I can decide whether it's successful or not, but I'm having trouble thinking of another game that even really tries to do such a thing.
One potential pitfall I can see is that the mechanical and strategic aspects of the game would still function even if you describe the game events in a perfunctory way, which would make a story that was bland and lacking in details, so it's going to require some discipline to Not Do That. This is a pitfall in any RPG that has really solidly functional mechanics - the temptation to play the mechanics and ignore the fiction. There are some rules in Capes to counteract this, like the ones that say you must have appropriate fictional justification to use a Power, use an Inspiration, or stake debt from a Drive. But with no GM, there's no one person to act as creative veto over inappropriate or lame contributions. Instead, everybody has to police themselves and each other. When we play again, I'm going to pay very close attention to how this mutual policing works or fails to work and what effect that has on the fiction.
Another quibble I have is that the Capes book is not a very good teaching text. None of us had played it before, and I had read the rules once back in 2007, so we had to figure it all out from the book as we went along. It took us quite a while to figure out what we were doing, and it didn't help that the book is more technical manual than a tutorial. I felt a little like I was trying to learn a program's interface by reading its source code. The author does attempt to ease the learning curve with a Flash-based demo of a round of play, but that's not much help when you're at the game table away from the computer.
Moving on to stuff that I really liked...
The mechanical rules, once we had them figured out, are just inherently fun. Rounds go by quickly, and like a good board game it keeps you constantly considering your options, looking for openings, planning moves, etc.
Because GM duties are shared by all players, you don't play the same character all the time; at the start of each scene you choose a character you'll play for that scene. That means sometimes you'll play heroes, sometimes villains, and sometimes "NPCs" like journalists, scientists, and generals. I enjoy games with this kind of variety. Of course you have to have a way to come up with interesting characters on the spot when the plot demands it.
Luckily Capes has an ingenious and quick character-creation system. I love this system; it's tons of fun. Printing out the free PDF on the creator's website gives you a bunch of pre-generated Powersets, which are left halves of character sheets, and a bunch of pre-generated Personality Types, which are right halves of character sheets. You pick one of each, cut them out and tape them together, and then all you have to do is fill in a few numbers and pick a name and you're good to go.
The pre-gens are great for quickly coming up with minor characters on the fly; if you're stuck for ideas you can just mix-and-match stuff randomly and see what it sparks in your imagination. There's also a free-form character creation if you have more time and want more flexibility, but to be honest the pre-gens do such a good job of covering all the superhero archetypes that you don't need much else even for your major characters. (It's pretty fun to go through the options and see how you would create famous characters in this system. Animal Avatar + Angsty Nice Guy = Spiderman. Gadgeteer + Trauma Survivor = Batman. Godling + Crusader = Superman. Brick + Curmudgeon = The Thing. And so on.)
I put together Robot + Ingenue to make Meteotron, an advanced transforming robot from Proxima Centauri, alias "Acura Integra" (because it assumed that cars were the dominant form of life, natch). Its memory was wiped out when it crash landed on Earth so it doesn't know its true purpose.
The way you assign numbers to your abilities matters a lot. Like, I had a 2 in "Swarms of Missiles" and my only 5 was in "Trusting". So yeah, I can fire swarms of missiles all day long, but they're not all that effective. When I'm in a really desperate situation and I need that 5, I have to work out some way to play it with Trusting. Which led to a lot of fun roleplaying like "I know you're not really a bad person deep down inside, Dr. Inevitable! You wouldn't really fire that death ray at Capitol City when you have friends there! It must be that you've just got a... a malfunction in your brain hardware! Come back to Earth with me and I'll help you get it fixed!"
(You can see how playing a Robot Ingenue with a 2 in Trusting and a 5 in "Swarms of Missiles" would have been a completely different experience from playing Acura Integra, even though they're both made with the same pregen choices.)
I'm very much looking forward to playing again next week, because I bet it will go much smoother now that we're familiar with the system, and plus I have a great idea for a tragic villain: a Guilt-Ridden Mind-Controller named The Utopian who is tormented with constant shame over the imperfections of humanity and obsessed with taking over people's lives in order to "purge them of their sins".
Capes part 2
We had an incredibly awesome Capes game on Saturday. Our Capes game started out as a one-shot to kill a gaming session when we didn't have anything else planned, but it's grown into a fairly epic campaign. Saturday was a climax that was a long time coming.
It turns out that not only does Capes work great in a longer campaign, but there are some kinds of payoffs that only happen in the long form.
For instance, last time I expressed doubt that Capes would produce good fiction, because there's no GM in charge and it's easy to play to the mechanics with perfunctory narration. But I was wrong! Over the course of five or six sessions we've built up a very strong continuity, with an ever-expanding cast of secondary characters and ever-deepening relationships. We all had a commitment to the fiction, so we all gave a lot of weight to fictional constraints, which made themselves felt especially when framing scenes week after week in campaign mode:
"And then Meteotron flies in..."
"No, she can't! She's in self-imposed exile ever since Dr. Fukuzora's public confession, remember?"
"Oh yeah! OK then, how about..."
Because there's no GM, there's no "preparing an adventure", and there's no explicit plot-structuring mechanics like many other indie games have, the story structure that you get is mostly dependent on the round-robin scene framing, which is very loosely defined in the rules. And the scene framing is very much dependent on out-of-character brainstorming and kibbitzing, which is messy, but it works. What we've wound up with is very much reminiscient of comic book continuity; there are plots that only last one session (which feels like one "issue") and there are many continuing subplots that get chaotically picked up, advanced, and dropped. (I can almost see the footnote captions that say "* See issue #132" or whatever.)
Sushu overheard a lot of our game session and afterward she asked me, "Are there any good guys in this game? It sounded like you were all playing villians". It's true. We all made both heroes and villians, but the villians have gotten more play lately. The villains are often more fun. Talking like a supervillain is even more fun than talking like a pirate! And it's more fun to make plans for world domination than to foil them. The awesome thing about Capes is that it lets you do both.
Every superhero story is a comment on contemporary America, whether it tries to be or not. Contemporary America with the volume turned up to 11: everything is exaggerated. It occurs to me that the good supervillians, the ones with depth and resonance, are often exaggerated versions of a political viewpoint. Think about the Joker in the Dark Knight, and how he stands for anarchy as a philosophical stance: he wants to prove that life is chaos that cannot be controlled, and prove that people will revert to animals and turn on each other when this truth is revealed.
So if you want to make a good supervillian, take a political stance and crank up the volume on it until it becomes cartoony extremism. For extra fun, use some of your own political stances. Take something you really believe and twist it until it horrifies you, and you'll create a villain just sympathetic enough to be compelling. You may even learn something about the limitations of your own viewpoints this way.
Thus, I played The Utopian (mind controller + guilt-ridden) like a conservative's caricature of what liberals stand for: He feels guilty about everything his country does, and wants everyone else to feel as guilty as he does. He thinks he knows what's best for you, better than you do yourself; he thinks everyone is living their lives the wrong way and they should submit to his authority for their own good. He wants to tear down perfectly good social institutions because they fall short of some impossible ideal; he wants to replace them with a pie-in-the-sky utopia. That's why he is The Utopian. He's a super fun character to play, precisely because he is an ascended straw man.
Saturday night we had an absolutely glorious scene where I brought the Utopian's plans to fruition, or at least as close to fruition as they will ever go. Over several previous sessions I had set up all the fictional positioning: He manipulated Dr. Fukuzora to drive Meteotron out of town, teamed up with Dave's character Dr. Inevitable to distract the Legion of Justice and smash down their headquarters by unleashing a human force of destruction called Shockwave, and steal an alien artifact called the Helm of the Hive Queen, a psionic amplifier, from the Legion's vaults. In the process, I built up a huge pile of story tokens. And I saved them all for this once scene where the Utopian snuck into the central TV broadcasting station, donned the Helm, and started broadcasting his amplified guilt rays to the whole city. I got to yell "YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED AND FOUND UNWORTHY! YOUR GUILT CONSUUUUUUMES YOU!" over and over again.
I burned through fifteen story tokens in one scene. Until I ran out, I was unstoppable! I made the Governor confess all his scandals on TV, I made the state bureaucrats walk out on their jobs, I made the wizards of finance admit they destroyed the economy and start giving away all their money, I made the scientists at the university weep over their technocratic elitism and conspire to bring down all the computer networks. I started riots in the streets, made the state government collapse, brought the city to a standstill, and basically had everyone throwing themselves at my feet to confess their sins.
Of course you know how this story ends, right? Aaron decided that the corrupting essence of the Hive Queen was still alive inside the Helm and that it would try to take over the Utopian's mind. This was right about the time my story tokens ran out. Of course. So I lost that conflict. A fitting end for the Utopian - undone by his own greed for psychic dominance!
Meanwhile, Dave's Dr. Inevitable has gone from being a one-dimensional evil scientist to being quite a likable character thanks to the development of his relationship with his handicapped sister. I have a hunch he might even find some sort of redemption.
The Utopian a permanently retired character now, because I accomplished exactly what I set out to do with him. I burned him out in a blaze of glory. For next time, we're going to make up a new character sheet for the combined Hive Queen/Utopian psychic monstrosity. Who is currently still in control of downtown and probably hypnotizing everyone into, I dunno, incubating larva or something. I think the battle to defeat him/her/it is going to be the main point of our final session.
Enough people have told me to read Kingdom Come (most recently in this comment) that when I saw a copy at the bookstore today, I bought it and read it (while sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside a coffee shop, looking at the rainbow that marked the end of California's week-long rainstorm).
It was kinda... um, well, the art was really pretty, I'll say that. But I thought the story really suffered from too much telling, not enough showing, and from being overcrowded with too many cameos and continuity references. (Which seems to be a common pitfall for these "big event" comic miniseries... gotta find a way to cram in everybody from the DC universe, right?)
Spoilers ahead, so don't read if you don't want to know.
The setup is that it's the future, most of the main DC heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc etc) are old and retired or semi-retired. There is a new generation of "metahumans" (i.e. superheroes, not Shadowrun races) on the streets, but they kind of suck because they care nothing about protecting innocent lives; instead they just spend all day fighting each other and causing massive collateral damage, because, I dunno, they just like fighting I guess. The main plot is about whether the Geriatric Superfriends are going to come out of retirement and stop the rampaging metahumans, and if so are they willing to fight violence with violence? Are they willing to break their code against killing?
Cue many pages of grandiose posturing and self-righteous speeches about war and peace, etc. liberally sprinkled with quotes from the book of Revelations. There's a boring framing device with this hooded dude, who is like an avenging angel of justice or some nonsense, takes a bearded old preacher guy on a trip through time and space to silently and invisibly observe events (i.e. be omniscient viewpoint characters) while making OMINOUS PORTENTS OF DOOM every couple of pages. There's also a pointlessly complex plot about Lex Luthor mind-controlling Captain Marvel. Meanwhile Superman builds a giant super-jail and throws lots of angry dudes inside it, Wonder Woman is uncharacteristically bloodthirsty, Batman double-crosses people, and Kansas gets nuked. Twice.
No, look, I do get it. I get it. It's a commentary on the de-evolution of superhero comics: the new generation of metahumans are all grim-and-gritty 90s antiheroes, and the story is about how horrified the Superfriends would be at all their ultraviolent shenanigans, and how ultimately the corny 50s-style caped-crusader characters are the ones you would much rather have around in real life. It's all wrapped up with a lovely message about how What The World Needs Most In These Dark Times Is Hope.
And that's great, but what annoys me is how it's all just told to us in narration boxes instead of shown, explored, proven through storytelling, etc. The central problem that all these 90s antiheroes are making the world suck because they just fight all the time with no concern for civilian casualties? Potentially an interesting problem. But the problem is literally explained to the audience - in about as much detail as I just used - in narration boxes, spread across beautifully painted panels of funny-looking dudes flying around shooting laser beams at each other. Most of these 90s antiheroes don't even get names, let alone personalities or motivations. Where did they come from? What do they believe they're fighting for? Who are they fighting exactly? Why don't they care about collateral damage? Why didn't the Superfriends teach them better before retiring?
There's only one 90s antihero, named Magog for maximum clumsy allegory points, who has any individual screen time at all, but even he is just a walking plot device with no personality. The rest of them are just an undifferentiated mass of capes and spikes and guns, a collective McGuffin.
It's fine to do metaphorical commentary on the state of the superhero genre, but the problem here is that if you ignore the metaphor, the literal events don't stand on their own as a believable story.
It's also implied at certain points that some of the old generation of superheroes are running the earth like gods, imposing order on humanity through totalitarian rule, not letting humanity find its own destiny, etc etc. but again this problem is just stated in as many words, and never explored or illustrated in any depth.
Meanwhile, the framing device with Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Future, sorry I mean The Spectre and the preacher dude, just felt unnecessary. They could have just used an omniscient viewpoint and told us the story directly, without having to explain who was viewing it all. The Spectre says a bunch of stuff about how the preacher must pass judgment on what he sees and decide who is innocent and who is guilty, but he never actually does that! Aside from nicely asking Superman to please not collapse the UN building at the end, he doesn't have any effect on the plot at all. The whole thing could have been taken out and you wouldn't have lost anything except a lot of random Revelations quotes. It felt like they were just in there so that every couple of pages the writer could remind me that the clash of the superpowered titans could mean the end of the world, armageddon is fast approaching, the fate of the world is at stake, everything is Very Serious and Full of Portent, yadda yadda yadda. Bad writer! Stop
telling me that your story is Very Serious and show me why I should take it seriously!
Finally, why the heck did they make Captain freaking Marvel such a central character to the plot? Who cares about Captain Marvel anymore?
(Sushu: Captain who?
Me: He's this dufus with the lightning bolt on his chest. He was really popular in the 40s.)
Things I bet you didn't know about The BAT-MAN
I've been reading the Batman Archives, Volume 1. It's a very pretty, color, hard-cover reprint of the first 24 Batman comics from 1939 and 1940. It's pretty... uh... what's the word... it's pretty different.
For instance, you might have known that he is called "The BAT-MAN", but did you know...
...Instead of a Batmobile, The BAT-MAN drives around in a cherry red Ford?
...The BAT-MAN's batplane has helicopter blades and a zoologically realistic bat face modeled onto the front of it?
...The BAT-MAN just loves his trusty guns?
...The BAT-MAN has absolutely no problem with killing people? As long as they're evil, of course. They deserve it!
...The BAT-MAN can swing from ropes that are obviously not attached to anything! (Seriously, what's holding that rope up? The scrollwork on the caption box?)
...In the first issue or two, The BAT-MAN's has these weird wiggly elf-ears?
...The BAT-MAN doesn't know the difference between a vampire and a werewolf?
We don't get The BAT-MAN's origin story until issue six; and when we do, it's a measly page-and-a-half. Until then he's a total cipher.
(If you're wondering, no, the details of his origin story haven't changed at all. They're remarkably immune to retconning.)
...In the middle of an otherwise grittily realistic story, The BAT-MAN will suddently veer into a trippy, surrealistic scene like this one? (And no, this is never explained. It's not handwaved as magic, or a hallucination; it's just there. And later, the flowers start talking to him.)
So much of The BAT-MAN's story is told in caption boxes that at times it's more like an illustrated picture book than a comic. Look at these pages - there's only one panel without narration in it!
The BAT-MAN is really more of a detective than a superhero. (That's why he appears in Detective Comics, after all). The conventions of the superhero genre hadn't really been established yet, so most of the tropes and plot cues come from detective stories.
That's why The BAT-MAN finishes most of his stories by pulling masks off bad guys and explaining in detail how their evil plans worked.
And he doesn't fight super-villains; his iconic foes not having been invented yet, The BAT-MAN mostly fights generic 1930s mobsters with fedoras and zoot suits.
(And the city he's protecting? It's not Gotham. It's just some nameless city. Except when he goes to Paris and fights French criminals for a while.)
Speaking of 1930s mobsters, Robin's origin story involves his parents getting killed because the circus refused to pay off the protection racket.
A lot of the comic is like that. It's quite dark, gritty, and realistic. Especially compared to the Silver Age batman who had to obey the Comics Code, or compared to the Adam West Batman.
No goofy "Pow!" "Biff!" sound effects here. Barely any sound effects of any kind, in fact.
Of course The BAT-MAN can't just fight mobsters and death-ray-weilding mad scientists all the time. When the artist got tired of drawing fedoras and lab coats, he turns to pulp fiction's other favorite source of disposable antagonists:
That's right, hideously xenophobic ethnic stereotypes!
I love how in these old comics, they never bother showing actual Chinese writing -- I mean looking up some real Chinese characters might require going to the library or something! We'll just put random squiggles, it's not like our audience will know the difference!
The BAT-MAN deduces that the "Horde of the Green Dragon" is behind these crimes because they kill their enemies with hatchets. And only Chinese people do that. Chinese Hatchet-Men. You've heard of The Dreaded Chinese Hatchet-Men, right?
Don't worry, The BAT-MAN will kill all these guys by crushing them under their ugly green statue. What, you thought they were going to have trials and be sent to jail? Don't be silly, they're foreigners. They deserve to die.
Because they no speak good English!
Oh my god, they made the curvy triangle font into a plot point.
(The Bat-Signal hadn't been invented yet, so people who need help contact The BAT-MAN via random classified ads in the newspaper. Really.)
The Indians aren't treated any better than the Chinese. They track down and murder anybody who steals their favorite idol:
Now, I don't claim to be an expert on all of India's thousands of local dieties, but wouldn't the Hindu god of destruction be either Shiva or Kali? And I'm pretty sure it wouldn't look like a red devil. Oh well; Hinduism, Satan-worship: pretty much the same, right?
And as for the treatment of women, well, they're all pretty much hysterical dames. Especially Bruce Wayne's fiancee Julie, who we see in maybe one or two panels every five or six issues. It's like the writers kept forgetting she existed. And, well...
I'll just let that panel speak for itself.
Hideaki Akaiwa, real-life superhero
I've been to the town of Ishinomaki, once, on my way to visit the famous temple on the island of Kinkazan. It's a small, not particularly exciting town best known for being the birthplace of Ishinomori Shotaro, manga artist who drew Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider. They've got a whole museum devoted to his works.
Ishinomaki has pretty much been turned into a lake by the tsunami. Eek.
This one guy, named Hideaki Akaiwa, escaped from the tsunami, but he couldn't contact his wife. So seeing his neighborhood consumed by the tsunami, he decided to grab a SCUBA suit and dive in, swim through the freezing, murky, black currents and riptides and the cars and jagged metal chunks getting tossed around, and find the apartment building where his wife was trapped on the top floor. He rescued her and somehow brought her back out to safety. He and his wife were both surfers, so I guess he had some relevant experience for this kind of thing.
And that's not all! Hideaki Akaiwa couldn't contact his mother either. So a couple days later he went in to the tsunami again, find where his mother was trapped, and rescue her too.
Now he goes back into the flooded city every day looking for more survivors.
This guy is a real-life superhero.
Article from the LA times. A somewhat more colorful retelling at "Badass of the Week".
X-men First Class, or: How geeks watch movies
I liked X-Men: First Class quite a lot. More than I expected to. (I went to watch it because watching movies with Sushu makes her happy, and X-Men seemed like the least offensive choice available that weekend.) IMHO it's the best of the X-men movies. Minor spoilers ahead (but it's a prequel, so you kind of know how it's going to end already, don't you?)
The guy who plays Magneto was really, really good. He made Magneto a complex, nuanced, sympathetic character. You really feel his pain and his reasons for mistrusting humanity; the friendship between him and Charles Xavier is touching and beautiful and tragic because you know they're going to become enemies. The actor redefined the character kind of the way Heath Ledger redefined the Joker.
And I loved the way the story of the mutants was woven together with the real-life story of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It could easily have been hokey or preachy, but they did a good job portraying this fascinating and terrifying moment of history. And all the awesomely chunky cold-war era technology on display! It was really a Cold War movie that happened to contain mutants, more than the other way around. (There's also a subtext that, like, of course the Cuban Missile Crisis was the result of a supervillain manipulating the USA and USSR to try to start WW3, you didn't think governments could really be that suicidal all by themselves did you? Sigh...) There's a neat parallel at the end where all the less-powerful mutants have to choose sides between Magneto and Prof. X... just like how all the less-powerful countries had to choose sides in the Cold War.
I loved the character development with Mystique and Beast and their awkward almost-romance and their changing views of mutant pride, mutant acceptance, and passing for normal. Some really juicy dialogue in there. The bit where somebody accidentally "outs" someone as a mutant to his co-workers, and the significance of the phrase "Mutant and proud", immediately suggest an allegory to the gay rights movement. Although it was the the civil rights movement that was more relevant to the time that the movie is set (and the time when X-men was written). Really, map it onto the acceptance movement of your choice.
There were parts I didn't like, too, of course. The main villain's master plan didn't make a single bit of sense. The one black guy dies first, of course; I thought we were finally over that horrible movie trope but I guess not? As a physics geek it annoyed me that Magneto's powers seem to ignore Newton's third law of motion. There are a bunch of X-men who don't get any character development. And the script never seems to have a problem with the fact that young, idealistic Xavier is always digging around inside other people's most private memories, without permission, supposedly for their own good. I would have liked to see some acknowledgment of how INCREDIBLY CREEPY that would would make him in real life! But no, he's pure hero as far as this movie is concerned.
So that's what I thought of the movie. But let me tell you another story.
Last weekend I was in my friendly local game store (Game Kastle in Santa Clara) and the guy working the counter had a Green Lantern shirt on. So, just to make conversation, I was like "Oh, I take it you're a big fan. What did you think of the Green Lantern movie?"
I was kind of expecting him to trash it, since the trailers make it look really terrible.
But he raved about it! He liked how true it was to the source material and how good the special effects were for the constructs and blah blah blah and "they'd better make a sequel! There's a teaser after the end credits that sets them up for one!"
I mentioned X-men First Class (where I stayed to the end just in case there was a teaser, but there wasn't.) He made a face and said that movie was a disappointment. Why? Because it was about a bunch of B-list characters instead of the famous X-men; because it got some of the characters' powers "wrong"; because somebody's name was "wrong" (a minor character who is named Tempest in the comics went by "Angel" in the movie; there's a different X-man in the comics named "Angel".)
Not one mention of whether the story in either movie was interesting or not.
I've noticed this before with the way that geeks watch movies. Many of them seem to be nearly incapable of answering the question "Did this movie have a good story?". Or even asking the question. They only care about whether it was "accurate" and visually impressive.
"Accurate". As if the X-men were real, and the movie was a documentary about their lives, and we were judging the documentary on accuracy. I guess they don't really care about a good story as much as they care about seeing their favorite mythology/setting/lore -- or their personally preferred interpretation of that lore, which is an even bigger can of worms -- honored by a lavish on-screen presentation.
I guess this makes geeks easy to market to -- once you get them hooked on your IP, no need to worry about good storytelling; the geeks will provide a steady stream of money as long as you make sure to remain consistent with the canon and the continuity.
It's not a horrible thing by any means. It can be kind of cute how devoted geeks get to their favorite pretend universe and the pretense that it has an internal consistency that must be respected. It's just very, very different from how other people watch movies.
Dark Knight Rises is a terrible movie
Finally watched Dark Knight Rises, and thought it was terrible. It was a tedious, pretentious, overwrought, humorless, confusing, incoherent mess of a film.
I was expecting "not quite as good as Dark Knight, hopefully as good as Batman Begins". I assumed it would be at least decent. I was quite shocked at how hard it managed to fail.
1. Pacing is awful. Every scene feels rushed. There's no time for any scene to breathe because it's all bam, bam, bam, gotta get to the next plot point. The cuts are so fast, and jump so much in time and space, that the whole movie feels like one long montage.
The movie is overstuffed with plot points, like they mashed together the scripts for two or three different stories and then forced it all to fit in the alloted time by cutting every scene down to a few seconds.
Each time the camera cuts you're like "Is this the same scene? The next day? Months later?" Who knows?
2. Everybody speaks in monologues. Gordon delivers monologues, Alfred delivers monologues, holy crap does Bane deliver monologues. The way we know how Bruce feels is by other people monologuing at him about how he feels. What's-her-name can't just stab Batman, she has to give this ridiculously long monologue about how revenge is best served cold. Oh my god, Bane, are you STILL talking?
3. There's barely any Batman in this movie! He hardly says anything and he hardly does any Batman stuff. For large stretches he's off screen, and when he's on screen he's boring. He just mopes around, or does push-ups in prison.
Gordon, Catwoman, and Robin were the heroes of this movie; Bruce Wayne was a shlumpy guy who took up way too much screen time doing boring things. At least Catwoman was pretty cool. She rescued most of her scenes with stylish ass-kickery and not-giving-a-damn.
4. The bad guys' plan makes no sense. I don't even know what Bane wants. The movie focuses obsessively on Bane's backstory, flashing back to it repeatedly, yet never tells us *why* he does anything except for "Ummmm.... League of Shadows! Handwave!"
I guess Bane thinks Gotham is corrupt and needs to be destroyed? Even though it's much less corrupt than it was eight years ago? So he steals a nuke that can blow up the city, but instead of detonating it, he gives the detonator to... a random citizen? And then sets a really weird list of conditions, like nobody's allowed to leave the city, but he also blows up the bridges so they can't leave anyway? And the bomb will blow up after three months anyway even if he doesn't set it off? Then he gives speeches about "I HAVE GIVEN YOU BACK YOUR CITY!" and sets up a weird kangaroo court that makes people walk on ice?
Three months later, he still hasn't detonated the bomb. If he wanted to destroy Gotham why didn't he set if off already? Some weird thing about wanting to give people false hope? Nope, sorry, I don't get it.
Later we find out, in a really shitty twist, that the Bane backstory we saw was... actually somebody else's backstory! Great, so we know nothing about Bane. He's just a super-goon with a scary mask and a silly voice and a plan that makes no sense for a motive that's never established.
5. Gotham's government is overthrown and it's cut off from the outside world for three months and ruled by a gang of convicts. That sounds interesting! What sort of society emerges? Do ordinary people turn on each other or do they band together? You could get an interesting movie out of that premise alone.
But Dark Knight Rises barely touches on it. They've got a kangaroo court that convicts the rich and powerful in some sort of half-assed French Revolution Reign of Terror analogue. There's a couple scenes with random perfunctory looting in the background. That's it. We never see anyone really affected by these changes, because there are no characters representing the perspective of ordinary Gotham citizens.
For a movie that seems to be trying to do some kind of (ham-fisted) class-warfare story, it's odd that we only ever see things from the perspective of the rich and powerful.
Explore the one interesting concept the movie has given us? No time for that, we have to cut back to what Bruce is doing down in the pit!
6. The pit. The stupid, stupid pit. WHYYYYYYYY. Why does the movie spend so much screen time on this dumb pit jail that Bane sticks Bruce in? Why is there a rope dangling from the top to help people try to climb out? Why is one of the prison inmates a miraculous doctor capable of fixing a broken back by punching it? Where is this pit, Morocco? Are you telling me Bane interrupted his very important plan of not-blowing-up-Gotham just to take unconscious Bruce Wayne on an 11-hour plane flight to Africa because, what, he wants Bruce to share his very special hell-pit childhood memories? That aren't actually his memories? You never see any wardens so, like, who even runs this prison? After he gets out Bruce doesn't have any money or anything - how does he get back to Gotham? Hitchhike? He's just magically there in time for the next scene, perfectly clean-shaven. Time and space are meaningless in this movie.
7. Every single cop in the city goes into the sewers at the same time? So they can all get trapped down there at once? Seems like most cities would probably have a policy against doing something that dumb with their police force. But don't worry, the police are all fine stuck in the sewers for three months, and they come out healthy and still in clean uniforms. But then they charge, unarmed, straight at Bane's army and get cut down. Is "Suicide charge" a tactic they teach at police academy, or did they learn that in the sewer?
8. The final Batman/Bane confrontation is just the two of them punching each other really stiffly and awkwardly on some snowy steps. All this buildup and you're not even going to give us a cool fight scene? This fight makes them both look slow and clumsy. It's the opposite of exciting.
9. WHY SO SERIOUS? This film is constantly beating you over the head with how GRIMDARK it is and how SERIOUS you're supposed to take it. The tone never lets up. Just listen to all that CHANTING! Can't you feel the apocalyptic fervor? DUDES IN MASKS PUNCHING EACH OTHER IS VERY SERIOUS BUSINESS! Somebody got so wrapped up in making Batman serious that he forgot Batman is supposed to be fun and heroic too. But the material isn't substantial enough to support the tone, so it just comes off as even more ridiculous.
In the end, the only really enjoyable part of this movie was making fun of Bane's voice.
P.S. this "How The Dark Knight Rises Should Have Ended" cartoon is on point.